The USA Adventure 1999
My sister Caroline and I had been planning this trip last summer and decided to go through with it over Christmas 1999. Our plan was to rent a car in Louisiana and drive all the way to San Francisco, were we would fly back to Sweden to celebrate New Year 2000. Here is what happened.
Louisiana and Texas
I went to New Orleans, Louisiana, to pick up my sister, Caroline Solberg. I had rented a Chevrolet Cavalier, a red one, and headed for NO after lunch. I went straight for the airport and found a place to stay for the night just next to the airport, a Rodeway Inn. She was scheduled to land 9:30pm, so I had the entire afternoon to myself and I went down to the Palace and watched "End of Days" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, not a bad movie. Then I bought some food at Popeye's and drove back to the room to wait for my sister's plane. She came in on schedule, a little bit early in fact so we missed each other at the gate but I found her down at the airport Shuttle Park. We went over the airport road to the motel and got our-self ready for a night in the French Quarters. She had brought presents from Sweden, some Wine Gums (a sort of fruit jelly candy) and Daim (caramel chocolate candy) which were very tasty indeed. We parked at the end of Canal Street and walked down in the Quarters, we stopped at some shops and bought CDs and refrigerator magnets. Then we walked over to Cafe du Monde and ate their fried specials (Beignets or something), that filled both of us up completely. I showed her the French Market, Jackson Square and the Streets, Bourbon, Royal, and so on. We walked up Bourbon Street and watched the craziness, which I have seen on many occasions during my year in Louisiana. Of course they had the Bead frenzy and we managed to see some tits as well. After that we stopped by Harrah's and played some slots, Caroline won $5 from one of them and we thought that was a good start on the trip so we went back to the car and drove to the room for the night. This was just the beginning of our luck during this vacation. Caroline on the Texas side of the Texas-Louisiana border. [above]
We woke up by the airplanes taking off from NO International Airport, and then we got our rental car. It was a white 1999 Buick Century with a V6 under the hood. It ran smooth and fast and proved to be an excellent automobile to use for long distance driving. We took both cars west on the I-10 and came to Lafayette just before lunch, which we had at Mel's Diner. In the afternoon we went to the Cajundome and watched Louisiana Icegators beat the crap out of Florida Everglades in hockey. During one of the breaks in the play a guy with a microphone came up in our stand and turned his attention to me. He asked me a question about who scored the first goal for the Icegators in front of the whole stadium, I was on the big screen and my voice went out in the speakers. I answered the questions correct, it was true or false, and I won a $25 gift certificate at Academy Sports. Now, this guy that asked me the question approached us before the game and asked us if we wanted tickets for the game. I replied no and said we would buy our own, then he said they were free, so we took them. I bought a pair of shoes for $7.50 after the discount. In the evening we went to Bonin hall and checked Caroline into a room, my good friend Laurie set my sister up. We ate dinner at Logan's, a steakhouse, where you eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor.
This was the last day of check out from the dormitories at UL Lafayette. A very busy day for all Hall Counselors, me included of course. I returned the Cavalier to the rental shop before lunch. My sister came to pick me up and we went for lunch at Bennigan's. The afternoon was filled with more work checking people out of their rooms. Later that evening we were invited to the Residence Hall Staff Banquet, which took place in Cafe de Lafayette. We played games, ate some food, drank sodas and mingled a little bit. I got an appreciation diploma for my work as a Hall Counselor during the fall 1999 semester. My sister won a Monopoly, the Millennium version, in the game lottery at the end of the banquet; our luck kept coming. After the banquet we headed over to the Strip in Lafayette, a quarter full of clubs and bars, and we paid to come into the Keg. Since it was Lucia, a Swedish tradition, it was party night for Caroline and I. We danced and drank a lot the rest of the night, I lost a little track of my fellow Hall Counselors in there, but it was fun. The Kirksey's and me with Davis on my shoulders in front of their house in Katy. From left to right: Katie, Coco, Me, Davis, Bridgette, Katie, Jen, Mike [above]
I woke up and took care of the last things as a Hall Counselor and then I checked out of my room. My Hall Director did it himself, Mark Harris, and he said I had done a great job. Thank you Mark. Caroline came over in the Buick and we stacked our things and left for Houston. We came in the afternoon and the Kirkseys greeted us. Caroline had bought some presents for the family; a glass bowl from Kosta Boda filled with Daim (chocolate caramel candy), a glass snowball from Orrefors to put a candle in and a bottle of Glögg (a Swedish Christmas alcohol beverage). The Kirkseys took us for dinner at Fuzz's Pizza; we ate three kinds of pizza, American style. After the dinner we all went in the big Chevrolet Suburban and looked at a Christmas light show displayed in a street. It was very much, very American, impressive in its own way. My favorite was the snowflakes that danced over the road. On the way back from the light show the whole car started singing Christmas songs, some a little bit rearranged by the family.
