“But, I’m a dork and wanted my SCOTUS swag!”

RAL was very kind to lend us his house for the night. In order to get there, though, we had to provide our California DLs and wait while they ran our numbers in the military system. We are definitely in the system now. No easy way to get off the grid now!

This morning, we woke up to traffic. If it wasn’t for all the lush greenery on the side of the road, I could have sworn we were back in L.A. SO MUCH TRAFFIC to get to DC. So, by the time we got to the city, it was lunch time. So, we had to eat where Bill Cosby eats for free: Ben’s Chili Bowl. The chili is a no-beans chili seasoned with a secret mix of Trinidad spices. But, I thought the chili was meh on its own. It really shines when paired with their half-smoke (a sausage, served like a hot dog). We ordered three chili half-smokes with everything on it (as in, with mustard and onions). I also ordered chili fries so I could isolate the chili by itself.

It was good, but like all things unhealthy, you feel disgusting after. It might be psychological, but I swear I still smell like chili and onions. By our friend, Tom’s, recommendation, we ordered a vanilla milkshake with the food. That was a good idea because the chili packed some heat in it. Overall, good place to grab a quick lunch with, and I see why Mr. Jell-O Puddin’ likes it, but I won’t personally be craving it. Then again, we’ve had an abundance of all-meat-and-no-veggies for the past week and a half.

Next, to the Hill! Actually, we drove to the Union Station and parked our car indoors, for once. The heat in the city was unbearable! And, it wasn’t even 100 degrees outside! Montego tolerated it quite well. I felt like a True Blood vampire ready to explode into disgustingly bloddy pieces. The Union Station was a short walk to Capitol Hill. I languidly trotted next to Robin, jumping from one shady tree to the next. Once we arrived there, we encountered news reporters camped along one shady corner of the grass area. We took a couple of shots from the safety of some trees.

After a few minutes, we decided to walk over to the Supreme Court building. At that point, any protesters that picketed that morning were gone. What was left were more reporters camped along the sidewalk doing something, I dunno what. There weren’t any talking heads that looked familiar to us, so we went inside. The information booth said there was a Courtroom Lecture in 20 minutes, so we walked up and took some shots in front of the door of the actual courtroom, then fell in line behind people waiting to attend the lecture. The 2nd floor, where the courtroom was located, was lined with busts of past Chief Justices who have served. It was kind of weird to see. It was almost like walking down the Stations of the Cross art depictions you see in Catholic churches.

The lecture itself broadly discussed the flow of the Supreme Court: what happens during oral arguments, what happens when decisions are read, and how long it takes for Justices to announce their decisions. The lecturer also touched on the historic decision made today, Affordable Healthcare Act, and why people knew the announcement was going to be made today (today was their last day to announce decisions for the October-to-October term). At this point, I was just dorkifying over the whole thing and nodding my head to everything she said, like I was greeting a long assembly line of Japanese people. (Sorry if that was offensive.) The lecturer did say that we could obtain a free copy of decisions announced today downstairs. So, after the lecture, off we went! I felt like an uber Trekkie in a Star Trek convention.

The decision today was, obviously, so popular that they ran out of copies of Justice Robert’s majority opinion. But, luckily, while we loitered around, Robin spotted a copy room dude who was wheeling one Xerox box towards the Public Information Office (where they provide free copies of that day’s opinions). So, we bee-lined behind him and got ourselves a copy of the Healthcare Act opinion. Yay!

Next, we walked back to Capitol Hill, where we saw a crowd gathered around the West Entrance/Exit of the building. We got there just in time as Democratic House of Representatives started walking down the stairs. People got real excited (half of the people there were interns, by the way) when House Speaker Pelosi, in her cream-colored pantsuit, walked out with a couple of her aides. Since I’m small, I wiggled my way to the front of the crowd and was ready to snap a picture of her with my phone–then my phone slipped out of my hand and missed my shot. Of course. Because, only I would get a primo view and then not capture it for proof.

We later found out that most of the Democrats had walked out when the Republic members of the House of Representatives were voting on whether to censure (hold in contempt) Eric Holder for his gun-running probe. We had fortuitously witnessed Pelosi (and a bunch of Democrats) walk-out as a show of her refusal to vote on the issue.

