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Tuesday, November 12th, 2002

Subject:Day 26 - Petersburg, VA to Fairfax, VA
Posted by:ella.
Time:10:46 pm.
A good nights sleep, but woke to find bucketing rain... still, no tornado warnings which was nice :) Actually, it may be sick to say, but both Jen & I had kinda hoped we'd see a tornado... from a distance I mean, but to add a bit of spice to these storms we kept getting caught up in. We did see some funnel clouds at Myrtle Beach, but nothing that touched down or did anything.

We headed towards Washington, DC only to realise that we'd I'd left the map in the hotel room d'oh, so we had to turn back and start our journey again.

We were only a couple of hours away from Washington and before long we were following signs to The Pentagon. Whoa. Big building! I'd hate to have to put the hoover 'round that place I can tell you. The Pentagon is in the centre of a triangle formed by three interstates so we tried viewing it from all sides, although I think we only got to see 4 of the 5, as we didn't manage to see the damaged side... unless it's all patched up already.

Next up was a drive across the Potomac where we were met with the sight of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to our left. We took a right up Independence Avenue to see the Capitol Building. As Jen was driving, I was playing tour host... "To our right, ladies, we have NASA, and coming up on our left we have the National Air & Space Museum..."

We then headed down Pennsylvania Avenue in search of #1600 and what a palaver that was! One-way streets, blocked off roads, security guards, policemen... you name it, it was blocking our way to The White House. There was no way we were going to get anywhere near the damn place. In a last attempt to catch a glimpse, we drove past the Washington Monument and down along Constitution Avenue which runs along the gardens in front of TWH. We could barely see it through the trees in the distance, but we caught a glimpse and took a couple of pictures. Actually our first glimpse was pretty disappointing... it didn't look like it did on TV and was covered in some kind of dark mesh stuff, but we grumbled and took pictures anyway. It was only after we started to move forward to leave, that we spotted the famous balcony part duh. What we'd been taking pictures of was the west wing offices *rolls eyes*

The next thing we wanted to see was the Lincoln Memorial, but we wanted to view it from 17th street, looking up to it from the far end of the Reflecting Pool in West Potomac Park, but again, as was the theme for the day, no such luck. The entire area was fenced off, although we did manage to catch a quick glimpse of it up at the top end, before leaving DC via Arlington National Cemetery.

The next move was to find somewhere to stay the night so we rang ioevri1Jill, who we were meeting for dinner that night, to find out what area she lived in, so that we could stay somewhere nearby. When we finally got hold of her, she was just on her way home from work so said she'd meet up with us right then. We met up with her in Fair Lakes and had a gorgeous dinner at Logan's Roadhouse before all heading off together around a few shops to find some packing supplies as Jen wanted to mail some stuff home. We still hadn't booked into a hotel at this point, so Jill pulled out her coupon book [watch out, justmecinCindy! You have a rival!] and called a couple of places to get the best possible rate for us which was really cool.

After finding somewhere and getting the car unloaded, we headed off to Denny's in search of some key lime pie. Whilst there, we had a rather amusing server whose name escapes me now, but who turned out to be Afghani... the revelation of which made Shan choke on her pop and Jen's head spin 'round like that chick in The Exorcist. Why this was so funny is inexplicable now, but I knew that I couldn't make eye contact with either of them if I had any chance at all of keeping a straight face. Poor Jill just looked confused at the weird Brits... bless her. We had a good laugh and a good gossip and never did manage to track down some key lime pie heh.

Back at the hotel room we continued chatting until almost midnight when Jill sadly had to leave us as she had to be at work the next morning :( A bloody good night with a really lovely girl :)
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Monday, November 11th, 2002

Subject:Day 25 - Myrtle Beach, SC to Petersburg, VA
Posted by:ella.
Time:9:31 pm.
I woke a few times in the night and just lay there looking at the ocean. Nature has a mind of it's own, doesn't it? The tide came in, the tide went out, and the waves kept breaking on the shore. In a moment of morbidity, I wondered how many people had lost their lives out there... I mean there's the Titanic for one, and all who went down with her, but there have been countless tragedies since the big bang but nature just carries on doesn't it? Damn, I'm a cheerful soul at times, aren't I?

I woke up for the last time at 7am and went out onto the balcony for a closer look and to take a picture. Already there were people on the beach. Probably Germans. A few people were out for an early morning stroll, a couple of joggers wore me out by just watching them, some bloke was scanning with his metal detector, although he didn't look as if he was being very successful, and some were just paddling in the water.

As the sun rose, it became very hot on the skin. I smiled at the possibility of picking up a suntan, if I'd wanted to, in November. I'd probably be freezing my bits off at home heh.

Jen and Shan returned from breakfast, and Jen caught my eye and said that there had been some tornados over night in Alabama. "Yeah, where elysiangirlHeather is," added Shan. We all stood just looking at each other at that thought, hoping she was okay. Then Jen, who was stood behind Shan at the time, mouthed to me, "and they're coming this way..." You know it's quite hard to believe that such bad weather could possibly be about to arrive when you're stood there looking out at clear blue skies, with the sun practically burning a hole through your t-shirt.

Shan was worried, but as in New Orleans we did our best to reassure her, letting her know we weren't worried in the slightest, only this time we both knew that we were.

After the paddling in the ocean thing when we'd arrived the day before, Shan was itching to go for another swim, so Jen took her down while I stuck the Weather Channel on. At that time, 33 [now 36] had died and many more were injured in the 46 [now 70] tornados that had touched down over night, and the storm was indeed heading our way. The eastern seaboard would be on tornado watch until 3pm... still, at least it wasn't a "warning" as it had been in New Orleans, right? The Weather Channel said that the storms would be moving right across the I-95... that'll be the road we'd been planning on taking north to Richmond, then...

We checked out of the hotel, and decided to make a detour via Barnes & Noble to relieve them of some of their merchandise. We weren't there too long I don't think, but by the time we were ready to leave, the blue skies had been replaced by the most incredible black clouds... so low in the sky you felt you could almost reach up and touch them. People, us included, were appearing out of nowhere to take pictures of them... they really were like nothing we'd ever seen before.

It started to rain... the clouds were getting blacker and there was lightening. Jen & I looked at each other across the roof of the car... that look that said, "ummmn... this doesn't look good... maybe we should get a shimmy on and head out of here..."

We took the coast road north, stopping briefly at the beach again to take pictures of the clouds, which seemed to be only inches above the horizon. The rain then started absolutely bucketing down so we decided to take shelter in some tourist shop to buy postcards and a few other bits until it eased a bit. By then it was after 3pm and it seemed that the main storm system had passed, and we were left with regular "English" rain, as we described it to Shan :)

We headed northwest up the I-40 towards Raleigh, NC then north up the I-95 towards Richmond, VA. Once we'd got underway, the journey was pretty unremarkable, except for a bit of a traffic jam as a result of what looked like a major smash... I think a truck had tried to get under the narrow end of a bridge or something. We'd made surprisingly good time, but decided to call it a day at about half 7, 30 miles south of Richmond, and spent the rest of the evening sorting our many bags out for the last few days.
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Sunday, November 10th, 2002

Subject:Day 24 - Pooler, GA to Myrtle Beach, SC
Posted by:ella.
Time:7:49 pm.
After a lazy morning, we set off at about 11am. It wasn't long before we crossed the state line into South Carolina, and I think my best description of it, was that it was very "swampy" - lots of rivers, flooded land, bridges, plantations and on the whole very pretty. We stopped in Charleston for some lunch; here even the roads were flooded, although I think that may have had something to do with the bad weather a few days ago.

