March 15th, Day 3
9:46 — I woke up this morning around 9:00 a.m., quickly brushed my teeth, met Castleton’s lovely wife and a couple of his children, and rushed out the door to get back on the road and to my own children, only to be met with an unfortunate surprise. We have a flat.
You just know it’s because we bragged last night that we have had no unexpected drama. The Road Gods have forsaken us! On the bright side, there are children and cats and an actual goddamn house and coffee to keep us warm until Triple A arrives and repairs the flat. But for a while longer, Maine will remain 5 hours away!
Noon — After waiting for about an hour and a half for the service guy to come out and fix the flat on the rental, I had this exchange with a very brusque man from New Jersey:
Tow Truck Driver: They said the car was in the garge.
Me: I never told them the car was in the garage.
Driver: I have more important things to do today than change a tire in the snow.
Me: Uh, OK?
Driver: Call me when it’s easier to change the tire. *storms off, gets in car, drives away*
Me: … (What just happened?)
So, I called the rental car place again, they sent a guy out from half a mile away, gave the tire enough air to get back to the rental car place, and they switched me from an amazing SUV to basically what I drive at home: A fucking minivan.
This road trip was a lot more fun with Castleton.
1:30 — Update: The roads are terrible in New York and New Jersey, and it has nothing to do with the snow. There are POTHOLES on the freeway. I think that $1 trillion infrastructure deal Trump is proposing is a great idea, and from the looks of it, it all needs to be applied to New York and New Jersey.
Connecticut is much nicer, although the last leg of this trip already feels longer than the first two.
Also, I see that a war has broken out among the Pajiba staff over Rachel Maddow. I LEAVE FOR ONE THREE-DAY TRIP ACROSS AMERICA.
5:00 — Stopped at a rest stop on the New Hampshire border to wake myself up. Caffeine just turned to me and said, “You’re on your own now, dude,” and then threw back its head and laughed maniacally. (Maniacal laugh. Maniacal laugh.) Considering throwing myself in the snow to keep myself awake. All I wanted to do was make it home before dark to shovel the driveway. We were a team, Castleton. WHAT HAPPENED?
7:00 — Arrived. Shoveled the driveway. Shower sleep.
March, 14th. Day 2
9:30 a.m. — Both Castleton and I got a great night’s sleep here in a sleepy motel off the freeway in Nashville, TN, where we decided to pull off around 2:30 last night. Six hours of sleep is a hug improvement over what we were getting at SXSW in Austin.
Today, I’m mostly excited to get back into the correct time zone again, because losing an hour in the central time zone, and then losing another hour because of Daylight Savings time, has messed with my internal clock this week, and it doesn’t help that nobody in these motels or on the radio in the rental car has reset their clock after Saturday, so whenever I look at a clock, I have to recalculate what that time means to me in this particular moment of time, knowing that 150 miles or so away in Knoxville, TN, that time will mean something completely different to me.
Also, for how many days after the clocks move forward or backward does the average person say, “It’s So and So ‘O Clock, but it feels like So and So O’Clock?” Is there like a two-day limit on how it’s supposed to feel to be two hours behind?
Anyway, we’re checking the weather, game planning the day, and trying to find a cool breakfast joint in Nashville before we take off.
10:00 a.m. — Castleton has scoped out a popular breakfast joint in Nashville, six miles away. Apparently, there’s a very long line, but he tells me that it’s definitely going to be worth it. We’ll check back in later and let you know if it was definitely worth the long line.
12:31 — As someone predicted in the comments, we did indeed go to Biscuit Love in Nashville. It’s 34 degrees and windy, and the line was out the door (but apparently, much shorter than usual). Of course, all I brought were clothes for Austin, so I was like “Fuck you, Castleton,” I’m not standing in that line for no boughnuts? But Castleton assured me it was worth it, and as is often the case, Castleton was right. We stood in line for 50 minutes, and this was our reward.
The food was obscene. It was gluttony personified. It was sinful and delicious, and we couldn’t eat more than one-third of it. A biscuit/donut with blueberries and filled with lemon mascarpone! And then a biscuit covered in sausage gravy, fried chicken, and an egg. Someone said it was named the best sandwich in America. It may be, but we won’t digest it for a week. It was totally worth it, even if it ultimate cost us nearly 2 hours.
