US Road Trip Week 6: Cedar Point, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Topeka & Omaha

Leaving NYC and heading back across the northern half of the country, I had a hard time letting go of what I was leaving behind and getting excited about what was to come.

I’d been looking forward to Cedar Point for so long – one of my ultimate bucket list items, and once upon a time the inspiration for its own road trip. But now it seemed almost a burden, especially since I was now going to be doing it solo. I’d created a Facebook event and invited everyone I could think of who might actually come to fly or drive out and join me for just this stop. Because rollercoasters are better with friends.IMG_20190522_101842460_HDR.jpg

But no one did. So I did it anyway, on my own. Turns out rollercoasters are also excellent solo, coz you can get on cars faster whenever there’s an empty single seat no one in front of you wants.

I drove into the parking lot, my entrance ticket and parking pass deal ready, trying to muster up some enthusiasm for the day. It’d been a long drive from NYC and I was tired, cold, and lonely.

But the moment I hit the drop on my first rollercoaster of the day, everything changed. I remembered how much I LOVE rollercoasters! More than that, these coasters were igniting and inspiring me beyond my wildest dreams. They are truly the best I’ve ever ridden.

The world’s 2nd tallest Top Thrill Dragster (1 of only 2 with a 400+ feet drop), IMG_20190522_125056465_HDR.jpgthe revolutionary “winged” Gatekeeper, IMG_20190522_122850720_HDR.jpgthe classic Magnum XL-200 (the first to start the global Coaster Wars back in ’89), IMG_20190522_112615992_HDR.jpgthe iconic Millennium Force, IMG_20190522_103108572_HDR.jpgthe legendary Maverick, IMG_20190522_105557154.jpgthe extreme-dropping Valravn, IMG_20190522_160314346_HDRthe rickety wooden Gemini, IMG_20190522_125700674_HDR.jpgthe equally whiplash-inducing Rougarou and Raptor,

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and 2018’s “best new ride” Steel Vengeance, which seriously earned that title. Hands down my favorite.IMG_20190522_130953308_HDR.jpg

Altogether, it was like a religious experience that only a true adrenaline junkie can have. It forever changed my relationship with rollercoasters. Elevated it. I found an even freer, deeper way to experience them by truly letting go and letting myself fully “fly.” I’m talking hands up the entire ride, no fear, letting my body rise and fall naturally with the rhythm of the coaster car as we flew down the track together. My arms outstretched going around every flip and corkscrew, imagining this must be what the characters in Harry Potter feel like on their broomsticks.

I no longer felt my stomach leap into my throat with that first huge drop. Instead, I embraced the drop, every drop, and leaned into it with all my heart. It makes such a difference. Instead of fear (however thrilling), I felt a flood of joy and lightness flow through my body as it dropped, swooped, and rose through the air. I grinned like an idiot through every turn, and giggled uncontrollably every time we pulled back into the loading area. I must have looked like a crazy person to the others riding next to me. But I couldn’t care less. I was having the time of my life.

This mind-blowing experience catapulted me onward to Cincinnati, a stop I’d picked largely in order to catch the Burning Man exhibit that had moved on from the Smithsonian before I could get to D.C. Its next stop was the Cincinnati Art Museum. So there I went too. And it was almost better this way, seeing the wacky world of Burning Man juxtaposed with the more traditional permanent art exhibits. IMG_20190523_155530856.jpgThe museum did a beautiful job of weaving the two together, side by side throughout most of the rooms, as opposed to keeping all the Burning Man pieces quarantined in their own separate room. IMG_20190523_160313386.jpg

After Cincinnati, I decided to take the route through Louisville IMG_20190523_192552859_HDR.jpgand St. Louis – pausing for only a few hours in each – IMG_20190524_122034637_HDR-EFFECTS.jpgon my way to Topeka, Kansas. IMG_20190525_112330876_HDR.jpgNow why Topeka, you may ask. Well it’s where my mother was born. So I promised her I’d go find her old house and childhood haunts, and take pictures for her. I found them alright, and then stumbled upon a most interesting contradiction just a few blocks away. Here lived this beautiful, heartwarming rainbow house painted with words like “love” and “equality” and “acceptance.” And then across the street in stark contrast was this imposing, infuriating church flaunting huge banners that spelled out “Fear God” and “godhatesfags.com.” IMG_20190525_111337017_HDRIt was shocking, and yet quite evocative about our country’s increasingly divisive climate. Deep thoughts.

Kansas was proving too heavy an experience for me, not only because of the heavy downpours that rained down in sheets and thundered with flashes of lightning so close to me that I shuddered while driving and barely slept wide-eyed in the Kansas City Walmart parking lot on the way through.IMG_20190524_202333668.jpg

So onward and northward I went to seek lighter affairs in Omaha. Noticing the state of my over-bitten and outgrown manicure, I’d decided to try to find a nail salon with availability last minute. But alas, everyone was booked solid. On a Saturday afternoon. Imagine that. So instead, I spent that time walking across the country’s longest river (the Missouri River) IMG_20190525_153356651_HDR.jpgon the country’s longest pedestrian bridge (The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge)IMG_20190525_153135433_HDR.jpgand standing in two states at once (Iowa and Nebraska).IMG_20190525_153652539

Not a bad alternative.

