Recently in Art Car Category

holy crap, I'm on tv

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Georg has started recording this show called "Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations." The show seems to be about three annoyingly folksy guys (or maybe just three guys and one annoyingly folksy narrator) who drive around and visit outsider art things. Last week we watched an episode about one of my favorite art cars, World's Largest Collection of World's Smallest Versions of World's Largest Things.

We just saw an episode about the Houston Art Car Weekend. Imagine our delight when we realized that they filmed it one of the years we were there, so we recognized almost all the cars they showed. And imagine our amazement when we saw this:
holy crap, I'm on TV

Undersea Mah Jongg was only on screen for a few seconds. I think they filmed it during lunch after the Main Street Drag. That's the school tour on Friday morning. Afterwards everyone goes to a fun restaurant for red beans and rice, courtesy of the parade.

What fun to see all those cars we remembered from our time in Houston, and then to see our own too! It was a thrill. Tempered only by the realization of how much nicer the car looked six years ago, and how badly it needs an art remodel.

This episode also did a profile of the Flower Man, which I really enjoyed. I've met him briefly a couple of times at the Art Car Weekend and he always seems like the happiest man in the world.

mt dora

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I haven't posted all week, because I am lame. But I have finally posted my photos from the Mount Dora art car event.

it seemed like a good idea at the time

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Hitting the road immediately after the art car event wound up, at 4 pm today, seemed like a good idea at the time. The plan was to drive until I felt tired, then stop at a motel for the night, and finish the trip in the morning.

I followed the plan until about 8 pm, when I stopped outside Savannah to grab a bite of dinner and find a motel. While they were bringing up my food at Wendy's, I turned around to get some ketchup and saw a cockroach. Crawling around in the sugar packets. Ugh ... ew... bleh.

I hope the people at Wendy's realized what a favor I did them: I did not scream oh Christ there's a cockroach in the sugar packets and scare away the other customers. Instead I calmly told the girl behind the counter about the cockroach. Looked around and discovered the health rating was not visible. Grabbed my iced tea, left the food, got in my car and back onto I-95. I was in no mood to eat after that and I wanted to put as much distance between myself and that sordid scene as possible.

So I guess it was inevitable that I would end up driving the whole way home tonight. I was just tired of hotels and wanted to wake up in my own bed tomorrow. Probably not my smartest road trip decision ever, but I made it home in one piece. Stopped for a snack out of the cooler and an hour-long nap around midnight, and then I was good to go. Got home about 10 minutes ago.

I think Georg might have had some inkling that I was going to drive straight through, because the kitchen light had been left on. He's asleep but the dogs greeted me with great enthusiasm, as dogs do. They're both quiet dogs so I didn't have to worry about them waking Georg up. I turned off my headlights as I pulled into the driveway, but my car must have woken Jane up because I could see her watching me out the window. She came bounding out the door, hopping around with excitement. (Then of course she ran past me to check for squirrels in the front yard. But at least I got her undivided attention for the first minute or two.) Thirteen was still asleep when I came in, but I woke her up by petting her head. It was kind of comical to see her thought process go from "wha-huh-what?" for the first few seconds, to intently sniffing my arm like "hey, I know this person! something important is happening!" to tail-thumping "it's the girl! the girl is back! my girl is back!"

Now they're both sleeping. And I should be too.

tiny bubbles

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Today was the main day of the art car weekend. We had to be outside and ready to go at 9:30, and if I recall correctly we actually left fairly close to that time. We caravaned over to a neighboring town, which was fun, although it being fairly early on Saturday morning, we hardly saw anyone. Still, it was fun to drive along beautiful lakeside roads with all the art cars. I was near the front of the line and several people told me that the bubbles were particularly long-lasting. People at the end of the line, 15 cars behind me, were seeing the bubbles! I don't know if it was the brand of bubble juice or what. I got it at Walgreens. I'll have to go back and stock up.

We caravaned back to Mount Dora for the parade. Which was great, they had a nice big crowd. The downtown is very small, but they have us circle around twice so the parade lasts longer. They had us park downtown in assigned spots for the afternoon. Each car has a donation box with a sign asking people to "vote" for the car by donating a dollar. All the money goes to the local hospice, and the cars which bring in the most money win prizes. They haven't announced the winner yet, but since Sashimi Tabernacle Choir is here I think I know!

Besides Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, there's another showstopper here that I had never seen before, called Finn Jet. It's from West Palm Beach, which apparently has the largest Finn community in the US, and was made by Antti Rahko, who's sort of a Finnish cowboy. Finn Jet is a long silver car made from 2 Mercedes station wagons welded together, with decorative elements from 40 other makes and models added. It's amazing. I took lots of photos which I will post as soon as I get home.

This year I was parked on the busiest street in Mount Dora, so I was pretty busy talking with people. Except one time when I ran into the store to get a bottle of water, I never left the car all afternoon! I'm a little bummed that I didn't get to walk around and visit with the other drivers, but I had some really nice conversations at UMJ. An older couple who have a boat gave me great advice on a durable marine glue, and where to buy it. And I heard a new description of UMJ that I'd never heard before: "Lawrence Welk car"! I guess because of the bubbles. I have to admit I've never even seen the Lawrence Welk show.

I tried a new thing this year: music. No Lawrence Welk! Christa let me borrow her Divaville CDs to make a playlist of fun, upbeat standards and pop. I ended up with a lot of Louis Jordan, a lot of Perez Prado, a lot of Eartha Kitt, plus selections from a bunch of other people. Well anyway, the music was a moderate success. I was using Georg's iPod player, which worked fine, but in order to make it audible outside the car it had to be ear-splittingly loud inside the car. I need to get outdoor speakers. The ones that look like rocks aren't too expensive, and I could paint them blue so they wouldn't look weird on UMJ.

We were supposed to stay parked until 4 pm, but I ducked out at 3:30. I could tell that I had gotten a sunburn and I was having that feeling, that I was OK but if I had to stand outside in the sun for another half hour I was going to be miserable for the rest of the day. So I left a half hour early, had a quick shower and a nap before dinner, and now I feel fine. Except the sunburn, which looks kind of ugly around my neck and shoulders.

Holy crap! I'm watching a show on the Travel Channel called Wacky RVs or something. RV Crazy. They're doing a segment on Antti Rahko, the creator of Finn Jet! They're showing an elongated RV he made by welding 4 Chevy vans together. It has a sauna inside, natch. Hey, there's Jorma! Jorma is here this weekend interpreting for Antti. On the TV show he was inside the sauna beating himself with a branch. Those wacky Finns.

Now they're showing Finn Jet! Well maybe. It's called "Silver Turbo" on the show and doesn't have nearly as much ornamentation. It's possible that he made 2 different art cars by welding two Mercedes station wagons together. But I think it's the same car. The body shape is very similar, and some of the decorations (like the 6 side mirrors on each side) are there, as is the "Thank You Lord For Humor" sticker on the rear window. I can't wait to tell Jorma and Antti tomorrow that I saw them on TV.

art car wedding

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I'm just back from the art car wedding! The bride and groom were Regina and Tom, drivers of Mom's Clutter Heap and Sun n Sand Van, respectively. They met at last year's Mt. Dora parade and got married at this year's. Isn't that sweet?

The ceremony started almost an hour late, but the reception was first so no one minded. We all just sat around the pool and snacked and chatted. The bar graciously gave me free refills on my iced tea so I gave my extra drink tickets to other art car drivers. The ceremony itself was perfect: short and heartfelt. And here I am, chilling for the evening.

The TV thing this morning was kind of comical. The TV woman seemed like a transplanted urbanite: she was wearing all black (including a sweater), extremely pointy shoes, a kicky hairstyle, and a very ... voluble way of speaking. She would have looked right at home in Soho, but in this tiny, charming Florida town it was a bit incongruous. She spent all her time with the Sashimi Tabernacle choir and didn't film UMJ at all. I don't blame her -- if I were doing a TV segment on art cars, I'd focus on Sashimi Tabernacle Choir too. It's such an awesome car, & the movement and sound make it so much more effective on TV. But still, I wish we hadn't had to stand outside sweating for hours.

After the TV thing a bunch of us had a great lunch at a cute little cafe a couple of blocks from the hotel. Becky (Wheels of Imagination) spent a couple of months here last winter, so she knows where all the good spots are. Funny story about Becky: This morning I walked over to the little bakery to get a bagel and pilfer a fork and spoon. A woman outside the bakery asked me if I was with the art car event, and when I said yes, she told me "I'm Becky's girlfriend." I didn't know Becky was gay but I like her a lot, so I told the woman (whose name I forget) I was very happy to meet her. I asked her when she had arrived in Mount Dora and she said that she lives here. I almost said something about the difficulty of a long distance relationship, but then decided that I didn't know her well enough for such a personal remark.

A little while later I saw Becky. She asked after Georg, and so naturally I mentioned that I had met her girlfriend. She had absolutely no idea what I was talking about! Turns out she's not gay and not even in a relationship. She wasn't offended or anything, just amused. Her main reaction was to ask, "So what does my girlfriend look like?" I was happy to assure her that her girlfriend is pretty and seemed really nice. We finally figured out who the mystery girlfriend is, and that she had meant the term in the old-fashioned sense of "good friend who is a girl." Since Becky's nickname is Queen Becky, I almost asked her "girlfriend" if she was a queen too. I'm so glad I didn't! I know Becky well enough to joke around like that, but it would have been really awkward with this other woman.

mount dora

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I'm in Mount Dora! The drive was easy -- almost exactly 10 hours. (I was thinking on the way down how much my definition of an "easy" road trip has changed. I used to think 6 hours was a terribly long drive.) Google Maps said to take major highways the whole way -- I-95 to Daytona and then I-4 west -- but AAA had me on state roads for the last hundred miles.

I took the AAA route and I'm really glad I did. At first it was like the busiest part of 15-501, lots of stoplights and traffic, incredibly frustrating after going 70 mph on the interstate. But eventually the road opened up and the traffic went away and it was a beautiful drive through a national forest. It was lovely and eerie, and kept changing: first pine trees covered with bright green moss, and mist swirling around them; then live oaks and Spanish moss; then the aftermath of a forest fire: acres of blackened, bare pines, still smoldering in places. At the welcome center for the forest was a Smokey the Bear sign that said "Moderate Fire Danger Today."

About 15 miles north of Mount Dora I passed a barbecue joint called "Old Crow Pit Smoked Bar-B-Q." It looked like it had been there forever -- always a good sign for barbecue -- and at 6 pm it was already crowded -- another good sign. I would have stopped right then but I ate my sandwich really late, when this photo was taken in fact. Funny story about that photo: I pulled into the rest stop, snapped that photo and then sat down to eat my sandwich. A car pulled up next to mine, sat there for a few minutes, and then a guy got out and asked me if he could take a picture of the car. His wife got out too and chatted with me, and it turned out they had seen my car several states away, and had followed me into the rest stop to get the photo! Just think, we were driving along together for hundreds of miles. The wife really loved UMJ because she collects Barbies.

So anyway, I had lunch really late so I wasn't hungry when I drove past the Old Crow barbecue place at 6. And then when I got to Mount Dora, there was a street fair going on with streets blocked off and art cars parked in the middle. I had thought to track down the event organizer and take my car to the street fair. But by the time I had checked into the hotel and gotten my bags up to my room, I suddenly realized that I was way too tired to do anything. So I took a shower, got comfy and had dinner from the cooler. Now I'm watching TV (Carole Lombard night on TCM! Yay!). And I have a terrible dilemma: I have a container of peach cobbler Georg made for me, but no fork! I forgot to pack a fork. And I'm in my pajamas! I think the cobbler may have to wait until tomorrow.

one last thought

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I never did a thorough write-up of the Louisville event, but I have to mention one thing that happened. We were on the illuminated cruise -- well actually, we were in a small group that accidently got sent out before the main cruise, sort of the advance guard. And by the way, a huge thank you to the architectural salvage car for stopping and waiting for us when they got through a light and we didn't.

Anyway, we were on the illuminated cruise. Which is not really like an official parade; it's more like the cars just get all lit up and drive around town. We're in a group but mixed in with the regular traffic, and there's no police escort. I was thinking to myself about the first illuminated cruise I ever did in Houston. There was this one moment where I looked to my left and realized I was being passed by a fully lit sailboat that was blaring Timo Maas. It was an incredible feeling of "I can't believe this is happening. This is the weirdest and coolest thing ever." And I was thinking to myself that this was my fourth illuminated cruise, and it was a little sad that I'll probably never get that rush of excitement again, because as much as I enjoy the cruise, it's not a new experience for me anymore.

I was musing on this, and I glanced over to my left and saw a car pulled up next to us at a stoplight. UMJ had its lights on and the bubble machine running, and it looked pretty good if I do say. There was a teenage boy in the back seat, gaping with his mouth literally open. The look on his face said, as clearly as if he were speaking out loud: "I can't believe this is happening. This is the weirdest and coolest thing ever."

Sometimes I love my life.

no rest for the weird

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I'm just starting to feel settled in and already it's time to start thinking about the next art car event. This one is in Mount Dora, Florida, from August 18-20. Mount Dora is the highest elevation in Florida. Which, if you know anything about Florida, will tell you that it's not really a mountain. I think in fact it's 200 feet above sea level. This is my second year at the event, and it's kind of brutal to be out in the sun all weekend in Florida in August. But other than that, it's a great event. Nice people and a nice location. It's a chichi little town full of shops, like Blowing Rock, NC or New Hope, PA.

They put us up in a really nice historic hotel, which best of all is (just like Louisville) within walking distance of the car display area. One thing I really don't like about art car events is when they stick you in a parking lot for hours, with no shade, no bathroom, no water, no nothing, and sometimes no way to leave until they say you can go. At Mt. Dora and Louisville, you can go back to the hotel room and cool off anytime you want. It makes such a huge difference. Even better, at both events there's an indoor space right there where you can get cold water and use the bathroom. It's the Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville; in Mount Dora each car has an assigned parking space, and the store we're parked in front of has water and facilities for us. The point of the event is to draw people into the town during the off-season. Which means that, even though we have to be there during such bad weather, the town is really nice to us.

The only bummer about this event is that I'll be on my own. Georg can't go since he used up too much vacation earlier in the year. I have some friends who live about an hour from Mt. Dora, and I was hoping to get together with them, but they have to travel a lot for work and it turns out they'll be away that weekend. Dang! Oh well, I kind of enjoyed my solo drive to Houston and I'm sure this will be fun too. I'm looking forward to seeing friends like Dean (Miss Vicky) and Hamburger Harry and Felicia (Catgoyle Cavy). I don't even know who else is going to be there, except that two of the drivers who met last year are getting married on Friday night! That should be a blast.

Last year we did the drive in two days and stopped in Savannah on the way. This year I'm going to try to do it in one. It's going to be a long day, but unless Mapquest and Yahoo maps are way wrong, it won't be too bad. (On the other hand, Google map thinks the drive will take 13 hours. If Google is right, I'm screwed). I'm going to drive down on Thursday and spend Friday relaxing before the event gets going. There's a TV thing Friday morning but it's right at the hotel, and then I'll be free the rest of the day. Saturday and Sunday are the event days. Then Sunday night I'll drive a few hours, just to get a jump on the trip (added benefit: I'm sure I can find a cheaper hotel on the road than the swank place the event is putting us in Mount Dora). Then I'll finish the drive on Monday.

The cooler full of food worked pretty well in Louisville -- helped us feel more in control of the situation, to know we always had good food on hand -- so I'll do that again. Unfortunately I didn't find much on Roadfood.com for stopping on the drive. So I guess it will be packed food on the way down and fast food on the way up. Maybe I can time it to stop for lunch in Savannah. Last year we had dinner at this amazing restaurant called Toucan Cafe. I wonder if they serve lunch?

The other bummer is that I had all these great ideas for improving Undersea Mah Jongg last weekend, but there's no time to implement any of them, even if it weren't too hot to work on the car. Oh well, next year for sure!

look at me, i'm notorious

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On pretty much every road trip I see people taking Undersea Mah Jongg's picture. Sometimes they're nice enough to send me links to the photos. And sometimes, if I'm really lucky, they catch me scratching (just scratching, I promise!) my nose.

louisville photos

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My photos from Louisville are online. Like I said, I didn't get as many photos as I would have liked due to equipment problems. On Friday my best lens mysteriously stopped autofocusing. By fiddling with it I got it to focus in, but never to focus out. That worked ok: I would just focus all the way in by turning the ring, and then let the camera focus out to the correct focus. But it took me awhile to figure that out.

I'm rather bummed out about the lens. To be honest, I would have rather the camera body had broken. The body only cost slightly more than the lens, and it would have been a good excuse to upgrade. I'm using the original Digital Rebel which I gather lacks some of the features of the XT. But the lens is exactly what I want. If I have to replace it, I'm going to get the exact same thing, except a model that will last more than a year.

So I'm going to call around and see if I can get the lens repaired. In the meantime, I spent so much time trying to figure out what was wrong with my camera that I forgot to charge the spare battery, and the camera died pretty early on Saturday. So I didn't get nearly as many photos as I would have wanted. At least I got a few decent ones, which are now posted.

laissez les bon temps roulez

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My second stay at the Prince Conti and I have one complaint: the noise. Not just the bar bands on Bourbon Street, which they have no control over, but the walls are pretty thin too. (Fortunately the only noise I can hear from the next room is talking. So it's just annoying, not icky.) Still, the hotel is cheap, charming, convenient and has net access. So I'm still happy with the experience. Good thing I have earplugs!

The drive to New Orleans yesterday was kind of a pain -- bad traffic a couple of times, including one place where the signs said I-10 was closed and we were going to have to detour up I-45 N, but by the time we got to I-45 (20 minutes later) the traffic had cleared. I guess they hadn't had a chance to turn off the sign. I never did see what had happened; by the time we got to Whiskey Bay, where the road was supposed to be closed, everything looked totally normal.