Also, Nashville is an absolutely beautiful city, y’all. Our favorite on the road trip, so far. 10 out of 10, would visit again.
12:45 — Lots of folks have been sending us photos of themselves wearing their Pajiba T-shirts and sweatshirts and mugs, and they are awesome. So, thank you! Also, Castleton set that whole thing up and is running point on it, and if you haven’t bought a shirt yet, check it out! We have all been pleasantly surprised at how well the merch is coming out and how great it looks on everyone.
1:10 — Our latest updated itinerary is this: We have gotten a lot of mixed messages about the weather in different parts of the the North East, so far. Some are telling us it’s as bad as expected, and others are telling us that it didn’t materialize. However, Castleton’s wife and kids actually drove from Boston to his in-laws in Jersey yesterday to wait out the storm together. So, our plan is to head to Jersey, where we think the snow will have been cleared by the time we get there (2 or 3 a.m.). We’ll sleep a few hours, and Castleton was stick around with his family tomorrow and I’ll make the rest of the journey to Maine by myself in the morning. We’ll see how it works out — our plan is to go through Richmond instead of Roanoke (to avoid the higher elevations of the Mountains) and completely circumnavigate Pennsylvania, because everyone is telling us that Pennsylvania is a shit-show both in terms of the storm and the state’s inability to clean up snow.
2:20 — So, we got sidetracked again. We stopped into a place called Cookeville to pick up some coffee, and Castleton got sucked into an antiques store, which is basically my worst nightmare. Castleton managed to walk away without buying anything, but he’s already regretting it, and believes the fact that he didn’t pay $150 for some photo of the air force before they were the “Air Force” will haunt him for the rest of his life. I’m pretty sure, however, that antique stores are just elaborate tricks to get Northerners to pay for our trash. It’s just a collection of all the shit we routinely find in our front yards in the South.
Fun fact about Cookeville, though: It’s the largest “micropolitan” in Tennessee. I’d never heard of a “micropolitan,” before, but it’s basically a small city that’s nevertheless a powerful economic hub.
2:45 — Finally got our first taste of snow in Crossville, TN. It’s not sticking.
4:03 — On long road trips, it’s the small things, folks. As we crossed over into the Eastern Time Zone, I had my eyes glued to my phone and was actually able to see the time change. In a millisecond, we lost an hour of time. The good news is, we’re finally on “Pajiba” time again.
5:59 — We are about to pass into Virginia. Jesus, Tennessee is long. I gotta say, though, that I had a lot of anxieties about spending this much time in the car with anyone else, let alone Castleton, but it’s proven to be a lot more fun that I had expected. That is to say that, if you ever get a chance to drive 2,000 miles across the country with Castleton, you should jump at the chance. He does all the driving, carries the conversation, and he’s enthusiastic about everything. Time passes remarkably fast, which is good since we’ve been in the car for the better part of 30 hours.
10:27 — If you’re wondering why there hasn’t been an update in the last four hours, it’s because Lord Castleton had never listened to Hamilton before. Guess what he’s listened to now? It also provided our first awkward moment when I had to witness Castletown cry in the car (just kidding. It wasn’t awkward. I was crying, too.) It was dead silent in the car for roughly three hours, and we got so immersed in it that we didn’t notice we were almost out of gas until the gas light came on (fortunately, we were only about 10 miles from a gas station). Anyway, suffice to say, Lin-Manuel Miranda has a new fan.
And then we stopped for dinner. It was late, so nothing was open but a couple of fast food restaurants. Castleton pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot and was like, “Well it’s either this or Burger King,” and then sheepishly added, “Or Arbys,” like he was embarrassed. I was like, “Arbys! Fuck yeah!” And that’s when we found out that we’re the only two people we know who prefer Arbys to other fast food restaurants. Mmmmm, horsey sauce.
We’re still in Virginia. Near Harrisonburg, but we’re about to slide over and take i-95 to the night’s destination in New Jersey. Hopefully, the roads hold up for us. We’re just now starting to encounter a little snow, but nothing of concern. The roads seem decent. The Waze app insists that we go through Pennsylvania, but we’re heeding the advice of others and dodging the state, even if it means losing half an hour.