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US Road Trip Week 5: New York City!

From D.C., I drove north to my beloved New York City – the perfect bookend to mark the halfway point of my journey and mirror the opposite coastal city bookend of LA. So as with LA, I gave this city a full week of my time.

I lived here in NYC back in 2015-2018, and while it was the right decision to move away at the time, it also broke my heart to leave. That city holds such a special place in my heart, and will always light me up in a way nowhere else can.IMG_20190517_182627103_HDR.jpg

So it was amazing to not only be back in this magical city of dreams, but also spend that visit staying with my dearest bestie Adam who still lives here.We did all my favorite NYC things: Bryant Park & Central Park wanders, IMG_20190515_143618754_HDR.jpgexplored The Met Cloisters, IMG_20190517_154616585_HDR.jpgthe New York Public Library, IMG_20190515_140342727.jpgthe Union Square farmers market, IMG_20190515_132644687_HDR-ANIMATION.giflunches with industry friends and nights on the town to classic bars and restaurants, IMG_20190515_183532500_HDR.jpgand all sorts of shows (truly NYC’s speciality) including live jazz, movie premieres, friends’ plays, and of course Broadway musicals. I felt tingles watching Kiss Me Kate on Broadway, and it reminded me how magical theatre has always felt to me. IMG_20190516_192716660.jpgAnd how much I miss it. That was an interesting realization, considering I’ve been seriously considering leaving the entertainment industry altogether. Definitely rethinking that now… All the world’s a stage. And that stage is in New York City!IMG_20190516_193417986-ANIMATION.gif

This city certainly gives me a “feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets,” as Kerouac described it. I have to say, it’s starting to bring me back around to an empire state of mind.IMG_20190517_183140449_HDR.jpg

… But not yet. I’ve still got a whole second half of my road trip to go. THEN I can figure out where I want to live more permanently thereafter. But right now, I’m here “at the end of America…no more land…and nowhere was nowhere to go but back.”

And so back across I go.

US Road Trip Week 4: Nashville, Atlanta, Great Smoky & Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville & DC

Feeling especially exhausted from a particularly packed week. And I thought the last week was too full! I left New Orleans and drove up the Natchez Trace Parkway, a truly beautiful and historic route, to Nashville.IMG_20190505_160358613_BURST007.jpg

I’d planned to stay here two days as well, including a ticket to attend the Grand Ole Opry one night!IMG_20190507_181813698.jpg

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Nashville. I hadn’t heard much about the city before or been recommended much to do here, so instead I did what any good traveler would – I asked a local. After some museum and downtown wandering, I stopped in for a drink at the Woolworth and struck up a conversation with the bartender. He was very nice and helpful, and recommended some great spots to go for dinner and fun-but-not-too-touristy live music.IMG_20190506_183445459_HDR.jpg

So it was that I found myself sitting at the Merchant’s restaurant bar in downtown Nashville, chatting it up with the folks sitting around me, when I hear “Becky?!” I look up to see a familiar face placing my food in front of me. Who would be calling me that? I stopped going by that nickname in college. After a stunned pause, a lightbulb went off. “Melanie?!” I couldn’t believe it. I was looking at one of my dearest high school friends, all grown up and serving me my dinner. What are the odds? I haven’t seen this girl in 17 years!

We caught up all night, chatting in between her serving rounds, and then going out for drinks after she got off work until 3am. Then we hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch, and onward I drove to my next stop: Atlanta. I only had a few hours to spend there. So I looked up the coolest spots on Atlas Obscura (highly recommend this resource!) and hit them one by one in rapid succession: the Rainbow Crosswalks,IMG_20190508_163736855_HDR.jpg 54 Columns art sculpture, IMG_20190508_165919286_HDR.jpgJunkman’s Daughter store, IMG_20190508_174145214_HDR.jpgKrog Street Tunnel graffiti walk, IMG_20190508_182758758_HDR.jpgand then dinner at Krog Street Market, where two men sitting next to me at the bar tried to give me $100 for winning their “bet” about who had done the craziest thing in their life. Guess being a former stuntwoman has its perks (though just to be clear, I did not take the money).IMG_20190508_184920795_HDR.jpg

After Atlanta, I drove back north to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Smoky indeed! It was so smoky and windy that day, I could barely see any of the 522,419 acres many call the “Wildflower National Park”, even from the lookout on Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet.IMG_20190509_134701851_HDR.jpg

Slightly disappointed, I drove on along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was much more visibly beautiful. That more than made up for it. The beauty was so distracting (not to mention the hilarious scenic outlook names like Devils Courthouse, Big Witch Gap, French Broad, and Grassy Knob), that I didn’t notice I was starting to speed. A lot. Well much to my surprise, I got pulled over. My first of the road trip! Didn’t help that I was one of the only cars on a less-traveled road in a remote area where rangers/patrolmen have little else to do. Don’t worry though, I sweet talked my way out of a ticket. Not my first rodeo. 😉IMG_20190511_102708_381.jpg

Despite that one minor mishap, I will say the Blue Ridge Parkway’s distractingly beautiful backdrop did provide excellent inspiration for all that introspection I’d intended to do on this road trip. And the long monotonous route allowed me to switch my brain into self-talk mode. Which is to say, I talked to myself. A lot.