Anyway, after all that traffic I took it easy last night, and plan to do the same today. Found a place last night called Coop's that has rabbit jambalaya and free wireless. My kind of place! I would have stayed all night but it's not a large place and I didn't want to monopolize the table. I might go back tonight though.

Today I learned that muffuletta is pronounced moof-a-lot-a. I learned this while ordering a muff-a-let-a from Verti Mart. So much for my grand plan to pass as a local. At least I'm not wearing a fanny pack. The Verti Mart muffuletta, by the way, was not as good as the one last week from Central Grocery. The bottom piece of bread was completely saturated with olive oil. I mean wet through and sitting in a puddle of oil. I thought it was because they made it in advance, but the Central Grocery muffuletta sat in my cooler all day and never got like that. I still have 2/3 of the sandwich left, here's hoping it seems more appetizing this evening.

I thought the way I'd been eating the past few days, I'd have gained a little weight. But this morning I discovered that I can put my favorite jeans on without unbuttoning them. I like my jeans a little loose in the seat, but this is a bit much. I think I need more beignets!

The plan is to explore the garden district this afternoon, but that may turn out to be too much walking for my lazy self. We'll see how it goes!

illuminated cruise

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So we ended up going back to Goode Company for dinner again on Saturday night. This time I had the brisket sandwich, instead of a whole dinner, so I'd have room for pecan pie. Which lived up to its reputation. Oh man it was good. Good enough that I didn't even mind sitting next to an annoying group who included a guy nervously bouncing his leg and making the whole table shake. I think there should be an etiquette rule: no nervous bouncing or kicking while sitting at a communal table. I thought he was going to make me seasick, but then I moved across the table to sit next to Georg, and on the other side of the table I couldn't feel the bouncing anymore.

We had directions from the restaurant to the art car museum, but we somehow ended up going the opposite direction from what we should have at every turn, so a 15 minute trip took almost an hour. Luckily the illuminated cruise was on art car time, so instead of being really late we arrived in plenty of time. Besides, now at least I've seen the Astrodome.

The illuminated cruise was well organized, things seemed to go really smoothly. It was huge too. Way more cars than two years ago. A lot of the cars didn't have lights, but the ones with gas jets more than made up for it. They had us drive around downtown, and the people on the streets seemed to really dig it. We were party poopers and took off at the first stop. What can I say, it was already after 10 pm and we had to get up early the next morning for travel. Plus we knew how to get back to our hotel from that location, which is definitely something to take advantage of. It's too bad because the illuminated cruise is the "just for us" event. And the nighttime weather was beautiful and cool after such a hot day. But we stayed with the cruise for a couple of hours, that was enough to enjoy the experience and still get a decent night's sleep.

parade day

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I forgot to mention that there was an event last night -- the "Shop Talk" seminar -- which we didn't go to. We heard that the main speech was a debate between Brian Taylor of HACK (Houston Art Car Klub) and Harrod Blank, director of Wild Wheels, about whether people should make money off their art cars. I like both of them, they're both interesting people, but I cannot imagine any discussion related to art cars that would be less interesting to me. Some folks at the welcome dinner summed it up perfectly: "If you want to make money and you can figure out how, do. If you don't, don't. Debate over; let's have a beer!"

So we skipped the seminar. There was also a speech by the Big Horn guy -- he's in Harrod's upcoming movie, a rough cut of which we saw two years ago -- which I was a little disappointed to miss. But honestly, I enjoyed a nice brisket dinner and turning in early more than I would have enjoyed that speech.

So this morning was the main event. Our line-up number was 41 and we were supposed to arrive between 9 and 10. I think we got there at 9:30, and we were not at all surprised to be among the first arrivals. A very pleasant surprise was when we were lined up waiting to get to the staging area, and discovered our friend Marilyn in the car behind us! We met Marilyn at Artscape a few years ago, and we saw her again here in '04. She told me today that I'm responsible for costing her money, at least my blog is, by getting her hooked on BPAL. I'm always happy to be an enabler! She said that her favorite is the limited edition Red Lantern, which she had to get off Ebay. The conversation reminded me that I have a bottle of Monster Bait: Underpants waiting for me at home. So sad that I can't try it until I get home on Wednesday!

The bad news this morning was that we were number 41, and number 42 was the amazing Draka: a dragon over 100 feet long, made of several buses and flatbeds hitched together. As soon as we saw that, we knew no one would be looking at us. Oh well, we lucked out in previous years and weren't too close to anything spectacular. I guess this wasn't our year. Besides, as Tim Klein said, at least we know we're in a lot of photos. At least, the back end of our car is.

The parade wasn't until 1 pm. Which was good because it gave us plenty of time to walk up and down the line and take photos. But on the downside, it meant we had been walking around in the sun and heat for 3.5 hours before the parade even started. Luckily there was a shady spot not too far from UMJ, where Georg and I could sit and keep an eye on the car.

Every year I'm amazed by the size of this event. It's 10 times the size of any other parade we go to. Looking down the line at dozens of incredible, beautiful, weird art cars is a feeling, a sense of community, that's hard to describe. I don't feel isolated or ostracized because of my art car; on the contrary, people seem to really like it. But still, art cars in Durham are such a rarity that I can't help but feel like something of an oddball. Even when Durham people love the car, they don't -- can't -- get it in the way that a fellow art car driver does. It's such a great feeling to be surrounded by people who share this crazy cool thing with me.

The spectators this year were really cool for the most part. Only a couple of things happened that irritated me. First, during the parade, a woman jumped up in front of me and motioned me to move forward. I thought she was a volunteer telling me to pick up the pace, so I complied. Then I realized that she was just a spectator who wanted me to get out of the way so she could take a photo of Draka! Excuse me, this isn't a Draka photo session. It's a parade and I'm in it too, bitch! I didn't mind people being so much more excited about Draka than they were about us. After all, Draka is way more impressive than UMJ; that's just a fact. But that really cheesed me off.

