Friday, August 19, 2011

The Return to Iowa City

(August 10, 2011)

On the way back to Iowa City, mid-morning, I sat in the very back of the bus on the top, center-aisle. My face reflected back at me, layered in the glass pane over cornfields and the megabus logo.

Time bends on long trips. Towards the middle it feels, in a good way, like it won’t ever end. At the end it seemed it passed too quickly, even though I felt like I lived a lifetime.

On this trip, I explored four cities I’ve never been to in my life and revisited three; four if you count Iowa City. I met and revisited countless people.

I pushed my personal boundaries—stepped into the unfamiliar, and in one of the few instances in my otherwise relatively uptight life, let go.


Number of miles traveled by bus: 
(Based on google-mapping each megabus station and counting the Great Megabus Detour.)

Total hours spent on the bus:

Total number of days I traveled:

Number of different households I slept:
(Nine of them friends I knew in advance, four hosted me through and one was with friends of a friend. )

Number of unique visits to my blog as I write this (nationally and internationally):
                                                                    (thanks everybody!)

Total expense:
Factoring groceries and rent against every dime spent on this trip out of my pocket- I came out...     

$100 ahead!

It was not my initial intent, but taking this trip actually saved me money.  I’m sooo using the $100 I saved towards starting a Roth IRA!  (many many hours on a bus bought me time to investigate how to have a financial life).


On August 10, 2011, the day the midwest heat broke, at 2 pm I arrived back in Iowa City.

 (Iowa City doesn't have a skyline. )
Through the City of Literature, on my way by foot to my apartment (eight minutes from the center of town), I dragged my bags past my favorite familiar sights:

The Ped-Mall:

(where children play in the fountain)
I passed a freestanding outdoor piano (open for all to play) and one of the many book statues scattered around the ped-mall.

This one's page was open to a map of Iowa City's landmarks; etched in the corner: "Beyond this place, there be dragons."

Oh, Iowa City.

I passed the Old Capitol Building:

And I returned to my bike. Plants now poking from it’s lonely spokes.

I entered through my front door, into my apartment:

Where I immediately passed out on my own futon.


That evening…

                      I unicycled into the sunset.

How can megabussing solo halfway across the country and back for $69.50 not leave you feeling profoundly empowered?


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coming Full Circle in Chicago. (Windy City Whirlwind part 3)

(August 9)

I left Columbus and headed back into the dome of the Midwest.

Let the corn begin.
We drove through Indiana

and past miles and miles of wind farms--

before we finally reached Chicago:

Chicago from the megabus.
This time, Chicago wasn't a stranger.  In fact, given the short time I've known it-- it felt weirdly familiar. Like when somebody hugs you the first time you meet them-- and then you run into them three weeks later-- and even though you haven’t said a word since, it’s like you’ve known each other your whole life.

From Union Station, I headed straight to Bucktown, Phil's hip neighborhood.

My impression of Bucktown in the two shots I had time to take:

Bike shop.
Nostalgic hipster art.

In Bucktown, I reached the home of comedian Phil Biedron, the original megabus master.

(image borrowed from
Since April 2011, Phil has been booking $1 megabus tickets for his comedy tour of the midwest (Phil's blog: Midwest On 25).

Postcards of all the places he’s been (many visited via megabus):


This was unfortuantely the best Iowa City postcard that Phil could find.

This postcard is from his fateful trip to Iowa City, where he helped spark the Great Megabus Adventure. 

Phil’s very goal-oriented. 
Phil’s other wall:
Goals accomplished so far:
Finish a rubiks cube (start 2/4/11  end 5/12/11)
How many licks to the center of a toosie pop? (304)
Vegetarian for one week (11/1 - 11/8 2010)
As soon as I met up with Phil, almost immediately I was back in the windy city whirlwind—from Bucktown, straight to Ravenswood, where Meg, Phil's girlfriend, had made dinner—and then twenty minutes later  to the Lincoln Park neighborhood for  “Million Dollar Quartet”—where Phil’s roommate,  Jake Lindquist ushers. (Jake was the tour guide of the speedboat architecture tour Phil and Meg took me on during my first whirlwind.)

At 7:28, Phil and Meg dropped me off at the Apollo theater before speeding off to an audition. Jake handed me a program, took my bag off my shoulders and ushered me to a seat front-row center.

The Great Megabus Adventure culminated unexpectedly in a night of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a strong sudden desire to visit Memphis.

(Photo borrowed from

Followed by beers with Meg and Phil.

STAY TUNED FOR: the startling conclusion, my return to Iowa City.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Columbus, Ohio. The High Street Hike: (German Village to the Short North)

(August 7th and 8th)

On the road, after leaving Pittsburgh, it rained the entire day. Until the clouds receded and—

Columbus, Ohio appeared:

I temporarily traded my life as a Hawkeye...

for two days amongst the Buckeyes.

FYI: A buckeye is the seed of the buckeye tree (similar to an acorn). Also, a local confection (seen here). Also, quite possibly the most bizarre mascot ever.
This time, I didn’t have to find my hosts-- they found me. Alternative rock musician Colin Morris initially contacted me after he discovered a link to my blog through the Megabus' twitter feed. 