As soon as she reached the sidewalk, she was swarmed by reporters. So, we watched the whole theatrics play out from the comforts of a shady spot by the trees. Once we were over it, we decided to seek out the Natural History Museum. It was a long walk, and I was seriously lagging behind Montego at this point. My 1L of water was warm, so it was no longer providing temporary respite from the heat. We came across a large water fountain by the National Art Gallery, so we stopped for an iced lemonade break under a bench with some shade. There were a lot of people there wading in the fountain, and the guards didn’t care that they were wading (there were signs all around the area saying wading was prohibited). We caught these girl scouts who decided to screw the sign and dip their little feet into what I assume was cool water. One of them was clearly an over-achiever:

After, I felt like I was going to live again, we prodded on to the Natural History Museum. Once on its steps, we saw a sign for “TitanoBoa,” purportedly the largest snake ever found in the world. Obviously, I had to see it. I mean, how else am I ever going to get over snakes, right? It turns out, the exhibit was a showcase of vertebras of the snake, found in Colombia. The pièce de résistance was a life-like reconstruction of what the boa constrictor would have looked like when it was alive. It was massive. I froze in fear, then I had to keep saying out loud that it was fake. Why did they have recreate the gross, scaly, skin of the snake too? Couldn’t they just make some clay reconstruction? Geez! But, Montego thought I did well, all things considered. We stood there for a good minute, minute and a half before walking away, and I didn’t hyperventilate or pass out. Yeah! One small step for TheRose-kind!

The Natural History Museum ended being our last stop. At that point, we had walked so much in sweltering heat, that we said “fuck it” to the rest of the city. We decided to head out. There was still traffic, but it was starting to ease up. Thank goodness!

We decided to stop in Baltimore, MD for a late dinner. We found this mom and pop crab shack place via Yelp. They are apparently known for their steamed crabs and shrimp. Since Maryland is known for their crabs, Montego ordered two of ’em. I contented myself with some shrimp. I don’t know why I don’t have an intolerance for shrimp, whereas, its other shelled counterparts give me near-death. Anyway, I felt bad for Montego because extracting morsels of those crabs took forever. The meat was cold by the time he got any substantial portion out. Overall, we would have enjoyed it more if the food had been peeled and de-shelled already. Too much damn work for such little reward. It was affordable, though, so we didn’t mind. I thought the seasoning on the shrimp was a little too salty, but Montego loved what little meat he got out of it. He said the crabmeat was sweet. I ordered a side of curly fries to supplant for the absence of abundance of meat. We loved the vibe, though. We got in just as they were about to close, they let us in anyway. They are local, family-owned, and welcoming. We recommend it–just, next time, order more crabs.

Overall, I call today a day of great timing.

Po-To-Mac

TheRose says things like I spell things— she sounds it out.  And so when she announced while driving that we had crossed the Po-to-mac River on our way from Raleigh to Washington DC, I paused to translate, then smiled — she’ll have lots of fun trying to sound out all the wacky names we have for things here in the North East! For those of you who don’t know about the mighty Potomac, here’s a link for you.

Before we started the 5ish hour drive, we made sure to stop at The Roast Grill in downtown Raleigh, right near the North Carolina State University campus.  Like almost all of our other food stops, this one was Man V.S. Food inspired…and once again, it proved to be well worth it.

While the name might make you think of roasted chicken on the grill, or perhaps a grilled pot roast, this place served up nothing but hot dogs. I got two “all the way” which means chili, mustard, and onions, and I must say, they were extremely good!  The 8oz glass bottle of Coke was a perfect compliment.

This place was a true hole-in-the-wall, with a faded, broken exterior and a well worn old fashion diner interior.  The creaky aluminum screen door gave entrance to a narrow single-file walk way with an eight seat bar on the right and two miniature round tables on the left — with all seats occupied and standing room only (of course).  Behind the counter were the owners, one making the dogs and the other serving up drinks and conversation. They did things the old fashioned way as that was their shtick. From the “NO KATCHUP” signs to the fixed price poster (manually modified several times over) for dogs and drinks, they had a specific way of doing things that hasn’t changed for a long long time.

For TheRose and I, eating there was 50% about the food, and 50% about the old school real feel experience. Both combined to make a very memorable meal.

The 5-ish hour drive north was uneventful. It seemed to go very quickly, in part because we took the country roads to get there (quite literally). I think April’s map app is stuck on “scenic route” or something….

We arrived in DC around 6:30 PM and our first stop was to meet Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Tracy at their place in Georgetown.  It was awesome seeing them — first time since our wedding 1.5 years ago!  We all went to a trendy DC place and the conversation and food were excellent.

We didn’t leave T&Ts until late — 11 or so — and TheRose and I were extremely tired. But on the way out of DC we took a wrong turn and ended up by the National Monument. And when we saw it towering above us, glowing ominously in the night sky, we just couldn’t resist going to take a closer look.  And so with our last bit of energy we parked the Versa with all of our stuff in it on Constitution Drive, grabbed the camera and tripod, and set out to get a closer peak at the national monuments.

It was a beautiful night for walking around DC; just the right temperature for shorts and a t-shirt, and just the right sky for long exposure picture taking.  We walked past the National Monument, checked out the new-ish (2004) World War 2 memorial (all lit up with fountains galore), and then ended our evening stroll at the Lincoln Memorial.  For those of you who weren’t aware, it’s open (and guarded by police) 24/7! Tax dollars hard at work.

After plenty of picture taking, the fatigue of the day began to set back in. We said goodbye to Lincoln and set a course for our home-of-the-day, warp factor 9.  Well, TheRose drove because I was too tired, so it was more like warp factor 2.

Carolina Comforts

We made it to the Atlantic Ocean today, and practiced the time-honored Johnson rule: if you reach a new body of water, you must swim in it touch it.   I somehow convinced TheRose to do the same, and before we knew it, we were both standing in the stormy Atlantic water off the coast of South Carolina.

It had rained the night before and for most of the day. But it was that warm, humid rain — the kind of rain that feels good even when standing in shorts and a t-shirt with the ocean up to your knees. The water was particularly warm too, and so it was quite enjoyable, all things considered. The beach was a stormy wreck though, as you can see here:

We arrived in Charleston, SC after our last “marathon drive” of our voyage — about 10 hours — all the way from Mobile, Alabama, though Montgomery AL, around Atlanta GA, just past Augusta, GA, and into Charleston by about 11pm. Along the way we selected another “Hotwire Hotel” to make sure we didn’t have to roam around Charleston looking for a good price/performance place.

We ended up staying at the Fulton Lane Inn, a historic Inn located in the heart of the “downtown area” of Charleston.  It was a neat place, with complementary sherry (both dry and sweet) in the reception area, free wifi, and free Continental breakfast.  The place creaked and squeaked like the 100+ year old structure that it was,

with 8 foot wide hallways and huge doors with big handles and traditional brass key locks. The room was beautiful, with all traditional furniture, super clean, modern bathroom, and a bed adorned with a white cotton lace canopy. I thought it was nice. TheRose LOVED it.

The next morning it was raining, which prevented us from exploring the streets. But from the brief glimpse I got, here’s what I can tell you:

1) Charleston is like Martha’s Vineyard, MA (for you East Coasters), or like Laguna Beach, CA (for the west-siiiideeE!) — small shops, historic, trendy, and expensive. It’s not quite the Cape Cod of the South, but it certainly leans in that direction.

2) I paid almost 8 dollars for a breakfast sandwich at a local deli, and it still tasted like something I might get at Burger King.

3) Public transportation is free, but parking certainly isn’t. We paid 14 bucks on top of our Hotwired hotel fare.

4) If you’re in to antiques, art, knick-knacks, or women’s clothing, the shopping in Charleston is irresistible!

After a great lunch (TheRose will elaborate), we wound our way through the back roads, past the famous Myrtle Beach to Raleigh, North Carolina.  It was only a 4 hour drive which was a cake walk after our last few drives.  And it was nothing but trees and bridges and water and more trees and sleepy hills and more trees and water and trees.  Very beautiful, rich, and lush.

The “tree theme” continued right up to the very last moment before we hit Raleigh. We were looking around for the city, as usually we could see the buildings poking through on the horizon. Or perhaps some billboards would aid the transition from trees to concrete.  But Raleigh was different.  We took an exit, turned a corner, and POOF – like magic, a beautiful city revealed itself above the nearest treeline.  The presentation was unlike any city we’ve encountered so far — just a modern skyscraper skyline juxtaposed against endless greenery. Nice!   Raleigh’s slogan is “City of Oaks”  and it seems as though it’s aptly named.

