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Day 111: Don’t you dare put “esquire” after your name

September 19, 2010 2 comments

Location: Haddonfield, NJ

Miles Driven: ~150

Total Miles: ~25,356

I left Matt’s apartment around 10AM to get started with the driving for the day.  I needed gas, so I had another reminder of life near DC again after paying $3.09/gallon.  I used the last of my Exxon gift cards – once again, I owe a big thanks to my friends in Owego for those.

My plan for the day was to make it up to Sam’s area in NJ, but first I’d stop in Baltimore to see some people.


My first stop was to visit my buddy Jon who attends Johns Hopkins University.  The timing worked out well, as I arrived a little before his afternoon class, so he showed me around the beautiful campus.


We took our turns posing for photographs, Asian-style.

It was great to walk around a college campus once again, especially one that looked so nice. Hard to believe you could have a campus looking like this right inside a big city like Baltimore.

Jon took me to the Physics and Astronomy building, and there I got a good look at the Hastings refractor, a large telescope used back in the late 1800s.

And for some perspective on how big this thing is…

And we walked to another section of the campus…

Then Jon had to get going to class, so it was time for me to head out.  Great to hang out with my old officemate, and I’m excited to see where this future doctor is going to wind up in the next few years.  Best of luck with your senior year, buddy.

My next stop was an area of Baltimore called Hunt Valley.  There, I met up with my cousin Devin, and we realized it’s been more years than we could remember since we last saw each other…probably at least eight or so years, if not longer.  He has since caught up to me in the height department.

We grabbed some bbq lunch at a local place called Andy Nelson’s.  I highly recommend this to anyone in the Baltimore area.  Great food.  And be sure to try the cornbread.

my pulled pork sandwich with slaw topping

Great time hanging with Devin…I should see my cousins more often.  Good luck in B-more, man.

And with that, I was back on the road headed towards NJ.  It was an easy drive (pretty much anything under 5 hours I view as “easy”).  Got to Sam’s house, and a few hours later we were off to his celebratory dinner.  Sam is now a full-fledged attorney (I know…hide your groans), and definitely worked his ass of to get to this point.  He has earned that “esquire” suffix to his name, though I told him I’d punch him if he ever introduced himself that way. 

For the celebration, we had a private room set up at the nearby Seasons 52 restaurant, and we all enjoyed a great meal with lots of good stories shared.

Rachel, Sam, and his dad

Rachel ordered some specialized M&Ms for the occasion.  Brilliant idea:

As much as I wanted to preserve those M&Ms, I made sure to take the above photo so they would be remembered forever after I devoured my little baggie.

Just a great party.  Here are some more photos from the night:

Sam's parents

rack of "mini indulgences"

family shot

Sam and Rachel

Thumbs up for passing the bar exam

After the dinner, we headed back to Sam’s place for some dessert.  I never had a Cold Stone ice cream cake before.  Great call by Rachel, it was delicious.

What a great way to spend my last full day on the road, celebrating my best friend’s well-deserved achievement.  Couldn’t think of anything better to do.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is it…I’ll be back home in NY Saturday afternoon. 


Days 108-110: Back in Bethesda (again)

September 17, 2010 2 comments

Location: Bethesda, MD

Time really flies by when there’s a limited amount of time to catch up with friends.  Here it is, Friday morning.  I’ve been here since Monday afternoon and I can’t believe how quickly the week went by.

My time here was mostly dedicated to getting together with friends, though I did accomplish a few things outside of that.  Staying with Matt, I was able to catch up on some laundry (last load of laundry for this trip).  Also, I went to my old regular place in Gaithersburg and got my oil changed.  Now that was a bit sad…I think that was oil change #7 for the trip, and definitely the last one I’ll need before I sell the car to Colleen. Crazy.  As part of the oil change, this place does a standard check on the vehicle for other issues.  I ended up replacing the transmission fluid, as it was due for that again, but everything else was in great shape.  I’m so happy with how well the Mazda6 has performed on this trip.  Over two year’s worth of driving…the near equivalent of driving the circumference of the earth (thanks for that tip, Stephen)…and no issues.

Let’s get to the photos. 