Me, Caroline, Bridgette and Davis took of in the Buick and went to the Johnson Space Center just outside Houston ("Houston, we have a problem!"). While Bridgette was playing with Davis, Caroline and I experienced a virtual ride in a moving vehicle. We watched this roller coaster ride a futuristic landscape on a small cinema screen in a vehicle that moved with hydraulics, a nauseating and fun venture. We also watched an IMAX film about space exploration, kind of a commercial movie for NASA. We all ate in the fast food restaurant in the Space Center and then we took a ride onboard the Tram Tour around the different buildings on the premises. Before the tour we took our picture in front of a screen with NASA rockets. On the tour we saw the control room where they monitor all the space flights. We stopped by a hangar where they worked on the lifeboat for the International Space Station, X-38, and we saw the training center for NASA astronauts, complete with the modules for ISS. I noted they had one with the Swedish flag on it, we are part of it. When we got back after a chilly ride I bought our picture for $9.95, kind of expensive but it was a good picture. We played around some more in the Space Center, and Caroline and I bought some stuff from the gift shop. We did not know exactly what to do in the evening, but in the end I said that we would go to the movies and we did. It was Caroline, Bridgette, Jen, Shannon and myself and we watched "Fight Club", a different movie. Some truism all wrapped up in a dirty and violent environment. The message, in a way, was fuck everything, but do it in a way that benefited someone. Afterwards we went back to the Kirkseys and heated up some Glögg, Bridgette and Aunt Patsy enjoyed it.
In the morning we, Caroline, Bridgette and I, went down town Houston to the Galleria, a huge mall with all kinds of shops in it. We walked around a while and did some serious shopping. After lunch it was time to leave for Austin, Caroline and I drove in the Buick and Bridgette and Jen took Jen's car. We arrived after the sun set, a magical experience in the Texas highlands. That evening we dined at Carraba's, a Italian restaurant with very good food, they have a type of bread that you dip into a mixture of spices and olive oil that is so tasty. After a good dinner we went out into Austin and tried to find a good dance club, that proved to be a challenge. We were early, so there were not a lot of people out. We went into Roxy, but that was a weird place, you could not stand in the stairs, the waiters stalked you and your glass to have something to do, and they advertised about $1 long necks (beer in a bottle) but sold them for $1.50. So we went to look for the Warehouse District, where all the dance clubs were supposed to be. We found one, and went in. But it turned out to be another different place, we wanted modern dance music, they played music from the 70s and in the cellar from the 80s. We stayed a while and danced the night away, after all I had paid $5 to get in. No cover charge for girls, as usual. It turned out good anyway, we had a good time even though the drinks were expensive in American terms, $5 a piece. The viewpoint of Mt Bonell. From left to right: Jen, Bridgette, and Me [above]
We spent the entire day driving and walking around Austin. We walked through a lot of different shops, did some shopping, and drove out to Mt Bonell outside the city core of Austin. We walked up some stone stairs to a summit looking out over a man made lake and some beautiful houses and properties. We ate lunch at Oasis, a restaurant with a lot of different levels looking out into the bay. The food was Mexican and very tasty, I treated the girls after I had found out that UL Lafayette had paid me more then I expected for the last month. We had a good time out in outskirts of Austin. We did some more shopping and then called it the day. Later that evening we ate ice cream at a popular ice cream shop, I split a banana split with Bridgette, yummy! We rented a movie and tried to watch it, but something was wrong with the tape, so we went back to change it with no success. Maybe there was something wrong with the VCR, anyway we decided to get to bed.