The second thing was really the most rude. Near the end of the parade, we passed by a boy who yelled "Die, Barbie, die!" and threw a firecracker at UMJ! That was the one time that I had to restrain myself from yelling out language that was not appropriate for a family event. Georg told me later that if there weren't volunteers all over the place, he would have jumped out of the car and confronted the parents. I think the gist was to ask them if they were wolves, because their son had clearly been raised by wolves. The parents, need I add, were standing right there and made no effort to correct their child.

Okay, but enough complaining. For the most part everyone was really nice, and I had many pleasant interactions that didn't involve firecrackers or people telling me to get out of the way of the more interesting cars. I think one of the best interactions was early on, when I talked to a Chinese man who was there with his grandchildren. He saw the mah jongg tiles and got all excited. He pronounced it "mah jiang" so I guess that must be the Chinese name for mah jongg. I asked him if he played mah jongg and he smiled self-deprecatingly and said "Very long time ago." Which probably means that he's a champion player who won tons of money playing mah jongg in his youth. Then he asked me if I played, and I said "yes, but very badly." Unfortunately I wasn't being modest in a Chinese way, I was being honest in an American way about my lack of skill at mah jongg. Not like it matters, he didn't challenge me to a game or anything. I would never play mah jongg against a Chinese person because first of all, I know Japanese rules; and secondly, I don't like to gamble and mah jongg is a gambling game in Asia. I gather that it's like poker is to us; they don't see the point of playing if you don't gamble.

After the parade there was an after party somewhere in downtown. We tried to find it, but the people we were following got lost and so did we. We spent some time trying in vain to follow the directions, until we finally realized that after 5 hours in the sun and heat, we didn't really want to go to an after party which would involve more standing around in the sun and heat.

So we went back to the hotel and rested for a few hours. Luckily we still had sandwich fixings from my drive out here, and cold water in the fridge. Having a fridge in the hotel room is the most wonderful thing.

non art car afternoon

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Yesterday after leaving the Main Street Drag we did some non-art-car things. Here's a quick rundown:

First, lunch at Lankford Grocery. Great place. I read on Roadfood.com that decades ago it was a grocery with a lunch counter. Eventually the grocery disappeared but the lunch counter remained. The burgers were a bit messy, but excellent. Definitely worth the trip.

After lunch we decided to be safe drivers and go to Discount Tire, as recommended by Russ. He was right, too: the tire guy said that 3 of my tires were bad enough to need immediate replacement, and the 4th was iffy. Separation had begun on one tire, and the return trip would not have been safe. He asked me if I had noticed any shaking, and what do you know, I sure had! One hour later and $300 lighter, and I have four spanking new tires on my car. They sold me a tire warranty, and considerately checked the computer to make sure there were stores in Durham. Actually there aren't, but they have 2 stores scheduled to open within the next couple of months. So I figured the warranty was worth it. I have to say I was pleased with Discount Tire. It was a lot faster than Merchant's even though we walked in with no appointment.

Speaking of tires, I have to say something positive about driving in Houston. (possibly the only time this will ever happen!) The roads are psychotic, but the drivers seem pretty cool. When leaving the tire place, I had to get on the highway and immediately cross five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hour, to make a left exit. And I did it without any problem because people were so nice about letting me in. I don't know if it was because they dug the art car, or because they saw that I was from out of state and took pity on me, or if they're just all cool about that kind of thing because they're all in the same boat.

For dinner yesterday we went to the famous Goode Company for famous brisket. Dang, that was some fine brisket. The smoky smell hit us as soon as we got out of our car. The place is tiny and crowded, but the tables turn over fairly quickly so we didn't have trouble finding a place to sit. Excellent iced tea, too. I must say, I understand better now how much the Q Shack is based on Texas barbecue places. My only disappointment with Goode Company is that we didn't get a slice of pecan pie. Roadfood had mentioned it as a highlight of the restaurant, but we were too full after all that brisket. Then today we saw a show on Food Network about America's best pies that mentioned Goode Company's pecan pie! I think we may go back tonight for a crack at that pie. And more brisket, of course.

Soon we'll head out for dinner and the illuminated cruise, and then tonight I'll post today's photos and write up the parade.

main street drag

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When I last left off, we had struggled free of the Art Car Ball and made it back to the hotel around 11pm last night. During art car events I make every effort to get all my photos posted the same day I take them. Last night I was so tired that to heck with the photos, I could have fallen into bed and gone right to sleep. But the photos would not be ignored, if for no other reason than I had filled up both my photo cards and needed to clear them out to take more photos this morning at the Main Street Drag.

By the time I got the big card emptied and all those photos posted, it was 1 am. So you can imagine that I wasn't exactly fresh and alert when we headed out at 7:45. In fact, I felt pretty much miserable. Things quickly got worse when we followed our directions that I had printed in advance, and arrived at their conclusion, with our destination (the Houston Zoo) nowhere in sight. We pulled out the map and discovered that the directions had led us to North MacGregor St., but we needed to be at South MacGregor St.

One of these days I will get to the Main Street Drag on time, but not this time. A breakneck trip followed, trying to follow the very confusing map, both of us fearing that we weren't going to get there in time and would be left behind. We ended up arriving after all the drivers were supposed to have checked in and be in their cars, but luckily we were on Route 4 and they leave in order. So we had just enough time to grab a couple of bagels from the remnants of the breakfast.

Our route had 2 other people we knew: Chris of the Heaven and Hell car, and the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir guys. They asked Georg if we had our wireless network running, which made me sad because we didn't, but on the other hand pleased that they remembered that about us. They've added new music and choreography to the choir, making it fun to watch even if you've seen it at previous events like we have.

Our first stop, Grady Middle School, was really nice. They had lots of kids who were really enthusiastic about the cars, and had been given an assignment to ask us questions from questionnaires. Which meant that the kids actually engaged us in conversation which always makes it more fun. Best of all, the school had benches in the shade so we could get out of the sun for a few minutes. Georg and I thought that no one would even notice our car with the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir on our route. But we got our share of attention from the kids once we turned the bubble machine on. I saw several kids trying to catch the bubbles in their mouths! What's up with that?