On Tuesday evening, I got together with my buddy Vincent for some pizza in Arlington.  Haven’t seen Vincent since I orginally moved out of the area back in January, so it was great to get together once again.  Vincent is someone I can commisserate with when the Washington Wizards lose…a good friend, and we’re both hoping for some redemption this year now that we have the #1 draft pick, John Wall.

hanging with Vincent at Pupatella

Early evening on Wednesday, I went with Matt and our friend Sean to Great Falls State Park (MD side).  Although it wasn’t that far from my old home here, I’ve only been there once before, but remembered our time there fondly.  We hiked the “Billy Goat Trail” which takes you across a number of boulders along the water.  The hike can be a little challenging at times, as you leap from boulder to boulder, but definitely one of the more fun hikes I’ve ever been on.  Below are some photos from our time there (some photos are courtesy Matt – thanks buddy).

Great Falls State Park

Matt taking a break from the boulder hopping

Great views from the rocks

Sean gets ready to jump

Will I make it??

Made it!

climbing up the steep rock wall

Sean makes it across the log bridge

Matt works his way across

I came pretty close to biting it and falling in the water

A nice day ends out by the water

Matt's pic - a nice shot of the moon and it's reflection rippling in the water

finishing up the hike along the dirt road

Nevermind the KState affliation. Sean is an all right guy

Great hike!  Last hike for this roadtrip is in the books, and it was a lot of fun out there.

That evening I headed over to my friend Christelle’s house to hang out.  Thanks to Christelle for cooking up some plantains and sweet potatoes for me.  Share that recipe some time, Christelle.

Thursday was a very lazy day for me.  Having completed the majority of my to-dos for the week, I spent the day inside playing Starcraft II on Matt’s computer.  Awesome game, by the way. I figure it’s been a while since I spent a day just playing video games, and given that it was raining outside, it worked out well.  The only other thing I accomplished that afternoon was getting some laundry done, as well as doing some pull-ups on Matt’s pull-up bar.  A productive day.

That night I went to my friend Bea’s house for dinner.  Her husband Mike cooked up some authentic Chinese food and I had a great meal.  I also got to spend time playing with Bea’s cute daughter, Haile.  Thanks for a great time, Bea and Mike!

hot rice pudding for dessert. very tasty

A bunch of us met up that night at a bar in Rockville and I got to see some faces I haven’t seen in a long time.  Ashley (who you may recall from a prior visit to Maryland, as well as my return to Atlanta), was in town, too.

Matt enjoys an egg roll

Stephen enthralled by Ashley's story

Not sure what is going on here

hanging with Amelia and Mike

good buddies

group shot

me and Ash

As always, I had a great time back in Maryland.  Went by way too fast.  This probably will be my last visit to the area for a long time, and I’m grateful I had so many friends around to visit with.

On Friday, I make my way north towards New Jersey, where a party is being held for my buddy Sam for passing the bar exam.  Along the way, I’ll visit a friend and a cousin in Baltimore.  This is the penultimate drive of the trip…the next drive after this one will be the drive home.


Days 106-107

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Location: Bethesda, MD

Miles Driven: ~200

Total Miles: 25,206


In what will probably be viewed as unsurprising, I decided to stay one more day down in Newport News.  I think that was the best option given A) Added time for Chris and I to hang out, and B) Chris and I were up til 3AM on Saturday.  It was a rainy day, and we didn’t have anything planned other than to watch the Giants home-opener.

After a tease by Comcast (Chris’ TV said the game would be on, but instead it showed Atlanta/Pittsburgh), we all headed down to a local bar to catch the second half of what turned out to be a dominating win by the Giants.

Let's go G-Men!

Went back to his place to relax, and Chris’ fiancee Sundae prepared a great dinner of Mexican tortas.  Muy bien!

in football poses (I think) celebrating the win

We certainly didn’t do a whole lot that day, but I was beat around 10PM.  Left there around 8AM this morning (Monday), and got on the road towards Washington, D.C.  Glad I had the chance to hang with a good buddy from home one last time before I ship out in January.

When I hit the road, I knew I would make at least one stop along I-95N, and that’s the Stonewall Jackson Shrine not far from Spotsylvania, Virginia.  Many times before I had been driving on I-95 and told myself “ahh, I’ll check it out the next time.”  I think this was as a good a time as any (and probably my last chance) to check it out, so I took the exit off of 95 and drove the five miles down to the shrine.  I didn’t know anything about the place, so I was pretty curious after having seen this sign on so many past trips.

It turns out this shrine area was dedicated to the memory of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson because it is the site of his death.  The site is the old Fairfield Plantation, and it is here where Jackson was brought after being shot (mistakenly by his own men) near Chancellorsville.  At the time, the site was no longer a functioning plantation, but a huge camp with Union prisoners and scores of Confederate wounded.