After bidding farewell to Bridgette and Jen, Caroline and I headed for Lubbock, TX. Bridgette and Jen went back to Houston. I took the wheel and cruise controlled the car through Texas. When we came to the interstate, I put the car at 90 mph, and after a while I saw a police car in the mirrors, but to late. He had caught me on camera and with the laser, he had me doing 91 mph on a 70-mph stretch. He pulled me over and I stopped at a rest area. He came up to our car and presented himself as Highway Patrol Officer Russell. He asked me why I was in such a hurry, I simply told him I was passing some cars and then I kept quiet, he did not look like the kind of guy you start to discuss such an obvious speeding with. He asked me to step out of the car and for the driver's license. We went in the back of the car and he filled out the ticket and asked me again why I was speeding, I told him the same thing, that I was just passing some cars. He gave me the ticket and wished me a good day. $175 was the prize I had to pay for trying to gain a couple of minutes, I learned the lesson. After that we drove at legal speed throughout the entire journey. We came to Lubbock in the afternoon, found a motel (Motel 6) after driving around a while and checked in. We ate dinner next door to the motel, at a diner of some sort. Then we drove around to find something to do for the evening. The Omnimax at the Science Center was closed, there were no movies we wanted to see at that time, and the Buddy Holy statue were nowhere in sight. We drove through a housing area and found some really nasty Christmas lights. Some Americans think the more the merrier, but it does not look good when you can probably spot the house from outer space.
New Mexico, Arizona and Utah
Holiday Inn had a Sunday breakfast buffé, so we went. But they cheated us; drinks were not included, so we ended up paying $21 for breakfast for two persons! The breakfast was good, but not worth $21. When we got into New Mexico, we saw a sign that Billy the Kid's final resting-place was up ahead. We took a detour and visited his grave. The arrival to Albuquerque, NM was nice; the view was magnificent with the surrounding mountains. On the entry to the city we drove off the interstate and headed down Route 66 through down town Albuquerque. We found our motel, a Holiday Inn Express, but we were to early for check in so we ate a Mexican lunch and visited the old town. I persuaded my sister to join me for a visit to the rattlesnake museum. They had a whole lot of different rattlesnakes, I did not know there were that many species of that snake. They were sleeping, with their eyes open, so no one rattled at us, unfortunately I said, good said my sister. We found a skateboard museum, but that was not the case, it was a shop and they had some old skateboards hanging from the ceiling. We went to a big mall up in the hills, Paradise Hills Mall, and did some shopping. After that we went down town again, what a splendid view over the city we had coming down from the hills. It was dark and all the town lights lit the darkness, and behind it all were the mountains, which were darker than the sky. We ate dinner at a very nice Greek restaurant, Yanni's. Back at the motel we used their Jacuzzi and pool, very relaxing and good for our soar backs. Caroline at the meteorite crater in Arizona. [above]
On our departure from Albuquerque we drove up into the hills surrounding the city once more, and we had a marvelous view of the city with the mountains behind it. When we came into Arizona a lot of things happened. First we encountered an Indian cave, an ancient Navajo village, with American buffalo in a little pen and different artifacts from the late 19th century. The guide told us to walk clockwise around the camp, and we did, because it is believed by the Navajo's to bring good luck. I got myself a buffalo good luck charm by picking up a map in a store further down the road and present it to the ladies at the Navajo cave. After the cave we drove on until we came to a National park with the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. We drove through it and took some beautiful pictures of the iron laden rock formations. Further into Arizona we stopped at the huge meteorite crater, where NASA conducted moon training for astronauts during the Apollo program. The wind was blowing hard around the crater, but we prevailed and got more pictures of the wonders of nature. Me and the Buick at the painted Desert. [above] Next stop was Flagstaff, AZ and we checked into the worst motel on the trip, but they had Jacuzzi. We went to the public library and checked our e-mail. We had read about the volcanoes in the tourist guide, so we drove into the hills once more and paid our visit to the Sun Crater Volcano. We were some 7,000 feet up by now, and we felt the thinner air up there. The sun was going down and