We took the US17 through a series of seaside towns, all of which seemed to be advertising the Pacific, which was a little weird. I mean isn't that particular variety of wet stuff on the other side of the continent?

Jen wanted to find a bookshop and I needed to find a chemist so we stopped off at Palmetto and visited it's huge outdoor mall, with just about every sort of shop you could think of. It even had an "English" pub with Newcastle Brown brollies outside heh. It also had the first roundabout that I'd seen on our trip so far. What's up with that? Why don't they have roundabouts here?

We arrived in Myrtle Beach late afternoon. We'd had it in our minds that even though we'd had this pegged as a possible stay over place, we might not actually stay if we arrived here early enough... that we might carry on driving a bit heading towards Richmond, VA. However, after parking the car up and taking a walk along the beach and a paddle in the ocean, we were sold. We checked into a 6th floor room of a beachfront hotel, with a balcony overlooking the ocean and couldn't believe our luck that it was actually no more expensive than some of the other hotels we'd stayed in.

I reckon this place would be buzzing in the summer, but it was out of season so a few places were closed, but we were only here for the night so that didn't bother us.

After meandergoosing up the road for dinner, Jen & Shan were going to have a mosey along the beach, so I went off to do a couple more updates and said I'd meet them back at the hotel. When I got back, though, they'd apparently decided that a walk along the deserted beach at night was a little dark and scary so changed their minds... can't say I blame them, myself.

Back up in our room we could see the white horses breaking on the beach, even in the dark, and we went to sleep with our curtains open and the balcony door open so that we could hear the waves crashing against the beach.

I drifted off to sleep having said nunight to those at home... just over the other side of that pond I could see out of the window.
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Saturday, November 9th, 2002

Subject:Day 23 - Tampa, FL to Pooler, GA
Posted by:ella.
Time:7:23 pm.
Early to bed, early to rise gets footie fans in front of the TV at 7am to watch Man City well and truly spank Man Utd [you don't think I'm gonna link to them, do you?] live on Fox Sports World :D Actually, it was a bit touch and go to start with, the watching it bit I mean. After watching that DVD last night we couldn't quite work out how to get the TV to show cable, but after mucho fiddling about and looks of sheer panic on Jens face she finally got it sorted, only missing the first 10 seconds of the match. And what a match it was! Even though I'm not a City fan, I wanted them to win simply because they weren't Utd, but Jen is one of the biggest City fans on the planet and was quite animated about it all the way through. It's a shame we didn't video her reactions throughout the match really... pure comedy I can tell you. Mind you, even the American announcer seemed to be on City's side, awarding Gary Neville donkey of the match award... and that was only at half time!

After the match we set off on the road again. Heading east along the I-4 again, the first hour of which we'd already done the last couple of days on our way to Orlando. But for me, this time was different as I was passenger and able to have a nosey at the huge advertising billboards and fancy hotels all trying to out do each other in appearance, and the worlds largest Maccie Dee's, which looked like it was shaped like a huge doobery of fries.

Soon after Orlando, Jen wasn't feeling too well so we swapped seats and I drove with Shan as my co-pilot as Jen slept on the back seat. We continued east until we reached the east coast of Florida at Daytona Beach, where we started the northbound leg of our journey up the I-95.

We arrived in Savannah, GA after dark, and unsuccessfully searched for the sea, which we never did manage to find, but we did have a rather nice tour of the city in the process. What we saw of it, Savannah looks very nice and reminded us of New Orleans, but kinda bigger, newer, cleaner. It had little street café's on corners and lights in the trees that lined the streets... and hotels which were all full :| For the first time on our trip, where we'd just arrive somewhere and pick a hotel to stay at, we found hotel after hotel was fully booked, mind you it was a Saturday night, I guess. Instead of spending ages trying other hotels, we decided to carry on heading north and see if we had better luck out of the city.

We finally found a place in Pooler and were intrigued that the car park seemed to be full of Porsche's with numbers on them. We never did find out why they were there... probably for a convention or something but they were all gone in the morning. By now, time was getting on so we ordered food and slipped off into the land of nod.
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Friday, November 8th, 2002

Subject:Day 22 - Tampa, FL
Posted by:ella.
Time:6:44 pm.
We headed back east to Orlando again this morning for Jen & Shan to go to Universal Studios. I was originally going to go with them, but I've already been there 3 times before, and okay they might have a few more rides etc., but most of it I will have seen before, so I just dropped them off and went on my merry way.

I thought about going to Daytona Beach for a paddle, but instead decided to have a mooch about the area and see what else there was. Whenever I've been to Orlando before, it's pretty much been to do the theme parks etc., but I haven't really ventured out other than that. I didn't actually land up anywhere specific, more of a drive around sightseeing, really, but I enjoyed myself.

After stopping off at a Kinko to fling a couple more updates up, I picked Jen and Shan back up again at 7pm and headed back to Tampa again.

Bob ordered pizza for us all as we watched Blast From The Past on DVD... although some of us were unfortunately struggling to keep our eyes open.
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Thursday, November 7th, 2002

Subject:Day 21 - Tampa, FL
Posted by:ella.
Time:12:50 am.
A leisurely start to the day was followed by a one hour trip along the I-4 to Orlando to drop Jen and Shan off at Sea World. I'd been before, and to be honest it's not really my cuppy tea, so I decided to give it a miss and have a meandergoose around Kissimmee instead. I stopped off at the IHOP for some brunch and then went in search of the places we'd stayed in when I came here with my family a few years ago, as my SIL had asked me to grab some pictures.

As Bob was meeting Jen and Shan at Sea Word in the afternoon, I didn't have to hang around to give them a lift back so I headed on back to Tampa in search of a net café to get some updates done, and maybe take a drive down to the beach. The drive back was gorgeous. I had my window wound down and the stereo turned right up. The sun was burning my left arm, and it was pretty damn hot in the car, but I begrudged putting the air/con on as I figured I should lap it up, safe in the knowledge that I'd be freezing my bits off again when I got home... or in a few days actually once we started heading north.

By the time I found the net café, and got a couple of updates typed up, the time was getting on, plus it was dark, so I decided to call it a day and head on back to Bob's to await the return of the others rather than head to the beach.