Jackson was here for about a week before pneumonia took its toll

It wasn’t an elaborate shrine by any means, but the place was still quite a solemn memorial to one of the finest officers in the entire Civil War.  Recognized for his brilliance on the battlefield by both Confederate and Union soldiers alike, many viewed Jackson as irreplaceable, and his death was a shocking blow to the Confederate cause.

The Stonewall Jackson shrine was not that far south of Fredericksburg, the site of two major battles during the course of the Civil War.  Having never seen it in person, I figured a visit to the battlefield would be in order, especially appropriate after the visit to Stonewall Jackson’s shrine. So I headed north to Fredericksburg, and soon was at the battlefield visitor center. 

For those who might not know, the battle of Fredericksburg took place in December of 1862, and was an overwhelming victory for the Confederates.  One of those situations (all too common in the Civil War) where soldiers (Union) made repeated attempts to attack a fortified position on top of a hill (Marye’s Heights), and were ultimately decimated…surprise, surprise.

In this region of Virginia, four major Civil War engagements took place – the battles of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and The Wilderness.  I learned at the Fredericksburg visitor center that the total casualties of these four battles (on both Confederate and Union sides) outnumbered the combined casualties of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and all of the wars with native americans.  Unreal.

I first checked out some of the exhibits in the visitor center before heading out on the grounds, and found a nice display with information on the commanders at Fredericksburg:

Ever wonder where the term 'sideburns' comes from? Look no further than the man here at the bottom

After checking out some of the exhibits, I headed outside and went on the walking trail which highlighted some areas of the battle.

The Sunken Road, and the stone wall Confederate soldiers used as cover. Marye's Heights to the right


Brompton House on top of Marye's Heights

Minus some trees, this is the view the Confederates had from the heights during the battle

At the top of Marye’s Heights was a national cemetary.  Originally built as the final resting place for Confederate and Union soldiers who fell here, the cemetary also holds the remains of about 300 other military servicepeople up through the 1940s.   I read on the displays there are over 15,000 people buried in the cemetary, but fewer than 3,000 have been identified.  Sad.

A fitting description of the Confederate advantage at Fredericksburg

After a slow walk through the cemetary, it was time to go.  Glad I came here.  I had read about the terrible losses the Union suffered trying to take a fortified hill, but I didn’t get the full picture until I saw the landscape those soldiers encountered.  How awful.

I continued to plug away and head north towards Bethesda.  I had only about an hour’s worth of driving to go, and once I neared DC I realized that hour could turn closer to two…there was quite a bit of traffic on I-495.  No worries, though.  I made it to my buddy Matt’s place in the early afternoon.  I caught a nap, got some exercise, and then went out with him for a dinner of delicious Vietnamese pho:

Been too long since my last bowl of pho

Great to be back hanging with another old buddy.  I’ll be sticking around here in Maryland for the next several days.  The plan is to check out some local sights, as well as visit with other friends and former co-workers in the area one last time.  Great to be back.

Kind of weird – my home in NY is just five hours drive away now. 


Day 105: I missed the water

September 12, 2010 6 comments

Location: Newport News, VA

Miles Driven: 334

Total Miles: 25,006


I left Cary after 10AM and began to head east towards the North Carolinian coast.  I was headed towards the Outer Banks area (a place I had visited for the first time back in June), but I was going to a northern section of the Outer Banks to a city called Duck.

good weather heading out to the coast

It was after 4PM when I met up with friends Frances and Gary at their beach house.  From their deck were some outstanding views of the ocean:

It was hard to not just lounge on the deck for the next several hours and listen to/watch the ocean.  The cool breeze from the water made the air much more comfortable than I had found back in Raleigh.

A little after 5PM, we all went to dinner at a local cafe.  More outstanding food.

Crab bisque soup. Never had crab bisque soup before. Sooo good

My entree: southern scallops. very tasty

After dinner, we headed to the other side of the land to go walk by Albemarle Sound.  There was a boardwalk right above the water and our timing worked out well…sunset was slowly approaching.

Great views by the Sound.

Relaxing by the water

We returned to the house along the beach, and I was able to snap a few more pictures of the water before I got back on the road.

kids dwarfed by the Atlantic Ocean

Some real nice homes by the water

Thanks again to my friends in the Outer Banks for a nice break in the driving (and for the delicious dinner).  I was very glad to be back by some water again.  The last time I was near any major bodies of water was back in Alaska.

I got back in the car and headed north toward Newport News, revisiting my buddy Chris I saw here back in early June.  Chris and I hung out in his backyard for several hours, sitting by a fire.  Chris was suprised it was my first legit “campfire” for this whole trip.