Colin Morris (center) and his band, Brown Fox. He's the lead singer and songwriter.
It turns out Colin and his girlfriend Elizabeth Brown are both members of So, I had the privilege of learning about Columbus, Ohio through these two lovely people:

My overall impression:
Columbus is an up and coming city with a skyline roughly the size of Austin's ten years ago. According to Colin, due to the availability of jobs compared to elsewhere in Ohio, it also has a "disproportionately web savvy population." There are a few seriously shady spots (see the end of my High Street hike), but also some crazy cool nighttime lighting:

Bicentennial Park in the evening is almost the perfect setting for a romance:


a horror film!
“No, Elizabeth.  Don’t go into the mist!"
"I sense a presence."

could it be...

(random dude in a bathing suit!)
Me, experiencing "the other side."

Colin to the rescue!

Colin saving Elizabeth from the demonic mist.

We’re back to a romance…


Guarding German Village at night…


Fortunately, we made it to Harvest for pineapple and ham pizza (made from almost all locally grown ingredients).
Colin and Elizabeth are Kent State college sweethearts.  Elizabeth, an aspiring cookbook author and chef (see Elizabeth's food blog here),  followed her food connections to Columbus. Colin followed Elizabeth.

I not only had the privilege of trying Elizabeth's pasta sauce over gnocchi the night I got into town (secret ingredient= the lemon), she pointed me in the direction of some of the best food in Columbus:

Jeni's Splendid Ice-Cream:

Salted caramel ice cream topped with riesling poached pear sorbet.
Jeni's is a local artisinal ice-cream phenomenon with all organic ingredients and luscious flavors:

Some of my other favorite eats while in Columbus were at North Market...

similar to West Side Market in Cleveland and Reading Terminal in Philadelphia.
At North Market:

Lan Viet:

where I enjoyed a bean-sprout salad covered in carrot-lime dressing:

Vietnamese fusion rabbit-food
and Flavors of India
I had a cardamon iced-tea.

For dinner, my second day, Colin and Elizabeth and I went to Katzinger's. A deli trying to emulate two other delis by combining their names:  Katz and  Zingerman's (of Ann Arbor, MI).
(Great Matzah ball soup, unlimited pickles.) 
I didn't get a chance to visit the original Max & Erma's (a big deal in the Midwest)--  

or Schmidts Sausage House for weiner schnitzel.  

 They're both located in German Village, Colin and Elizabeth's neighborhood.

(Borrowed from
German Village is a charming historic district, south of downtown-- filled with gardens, brick-paved streets and gas-lit porches.

"Beware of Dog."
While Elizabeth and Colin worked during the day, I explored their neighborhood.


I started at The Book Loft:
a city-block long discount bookshop featuring 32 rooms--

--where I wandered around 20 minutes (legitimately lost), gave a nod to Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves, and eventually made my way to the exit.

  Around the corner from Book Loft, I passed a historic school:  
"Learning adorns riches and softens poverty."
and the German Village gift shop:

  No hand-knitted tanenbaum tissue boxes for me; the day I visited, they were closed.

And then I began...

 The High Street Hike:

In Columbus, Ohio, you can pretty much follow High Street from one side of the town to other and hit most of the landmark sites.

Columbus Commons:
 Columbus' answer to Chicago's Millenium Park, according to Colin. Featuring, when I visited, an outdoor library.
Ohio's State Capitol building:

And food carts with profound advice:

Down High Street, just after North Market, I reached...


(this photo's artistically enhanced color saturation brought to you by microsoft office picture manager and a long megabus ride.)

The Short North is the main commerical strip in Columbus, featuring: mildly eclectic storefronts.

Outside of a store called Tigertree, you can put a quarter in this machine, and robo-hen will hatch you an egg with a home-made pin inside (made from discarded library books).

Mine hatched me a pin with a rooster on it.  The guy behind the counter at Tigertree told me this actually never happens.


It was either the poultry pin or the oddly placed classical music blasting from the exterior that drew me into the UDF on High Street.

A convenience store and dairy in a few states in the Midwest.

Where Jama (the blue-haired girl below) guided me to a new discovery-- a sherbet cherry limeaid freeze.

(Cherry sherbet blended with limeaid juice).
Later, Elizabeth informed me that blasting classical music is UDF's strategy to ward off bums.  "No, seriously."-- Elizabeth.

Roaming with my sherbet freeze,  I continued past tons of  bars and restaurants:

And a tattoo studio / art gallery, The Short North Tattoo.

Possibly the cleanest looking tattoo parlor I've ever seen.
Some of their art.
They switch out their gallery the first Saturday of every month for gallery hop, a monthly event and 25-year-old tradition- where all the galleries in Short North open to the public. 

The Short North is also Columbus' central arts district.

Some of their murals:
(the two white cars are not part of the mural.)

I swear on this trip I'm being stalked by Grant Wood.
Placards along the Short North, tell about various local artists and other historic tid-bits:

The other side of this one featured a map with Short North's sites. One site in particular, caught my attention-- leading me all the way to the end of the Short North to... 
A cement couch.

This is all I managed to capture of the cement couch. It was occupied by a homeless person. It's a good thing I didn't have a chance to sit on it. Later Colin and Elizabeth warned me—“NEVER SIT ON THE CEMENT COUCH” (it’s apparently one of the most unhygienic public spaces in Ohio).

The cement couch also marks where the Short North ends and what locals call “Kro-ghetto” begins.  (There's a Krogers, a regional grocery store, at the corner). I turned back just as a fight broke out at the bus stop.

I recommend that visitors to Columbus steer clear of the shady spots and stick to the cool trippy lights: