Monday 1 September 2008

Welcome to the diary of a road trip

IN AUGUST 2008 a British family enjoyed an amazing month-long vacation: a week in Los Angeles, two weeks driving across America and a week in Manhattan. This is the online diary of that holiday.

Use the navigation panel on the left to read the journal in chronological order.
The weekly chapters contain the individual posts. Click on the triangle arrows to the left of the week to see lists of each separate entry.

Coloured text links to external websites related to the subject and other relevant sites are listed on the left.

Martyn Moore (above, in pool) is a writer and editor from England, his wife, Laura (far right, crazy hair) is a nurse and clinic manager. Charlotte and Katy are the couple's daughters, aged 15 and ten at the time of the holiday. Bill Rutherford (blue t-shirt, left of Grand Canyon photo) is Laura's father and a retired policeman from Glasgow, Scotland.

Monday 25 August 2008

Piscataway, New Jersey to New York City, New York

THE final leg of our fantastic journey was just 43 miles, north to the Lincoln Tunnel which swallowed us up in New Jersey and spat us out in the heart of Manhattan, just a few blocks from the Chelsea apartment that is ours for the next four days.

I returned the Ford Edge to Alamo and went through that stupid sentimentality people sometimes get for vehicles that have taken them to special places. Since picking up the car more than three weeks ago at Los Angeles airport I have driven it 3940 miles. The average fuel consumption for the whole trip was 21.7 miles per gallon, so we've used 181 US gallons of fuel. That's cost us about $680 (fuel prices dropped as we came east due to the falling market for crude oil), which is about £340 at the rate we got at the start of our holiday. The cost of renting it for 23 days was $1418. Our average speed over the whole trip has been 42 miles per hour and the car has been perfect for our needs. I pencilled a short note in the front of the owner's manual telling any future renter/owner about our trip and this website.

The New York apartment (left) is excellent. It's very different from the house on the beach in California. We have swapped open, bright, minimalist functionality for cool and stylish urban sophistication. There is carefully-chosen antique furniture, tasteful art, mood lighting and a bath that ought to make bubbles if we can figure out how to make it work.

We have a doorman and a typical New York shared lobby, with polished mailboxes, that leads out to a very pleasant neighbourhood with great restaurants and the best supermarket I've ever been in (right).

The next four days will be spent doing touristy things in New York: a cruise around the island, perhaps, and another trip up the Empire State Building. I tried to buy tickets for this week's Yankees v Boston Red Sox baseball game at Yankee Stadium but it's sold out.

We have got tickets to a rock concert in Central Park featuring Paramore, Phantom Planet, Paper Route and Jack's Mannequin.

Another very personal thrill for me was going into a Waterstones book shop on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway and seeing my book, The Photographer's Guide to Setting Up a Website, on sale in America.

I even asked an assistant to take my photo with it (left)!

This is the last written entry. Over dinner last night (Chinese take-away in iconic American cardboard cartons) Charlotte started a list of all the things we remember from our trip and she will eventually post that on her blog (click here).

I will probably add more photos. Please add comments to this blog. Several people have emailed me after reading it during our trip, which was really great, thanks, but comments on the blog itself will help to keep it alive.

Piscataway to New York City = 43 miles.

Sunday 24 August 2008

New Castle, Delaware to Piscataway, New Jersey via Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

POOR old Philadelphia suffered as a result of our 'too many cities, not enough time' syndrome.

I'm sure it's got just as much to offer as Baltimore, Charlotte or Oklahoma, but I think we're getting weary.

We spent a couple of hours walking to and around the historic district and it was perfectly pleasant, but I think we're starting to feel the pull of our New York loft apartment at the end of the road. We were heading north again just after lunch, aiming for a final night stop close enough to New York for an easy run in on Monday morning.

After dinner at the bar/restaurant next to our Piscataway motel, Laura suggested I stayed in the bar with Bill and enjoy a few more drinks – Jack Daniels on ice as we watched the closing ceremony of the Olympics.

These beautiful Motel 6 quilt covers have brightened up many drab rooms since California. This was the last of them.