No worries, this fire was under control

Chris by the fire

Great to hang out with a good friend once more.  This is probably the last time I’ll get to hang out with Chris before heading overseas in January, so I’m lucky to have this chance again.  Big excitement for Chris coming up…he has a baby on the way this coming December.  At the very least, I should be able to see some pictures before I head out.

Come Sunday, I’ll head north to Maryland where I’ll spend a stretch of a few days visiting with some friends one last time in the area I used to live.  Most of the drives from this point forward should be fairly quick (in the neighborhood of three hours or less).  No, I’m not sick of driving, but a few less hours in the car would probably do my legs and lower back a favor.


P.S. In other news, you’ll notice above I just barely surpassed the 25,000 mile mark with today’s driving.  Before I set out on the trip, that was a higher estimate of the ground I’d cover (good call, Melissa).  Crazy

Days 101-104: A baby, food, and some stars

September 12, 2010 1 comment

Location: Raleigh/Cary, NC

I was, indeed, a bum for the better part of this past week, but I managed to do a few things while I was in the Raleigh/Cary area.  Thanks to Saba and Aaron for hosting me in their house…I had a great time.  The whole time I was there I had a great weather, but it was indeed strange to see some leaves start to change color while it was 90 degrees out.

Speaking of the heat, I think I burned the bottoms of my feet walking out in the grass.  Sam apparently had things right – his last day there, the two of us went outside to get some exercise (we threw my medicine ball around).  As he put on his shoes to go out, I told him, “You don’t need shoes, Sam, we’re just going out on the grass.”  He replied, “Yea, I’m not a hippie, though.”  Burn.  But we were fine in Saba’s backyard in the thick green grass.  My issue came later in the week when I walked to the park behind the house, where the grass was not regularly watered and was brown, dry, and dying.  Running/walking on that grass apparently was a bit too much for the bottom of my feet (right below the toes).  When I returned to the house, I had a hard time walking.  Very peculiar.  Turns out that North Carolina heat and dry grass do not mix well for bare feet.  Lesson learned.

But that was barely a blip on my radar of bad luck for this trip.  No problems, and I continued to enjoy my stay in the fine state of North Carolina.

Bibi (Arabic for "Grandma") and Eli

One last shot of cute little Eli

On one afternoon, I took a drive to the Jordan Lake area, which was about 45 minutes away.  They had a few hiking trails through the forest that seemed worth checking out, and it was not disappointing.  Walking in the woods was especially nice given how hot it had been, as the canopy of trees made the air much cooler than it really was.

island of trees on Jordan Lake

there was plenty of wind for sailing

I hiked for about three miles in the woods.  I could have gone longer, but I seemed to have an uncanny knack that day for running into spider webs with my face (fairly unpleasant), plus I was able to get out of there shortly before it started  to rain.

I hung out with Jen for my last few days in the area, and we had a good time checking out some local eateries (by the way, if you are in the Raleigh area, “Vivace” is a great restaurant) and relaxing.  One of the nights Jen cooked up a great Tuna steak dinner.  Absolutely delicious.

On Friday night, the two of us drove out to Chapel Hill where we were going to catch a couple shows at the Morehead Planetarium on the campus of UNC.  I haven’t been to a planetarium in what seemed like ages, and Jen hadn’t since grade school, so it was perfect timing.

Morehead Planetarium with a giant sundial in the foreground

Another view of the sundial

The sundial had a couple sayings written on the outer edge of the circle, one of which I particularly enjoyed: “It is always morning somewhere in the world.”  I suppose it’s a good saying to remember on those neverending days that seem a bit dismal.

I mentioned Jen and I were there to catch a couple planetarium shows.  The first one was a movie presentation called “Black Holes: Journey to the Unknown.”  Great show.  It explained the history of our understanding of black holes, as well as demonstrating with cool effects how black holes work.  I especially liked how the film demonstrated the gravitational lensing effect of black holes (e.g. a black hole’s gravitational pull is so strong that it would bend the background light if one passed in our line of sight, like a lens).  Here’s a picture from to demonstrate:

The next planetarium show we caught was called “Carolina Skies.”  That show explained the various constellations and stars one would see looking up at the summer sky from the Chapel Hill area, and was not a movie, but rather presented live by someone from the planetarium (I imagine she was an astronomy student…what a cool perk of studying at UNC).  It was great to get a refresher on the night sky and re-learn some of the constellations (my memory has gotten hazy over the years).  Another good show.

Friday was my last full day in the area, as the plan for Saturday would be to get to Newport News, VA before the end of the day.  Thanks to Saba, Aaron (and little Eli), and Jen for such a great time.