1:06 a.m. — We got through Virginia and D.C., and now we’re rolling right along through Baltimore. Things are quiet. Roads are clear. We’re listening to Castleton’s Spotify mixes, which are mostly a mix of the same music I listen to and some pretty great pop songs his kids love. Like, did you know that Hailee Steinfeld also sang? And that she has a song about masturbation? And that it’s pretty good? Anyway, you know you’re super music compatible with a guy when Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats shows up on his mix, and you’re like “Fuck yeah.”
Three hours until Jersey. Castleton’s been behind the wheel since around 10 a.m. Guy’s a driving machine.
1:43 — As long as I have known Seth Freilich, he’s raved about WaWas (and I am fairly certain he started a WaWa vs. Sheetz argument here once before), so when we saw one, we took the opportunity to make our first visit. It’s too late to try their hoagies, but as Seth insisted, the coffee is surprisingly good for a convenience store, and they have THREE coffee bays, fully stocked. That’s amazing. Props to Seth, who — despite being Philly vermin — knows his truck stops.
March, 13th. Day 1
Noon, March 13th, 2017: A few of us have spent the last few days catching screenings and engaging in the usual film festival revelry at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas as a snowstorm that is apparently being referred to as Bombageddon heads toward the East Coast. Yesterday, Lord Castleton and I hastily changed our flights in the hopes of getting out of here and back to New England ahead of the storm, but we woke this morning to find that our flights leaving tonight (Monday) had been cancelled. Frantic, we tried to rebook, but because of the impending weather, we couldn’t get out of Austin until Thursday night at midnight, at the earliest.
Lord Castleton and I have wives and children, and with potentially two feet of snow heading our way, we were frantic to get home so not to hang our loved ones out to dry. After spending some time with Seth futilely trying to figure out any alternative routes home, Lord Castleton decided “Fuck it. We’re driving.”
And so we are driving.
We paid an outrageous amount of money to rent a car (upgraded to a SUV because of Castleton’s friends and family hook up), and now we’re on a 2,000 mile road trip from Austin to Boston (and another 150 miles up to Portland, ME). Frantic that I would miss two days of work, we also stopped by a Best Buy on our way out of town, bought a laptop charger, and here we are in our mobile office, documenting what could be either a spectacularly boring road trip or a complete shitshow that turns into The Shining 15 hours into it.
So, check back periodically to see how it’s progressing and keep us company in the comments. We left Austin at noon on Monday in the hopes of arriving to Boston around 6 p.m. on Tuesday, and we’re also hoping to navigate ourselves around the oncoming blizzard.
1:00: We made our first top at In & Out for lunch. They gave us lap mats for eating in the car, which is a thing we can only imagine they do in the South, where even fast food employees are spectacularly kind (sometimes unsettlingly so). Castleton is recording the trip using time lapse on his phone (Spoiler: It’s a lot of freeway).
For fans of Patriot, you’ll recognize this process as part of the”inherent difficulty of getting from Point A to Point B.” Also, watch Patriot on Amazon. Without an ounce of hyperbole, it is the best show of the year, so far, and it may very well end the year that way.
We also splurged and paid $6 for satellite radio. We’re listening to the 80’s station because we are old.
1:40 — The 80s station just dropped some celebrity gossip about Lily Collins’ (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Mirror, Mirror) new book. In one passage, she apparently forgives her father, Phil Collins, for divorcing her mother and apparently abandoning her at the age of 5. This shatters the image of Phil Collins I had as a perfect human being from my favorite episode of This American Life ever, “The Break-Up.”
Meanwhile, Castleton has arranged over the phone to have his family pick up his plow truck (which he drove to the airport before flying out), so they can plow when the snow comes. We are entering Waco Texas. We have spotted a lot of cows. Our pace car is an Audi sports car. I’m also reading comments on this post to Castleton to keep him entertained (it’s working).
1:46: We contemplated jumping off and visiting the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame because how fucking cool is it that there is a Texas Ranger HoF? Alas, we have miles to go before we sleep (no, really).
2:24 — Just to clarify here, because we’re reading a lot of very sweet comments from concerned readers (and we thank you!): We do not plan to actually drive THROUGH the blizzard. We’re going to try to navigate around it as much as possible, but if we can’t, we’ll find a motel and hide out until it passes through. However, even if we make it to Pennsylvania before we hit the storm, that would put us only half a day away from home, which is better than arriving on Friday afternoon, which would have been the case if we’d have tried to fly home.