New Castle to Piscataway = 120 miles (including motel search).

Saturday 23 August 2008

On the move again: Norfolk, Virginia to New Castle, Delaware via Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland

THE break in the journey was great, but for some reason I'm glad to be moving again.

The drive north to Washington DC started out over the Chesapeake Bay bridge and tunnel. It's actually a series of bridges and two tunnels strung out over the 17 mile gap at the mouth of the bay. The photos Laura took explain it better, maybe.

We arrived in Washington early-evening and stayed in a weird old hotel, the Harrington, in the city centre. We wandered to the White House before dinner and then walked the length of The Mall (with its scruffy lawns) the next morning.

Katy wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial (I don't know why) and I was curious about the Vietnam Memorial (not sure why, either, maybe because I grew up hearing about it).

We left Washington before lunch and resumed our drive north to Baltimore, a lovely city with a great harbour area. There was a baseball game against the New York Yankees tonight but we left town and got as far as New Castle (two words) before hunger forced us to a fairly posh (for us) motel next to a stylish Italian restaurant with live music.

Norfolk to Washington = 246 miles.
Washington to New Castle = 109 miles.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Emporia, Virginia to Norfolk, Virginia and the Atlantic coast

I CAN’T help feeling like our arrival at the coast was a little bit of an anti-climax.

We left Newport Beach in California a week and a half ago and we have driven east every day since, crossing Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

Driving up to the end of Virginia Beach Boulevard and seeing Atlantic Avenue and the ocean in front of us was supposed to be significant but it got lost in our quest to find a decent hotel and my reaction to the Blackpool-like feel of the resort. I should know to expect brash commercialism, especially in America, but I didn’t start to feel better until we had driven another ten miles along the coast to Norfolk and found a much quieter location.

Our hotel is right on the beach and has a pool, so this afternoon I went for one long walk with Bill and then another on my own. I got some sun and started to unwind.

We’re here for two nights and tomorrow’s weather forecast is good.

Emporia to Virginia Beach = 132 miles.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Charlotte, North Carolina to Emporia, Virginia

CHARLOTTE, our eldest daughter, brought me back down to earth with the remark “Dad, it’s a city with the same name as me. Big deal. I didn’t even choose my name.”

Didn’t stop me enjoying one of America’s fastest-growing cities and most-popular relocation destinations, though. Bank of America has moved here and a number of other major corporations have followed suit. There is building going on all over the place.

The visitor centre is a great example of how proud the people and the city are of their achievements and reputation.

I photographed every mention of the city’s name and put together a photo-montage with a photo of Charlotte (below). She hates it, of course, likening it to something a psychopathic stalker might do. Maybe she has a point.

The Virginia countryside is very attractive, and quite English in many ways, which is emphasised by the number of British place names. I was surprised to see smoking permitted in restaurants, until I thought about one of Virginia’s main crops – tobacco.

I saw the serving staff at our restaurant doing a crazy dance during dinner tonight and asked them to do it again for us at the table. Here's a little video treat captured on Bill's camera for you:

Charlotte to Emporia = 260 miles.

Monday 18 August 2008

Knoxville, Tennessee to Charlotte, North Carolina

IT doesn't look far when you look at that map, does it? It feels a lot longer!

Gentle start for a Monday with a visit to a supermarket looking for Camp Rock socks for Katy. Didn't get any.

Spent a hot hour wandering round Knoxville and the girls struggled with the heat. Another nice town, though.

Drove down through the Smoky Mountains and across the Appalachian Trail, which ends 2000 miles away in Maine. The mountain roads slowed down our progress and the city of Charlotte, North Carolina will have to wait until tomorrow.

Knoxville to Charlotte via Smoky Mountains = 246 miles.

Sunday 17 August 2008

Memphis, Tennessee to Knoxville, Tennessee

IT'S Sunday and the roads are noticably quieter. There are still a few big trucks, but not as many as I've got used to. These people seem to observe the day of rest.

The radio is getting frustrating. I can find religious radio stations and country music stations and plenty of religious country music stations. Thank God for Word magazine CDs and Speechification podcasts on my iPod and NPR.