Jen and Shan returned armed with loads of shopping bags and it seems they had a great time, despite getting soaked by Shamu heh. We went out to the Golden Corral for dinner... one of those all you can eat buffet type dealys that we really should have over here in England... then headed back to Bob's to watch Ocean's Eleven. Now that is one seriously damn fine movie... might have to invest in the DVD myself... not that the fact that George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia being in it sways my judgement at all :) *Homer drool*
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Wednesday, November 6th, 2002

Subject:Day 20 - Bonifay, FL to Tampa, FL
Posted by:ella.
Time:12:45 am.
I should probably leave the fact that I'm writing this journal entry whilst sat on a balcony watching the sunrise [Thurs 7th am] over what I guess must be Tampa Bay, but after the drama of yesterdays entry, I should probably state that we're all okay. Although thinking about it, if we weren't then you wouldn't be reading this journal entry anyway, but there you go.

Before we went to bed Tuesday night, we decided that as we now had distance to make up in addition to our long drive to Tampa, whoever woke up first Wednesday morning would wake the others, no matter how early. So at some obnoxious hour with a 6 in it, Jen turned the lights on sending both Shan and I into Gizmo mode, although Shan wasn't at this stage aware of just how early she'd been woken, until I opened my big mouth by accident, that is. We got a shimmy on and by 7am we were on the road again.

Thankfully the weather had passed... despite a little more rain in the night, the skies were now clear, the sun was shining, the oppressive humidity had gone and the roads were starting to dry out. Listening to the radio, we heard that the tornado has apparently touched down in southern Alabama, just north of us, killing 2 and injuring 25 :( The weather guy also added that northern Florida was 'only' going to be a cool 70 degrees that day, so people might like to take coats and windcheaters to work with them. Huh? 70 degrees would be a near heat wave at home!

The journey to Tampa didn't actually take us as long as we'd expected... we'd figured all day, but we actually arrived at about 2pm... and that included the hour we lost crossing into the Eastern Time zone. We found Bob's place and after going out to get some lunch together, we just chilled for the rest of the afternoon, chatting and stuff.

For dinner, Bob cooked up a rather pleasant meal of steaks and chicken, which we enjoyed whilst watching the Man U vs. Saints game on TV :) You know, it seems weird to me that Americans get more of our football matches on TV than we do, or does it just seem that way? It does seem that quite a few of them are Saints ones, too.

A relatively early night followed, with the promise of a much more restful nights sleep.
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Tuesday, November 5th, 2002

Subject:Day 19 - New Orleans, LA to Bonifay, FL
Posted by:ella.
Time:12:05 am.
Plan A was to have set off early this morning on the long drive to Tallahassee, however Jen and I had both woken in the early hours, thanks to the TV and the lights still being on, and got caught up watching some idiots make complete fools of themselves on Maury. We finally woke again at about 9am and shuffled our arses into gear a bit pronto, however, while we were getting ready and packed, we turned the TV on an our plans were suddenly changed.

At 10 o'clock, a weird buzzing alarm came on the TV over the program we had on. Details of a tornado warning were scrolling across the bottom of the screen for the City of New Orleans. Great. Apparently, the city was only going to be under warning for about 45 minutes, but people were being advised to move to inner rooms or basements until after that time had passed. Up until now, our rooms had been mostly outer facing, but as if by fluke this one was overlooking the inner atrium of the hotel instead.

Being more intrigued than worried, I took an amble down the hall to have a look out on an external balcony, but all I could see was sheeting rain, no wind or anything, and people seemed to be going about their business. Whether a tornado touched down or not I don't know... I don't think so, but we stayed in our room until advised otherwise.

We set off east on the I-10 towards Tallahassee. We had spoken about a riverboat trip on the Mississippi, but with the weather being as it was, i.e. still pissing it down with rain, it didn't sound like such an attractive proposition. We'd also thought about paying some plantation houses a visit, but they were an hour away in the wrong direction so we decided to give them a miss too. We did, however, satisfy my morbid curiosity and go and see some of the old cemeteries, which were kind of on the route we needed. No tiny lil gravestones or plaques in these graveyards... flaming great tombs of all shapes and sizes... rows upon rows of them... cemeteries next to cemeteries. If it wasn't such a morbid thing, bearing in mind what they were, they could actually be described as being quite a sight. If you've seen the film Double Jeopardy, you'll have seen one such cemetery towards the end of the film. Now me being miss snap-happy camera person, I decided to pull the car over on the side of the road across from one of these cemeteries, roll down my window and take a picture... just as a car came flying past straight through the flood I'd managed to stop in... and a wall of water came winging it's way straight through the open window literally drenching me from head to toe, along with the whole of the inside of the front of the car. For some obscure reason, Jen and Shan found this hysterically amusing... the buggers... all tucked up nice and warm and dry on the back seat of the car grrr...

As I believe I may have mentioned, the weather was terrible... we were following the tail end of the storm, which had made us prisoners in our hotel room first thing. It was not a pleasant journey by any stretch of the imagination, especially with big trucks on the road kicking up spray, but we were doing okay... it was daylight, we were keeping up with the flow of traffic, and although the roads were like lakes, we could see the lane lines.

Thanks to the oversleeping and the tornado thing, we were running behind schedule, which would mean us arriving in Tallahassee after dark... not the ideal situation, but it wasn't the first time and it probably wouldn't be the last. I reckoned we'd get there by about 6.30pm which wasn't too bad, but by about 5pm the rain was getting heavier and heavier and within moments we were driving through a massive thunderstorm. Shan was understandably unnerved by the size of the storm, all the thunder and lightening all around us, and she wasn't the only one. By now, the freeway was completely flooded... even with the windscreen wipers going full speed I could hardly see anything in front of me, no cars... even though I knew there were some, no road... all I'd get a glimpse of were the white lane lines to the left of me. I was crawling along at God knows what pathetic speed, with my hazard lights flashing in the hope that other vehicles might be able to see me, because the only other vehicles that I could see were the bloody great bastard inconsiderate thoughtless trucks that went flying past in the fast lane. The trucks were way above any spray that was being kicked up off the road, but when they went past, they reduced my very very VERY restricted view to absolutely nothing. All I could do when one went past was pray that in the moments until I could glimpse a white line again that I didn't land up taking us off the freeway into a ditch, or a barrier, or into any other traffic. I literally couldn't see anything.

I don't mind admitting that I was petrified. I could feel myself shaking inside and gripping the steering wheel so tight, but trying to keep a hold of my emotions and channel my panic by singing at the top if my voice to whatever was in the CD player. I considered pulling over onto the shoulder until the storm had passed, but I figured that we'd be a sitting target for other unsuspecting vehicles, so all we could do was keep going until we spotted the next exit, which seemed forever.

The next exit appeared. We didn't have a clue where we were... it didn't matter... as long as it was going to get us off the freeway where we could at least park up for a while. As luck would have it, there was a 'lodgings' sign posted at the exit, and although we couldn't actually read what it said, it would be somewhere we could hole up and sleep the night, resuming our journey in the morning.

Jen checked us into the hotel and she and Shan went into our room. I just sat in the car for a few moments to try and calm down. I didn't want to worry Shan any more than she already was, by seeing me shaky and upset.

I've never driven in conditions like that before, nor do I ever wish to again. I really thought that was going to be 'it' for us. One minute it was bad rain, the next we were surrounded on all sides by dark curtains of water, thunder and lightening.