We quickly found “The Pit” where we had an amazing BBQ dinner, and then retired to our latest Hotwired-room to digest.

So to recap: Charleston is beautiful, but a bit upscale  / trendy for my taste.  Good place to vacation once I own my own Mercedes SUV.  Raleigh is beautiful…or at least the parts we visited.  And today’s food selections by TheRose were nothing short of… amazing!

Next stop, Washington DC.

Waffle House, Chick-Fil-A, and $2.99 Gasoline

Today is a travel day, the last long one of the trip. We’re making the journey all the way from Mobile Alabama to Charlestown North Carolina, a 10 to 12 hour journey. It feels good to cross so many states in a day.

To balance out our expenses, we chose to stay in a Days Inn. At about 50 bucks a night, we felt it was a slight upgrade from Motel 6, yet not as lavish as the Holiday Inn, which averages around 100 a night. I’m not sure whether this particular Days Inn was a bad egg, or whether we were just spoiled by the last few hotels, but I felt a “creep factor” that made staying there uncomfortable. I could go into the details, but suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty. Key words: old bubble-tron tv, no bath towels, really old bed spread, paint-speckled florescent bath lighting, and door propped open upon arrival.

We tried to sleep in, but were awoken by the sound of gas powered leaf blowers and weed wackers. Ahh. Just like home, only this crew was definitely not mexican in ethnicity like the LA crew was.

Our eating schedule is way off at this point, in part due to the slowly shifting timezone changes. So we’re trying to eat when we’re hungry, not when we “should” eat based on the time of day. It was one of those eatin’ times, and so we stopped at our first “Waffle House” — the greasy spoon dinner of the south. Waffle Houses are e v e r y w h e r e you go; If you close your eyes and walk in any particular direction, you’re bound to hit one eventually.

TheRose and I both got the waffle and egg combo: scrambled and with blueberries mixed in. $5.95 a person — what a deal! And I must say, it was one of the better waffles I’ve had. While not a Belgian, it was a very close second. We also throughly enjoyed the lesson we received in southern speaking. Our waitress spoke with a thick Alabama accent, as did the rest of the crew. And they were going on and on about some bar that “Jess” (our waitress) was going to, and whether she should wear a skirt when she went to that “mixed race bar”, and how she didn’t want to be abducted (!). It was all in good fun — a very casual silly conversation — and we found ourselves using the phrases we heard to practice our southern accent for the next several hours of the drive.

There was little fanfare when we crossed from AL to GA. No big sign or welcome center like what Texas and California has. That might be because it all looks the same: wide open highways lined with thick, lush forest on each side. Occasionally there will be a bridge that spans over a vast river. But for the most part it’s all tall trees and blue skies.

Our little Nissan Versa is doing well; we’re averaging around 28 MPG. We would get more, but we’ve been having some very strong winds that push the car back and forth in the lane quite fiercely! We’re also averaging about 80MPH, a speed that forces this little car to downshift when going up even the smallest hill. (TheRose adds: “It’s only when you’re driving…”)

Ever since New Mexico, we’ve been watching the gas prices go down. First it was 3.60, then 3.40, then 3.25 in Texas! When we saw 3.05, we took a picture, because we figured it couldn’t get any lower. But then… it happened. In a town just outside of New Orleans, we filled up our car at the amazing price of 2.99!!! It’s hard to believe that gas prices are going down, especially with all of the world turmoil and trouble with the European economy….. not to mention the fact that it’s an election year. But, we’re happy about it nonetheless.

At about 3pm we decided we should eat something, even though we weren’t really that hungry. We stopped in a Chick-Fil-A to see what all the buzz was about. We ordered 2 original sandwiches, and I must say, it was very very good. I proclaim that Chick-Fil-A is the “In-N-Out” of the South! We’ll certainly be having it again before we get too far north.

As I type, we’re driving near Atlanta right now, heading east on I285 which goes around the city just like route 128 does around Boston. Next stop: Augusta GA, followed by Charlestown NC!

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“Huge Ass Beers”

Went to Bourbon Street after we unloaded all our luggage in our room. We found a deal on Hotwire that listed a “4-star hotel” for less then $100. Since most of the budget hotels in the area were booked, we’re like, “Sure, why not?” The view was fantastic, and we got a king bed out of it. The bed was better than our last bed. No backaches in the morning!