we hurried around to see as much as we could before it became to dark to see. I climbed up another 1,000 feet to a peak of 8,000 feet, Caroline stopped after a third of the climb and went back to the car, and it was a hard climb. But I was determined to go all the way, and I put my head down and concentrated totally on the climb. When I got to the summit I relaxed and my head started spinning, like a cheap buzz up there in the thin air. My heart was racing and I breathed heavy, but I relaxed and enjoyed the moment and then went down again. In the car on the way down to Flagstaff we saw the most beautiful sunset over the mountains and volcanoes. The moon was up and it shone full from the sky, enhancing the view even more. Back at the motel we went down to the Jacuzzi and rested our bodies in the hot water and the bubbles. Me in front of the Sun Crater Volcano outside Flagstaff. [above]
It was the chilliest and coldest morning when we left Flagstaff and headed north towards the Grand Canyon. The drive was smooth, and the landscape continued to be mountainous. We saw a summit on our way into the Grand Canyon National Park. The first thing we passed was the airfield, and we stopped to check how much a ride in an airplane would be. We were lucky, they had two seats available within 20 minutes, so we purchased the tickets and waited. Our pilot, Chad, picked us all up, six passengers and himself, and we walked out to the 1970 Cessna to see the canyon from above. The whether was good, it was partly cloudy, but the sun came down in streaks and painted the canyons and the terrain with specks of light. It turned out to be good for our pictures. The ride took about an hour, and it was breathtaking. Over the south rim and the canyon itself the ride went smooth, but the north rim was bumpy, and when we turned from the north rim out over the canyon again the plane dropped down three stories it seemed. I thought it was fun, but Caroline did not, she had to fight to keep her posture. We took almost 100 pictures together from that ride; it was fantastic to see the wonder from above, worth every cent that we paid. When we got back we realized that we had been lucky once more, the waiting room was full of people waiting their turn to take off. We got our certificates and drove off to explore the south rim of the canyon by car and on foot. A view over the Grand Canyon. [above] A closer look at one of the many parts of the Grand Canyon. This one is called Shiva's temple. [above] When we passed the little village we stopped by the IMAX theatre and watched the Grand Canyon movie. It was another good ride, and we made it just in time. The movie took us down into the canyon and we experienced the thrill of water rafting. We ate at a nearby Wendy's and then watched the canyon up close. We decided to stop at three sites along the south rim, one to the West Side of the rim, one in the middle and the Desert Point at the very corner of the east part of the canyon. At one point I climbed outside the designated path and climbed out to the drop, it was thrilling and exciting. I was scared, since you could not tell if the rock would hold you and the drop was thousands of feet down to the Colorado River. I felt really good after I had done it, but Caroline was nervous while I was out there, but she took a picture of me. At the Desert Point there were a watchtower with Indian paintings inside it, we went up as far as we could in the tower and watched the canyon one last time. History written in the canyon, as layers of different minerals from ancient times. [above] Desert Point, an old watch tower in the very east corner of the South rim. [above] We had looked at the map and discovered a road through the south part of Utah that would take us to the interstate north of Las Vegas. But what we did not see was the shape of that road. It was fine until we hit another National Park in the middle of the mountains. The road dwindled around the mighty peaks and we experienced, once more, the feeling of puniness when related to the nature of those mountains. It was getting dark and the road went through a very long tunnel that did not seem to end. When we came out on the other side, the road climbed down the side of the mountain from side to side, the drop was massive. It was another thrill to ride it all the way down to the bottom. The we came to a village and it looked like it was a refuge for people during the holidays, it had some really nice houses and it was alive out there in the mountains. The moon came up behind us and lit the summits against the dark sky. Colorado River. The maker of the Grand Canyon. [above left] Splendor. Truly a wonder of nature. [above right] The interstate towards Las Vegas went through some rocky terrain at first, but as we closed in on Las Vegas it flattened out. About 60 miles (~100 kilometers) we saw the lights from Las Vegas