I grabbed my bags, went into the room, and we all hugged. We sat there in relative silence for a bit until we turned the TV on, only to be greeted with our second tornado warning of the day. It seems we'd just been driving through the very storm that was fuelling this warning.

The whole area is on tornado warning for the whole night, but as I sit here writing this, all is calm outside and the rain has stopped. Please God let it stay that way.
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Monday, November 4th, 2002

Subject:Day 18 – Birmingham, AL to New Orleans, LA
Posted by:ella.
Time:9:08 pm.
I think the call about meeting for breakfast rather than dinner was a good one. I slept like a log so I must have been more tired than I’d thought. We drove into the city, two Brit chicks in ball caps driving a white car, trying to spot an American chick in a pinky/purpley top and hound’s-tooth skirt... simple really... It was actually Shan who landed up spotting her, despite Jen and I wandering up and down streets and hanging around on corners like we were touting for business.

Heather is a really lovely girl and has a wonderful ‘suthen’ accent. She immediately greeted me and “hugged my neck” as she’d been threatening to do every since Birmingham was added to our itinerary heh. She took us to a pancake house for breakfast where Jen ordered grits. Now I had no clue as to what these things were... I imagined something quite, well, ‘gritty’... but really they were more like the consistency and taste of rice pudding... they weren’t too bad actually, although I think a blob of raspberry jam would have gone down quite nicely with them. Heather, however, being a ‘suthen’ girl had hers with scrambled eggs. *twitch-twitch* :þ

After breakfast we, tried kidnapping Heather to come to New Orleans with us, but she had this small obligation called ‘work’ or something and apparently her boss would probably have sacked her if she’d just disappeared :/ we said our goodbyes and headed south through Mississippi [every time I write/type that word I spell it out loud in my head... M I double S I double S I double P I...]. This is where we had our first run-in with the law. Not too bad really considering we’d already got a few thousand miles under our belts. Jen was accidentally *cough* doing 84mph on a 70mph long, straight, clear, dry road. Unfortunately, there must have been a speed gun hidden somewhere, because a State Trooper appeared out of nowhere onto the hard shoulder and motioned us to pull over.

He sauntered up to her window with a bloody great gun on his hip and asked her what we were doing in that part of the country... obviously having seen the Washington license plate on the car... Jen told him we were headed to New Orleans... he then asked to see her drivers license, which she showed him... “Ooh, you’re from the UK!” He then added that she’d been doing 84mph in a 70mph limit. Jen apologized, he then said she just needed to slow down and wandered off. That was it! No fine, no caution, no nothing! I guess ticketing a foreigner is too much paperwork or something, but we weren’t complaining. Needless to say, the cruise control was set at a dead 70mph from then on... well, until we crossed the state line into Louisiana 11 miles later, that is.

Arriving in New Orleans, or Nawlins as the locals apparently pronounce it, was a beautiful sight. Even though the cloud cover was low, the city just looked beautiful... one of the prettiest city arrivals we’d made. We checked into our hotel on Canal Street, just a few blocks outside of the French Quarter. After putting our feet up for an hour or so, we got a taxi into the Quarter, and had dinner at the Olde Nawlins Cookery on Conti Street. This is another restaurant I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the city. The food was absolutely delicious. We had Opelousas Onion to start with, then Shan had blackened chicken, Jen had redfish, and I had shrimp creole. I may also have partaken in a cocktail or two. Actually I was only going to have the one, but you got a free glass with each cocktail and Jen wanted one so I was forced to have another just to get the glass :) One was a Hurricane and the other was a Binge... I have no real idea what was in them, although I think copious amounts of rum was involved... either way, I left the place considerably buzzed :)

After dinner we went for a walk down the famous Bourbon Street. What an amazing place! Even though it was a Monday night, there were loads of people milling about. Jazz and blues music was blaring out of every bar and shop as you walked down the street... the place was so alive and it was nice to be able to go out at night without a jacket or anything, because even though it was late, it was still warm enough to be walking about in sleeveless tops.

After covering the length of the street, we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel and fell asleep in front of the football.
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Sunday, November 3rd, 2002

Subject:Day 17 – Memphis, TN to Birmingham, AL
Posted by:ella.
Time:8:27 pm.
Shan and I were rudely awaken at about 3am by some kind of row outside our hotel room. It sounded like a family had arrived to move into the room next to us, but instead of taking into account the time and talking in hushed voices, they decided to shout to each other... for about half an hour... before settling down in front of a television at full volume. I was getting more and more wound up, but remembering the Harley l’incident a couple of days ago, I managed to retrain my desire to go out and tell them to shut the f@%! up for fear of getting a gun in my face. Instead I just hoped that someone else would have the nerve. Either they did shut up or I just got used to the noise because the next thing I knew it was 7am. I vaguely thought about getting up, but again I must have dosed off because the next thing I knew it was after 9am. Then started a mad panic because we had originally planned on having an early start for the long drive to Birmingham, Alabama.

Being in Memphis, we of course had to visit Gracelands. It’s like the law or something. All the way there, as in just ‘round the corner, I was singing the classic Paul Simon song in my head, but once there I have to say I was a little disappointed. I think so much had been built up about this place in my head and/or expectations about this huge ‘magical’ place that most everybody has heard of and a lot of people aspire to visit, but it felt slightly weird being there. It was like we were intruders having a nosey around some dead guys house :/ It didn’t feel very Elvis-y, whatever that is. The massive ‘musical’ gates were actually quite small, and although we got to have a look around most of the downstairs and basement of the house, the upstairs was out of bounds because that was Elvis’ personal residence. Erm, I’m sorry, is that not what we were supposed to be seeing? I’m not a huge Elvis fan, although I do like his music... and to see all his gold & platinum records was quite impressive. The meditation garden, i.e. the place where he and his close family are supposedly buried was quite weird too, but like I said at the start of this waffle, I’m not really sure what I expected. Despite all that, I am glad I went... it was a sight to see and somewhere else I can say I’ve been. By the way... if you’re an Elvis fan and you go there, dance around, sing and do Elvis impressions whilst in the queue for the tour bus... it will provide endless moments of amusement for those stood in front of you...

We finally left Memphis at about half 12... by now thinking that we weren’t going to make to Birmingham in time for dinner with Heather [elysiangirl], but despite the rain absolutely bouncing down the whole way, to the point where the road was barely visible at times, we actually made good time and arrived at about half 5. By the time we managed to get hold of Heather, though, it was about 8pm-ish so we all decided to make plans for brunch instead. I quite like this meeting up for breakfast thing... it’s much bigger here than it is at home and it’s quite a social thing to do really... as long as I’m not expected to be too conscious, that is.

We ordered take out, stuck the TV on and then curled up with a book for the night. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I almost forgot... I tried one of those Twinky things today! I’ve heard of them several times in the past but never even knew what they were, so when we were in Wal-mart the other day, I saw a pack at the checkout and grabbed one. How do I put it? They’re like sponge-y textured sugar with plastic cream inside. Apparently my face was a picture when I took my first [and last] bite, which Jen & Shan found amusing for some l’obscure reason. Still, at least I satisfied my curiosity :)
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Saturday, November 2nd, 2002

Subject:Day 16 – Fayetteville, AK to Memphis, TN
Posted by:ella.
Time:10:40 am.
Up and out of bed by 7am, and on the road by 8am, although Shan didn’t realize that she’d been woken so early until I put my foot firmly in my mouth by commenting on how early we’d got on the road... d’oh!