Onto Bourbon Street. It was Saturday night. It’s the best time to get a feel and find out all the hype–and let me tell you, it definitely was crazy. Wow, I can’t imagine surviving here during Mardi Gras. I will get trampled, or strangled by falling beads. Death by beads. The husband was all about the mixed drink called Hurricane. But, we couldn’t find a bar that seemed like a good spot for a Hurricane. Instead, we went to a bar where they were advertising a drink called Grenades. I forgot what the slogan was, but it was something along the lines of, “These will fuck you up.” [Excuse the French.]

We bought one for each of us. Then, kept walking down the busy street, sipping our neon green concoction. I was overwhelmed by the scene. Really. It’s like going to the Gaslamp District in San Diego, times 100. There was even a couple of things there where I was like, “THAT’S LEGAL?!” Anyway, the husband sipped his drink faster than I did, so he felt the alcohol before I did. It wasn’t a good feeling. It was not a buzz, it was a “oh, I feel sick.” Bourbon Street was also smelly. It smelled of puke and horse poop, among other things. So, that didn’t help. On our way back to our hotel, we saw the horses.

The next morning, the “grenade” effect was launched in our hotel room. Specifically, in the bathroom. Need I say more?

So, a warning to anybody who goes to Bourbon Street: don’t get the grenades, it’s not the grenade you’re looking for.

 

Gators Love Marshmallows!

TheRose and I decided to spend a full day in New Orleans. While super hot and humid, it’s  the most beauiful place we’ve seen in a while — there’s only so much desert one can admire. (Ohhh look! More mountains! … )

Today we ate lunch at the semi-famous ACME Oyster House in the French Quarter.  While neither one of us got the Oysters, we did very much enjoy our food.  TheRose got E-Two-Fey (or however it’s spelled) and I got a good ol’ fashion shrimp poboy.  And man – it was actually good!   Good bread, fresh shrimp, and just the right amount of lettuce, tomato, and mayo to make it work.

After, we drove out to the Bayou for a Cajun swamp tour, which ended up being fantastic.  We managed to get the best tour guide in the group: a grossly overweight 60 year old man of true Cajun blood.  Effortlessly he drove our little boat around the Bayou looking for wildlife…and especially alligators… all while telling entertaining stories like an old grampa.

We ran into about 10 different gators on the 2 hour trip, all of different sizes and personalities. The biggest one was about 10 feet. And the smallest? Well, he surprised us with a baby gator that he was keeping in a cooler right by April’s feet.  He just reached down and pulled out a 2 foot long baby and began to pass it around the boat, allowing people to take pictures with it.  SWEET.  Unfortunately, I was using my “big camera” for this trip, and so we don’t have any photos on our phones to post.  But needless to say, I think I have a few 2013 Calendar candidates…

When we encountered a larger gator, our guide threw it marshmallows.  They float, can be seen clearly over the dark green water, and for whatever reason, the gators love em’!  They also love hot dogs.  Our guide would put one on a stick and then get the gators to jump out of the water to grab it — right beside the boat!  Scary cool….and great picture material!

Interesting tid-bit:  you can now hunt Alligators in controlled quantities… AND you can eat them.  The place we’re going to tonight has Alligator on the menu and we’re itching to try it (per the recommendation of our guide).

Anyway – highly recommend this tour. It was only 25 bucks a person … 35 with tip. And we learned quite a lot about the bayou, gators, and… our guide.

For the google web crawler…   GO CAJUN SWAMP TOURS!

 

Held It In the AM, Ate It In the PM

Went on a Louisiana swamp tour. Our Cajun tour guide said if we wanted to try alligator, we should go to Huck Finn’s Cafe in New Orleans, and order their Alligator Sauce Piquante dish. So, I made a mental note of that while I caressed his pet baby alligator.

Later, after the tour, I convinced Montego to try alligator. So, off we go to Huck Finn’s. Montego ordered a shrimp po’ boy, he was on a shrimp fix. I scanned their menu, searching for one keyword: alligator. Surprisingly, there were several alligator offerings on the menu. My indecision (and, admittedly, slight fear) drove me to order the Gator Platter: alligator served as a sausage, in sauce piquante, and blackened. If I didn’t like one preparation, then I at least had others to fill me. I ignored the odds that I might not like all three preparations. I ended up wishing I had just listened to our Cajun tour guide and ordered the Alligator Sauce Piquante. The blackened preparation was chewy. And, eating sausage can only stay so appetizing. So, what I did was dump all the blackened pieces into the small bowl of sauce piquante to make it more enjoyable. People are right, alligator does taste like chicken. Based on the blackened preparation, alligator has the meat consistency of pork and flavor of chicken. Montego helped me finish the sausage. I couldn’t finish all that. The sausage was like eating a turkey sausage. No flavor revelations. The alligator was satisfying, but I don’t see myself craving after it.

I also checked in on Foursquare, so we scored free beignets and had them boxed up. We passed by a homeless dude on the way to the car, so Montego gave him our beignets.

Honey Island Gator Platter

Shrimp Po’ Boy

 

Giggling Like A Schoolgirl

Had a late check-out at the [almost] 2-month old Holiday Inn, located at Truth or Consequences, NM. First of all, what the heck kind of town name is that? Truth or Consequences? I imagine this town used to be some rebel settlement where you had gunslingers duking it out on Date Street (one of the main streets in the tiny town). I suppose, with a name like this, you can let your imagination run wild.

The Holiday Inn Express itself was super new. I bet our room had been previously occupied only once–if at all! Everything was excellent. One criticism I do have is their decision to stick the coffee maker on the bathroom counter, directly next to the toilet. Gross. This new hotel is also the tallest hotel in the entire town, with three floors. That’s how tiny this place was.

After taking advantage of the late check-out, we headed out to Hatch, New Mexico. The chile capital of the country. Can’t cite reputable sources where this claim is made, but I believe Anthony Bourdain has said this. If you watch his show “No Reservations,” he visits this restaurant called Peppy’s Pot (now renamed to Pepper Pot). In the show, he orders the enchiladas, half green chile and half red chile. I did the same thing, except I added chicken in the mix. It was damn good. Bourdain concluded that he liked the red chile more, while I ended falling for the green chile. But, to put it in perspective, liking one chile over another is all about preference. Both chile sauces are excellent. Very rich and distinct flavors, with a lot of depth in it. I have a bias towards green chiles anyway (hence, my inclination to cook chicken chile verde for leftover chicken), so my preference did not come as a surprise.

The reason for the title of this post has to do with the fact that I was starstruck as soon as we pulled over in front of the restaurant. I don’t get starstruck easily. Not sure if it’s my Los Angeles upbringing, but that’s how I roll. Anyway, I had been anticipating this visit since I was able to take my mind off school. As soon as we walked in, I could instantly point out where Tony Bourdain and his crew sat. And, to my excitement, I saw one of the two sisters (the owners) out on the floor talking to customers. Holy shit. I figuratively peed in my pants.

We ate, we now understood the hype. Robin also preferred the green chile sauce, and jointly concluded that it was worth the stop. I had anxiety about talking to one of the owners, but Robin ultimately convinced me to go for it. So, I pestered the waitress (who I surmised was one of the daughters of the owners, and future heir of the secret recipes) to talk to one of them. Mensa, I believe her name was, came out looking confused and I sputtered out, “Hi, we came out here from LA–we saw you on TV–we are such big fans–can I take a picture?” I don’t think I said one complete sentence to the lady. So, Robin took a picture, we shook hands some more, promised to come back again, and we were off. On the way to door, my knees buckled, and I started giggling. I looked like someone who was high on marijuana.

Good times.


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New Mexico is not “Shady”

I realized something this morning as I walked outside the climate controlled Holiday Inn into the dry 95 degree heat at 10am:  There isn’t any natural shade in Truth or Consequences, or in most of the Southwest.   Sure, this seems like an obvious observation, but I’m slow sometimes, ok?

When you do find shade under a building entrance way or under the infrastructure of a gas station the heat isn’t bad at all. There’s usually a strong desert breeze going through and the dry air just makes you want to grab an Arnold Palmer and sit in a lounge chair, watching the spectacular clouds roll by.

But other than that, the short desert shrubs and cacti really don’t reach high enough to provide any protection from the strong sun.

I also realized as I walked downstairs this morning that the “Free Breakfast” ends at 9:30 AM.

Boo.