We are nearing Dallas now. Credence Clearwater is on the 80’s station, which may be a hint to switch the station.
2:46 — The guy driving our pace car legit looks like the guy whose face melts in Raiders of the Last Ark. We have been with him for 60 or 70 miles now. Castleton thinks he knows we’re using him as a pace car and hangs back if we lose him. Alas, we have to pull over for gas, so we’re going to lose him.
3:00 — Two things from our stop at the gas station: 1) there was a bank of card-game jackpot machines called “Life of Luxury” in front of the bathroom, meaning we had to ask someone to get up and interrupt their Life of Luxury so we could go to the bathroom, which had lights that flickered and a dead fly that someone smashed and left lying around. It was basically Jacob’s Ladder in there. 2) On the bright side, they had peanut butter Snickers, which I have never seen before, so I had to grab one.
3:23 — A fun fact for no one: We just drove over Lake Ray Hubbard, named after the head of the Dallas Parks and Rec department from 1942 to 1970. A real life Leslie Knopes, y’all.
Meanwhile, the 80’s Satellite Radio station is apparently hosted by nothing but original MTV VJs, if you were wondering where they went. I don’t have Satellite radio — do they have a good political or NPR station?
4:06 — We’re about 100 miles out of Texarkana now. There’s not much but bad roads (as one of you guys pointed out) between Dallas and Texarkana, but it is nice to see something that I always loved about the South but rarely see in New England: Service roads.
4:25 — I’m taking the wheel for a while, and Castleton is gonna try and grab some sleep, so we will check back in after dinner.
8:00 — Fortuitously, our route back to New England just happened to go through my hometown of Benton, Arkansas, a place I haven’t seen in 14 years, since the year after meeting my wife and taking her to see where I grew up. It was weird returning, because — as I suspect it is for most people who return to the hometowns after an extended time away — the town looked both strange and different and yet wildly familiar. The business strip — the collection of fast food restaurants and big box stores — had changed the most. There were new chain restaurants and old chain restaurants which has rebuilt across the street from their old locations.
My neighborhood, however, had changed very little, and that’s the thing about impoverished neighborhoods in small towns — they don’t get better. They just continue to erode.
That’s the house I grew up in. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but it was basically a drug house. It’s changed a little — someone put a tin roof on it. But it’s mostly the same, and the yard is completely unchanged. Honestly, we couldn’t even tell if anyone lived in it, but it’s not the kind of neighborhood where you can knock on a door and say, “Hey! I grew up here, can I take a look around” without someone putting a shotgun in your face. I’ll give it this much, though: It survived better than the surrounding houses, some of which are buried in weeds and a couple that apparently have been removed but they haven’t been replaced. They’re just empty lots.
We also stopped for dinner. From the ages of around 13-18, my family typically ate one meal a day, and every night it would come from one of two places: Taco Bell or The Sonic. I forced Castleton to go to the Sonic for old time’s sake, and I ordered a foot-long coney, as I often did growing up. It’s basically a hot dog covered in canned chili. It tastes about the same, which is to say: Delicious for about three bites, and then the rest has to be tossed in the trash can.
Castleton also insisted we check out the Goodwill, so I was able to get T-shirts bearing my high-school logo for the kids, which is super weird.
Meanwhile, we took a quick drive through downtown. When I left Benton after high school, Jerry Van Dyke — the actor from Coach, who is also Dick Van Dyke’s brother — had sought to revitalize the downtown area. I think he refurbished our theater and put in a ice cream shop next to it with a lifesize statue of himself, which I can’t imagine is much of a draw for anyone. Anyway, the movie theater is still there, but there was no sign of the ice cream shop or any other revitalization efforts undertaken by Jerry Van Dyke.
8:51 — We’re headed toward Memphis now. I listened for a few hours of podcasts while Castleton slept, and now he’s back at the wheel and he’s got Alt Nation on and a pretty great Marian Hill song is playing. We just heard that they have basically shut down the state of Connecticut to cars in the morning, so we’ll obviously be altering our plans. As Castleton’s wife said, the one thing we absolutely don’t want to have happen is to get stuck overnight in West Virginia. But we still have to contend with Tennessee, and as I recall, that state goes on for years. We had hoped to sneak in between the two storms converging in New England, but it’s apparent that’s not going to happen. Castleton is targeting Richmond as a stopping point for the night.