It was raining when we left Fayetteville and it rained all day... absolutely chucked it down non-stop, which didn’t make the journey very pleasant, especially for Jen who was driving. It was, in theory, a pretty straightforward route... south on the I-540, then east on the I-40 taking us straight into the centre of Memphis – were it not for a slight traffic jam.

A truck had decided to tip over in the only open lane in a section of road works on the freeway, blocking it completely, and thus making the entire road impassable. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to move the truck, so instead they had to move the road works, which took 2 or 3 hours. I’ll tell you what though... American drivers act a lot differently to English drivers in a traffic jam... they’re a lot less patient, but far more tolerant. Cars were shooting up the hard shoulder and central reservation in an effort to queue jump, and people were letting them! Trucks were doing u-turns on the dipped central reservation... and we’re talking a motorway type road here... we were half hopping that one would tip over just to add to the entertainment value. Of course things weren’t so amusing when our bladders all started complaining.

Talking of which, I was in a cubicle at a rest stop soon after the traffic started moving again, and I overheard a conversation between 2 women. One said to the other about how she’d given ‘Chrissie’ her mace, the other woman asked her if that was a wise idea, the first then replied that it was okay because she just carried a gun in the car instead. I was gobsmacked. Mind you, I guess that kinda thing is the norm over here, but it’s certainly not at home.

Nine hours after setting off, we finally arrived at our hotel in Memphis... and what a dump that was... the hotel I mean, not Memphis... although... One things about Memphis I will say, tho, is that it gave me a taste of what it felt like to be an ethnic minority. Actually we weren’t just a minority; we were the only white people we saw until we joined a bunch of tourists the next day.

We tracked down an Internet café as we both needed to check a few things and then grabbed a Maccie Dee’s before heading back to the hotel and crashing for the night... in Jen and Shans case in sleeping bags on the bed as the erm hygiene was so bad...
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Friday, November 1st, 2002

Subject:Day 15 - Weatherford, OK to Fayetteville, AK
Posted by:ella.
Time:6:28 pm.
I had a rather bizarre start to the day really. I was half woken by what sounded like a constipated tractor in the car park below our hotel room. I should probably mention at this point that I don’t much like being woken by inexplicable loud unexpected noises :) I leapt out of bed, flung the door open and spotted a guy messing with and revving up his Harley. At the top of my voice, I yelled “OI!!” at him across the car park. It was at this point that I woke up sufficiently to realize that I was stood out on the balcony in my nightshirt, getting ready to yell abuse at some guy who looked like he wasn’t the sort of guy to take any crap. I turned around, went back into our hotel room, shut the door behind me and found Jen and Shan hiding under the covers.

Once awake, I recalled a dream/nightmare I’d had the night before, or rather the gist of it and it wasn’t overly pleasant. I’d just got home from this trip and everybody hated me, so I was doing a quick turnaround in packing and heading off to catch the 20:30hrs flight to Malawi, then onto Perth, then onto some Indian Island off the coast of Australia called Trafa or Traga or something, where I was going to be some kind of care worker of sorts for a year. Anyway, I remember feeling really upset as I was packing that there were people I was going to miss while I was away, but I was going anyway. A bit like this trip really. So then Jen told us about a dream she’d had about an Air India flight from Manchester to Islamabad, a 747-400 apparently [gotta love this girls attention to detail] which had fallen out of the sky whilst trying to land on the road the other side of the motorway from her house. It had managed to get within 20’ of the road, but then just dropped to the ground, part of it landing in water [that’s not there] causing a mini tidal wave, which carried a killer whale up her street.

Any you know what? We hadn’t even been drinking.

For the past few days, we’d been on the Meat Loaf hunt... not the food, but the singer... actually not the singer as such, more the album Bat Out Of Hell on CD so that we could sing our heads off in the car to it. Where on earth do Americans buy CD’s? I mean in England you can pretty much buy them anywhere, but I don’t think we’ve as yet spotted one single music store... and I have to find one because one of my nephews has given me a shopping list :) Back to the point, and a very small one it is too. We’d been on the Meat Loaf hunt, so in desperation we decided to try that great American institution, Wal-Mart. And guess what? They had LOADS of them! So we splashed out on BOOH and BOOH2 :D [See, I told you it was a very small point but I’m in waffle mode.]

Armed with our new acquisitions, and the speakers adjusted so as not to make Shan’s ears bleed, we headed east along the I-40 in search of Arkansas. You know, the I-40 really is a very long & boring road, unlike the I-5. And I’m sure they only post up ‘Road Works’ notices just to keep you on your toes and awake because there’s never anything going on.

We crossed yet another state line, this time into Arkansas, and headed north to Fayetteville. When I called Tim [whipsmart] in the morning, I’d told him that we’d be there between 5pm & 6pm, which we would have been had we not taken a wrong turn and managed to get an impromptu tour of the city in the dark. We found our hotel by about half 6 and he said he’d come over to pick us up at 7pm to take us into town for dinner, which he did.

It was a gorgeous dinner with him and his lovely wife who joined us at the restaurant, and we even got to eat alligator! Yep, they had alligator on the menu, so Jen [being the brave one] ordered it, but Shan and I got to have a taste. To be honest, it tasted like chewy chicken, but then most things taste like chicken when it comes down to it. We had a great time with lots of laughs, mostly about the differences in British and American humour. Do Americans find Trigger Happy TV amusing? All in all it was a very pleasant evening and it was great to meet Tim at last. It’s just a shame that it had to end really.

Back at the hotel now and it’s after midnight here, 6am at home. Mum’ll be just getting up, but most everybody else at home will still be sleeping, probably, with the exception of baggy who’ll be counting down the last hour of the night shift. It’s probably about time I got some sleep, too. Yep. Nunight world :)
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Thursday, October 31st, 2002

Subject:Day 14 - Santa Fe, NM to Weatherford, OK
Posted by:ella.
Time:5:53 pm.
Yet another relatively early start to the day. We headed south out of Santa Fe on the US 285 and again the scenery gradually changed. From the low-rise coffee-coloured buildings of the city, we were again in the middle of nowhere, except this looked remarkably like it could have been a drive through the New Forest at home, but with a few more hills. It seemed to be very lush and green, which was slightly confusing as we’d had a notice in our hotel room to conserve water.

It wasn’t long before we were back into the now familiar barren landscape again. We crossed the state line into Texas early afternoon, and lost another hour by crossing into the central time zone. I’m not sure what I expected Texas to look like to be honest, but I know it didn’t look like it. There was very little difference between Texas and New Mexico, apart from an abundance of ranches and buffalo... ooh and the absence of pawnshops from what I saw.

Plan A was to stop in Amarillo the night, for no particular reason other than it was en route to our Friday night destination of Fayetteville, AK, but we’d made pretty good time so decided to carry on and see how far we got. By late afternoon we were crossing our second state line of the day and into Oklahoma... That’ll be Oooooohklahoma where the something does something down the plain... and despite being told by whipsmart’s lovely wife what those words were that I’ve missed out, I still can’t remember them, but it didn’t stop me singing it every few miles or so. Howard Keel eat your heart out :) Yes, we’d driven across Texas in a day, well okay just the panhandle bit at the top, but still...

It would have been good if we’d managed to make it as far as Oklahoma City for the night having come so far, but by about half 6 we’d had enough driving for the day, plus by then it was dark so we decided to call it quits just west of Oklahoma City, a the town of Weatherford. It had been a long day, but at least we’d covered quite a distance, which meant that we could have a lay-in the next morning :)

Ooh... and I’m rather getting a taste for flavoured coffee... vanilla hazelnut yum yum... this, however, does not mean I’m turning into an American :þ

*sings national anthem to self*
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Wednesday, October 30th, 2002

Subject:Day 13 - Blanding, UT to Santa Fe, NM
Posted by:ella.
Time:3:36 pm.
We made an early start this morning, something with an 8 in it I think, as we had a long drive ahead of us. We headed southeast in an effort to try & find Four Corners, the junction where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico all meet at right angles. After a few interesting turnings, thanks to the map not making sense and actually telling us to follow a road that didn’t exist, but turned into a red dirt track which landed us in the middle of an oil field, we finally arrived. We stood there like the tourists we are in the freezing cold and took pictures of each other stood with our feet in all four states at the same time... and didn’t we feel like nonces heh... but then everyone else was there for the same thing so it wasn’t so bad. Jen & Shan had some frybread for breakfast and we then set off again in search of Santa Fe.

The journey to Santa Fe was mostly uneventful... myrch’s comments to me before leaving about us driving for miles & miles without actually seeing anything came to mind... desert, shrubs, endless roads, mountains... by now, as amazing as the scenery was, we’d got used to it and it was no longer a novelty any more. I mean there were subtle variations in earth & shrub colour, as well as quantity, variety etc., but by now we’d kind of taken it all for granted. I’m sure once I get home I’ll long to see it again, but that’s what God invented cameras for, right?

The only eventful part of the journey occurred as we were nearing Santa Fe itself, although I think I may have been watching too many movies. About 40 miles out of Santa Fe we were overtaken by a car with about 4 blokes in it... it then slowed down so I overtook it... it then speeded up and overtook me again, so by now I was a tad spooked. I took the license plate number and basically floored it to catch up with the vehicles that I could see in front of me in the distance. Again the muppet driver speeded up to try and catch up with me again, but again I just floored it to try and get away to at least have other cars around me. This continued for about 20 miles or so. I figured, a:: safety in numbers, b:: if I got pulled for speeding, I’d be happy to tell the cops why and c:: I still probably watch too many movies, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? Anyway, either I managed to lose him in the end or he wasn’t really trying in the first place.

We arrived in Santa Fe late afternoon and checked into a hotel. When checking in, Jen asked the hotel clerk if he could recommend a decent Mexican restaurant as we’d both been looking forward to some quality Mexican food. He didn’t disappoint us. Oh. My. God! He directed us to Garduños on Lincoln Avenue and I would happily recommend it to anyone! Prepared for an “illegal” meal, I ordered the chicken & cheese burrito, served with refritos and arroz topped with red chili yum. Shan wanted to try some of the red chili, and although she tried to keep a straight face and asked for some more, I believe I may have seen steam coming out of her ears heh. Jen had shrimp fajitas and a house margarita and Shan had chicken-stuffed Sopaipillas.

We returned to the hotel, ready to watch our first dose of The Simpson’s since leaving home, and an early night ready for the next long drive to Texas the following day.

Just an afterthought. Why is New Mexico full of pawnshops?
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Tuesday, October 29th, 2002

Subject:Day 12 - Williams, AZ to Blanding, UT
Posted by:ella.
Time:2:54 pm.
First stop this morning was the Route 66 Roadshop in Williams. The shop was much like the one on the highway, was full of Route 66 stuff mainly for tourists I think, but that's what we are :)

After a mooch around we headed north on the US 64 to go look at the Grand Canyon. We got caught in a bit of a traffic jam thanks to some road works, but before long we were parting with our $20 entrance fee to the park. Before visiting the Canyon, I’d had this idea in my head that the rim of it wouldn’t be that accessible... that you’d maybe have to get on a tour bus or something to get anyway near it, so I just couldn’t believe my eyes as we turned a corner and there it was! We were literally with in feet of it right by the side of the road! We parked up and walked over to have a look, and I believe there may have been one or two words of unprintable exclamations of amazement emanating from our mouths as we were faced with this massive hole in the ground... once our jaws picked up off the deck, that is. We were stood there, right at the edge of this thing, the only thing between the bottom, and us being our balance. The first few moments I just stood there with my mouth open... it almost didn’t look real. It was so huge and so beautiful it was difficult to comprehend that it wasn’t a postcard or something. We took a few pictures then drove further along it to have a look from a different viewpoint.

After having a look around the park, we headed east into the Navajo Nation. The route took us along the southern rim of the canyon for about 26 miles, so every now & then we’d get a glimpse of it. We then headed south and away from it towards Cameron. Navajoland became instantly recognizable as being mile after mile of desert nothingness, apart from the odd shack by the side of the road selling handmade jewelry and blankets, which were very nice too. We arrived in Cameron and stretched our legs for a bit. From looking at the map, I was expecting a small town, but this was more of an even smaller trading post in the middle of nowhere. I mean don’t get me wrong, it had everything you could need, a post office, a shop, a petrol station, and it was all very pretty in a sort of Native American way, it was just a little different to what I’d expected is all.

We headed north on the US 89, then east on the US 160 towards Kayenta. By the time we arrived there, we’d traveled about 100 miles or so through red sand desert, scattered with the odd shrub, and surrounded by mountains. By now, we were that high up that we even got a glimpse of snow on the peak of the mountain to the right of us. At Kayenta we headed north-east on the US 163... the road that takes you through Monument Valley. Now these are a serious bunch of rocks. Rising out of the plains were these huge redstone monoliths, easily visible from miles around, but even more incredible the closer we got. Now this is a road I know Thelma & Louise took :D It would have been nice to have seen them at the height of the sun, but by now, the sun was pretty low in the sky, getting ready to set. That said, seeing the sun bounce off the sides of these massive red giants was a sight in itself. By the time we’d finally got through the valley, the sun had set. It sets very quickly around here for some reason. It was barely 6pm, but already it was pitch black.

By now, we were in the 6th state of our trip, Utah, and were heading north towards Blanding to find somewhere to stay the night. Cars in the opposite direction had snow on them which was slightly amusing to see, although we did wonder whether we’d actually run into any ourselves, which would have been unwelcome given the dark, unlit roads, and crap headlights on the car. We stopped briefly at a petrol station and the cashier there said that there had been quite a serious snowfall in Monticello that day, but Blanding, 20 miles to the south had only had a little bit so we figured we’d be okay.

We found somewhere to stay about an hour or so later, and yes there was snow on the ground, but not much. One particularly bizarre thing about Blanding, or is it Utah in general? We walked into a local restaurant to get a bite to eat, and the whole place went quiet as everyone stopped what they were doing and looked around at us as if to say, "ayup, strangers in town..." I kid you not. It was a most unsettling feeling, but they soon got back to munching on a cows rear end or whatever they were doing. Another thing, everything seemed to shut early... by about 10pm I’m sure that a dropping pin would have woken the whole town!

On the upside, the hotel was fine, and due to the town being in the middle of nowhere, and thus having no light pollution, we had a wonderfully clear view of the stars in the night sky :)
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Monday, October 28th, 2002

Subject:Day 11 – Las Vegas, NV to Williams, AZ
Posted by:ella.
Time:5:22 pm.
We woke quite early and went down to the buffet restaurant for our complimentary breakfast. Flaming triangles! The buffet was HUGE! I reckon it had just about anything you could ever wish to have for breakfast, and some! Very yummy it was tho :)

After breakfast, I figured that I’d take the bull by the horns and have a go on the roulette tables, I mean how can you visit Las Vegas and not have a go? I set myself a limit, fully prepared to lose the lot, and I didn’t disappoint myself. I won, I lost, I won, I lost, but it was worth it just for the experience so I was happy.

We headed south out of Las Vegas and joined the US 93 in search of the Hoover Dam. Las Vegas looks very different in daylight... the buildings all obviously look the same, but without the contrast of the neon lights against the blackness of the nights sky, it just lacks a certain excitement. It doesn’t stop the thousands of people coming to part with money, though. Jen described it as being like Blackpool but without the sea.

Driving through the desert with blue skies and the heat of the sun was wonderful, and made all the more bearable I think by the knowledge that at the press of a switch we could escape it to the near arctic conditions afforded by air conditioning.

As we got nearer the Hoover Dam, we rounded a corner and got a magnificent view of Lake Mead... a crystal blue lake in the middle of barren desert, which has the Colorado River running both in, and out of it.

We reached the Dam and parked to stretch our legs, have a nosey about and part with some pennies in the gift shop. I have to say that at this point I was slightly disappointed with what I saw. In all the pictures I’d seen of it before, including a program about the building of it that I’d seen just before I left home and the front cover of the website I just linked, you got to see the huge concave side of it quite clearly with water at the bottom. But the view that we had of it was not only pretty obscured, but there was an obvious severe lack of the wet stuff.

We headed back to the car and drove across the top of the dam, crossing not only the state line from Nevada into Arizona in the process, but also passing from the Pacific Time Zone into the Mountain Time Zone, losing us an hour. Once over the Dam, we started to climb into the mountains again, stopping briefly to take pictures of the convex side and of a coyote, which had decided to pay us a visit.

We picked up the I-40 at Kingman and headed in the general direction of Flagstaff, which was going to be our next overnight stop. All the time we seemed to be climbing higher into the mountains and the last sign I recall seeing had us at 7,000 ft above sea level. The higher we got, the colder it got, which was kind of weird considering we were still in desertland.

Parts of the I-40 combined with the famous Route 66, which was pretty cool. We stopped off to fill up with Petrol at one place and there were gifts and memorabilia all over the place, so you have to put your hand in your pocket, don’t you :) This also gave me the perfect opportunity to fire off a couple of Route 66 postcards to those who had requested them.

In the half hour that we’d stopped, the sun had gone from being high in the sky, to disappearing behind the mountains and what a gorgeous sight that was, although I was too busy gawping to take pictures, d’oh! Pinks, purples, reds, oranges all blended into one until it finally disappeared and all became dark and very, very cold. It was almost like someone had turned the oven off.

We were only an hour away from Flagstaff at this point, but decided not to go that far. A quick look at the map combined with signposts to Williams had that as the nearest town to us, placed rather conveniently, directly south of the south rim of the Grand Canyon, which is what we were planning to visit the next day.

We booked into a Days Inn and went next door to Denny’s for our tea, before doing some much needed laundry, vegging in front of the tea and writing up journals. Oh and the temperature? Well put it this way. The Denny’s was about 200 yards from our hotel, but we drove there. It was literally freezing. We could see our breath when we spoke, and after leaving the sauna that was Las Vegas that morning, we just weren’t prepared for it.
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Sunday, October 27th, 2002

Subject:Day 10 – Helendale, CA to Las Vegas, NV
Posted by:ella.
Time:4:47 pm.
An update has been well overdue, but I’ve made it to an Internet Café in Tampa so I’ll see what I can get done in the next hour or so...

Right, back to Sunday 27th October 2002...

Now this was a morning to wake up to the Californian sunshine. I was awake at 6am and saw the sun rise over the mountains and almost as soon as it was up you could feel the intense heat on your skin. It was a definite shorts and t-shirt day, well, for those brave enough to show flesh that is.

We headed over to Shoo’s again in the morning for breakfast and what was on TV? Saints thrashing the living daylights out of Fulham 4-2 :D

After lunch we hit the road again, taking a slight detour via Hinkley [of Erin Brockovich fame]. I think they must have removed the ‘Welcome to Hinkley’ signs after the movie or something, because apart from the fact that we knew it was there, and seeing a small sign pointing to Hinkley Market we could have been passing through anywhere. Just a small selection of scattered dwellings and no obvious sign of the evil PG&E anywhere.

We continued our drive north-ease across the Mojave Desert – climbs through mountains, descents into desert plains, until crossing the border into Nevada and arriving in Las Vegas just as the sun was going down. Las Vegas really is a commercialized pile of buildings in the middle of a desert... you’re driving along surrounded by lots of nothingness, and then you crest a hill and see this pool of lights in the plain in front of you.

Sunset was the perfect time to arrive as far as we were concerned... it was dark enough to be able to fully appreciate the lights, but light enough to be able to see where we were going. Originally we were going for a cheaper off-strip hotel, but lots of the main on-strip hotels were offering deals for stays between Sunday to Thursday, so we took advantage of one such deal and checked into the Stardust Hotel & Casino.

After faffing about trying to decide where to park in relation to which of the many entrances we’d need to get in by, we finally landed up parking about as far from our eventual room as it was possible to get. [Side comment: This Internet café chair is not even close to the definition of comfortable grrr.] To say that the Stardust was a big hotel/casino type doohickey would be a gross understatement. The walk from the car, through the gaming area to the hotel was approximately about ¼ mile, and our room was about another ¼ mile further on... but all of it was inside through what was like a mini town, of slot machines, gaming tables, flashing neon lights, restaurants, shops, bars. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the gaming area, so you’ll either have to take my word for it & use your imagination, or check out their web page & see if there’s pictures on there. The sight was like nothing I’d seen before... like a massive amusement arcade for grown ups.

We checked into our room in the villa section of the Hotel and decided to call room service for dinner.. What we really should have taken account of before ordering, was a:: the fact that we were in a casino where the owners were wanting to keep the punters happy so that they’d spend more money, and b:: American sized portions. We ordered, what we thought was a modest 3-course meal for the 3 of us, but what was delivered was a huge round table FULL of food, enough to feed several small African countries! Pictures to follow...