The second stop was where things started to go wrong. First of all, we got lost on the way. At the first stop I saw the group leader and one of the police escort debating where we were supposed to go next, and not seeming to come to a definitive agreement. But I was still surprised when we suddenly did a u-turn and doubled back, then met up with another cop in a car who was clearly giving directions to our motorcycle cops. Our group leader said later that the printed route she had been given in advance was wrong. After the struggles we've had to follow directions, I have no trouble believing that.

A few minutes after we doubled back, Chris (Heaven and Hell Car) pulled out of the route and waved us to continue on without him. We don't know what happened to him; maybe he decided that the Main Street Drag wasn't his thing after all. Or maybe he had enjoyed the party last night a little too much and just wasn't up for it. Just after that, the whole group came to a stop, and the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir guys pushed their car out of the line-up! I had noticed a loud knocking noise coming from their vicinity as we drove, and when they opened the hood white smoke came billowing out. Not a good sign at all. I hope they got it repaired today so they won't miss the parade tomorrow. Georg and I joked that our route was cursed, but in a way it wasn't a joke.

Just after we left Sashimi Tabernacle Choir and started moving again, I looked in my rearview and saw a new art car following us! We found out later that they had accidently joined the wrong route, but had the cell number of our group leader, so were able to join up with us in progress. But at the time it was very disorienting. It was like, "okay we're lost, now where's Chris going? Oh no, Sashimi broke down! Hey, who are those people?" all in the space of ten minutes. Very strange.

As I mentioned I had felt fairly miserable when I got up this morning. I chalked it up to lack of sleep and figured I'd feel better when I got going. But while all this chaos was happening in our group, I was feeling more and more sick. For awhile now I've noticed that if I don't eat breakfast first thing in the morning, my stomach hurts. Up high, right below my ribcage, I get an empty painful feeling. Usually if this happens, it goes away shortly after I eat. But I've been trying not to go too long between meals, and always eat at least something first thing in the morning.

I guess it was the combination of skipping dinner so that my stomach was really empty, and the lack of sleep, and being too rushed and wound up to eat before we left the hotel room, and the stress on the drive over, and then standing in the sun at the schools. But even though I ate a bagel around 8:45, the pain in my stomach not only didn't go away, but got worse as if I hadn't eaten. By the time we got to our second stop, St. Theresa's Catholic School, I was having a hard time functioning. It wasn't so bad while we were driving, because that gave me something else to focus on. But when we got to the school there was nothing to do but stand there in the glaring sun and feel the pain in my stomach. To get out of the sun I sat on the curb in the shade of a monster SUV. Unfortunately that meant my head was practically inside the wheel well, and the smell of the tire made me feel like I was going to throw up.

I've been joking that I must have an ulcer, but this morning made me think that maybe I really do. I'm going to make a doctor's appointment as soon as I get back. Anyway, in the meantime I was not enjoying the Main Street Drag at all. Georg and I agreed that at the next stop we would leave the group and ask for help finding our way back to our hotel.

The third stop was the Lighthouse Center for the Blind. Which turned out to be on the same street as our hotel, about a mile down the road. Which made our decision to leave the group much easier: no need to ask for directions. Another bonus, our car ended up in almost full shade when we pulled into the lot. Being out of the sun made the standing around a lot easier.

Plus the people at Lighthouse Center were much more interested in talking about the cars than kids typically are. So I had many interesting conversations, explaining the car to people, which gave me something else to think about. One guy was giving a Spanish lesson to the girls who walked around with him. He kept touching the fish on my car and saying Pescado! over and over. Another guy liked the car so much he climbed right in! He didn't seem to be hurting anything, just playing with the steering wheel, so I didn't try to stop him. The staff made him get out when they saw him though. I teased him a little, telling him that he couldn't have my car because I needed it to get home.

I was worried a bit about the bubbles. It's such a visual thing that I didn't think it would offer much enjoyment to blind people. Instead I thought it might be a nuisance to them, being pelted with sticky stuff. But to my surprise they seemed to like the bubbles. The staff would tell them when the bubbles were blowing in their direction, and they would hold out their hands to feel them. It helped that the bubble machine was nearly empty, so it wasn't the massive flood of bubbles we get when we first start it up. Even I don't like standing in that.

I was really sad that Sashimi Tabernacle Choir didn't make it to the Lighthouse Center. I think the folks there would have really liked it, with all the music and movement. Still, they seemed to dig UMJ because it has so many different textures and things to touch. It was really fun to walk around the car with someone, describing the elements to them as they ran their hands along it.

One thing that surprised me was that several of the people used idioms that relate to sight. For instance someone might call to a friend, "come here, look at this!" I've been following a discussion in Suzette Haden Elgin's journal about "sight-dominance" in language, and the importance of adapting one's speech for people who aren't sight-dominant. (For example, not saying "See here" when you mean "Pay attention.") So I was surprised to hear a blind person invite another blind person to look at something.

As Georg and I had agreed, we dropped out of the group after the Lighthouse Center and went back to our hotel. Which absolutely was the right thing to do. We missed the last two stops and the free lunch, but we were able to get out of the sun, rest and eat right away, which made a world of difference for my stomach.

One last thing: I have to give credit to the police escort for our group. The route this time seemed like it was much more challenging for them -- driving on freeways and busy main roads -- but there were no problems with traffic interference for the 2+ hours we were with the group. I had planned to thank them at the final stop, but of course I didn't make it to the final stop. So, to the 2 motorcycle cops who escorted Group 4, you'll probably never read this, but thank you for doing such a great job of keeping us all together and keeping random traffic out of our caravan.

The rest of the day was devoted to non-art car stuff, so I will write it up in another post.

art car ball

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Where do I start. Okay, well the first thing is a note to myself, to remember that everything takes way longer than I think it will during an art car weekend. Picked Georg up from the airport without incident, except for it taking about an hour longer than expected. His plane landed at 1:30 but we didn't arrive at Lankford Grocery until 3, just as they were closing. Luckily, Lee and Russ knew of a nice Greek place called Niko Niko's which had excellent iced tea.