Oh, and Castleton wanted to mention that gas in Dallas was $2.19, and $2.17 in Benton. We are really Dad’ing it up here, folks.
9:00 — Oh, I just wanted to mention this, too. Back in Benton, when I was driving through my old neighborhood, I got really excited to see a black family living in one of the houses. I know that is going to sound strange, but when I left, the town was still segregated. All of the black families — regardless of socioeconomic status — lived on The Hill, so you’d find really nice homes next sitting to oversized cardboard shacks. They connected my street to The Hill a couple of years after I left (to give the neighborhood a second access point in case of fire), so I hope that black families in Benton have expanded into the rest of town.
9:10 — Phil Collins is on Sirius 25 — Classic Rewind. The Phil Collins’ portion of this post is now a closed loop.
10:30 — So, we decided to stop in Memphis for some coffee, and Yelp told us there was a place downtown, but it turned out to be a convenience store that had already stopped serving coffee. Then Yelp took us to a bar, which didn’t serve coffee, and then we briefly got lost on a narrow one-way alley road going the wrong way but eventually found ourselves on Beale Street. So even though we didn’t get coffee, it was a worthwhile excursion. We passed BB King’s Restaurant, which I recall has the best wings I’ve ever had.
Ben Folds’ A Capella ‘Army’ is on the radio, so we are in great spirits despite the lack of caffeine. We’ve also run into rain, our first bit of weather on the trip, so far.
Oh, and when we drove over the Mississippi River, I reminded Castleton that it’s where Jeff Buckley leapt to his death, and then I looked it up, and I was totally wrong about that. He drowned in the Mississippi River, apparently by accident. I have no idea why I have believed for so many years that Buckley had taken his own life, but I am going to blame Kurt Loder.
Midnight — At the 12-hour mark of the trip, we stopped into a truck stop for coffee. The coffee wasn’t good, and I don’t care how much extra caffeine is in it. I opted for an energy drink instead, while Castleton picked up one of those bottled Starbucks drinks and a honest to goodness trucker cap for “Team Realtree.” He has no idea what Team Realtree means, but it’s a pretty good cap for $7.99. Also, among the delicacies of the Tennessee truck stop are fine street meats and a portly pickle. In a bag.
Across the street from the truck stop, there was an “Adult Mega Store” that advertised VIDS and MAGS and MORE. There were two forlorn cars parked in front at midnight on a Monday in Tennessee.
Also, on the advice of BendintheWind, we both got Take Five candy bars, a first for both of us. They were delicious!
12:15 — I’d been bragging to Castleton all night about how awesome Love’s Truck Stops are, but we never seemed to run across one until now, ten minutes after we went to an inferior truck stop. I bet Loves double pouches their pickles, too! As Castleton said, we “prematurely truck stopped.”
Also, Quartermain, I wasn’t making fun of West Virginia as a New Englander! I was making fun of West Virginia as an Arkansan, and it is our God given right as Arkansans to be snooty about West Virginians. It’s the one state we are allowed to to make fun of.
12:30 — From the inside of the rental SUV, it looks like we’re in a space ship, or the Bridge of the Enterprise, as Castleton notes.
We’re back to the 80’s station. We’re singing along to Irene Cara’s “Flashdance.”
2:03 a.m. — After it became apparent that we wouldn’t get ahead of the storm, we decided to stop around the midway point — in Nashville, TN — and rent a motel room so we could get a few decent hours of sleep before we tackled Day 2, which we will hopefully spend behind really fast plow trucks. We pulled into a motel around 2 a.m., only to find the front desk clerk asleep on the lobby couch. Once she got ever her obvious annoyance from being awakened, she politely rented us a room. The beds are clean. The WiFi works, and it has a shower. We really couldn’t ask for more. So we’re checking out for the night, and we will be back in the morning for Day 2.
Tuesday, March 14th. 9 a.m. — Oops. I woke up this morning and started reading comments, and everyone seem concerned that we had not updated, and then I realized I must not have hit save last night. Apologies!