illuminate the horizon. When we drove over the last ridge and the city of Las Vegas opened up in the valley beneath us, we held our breath. There were lights all over the place. We drove through it and ended up driving across Las Vegas Blvd, or "The Strip", as it is called. That is the road where all those fancy hotels are situated and where all the people hang out. All those neon signs, spotlights, flashing and moving lights just took the night away. We found our hotel, the Mardi Gras Inn, and checked into our room. The room was the nicest on the trip, very large and with two large beds and a kitchen area. We dressed up a little and ate in the hotel restaurant. After that we gambled and played the slots in the hotel. I put $3 into one of the slots, and when I had played for a while and had $1 left I hit the jackpot, I got three different colored 7:s and won 800 credits, or $200. I had redeemed the speeding ticket, with some interest. That felt really good, I tell you. We just laughed and laughed as the machine spat out the quarters for what seemed an hour. Beginners luck for sure! There were a lot of seasoned players in there, but I won. This had been a day of wonders, both man made and made by nature. Our Cesna from 1970 and the people flying with us. From left to right: Four other guys, Me, and our pilot Chad. [above left] Me after I have just won $200 on the slot in front of me. [above right]
Nevada and Cailfornia
We had asked the people working at the hotel what you can do in Las Vegas during the day, so we had lots of places that we could visit before sunset. We started out the day in Las Vegas with a visit to the University Library. We checked our e-mail and drove back to the hotel. We decided to walk down to the “Strip”, or Las Vegas Boulevard, and go to the different hotels with their activities. Everything in Las Vegas cost money, nothing is free, as we soon found out. We took a ride up in the miniature Eiffel tower at the Paris Hotel. Inside the hotel were a French plaza with cafes and shops. One thing that all the hotels had in common were the huge amount of gambling machines and tables. From the Eiffel tower we saw the entire city, but the view was not as stunning as we thought it would be. Outside New York New York they had arranged an ice skate show, which they held every hour. We watched a part of it and then headed down towards Excalibur and Luxor. The Excalibur had everything you can imagine about knights, chivalry, magic and castles. The Luxor is the pyramid with the Sphinx sitting in front of the hotel. We also saw the lions at the MGM hotel. From the Excalibur we took a tram all the way to the other end of the Strip, to the Stratosphere tower. We had planned to eat lunch up there, but the line was huge so we passed. We had walked for hours and were very hungry, so a McDonald’s had to do. We saw the Venitian, with the little river around it with the singing boatsmen, and stopped by the Mirage to see the dolphins, but that cost too much. At Ceasar’s Palace we walked the mall, all the way down to the Nike store. There they had the fountain show every half hour or so, we watched it. A story about the fate of Atlantis, the aging king and his two children fighting for power and eventually the greed of the children led to the sinking of Atlantis into the ocean by the gods. That show had fire, water and laser effects that gave a really impression of the dialog between the king , his children and the gods. A very American type of show I must say. Treasure Island had the pirate city with the two ships, but the show was cancelled due to preparations for the Millennium celebrations. Me and the slots in Las Vegas. [above] All in all we had walked around from 10am until 6pm, 8 hours all together. We were exhausted, and we had decided to go eat at a restaurant in the Stardust hotel, because we would receive free tickets to the show “Enter the Night” and two drinks. I had persuaded Caroline to go on the show with me, in the commercials it seemed like a show only for gents, with wild ladies dancing and showing off the whole package. But it turned out to be equally barred for the ladies in the audience. The male dancers showed some of their stuff as well. The show was great, with ice skaters, Mexican string ball and drum artists, dancing, singing, and a laser show that really impressed both of us. The entire show was accompanied by a live orchestra. We had a good time, and the show was going to be shut down on the 27th of December, so we were among the last to see it ever. After the show we walked down the Strip and watched all the lights, incredible and fascinating. Outside the Mandalay hotel they had a artificial volcano that erupted every half hour, and we got there just in time to watch it go off with thunder, fire and water splashing all over the place. It is amazing what people do to entertain others.
We went up earlier this day, for the plan was to reach San Francisco in the evening. We drove south on I-15 at first, then we went straight west on some small roads, it took us a long time to get somewhere. We ate lunch at The Cookery, a truck diner along the way. We came out on Highway 1 in the afternoon. We passed the Hearst Castle, but time was running away and we decided not to stop and look closer at it. Highway 1 was smooth in the beginning, but it soon turned out to be a roller coaster in and out along the coast line. The speed dropped significantly and we realized we would never reach San Francisco that day. So we checked our maps and decide that Santa Cruz would be enough for one day. Me and Caroline at Jerry's Diner. [above] While we were driving along the coast, the sun was getting lower and lower towards the horizon. We stopped and watched the sunset along Highway 1, it was beautiful. We went up in the cliffs and looked out into the Pacific, the waves were crashing in on the beach a some 150 feet below us. The sound of the waves and the sun setting was truly an orchestra to marvel and behold. We stayed for 15 minutes and saw the sun disappear under the horizon, leaving a golden and red light on the clouds. Caroline and a beautiful sunset over the Pacific. [above] Me in the twilight on the cliffs to the shore of the Pacific. [above] We arrived late to Santa Cruz and we found a motel and checked in. That night we slept in the same bed for the first and last time on the trip. It was a small room, but a cheap one. We went to a diner and ate dinner, and then found the cinemas and decided to go see “Deuce Bigalow: male Gigolo”. Before the movie started we walked up and down the main street in Santa Cruz. They had a lot of shops that my sister enjoyed, she found her last presents there. We even found porcelain from Höganäs in one shop, very expensive though. The movie was full of laughs and we enjoyed it.
Christmas Eve. In Sweden we celebrate Christmas on this day, so it was another experience to be in San Francisco, California, USA on Christmas. Caroline and I drove down town and parked the car in a valet parking house. We walked around town and went into shops and shopping centers (Nordstrom). We found a Wendy’s and had lunch there, I was also on the lookout for a NBA store, but I could not find any. I asked a girl in a athlete and sports shop about NBA merchandise, she asked me what NBA was, so I left. We went to the library and checked our e-mail. We also walked down to China Town and watched the small shops with all the tourist junk. In the afternoon we picked up the car and drove through the streets of San Francisco. We went to Lombardi Street, Pacific Heights with all the beautiful houses, and we went up and down the typical San Francisco streets. That was fun, let’s do that again! Our next aim was the Golden Gate Bridge, we crossed to the other side and drove down in the little marina city on the other side and then up to the lookout spots in the hills. We snapped the pictures of the bridge, we could also see Alcatraz sitting out the in the bay. It was time to get out of the car, and we headed for the Golden Gate Park with its Japanese Tea Garden. We paid the entry fee and walked around in the garden. Some hard work had been put into shaping that garden up for sure, it was stunning. The mixture of plants, rocks, trees, artifacts, and water combined to a marvelous setup. Me on the hills next to the Golden gate Bridge. [above] We still had some time left in the afternoon, so we drove down to the docks and visited Pier 39 with all the shops, restaurants, and arcades. A magician was putting on a show when we got to the end of the pier. He was pretty good. We bought chocolate for $3, not a whole lot, but ‘homemade’ and very tasty. We found Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and I wanted to dine there later on. We took the car and did not know what to do next. We decided to drive around the entire city in the outskirts, juts for the fun of it. It took us 1.5 hour to complete the circle and get back to Pier 39, just in time for dinner. But Bubba Gump decided to close early, so we found another restaurant out on the pier called Dante’s. We ate a good meal and went back to the motel out at the airport.
This is the day when the Americans celebrate Christmas, and we thought everything would be closed on such a day. We were wrong. We drove down town and found a lot of places open, like the cinemas for example. We decided to make this laid back day a movie day. We went to “Any Given Sunday” and “Anna and the King”, two different movies but both had a message of life in them. They were really good movies, and they were long, so our day just flew by. We ate our lunch at a Diner, Mel’s Drive In, and we rounded off our USA tour with a real greasy and cholesterol rich lunch, yummy! After the movies we went back to the motel, packed our bags, and chilled the rest of the evening. I watched a NBA game on TV, the Lakers got on top of the Spurs. Christmas lunch back in Karlstad with the family. From left to right: Fredrik, Lennart, and Monica [above]
We woke up early, took our Buick to the rental car return. It went smooth and we took a shuttle to the airport central. We found our gate and sat down to wait, like you always do on airports. The plane trip home to Karlstad went pretty smooth, a small delay at JFK, as usual, but we got back to Sweden on time. In Stockholm we ran into a problem, the flight to Karlstad that we were scheduled on had been cancelled, but I went to my travel agency and they booked me and Caroline on another plane, an earlier flight in fact, so we came back to Karlstad earlier than planned. In Karlstad we were greeted by Mom, Dad, and our big brother Fredrik. We had a Christmas style lunch and then started fighting the jet lag. That is the end of this story. Fabian