I had a great time chatting with them and catching up, and then Lee took us to a Penzey's field trip. Yay! Penzey's! I've been ordering from their catalog for years, but this is the first time I've been in a city that had one of their stores. It was a little overwhelming, I have to say. They have sample jars of all the spices so you can find out what they smell like. It worked too; we bought a jar of Sunny Paris spice blend based on the sniff test. It was the shallot that hooked me. We also bought bay leaves, which we were almost out of; szechuan peppercorn, our stash of which had gotten stale and musty (I bought a huge bag when the FDA took them off the market years and years ago); and smoked paprika just because it smelled so good.

Our conversation with Russ and Lee had turned to car repair at one point, and I mentioned that shaking my car has been doing at high speed. Russ took a look at my tires and declared them to be very worn, possibly in the early stage of tread separation, and overall not safe for the return trip. You know, I had my mechanic check out my car before the trip, and he said everything was fine. It never occcurred to me that the mechanic wouldn't check the tires because he doesn't do tires. Anyway, Russ recommended Discount Tires as a fast place to get new tires.

We had no time for the tires yesterday, since our lunch and Penzey's trip had taken up the entire afternoon. We had just enough time to get back to our hotel, drop off Georg's luggage, and change our clothes before the Art Car Ball. They had told us beforehand that no cars would be admitted after 6. We took them seriously, but I guess we should have realized that was in art car time. There were cars arriving until about 7 and no one seemed to give them a hard time.

As always, the Art Car Ball was a crazy scene. The costumes seemed more elaborate than I remembered from previous years, but maybe I just didn't notice last time. I'm bummed about not getting photos of a few, like the man with an actual flame jet on his head, and the guy wearing a spacesuit (or maybe undersea diving suit) with live plants in the airpack on his back. But I did get photos of some of the good costumes, including Russ's ferry outfit.

Most of the party was outside, including the bands. There was a B-52s cover band that I quite enjoyed, especially since they played obscure songs as well as hits. (I wish they had played my favorite B-52s song, "Cake," but since I wasn't dancing I didn't have the nerve to request it.) There was also an "angry white boy" band (Georg calls this "big pants music") fronted by a guy making ice sculpture with chain saws. Two chain saws at once, at one point. I did not care for the music at all, but the ice sculptor was quite the showman. They also had a chill-out space indoors, with a bar lit by black light and a room with another band, and later on "urban bellydancers." Which I gather is bellydancers performing to Western music.

There was also a giant puppet there as part of the entertainment. At one point the puppet was dancing with somebody, and I went over to take his photo, and he moved towards me with his arms out like he was going to grab me. It really creeped me out, this puppet looming over me with his arms outstretched, so I screamed a little and ran away. And damn if that puppet didn't chase me all over the parking lot! Jeez, dude, crowd interaction is all well and good but learn how to recognize whether someone is playing along or is trying to get the hell away from you. I finally escaped him by ducking around a car, spotting two people I had already met, and saying to them "Help! That puppet is chasing me!" They distracted the puppet while I got away.

What with all the stress, and not eating lunch until 3:30, Georg and I didn't eat dinner at all. Which meant that by 10 we had crashed hard, and really wanted to go. That was when they said we could leave, but unfortunately we were parked in behind several rows of cars. We walked around awhile feeling tired and grumpy and sorry for ourselves, then we went back up to the bar and lay on a couch while I amused myself taking photos of my polka dot dress under blacklight. (Georg got an excellent photo of the black light effect earlier in the evening, which I hope he posts soon.)

Eventually the nearby cigar smoker drove us away, so we went back outside and had the brilliant idea of asking the people at the gate if there was any way we could get out. To my surprise they told me that one of the cars in front of us also wanted to leave. So they had already identified the one car they could move to open the logjam, and were trying to find that driver to let us out. I must say, my hat's off to those guys. It cannot be easy for them to deal with the art car weekend logistics, but they manage it well.

I chatted for awhile with the other woman who was trying to leave (she's from Beaumont TX and had a 90 minute drive ahead of her!) and by 10:45 they had located the missing driver, moved the car, and we had a way out. We had to drive off a really steep curb, but I took it slowly, at as much of an angle as I could manage, and didn't bump the undercarriage of my car at all.

The drive back to the hotel was surprisingly easy. Generally Houston driving goes like this: "Where the hell are we? Dammit! That street is one way the wrong way! Look at the map, is this street even on the map? Christ, we're on a highway now! How did that happen? Fuck! I hate driving in this goddamned city!" That's how the conversation goes every time we get in the car here. But last night wasn't like that at all. Even though I had forgotten to get reverse directions, last night it went more like "Wait, I think I know where we are! If we turn left here, we'll end up exactly where we need to be! Hey, there's our hotel!" Believe me, I savored the moment. I don't expect it to be repeated.

damned time zones, part 2

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This morning I slept until 6. I might have gotten back to sleep until I thought to myself that it was 7 back home, and therefore time to get up. Then it was all over. Stupid brain.

Seeing as this morning is one of the few blocks of downtime I get all weekend, of course I spent the last hour .. debugging my blog templates. Yes, I'm a total geek. Like you're even surprised.

Today I have to pick Georg up at the airport at 1:30. Then we're meeting Lee and her husband Russ for lunch. Over the phone last night Russ gave me some wonderfully helpful advice about the airport -- on what road to enter it, and also the fact that they have a "cell phone lot" where I can wait for Georg to call me when he has his luggage, rather than parking and trying to meet him inside baggage claim.

Then tonight, the Art Car Ball! This year the logistics are a little different. In previous years you just showed up whenever. We were late due to getting lost, but they didn't care when we arrived. There were still artists arriving when we left, and my recollection was that the party was just getting started. This time the instructions say we have to be there between 4 and 6, no late entries. After that we can leave but our car can't until 10, and the party is over at midnight.