And so as I continued on down that picturesque parkway, I found myself making some significant discoveries and decisions about my life, my goals, and some potential next (post-road trip) adventures. I only stopped when I reached Asheville, and felt it a good pausing point for a breather, a brief wander, and (breakfast for) dinner break. IMG_20190509_184454604.jpgWhat a strange pocket of hippies in the middle of North Carolina. This is the same state where I saw a billboard to this effect:

Christian: “God, why haven’t you sent us another savior?”
God: “I did, but you aborted him.”

I was so distracted by the absurdity of it, that I totally failed to get out my phone and snap a picture as I drove by. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

After Asheville, I realized my schedule was running a tad behind. So I got on the highway and (after an overnight along the way) booked it to and through the lush green paradise that is the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.IMG_20190510_125743789.jpg

And then shortly thereafter, a slightly-less-brief exploration of the Shenandoah National Park. I basically just drove the incredibly scenic 105-mile Skyline Drive through the length of the park, stopping at nearly all of its 75 overlook turnouts for some gorgeous photos.IMG_20190510_161713922_HDR.jpg

Then in the same day (because time was still tight), I made it all the way over to Washington D.C. where my dear friends Lauren and Chris were awaiting my arrival. I hadn’t seen Lauren in ages, and in that time she’d gotten married and pregnant. So a visit was long overdue. I’d set aside another two whole days of my precious road trip time for this part. And it was a thankfully quite relaxing one. Instead of rushing around trying to pack in the sites (partly coz Lauren was less mobile and partly coz I was so exhausted), we just lazed around their home, took their dog for short walks, ate home-cooked meals, and did lots of catching up.

A lovely and perfect end to a lovely but overwhelming week.

US Road Trip Week 3: Boulder/Denver, Amarillo, Austin & Nola

Continuing this week up I-25 through Denver into Boulder to visit another old friend. I’m starting to see what Kerouac meant calling the landscape here an “endless poem”. Such a strong sense of space to breathe and think. Will definitely need to come back and explore it more someday. Hopefully soon.IMG_20190429_143317140.jpgUntil then, it’s on down I go the entire length of Texas, top to bottom, to Austin. Spent a full day and overnight driving like the wind, like “something, someone, some spirit was pursuing [me] across the desert of life and was bound to catch [me] before [I] reached heaven.”IMG_20190430_125340370.jpgMaybe it was the ghost of one of these crazy Cadillacs in Amarillo.IMG_20190430_102905537_HDR.jpgReached Austin and got to stay put for a whopping two whole days exploring the wonderful world of all things weird, uncommon, BBQ’d, booted, and batty, all while waiting for a forecasted thunderstorm that mysteriously never came. “It was a rainy night. It was the myth of a rainy night.”IMG_20190501_224824_671.jpgStumbled upon a small show at the Museum of the Weird and somehow found myself volunteering to assist the performer who was sending electric current through his body to turn on a light bulb!IMG_20190501_120711877.jpgAnother thing Austin boasts, in my opinion, is some of the best 24 Hour Fitness gyms in the country. One in particular, because it actually had a punching heavy bag available. They never have those! That just made my day.

After Austin, I drove over to New Orleans for another two-day long visit, which still somehow seemed like not enough time. I’d reserved one of those days for the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The festival ran for two extended weekends, but I could only go one day. So naturally I chose the day Diana Ross would be performing. She sang “Ease On Down The Road” from The Wiz! So worth it!Also discovered a new favorite artist Judith Owens who covered some of my favorite songs and artists beautifully, as well as her own hilarious original hit “Secondhand Sexbot.”IMG_20190504_183703553_HDR.jpgBut the day before, I’d had perhaps a little-too-fun-filled day. It started with brunching in Jackson Square,IMG_20190503_115010490_HDR.jpgshopping in the French Market and wandering the French Quarter,IMG_20190503_133057006_HDR.jpga classic cemetery tour,IMG_20190503_141842010_HDR.jpgand epic donut lunch in the Garden District.IMG_20190503_153112799.jpgI nearly called it an early night then, but decided to take myself out to dinner at Coop’s, where I couldn’t help but make some new friends who kept me out till all hours afterward drinking and dancing to all the great big band music of Marigny’s historic Frenchmen Street. IMG_20190503_194537251.jpgLiving my inner Kerouac. “‘I just won’t sleep,’ I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.”

So I was understandably a little stumbly the next morning as I tried to rally and navigate the freshly inclement weather (the event parking all flooded!) to get to the festival fairgrounds.