There are at least three churches for every gas station and supermarket.

Nashville is prettier (or should that be 'purdier'?) than I remember, but deserted. We take lunch at an Applebee's and watch the men's 100,000m final at the Olympics. American TV's coverage is interesting. Every evening NBC shows 'live' events that happened hours ago and only ever features the disciplines the US is expecting to do well in. Nothing else matters and if the US gets a bronze medal they might just mention the winner of the silver in passing, otherwise it's about the winner and the American.

I get annoyed and then remind myself where I am and ask what right I have to judge.

Memphis to Knoxville = 387 miles.

Sallisaw, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee

THESE southern towns are a revelation. Little Rock, Arkansas is lovely.

We had our lunch by the river and had a spirited discussion about racism - why are "scot" and "pole" acceptable, when "paki" isn't? Use the comment feature to tell me.

I resisted the temptation to buy a "I miss Bill" t-shirt in honour of my father-in-law, but there was a load of Bill Clinton nonsense on the back that saved my money. Charlotte was entertained by the Bill and Hillary paper dolls book (left).

These long days on the road are starting to change our behavior. We are being very nice to each other and this afternoon we started playing games for the first time: guess the celeb/politicial/historical figure from the initials and 20 yes/no questions. We also named 56 of the 54 states in America.

More cops on the road in Arkansas than any state so far.

I was absolutely stunned by Memphis. I know it's the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock'n'roll but I wasn't ready for Beale Street. It's fabulous, vibrant, energetic, amazing. Every bar has a live blues band playing and every sidewalk space between each bar has another. I loved it.

Unfortunately, the hotel in Memphis took the shine off the experience. But we do realise that motels in big cities are frequented by younger people, poorer people and foreign people. This isn't always conducive to a good night's sleep and since we fall into at least two of those categories, maybe we shouldn't complain.

Sallisaw to Memphis = 323 miles.

Friday 15 August 2008

Elk City, Oklahoma to Sallisaw, Oklahoma

THE storm had cleared this morning, much to Charlotte's relief and we spent an hour exploring the old museum at Elk City, followed by brunch at the old Katy Railroad Cafe.

Bill wanted to see Oklahoma City but I have to confess I wasn't that bothered. He turned out to be right. It's a lovely city with a towering business district and music and arts section. The streets are wide and uncrowded. Municipal buildings successfully blend old and new architecture and everywhere you look there is a fountain or sculpture.

The memorial park dedicated to the 1995 bombing is beautiful and poignant.

The highway is much busier now and the regular rainstorms help the farmland look very green. It really feels like we have left the desert behind us. We haven't quite left Oklahoma, so we'll see Arkansas in the morning.

Tonight we replanned the route, sacrificing the Blue Ridge Parkway for Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Bay before Washington DC. But that will be later next week.

Elk City to Sallisaw = 278 miles.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Albuquerque, New Mexico to Elk City, Oklahoma

I LOVE the sound of American freight trains in the night, but I loved not hearing them last night even more. They have kept us awake for the last two nights as they blasted their horns through Kingman and Flagstaff.

All the towns feature in the lyrics to Get Your Kicks On Route 66 and today was 'The Mother Road' all the way - all the way into Texas and out the other side into Oklahoma.

There is plenty of evidence of towns dying. The interstate I40 just passes them by and with faster journey times, longer-range vehicles and fuel and lodging right on the main road, travellers bypass these towns too. Watch Cars.

We were careful to sample food away from the main highway and take our time through old Route 66 towns like Santa Rosa, Tucumcari (where we took the mural photo above), Santa Rosa and Shamrock. After lunch in Tucumcari I won my bet by asking the waitress: "Is this the way to Amarillo?"

Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo was our final photo stop (right).

As we approached Elk City a massive storm blew in from the north and we dived for shelter at the Motel 6, ignoring the independent motels a nd supporting a corporate chain for the sake of wireless internet. We ate a hearty steak dinner in a real truckers cafe surrounded by the biggest, meanest-looking and most polite men you can imagine.

Albuquerque to Elk City = 433 miles.