After dinner and the final game of the World Series, we all went down to the casino to part with some $$$. Jen took up her seat at the blackjack table while Shan & I watched on from a discreet distance. Unfortunately, this wasn’t discreet enough for a policeman who came up to me and suggested that I take Shan out, as it was over 21’s only in the gaming area. As Jen was already playing, and I wasn’t sure I’d have the nerve to anyway, I took Shan back to the room where we both fell asleep in front of Pretty Woman.

At some point around about midnight I think, I heard the door go. It was Jen. She bounced into the room like Tigger on crack, dancing about with a great big grin on her face., yelling in a loud whisper, “I’ve won!! I’ve won!!” The lucky bugger had only gone and won $350/£275 hadn’t she! But more to the point, and what quite rightly made her happy was that she’d had the restraint to give up when she said she would and walked away with her winnings instead of ploughing them back in.

After mucho excitable yapping, and a quick phone call to her mum to share the news, we both joined Shan in the land of nod for a contented nights sleep.
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Saturday, November 2nd, 2002

Subject:Still alive...
Posted by:ella.
Time:7:02 pm.
Mood: happy.
Just a quick post from an Internet cafe in Memphis to say that all is good and having a great time... will post a proper update when I next get my hands on a keyboard :)
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Saturday, October 26th, 2002

Subject:Day 9 - Helendale, CA
Posted by:ella.
Time:1:33 pm.
Mood: hot.
Today was always pitched as being a day of rest to catch our breath after the week of driving, and it fitted the bill perfectly.

We got up quite late for us, at about 9am. We got the hotel to change our room into one with 2 double beds as we’d booked, rather than a bed and dodgy sofa bed, and then headed over to Shoo’s for breakfast. Sal was taking the boys paintballing so we just hung out with Shoo for the day. I managed to get caught up on some trip diary entries, while Jen & Shan made Halloween pumpkins to put outside the house. Shan kinda gave up half way and played video games, but Jen persisted until she’d finished them both and I have to say that the results are stunning! She is one seriously talented chicky with a knife – photos to follow :)

Rather spookily, Thelma & Louise came on the TV, so we half watched that while chatting until the boys came back with Sal and we all headed out for a steak dinner together.

Wow! Monster portions or what? We had a huge sampler plate of all sorts of different things between us for starters, and then followed that up with a huge juicy steak. Yum.

After dinner we headed back to the house to watch the baseball on TV, before going back to the hotel for a much better nights sleep. Yep, a seriously relaxing day :)
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Friday, October 25th, 2002

Subject:Day 8 - Ventura, CA to Helendale, CA
Posted by:ella.
Time:1:15 pm.
Mood:Enjoying myself :).
Waking up in the rays of the warm Southern Californian sunshine is a wonderful thought isn’t it? Sadly I can’t tell you what that feels like at this point as it was cool, grey and overcast when I woke up. Huh? Undeterred, we piled into santanawomanTheresa’s car and set off for a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles.

Again we took the coastal route which took us through such areas as Malibu. Now I’d always imagined Malibu as being a bit of a nice beach with a bunch of rather pleasant oversized houses nearby... which to a point pretty much sums it up. But Malibu stretches on for 27 miles! I have to admit that this was about 25 miles more of it than I had expected and some of the houses are incredible! God knows how much they cost or what kind of people actually live in them. Flaming great huge houses built into the hillside overlooking miles of golden ‘Baywatch’ beaches complete with those dodgy lifeguard stations etc. Sadly there was no sign of David Hasselhoff, though.

One part of the beach seemed to have some kind of action going on. “Oh they’re just filming a movie,” said Theresa. Ooh just filming a movie, huh? Well that’s the kind of thing we see everyday at home heh.

We headed into LA on the freeway – actually no, forget “headed” – that infers we just drove – I believe that a more accurate description would be that we crawled into LA. I’ve not seen traffic like it! Lane after lane of bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s a complete gridlock – the whole of the city!

We drove along Sunset Blvd, the Santa Monica Blvd, and a whole bunch of other famous roads that I can’t even recall the names of right now. We drove through Beverly Hills, saw the entrances to the closed community of Bel-Air, could almost smell the money emanating from the stores on Rodeo Drove [baby!] – some of which require you to make an appointment before you can shop! And some don’t even let Joe & Joanna Public in! And we got to see the Hollywood sign :D

We stopped off for a bite to eat in the afternoon and this is the first time that I’d felt slightly nervous about my surroundings. I was a stranger in a strange town and there were a lot of people, a lot less fortunate than myself all milling around going about their daily business, some of whom were shouting and hollering on the street, walking aimlessly about. They weren’t really taking any notice of me, in fact they probably didn’t even realize that I was there, let alone pose a threat, but it was an unusual situation for me to be in and I was just a little wary.

We ate, Jen & Shan bought dognuts and we headed back out onto the freeway from hell again. In précis, I’m glad we went to LA, I’m glad that we got to see the main touristy things we wanted to see, but I don’t think it’s a city I’d rush to go back to, if only because of the traffic.

We arrived back in Ventura at 5pm, the exact same time that we should have been arriving in Helendale. We couldn’t call shoo in advance as we didn’t have her number with us, but we let her know as soon as we got back. We packed our stuff up, said our goodbyes to the lovely Theresa and Nicole, and headed east towards the desert.

Because we’d left so late, we were only halfway there by the time it got dark, but this in itself had its own charm. To round a corner and see a blob of light in a desert plain, indicating a town, surrounded by complete blackness is weird.

We knew where we were going, thanks to Randy Mac’s door-to-door destructions, or did we? As we got nearer to Helendale, the destructions had us turning off of the US 395 onto a single track road. We followed this road for a bit, but soon it turned into an unpaved desert track. Now Shoo had always said that she lived in the middle of nowhere, plus Randy Mac had told us to go this way, so despite minor misgivings, we decided that this could be the right way to go after all. We followed the destructions to the letter and they seemed to fit with what we were seeing so we figured that everything was okay. By now we were on a series of bumpy, potholed sand tracks, but still the destructions worked... until they didn’t. There wasn’t a turning where there should have been one, we were in the middle of God knows where on a dirt track with no obvious habitation or sign of life in sight, in pitch darkness. This is where we decided that Randy Mac could go to hell, we’d retrace our route back to civilisation and call Shoo.

Shoo had no idea where we were, but directed us to go back to the US 395, which we were, and to continue along that for a bit where she would meet us at a road junction, which she did. She led the way to our hotel, where we checked in for the night, relieved to have arrived at last.

Jen & Shan were shattered and decided to just head for bed, but I was still wide awake so went back with Shoo to her house for a goss and some absolutely scrummy lemon chicken that she’d cooked.

It was great to meet Shoo at last. After years of talking on line and through journals, it was soooo cool to actually be sat in the same room as her, talking for real.

Time seemed to fly and before we knew it, it was 1am or something. Shoo drove me back to the hotel, where I spent the night on the most uncomfortable sofa bed in the history of sofa beds. It was like sleeping on a pile of uneven rocks, but at this point I was too tired to care.
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