I'm not sure yet what we're going to do about dinner tonight. What with eating lunch around 2 we're certainly not going to have dinner before 6. I guess we'll have to get some takeout food and take it with us. I wish I had known how well those muffulettas from Central Grocery keep.

travel day 3

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I'm in Houston! Arrived around 5:30. It took longer than I was hoping, but I guess I couldn't expect every day to be easy peasy. I am so glad to be done with that drive. At least for a few days.

The day wasn't all bad though. This morning I had a lovely breakfast at Croissant D'Or, which turns out to be a great little bakery/coffee shop where most of the customers seemed to be locals. Always a good sign. The person in front of me in line knew the waitress' name and introduced his companion to her! After breakfast I walked around the French Quarter awhile. I saw the building my friend David painted in this picture. At 9 Central Grocery opened and I bought a muffuletta, which I took with me and had for lunch and dinner. (It was a big sandwich!) Saving the sandwich only made it better, as the olive oil had more time to soak into the bread. My only complaint about the muffuletta was that I'm not fond of green olive. But I'm well aware that green olive is a key ingredient of a muffuletta, so this is a matter of personal preference, not a problem with the sandwich. At least the olives came in big, easy-to-pick-out chunks.

Also, according to at least one witness (scroll down for the comment) I drive like a maniac. And here I thought I was driving cautiously! I made a point of not driving faster than the flow of traffic, and often slower. When the speed limit is 55, I drive 65. When it's 65, I drive 70. And when it's 70, I drive ... 70. My car has been shaking, kind of a shimmy, if I get much over 70, so I was trying not to. I think that's why I went so much faster than the Yahoo estimate on Monday, then yesterday it was about on target, then today I was slower than the estimate. Because the speed limits go up as you head west, so the estimate is based on a higher speed.

The hotel is more expensive than last time, but it looks like they renovated. The room is big and nice inside. It has a fridge and a microwave! Good thing too, because I have a cooler full of food.

This evening I went to the welcome dinner for out-of-towners. I only recognized a couple of people, but I hung out with a great bunch of folks from the west coast. Including the Bra Ball lady! Also Joanne from Seattle, and their respective husbands, and also a nice woman whose name I forget, who said she was thinking about moving from Seattle to North Carolina. Speaking of North Carolina, the big news is there's an artcar here from Asheville! It's an awesome old ambulance covered with neat paintings. The driver seems like a fun guy too. He said he had just come from an event in Florida, which I heard was really good. I wish I could have gone but I didn't think I could manage it right before Houston. I hope we see him at Mt. Dora later in the summer.

Well I could write tons more but I'm exhausted. I left the event early and now I'm going to go to sleep. Tomorrow I don't have to do anything until after noon! Yay!

damned time zones

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Due to the damned time change, I've been awake since 4:30. It was actually kind of nice to lie in bed and read Dan Savage and not feel any pressure to be Doing Something like packing, or checking directions, or whatever. So why am I up posting in my blog? Well, it's almost 6, which in my internal clock is almost 7, which is when I would be getting up anyway. So here I am.

I think I'm going to make this morning more leisurely than the past two mornings. Yahoo predicts a 6 hour drive ahead of me, and it's been right so far (also I remember the last leg of the trip being the shortest). I could leave here at 10 and still have time to get lost check into the hotel before the welcome out-of-towners party.

Speaking of leisurely mornings, I'm going to get back in bed and read some more. The Prince Conti has comfy beds. Also big enough for me to spread out the maps and then go to sleep without putting them away. Maybe that was a mistake: maybe I would have slept longer if I wasn't sharing the bed with the object of my stress.

easy mark

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I wonder, do street barkers zero in on me because a woman alone looks like an easy mark, or because my outfit was so damned cute? Probably the former, but I'm going to presume the latter. Because my outfit was cute, if I do say so myself. The desk clerk at the hotel said I looked like a Barbie doll. I'd have to be a lot skinnier and a lot bustier to look like a Barbie doll, but I still appreciate the compliment.

I don't have the New Yorker ability to blow past someone who's talking to me without acknowledging their existance. Even if I know the only reason they're talking to me is to try and cajole me into spending money at their place of employment. More natural for me is to turn, smile, and make eye contact without slowing down. I did stop to chat with one barker who asked about my tattoo, but when he asked my name I realized it was time to move on. Tell a barker your name and you're going to end up sitting in his bar listening to a horrible cover band. It's a point of no return, like letting a vacuum cleaner salesman inside the door.

Anyway, aside from the barkers I had a lovely evening. First I walked down to the river and sat awhile reading my book, The Committment by Dan Savage. Then strolled over to Cafe Adelaide, which had been recommended by a resident foodie. By the time I got there, I realized that the beignets had left me way too full to enjoy a formal sit-down dinner. So I stopped in at Mother's, just a block away, for a po-boy.

Mother's looks like the kind of place that would be featured at Roadfood.com: decades-old, totally without pretention, and serves large quantities of simple, good food. I had no idea what a po-boy was before I went in there. Apparently a po-boy is a big, messy, meaty sandwich. Did I mention big? I ordered a small but I think I got a large. (If that was really the small, then I'm scared of the large.) I made a valiant attempt to eat the whole thing but only got about 2/3 through it. A small would have been perfect, though at least I managed to stop eating before I felt overfull and sick. I ordered the, um, I forget what it's called but it was the house special, with ham, sliced roast beef and shredded roast beef. It was really good. In fact that may be the best ham I've ever eaten.

The weather was so beautiful after dinner that I wanted to keep walking around the French Quarter. But I was getting tired so I figured I should head back to the hotel. The driving has been easier than I expected but I should still make an effort to get lots of rest every night. Tomorrow I have to deal with driving in Houston, which I'm a bit nervous about. Okay, a lot nervous. We always get lost in Houston, and that's with Georg there to navigate. I get flustered driving in strange cities under the best of circumstances. Hell, I get flustered driving in Raleigh. Tomorrow I've got to find the hotel on my own, and the Google directions make no sense at all. But things have gone so well so far, maybe this will turn out OK too.

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