Our alarm went off at 5:30 in the morning and we scrambled to get the remainder of our things packed up and into Andie’s car before we left for the airport. Last week was a fun and exhausting trek through the Pacific Northwest, but this morning we awoke with a particular excitement. Today, we were going back to California.
California is our home. We have both grown up here, Marine in the OC and Ashley in LA. Although we have a seven-hour drive to get to the bay, we make this trip as often as we can.
Marine: Every time I come back to SF, I fall more in love with the city. People seem to be a lot more free spirited and there are so many things to do. I’m hoping to get into pharmacy school at UCSF so I can explore more of the city.
We made our way through security and onto our plane before watching Oregon disappear into the patchwork quilt of earth beneath our ascent. A few hours later, the sun was up and shining over the beautiful city of San Francisco. We boarded the BART and made our way into the city.
Ashley: My uncles Vernon and Gioi were hosting us this week, they own their own interior design company downtown. Though I’ve been estranged from my uncles for the past 10 years due to family drama, I was very excited to get to know them better this week. Looking back, I had wished they were in my life during my coming out process so I could have looked to them for advice and guidance.
The first day and a half in the city was spent recuperating from Portland, fighting colds and getting sleep. We made sure to hit up our friends Cheryna and her girlfriend, Emily, who were our cabin mates at A-Camp! They took us to the top of this hill in Oakland to watch the sunset over the whole bay, and then we went back to their apartment to play Super Smash Brothers before heading to The Berkeley Poetry Slam.
The Berkeley Poetry Slam is a weekly venue at The Starry Plough in Berkeley, which hosts talent such as Lauren Zuniga and Rachel McKibbens. The night was lovely, and Gioi and Vernon joined us to witness their first slam. The next day, we were off to Alcatraz Island.
The island was at one point an old military base, and then became a prison. It was a maximum-security facility that housed legends like Al Capone and Robert “Birdman” Stroud.
We both agreed that if we were in an Orange is the New Black type situation, Alcatraz would have been the worst place to serve a sentence, but with hands down the best views.
We thought we’d be back quickly to witness batkid save the city but the national park staff opened up the hospital wing and we got to explore even more real life Shutter Island creepiness.
Once we escaped the island, we walked along the embarcadero and the fisherman’s wharf until we stumbled across Ghirardelli Square to grab hot cocoas and stroll through the city watching the sun set.
The next day we walked to the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Mason and Fort Point, taking a zillion amazing photos of the views. Though we’ve been to the bridge multiple times, it never gets old. To get the best views, don’t waste your money on the toll to drive across the bridge. Instead, drive to Fort Point and hike the Presidio trail. If you time it right, you’ll witness the perfect sunset.
Marine: After the sun went down, we walked to the hairpin-turn filled Lombard street and union square while waiting for Ashley’s uncles to get off work. They took us to a swanky Spanish restaurant hidden in an alleyway, where we laughed and chatted over pitchers of sangria and plates of paella. If you’re willing to do a little exploring, these alleys are full of delicious surprises that most tourists won’t stumble upon.
The following night was our last night staying in the city with Vernon and Gioi, and they were throwing a fancy reading in their office. From their balcony we could watch cars fly by on the highway below, and see the rising pyramid of the Transamerica tower poking out of the night skyline. We toasted glasses of champagne, and skewered samples of shrimp and spring rolls.
Ashley: By the end of the week, my uncles and I had tagged each other in too many Facebook posts, cried tears of happiness over bottles of wine and even been invited to their 20th wedding anniversary four years too early. We managed to make up a lot of lost time in just one week.
We brushed elbows with talented authors and artists before the evening wound down to a late night stop at the local Chinese restaurant. In the morning, we sipped steaming coffee from the docks at the Ferry building and waited for our bus to Santa Cruz. We are only 9 days from home, but there are already 99 days of stories following us there.
We got back into Oakland via greyhound to be greeted by more straddlers and A-Campers, Lucia, and Anne Marie. Our first stop post bus ride was Trader Joe’s for some wine and chocolate. Lucia taught us how to make adorable pipe cleaner sheep for the holidays. It’s an old tradition that her mother taught her and now she was teaching us!
The next day we had brunch with Anne Marie and relaxed in the afternoon sunshine before getting ready to get our Jennifer Lawrence fix on. Lucia took us to meet up with the bay area straddlers at the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland to watch the premiere of Catching Fire. Jennifer Lawrence is hilarious and smoking hot and obviously you should be as excited about her new haircut as we are.
In the morning, we were sad to say goodbye to California, but excited about heading to Las Vegas! We made a pit stop in Los Angeles and got to hug a few friends before heading back out on the road. If you’re traveling from the bay area to Las Vegas, it is much cheaper to find fares this way. Though we could have driven, we were determined to try as many buses and modes of inexpensive transport as possible.
The bus picked up in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles and made 4 or 5 additional stops in East LA and Riverside before finally beginning its trek to Vegas. Though the price was cheap, the long drive time may not have been worth it. It took us about 6 hours to get into town.
Our first stop was with our friend’s parents, who treated us great and gave us some much needed time to relax and recharge. However, knowing this was our last stop for a long time, we ended with a bang and booked a room at the MGM Grand.
For the first time this whole trip we weren’t in anyone else’s space, we weren’t anyone else’s guest, and we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted anywhere we wanted! The first night there we went to Human Experience on Fremont Street in downtown Vegas to hit up the open mic and explore all the artist galleries. Downtown Vegas is really turning into a thriving cultural center, which is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the strip.
Getting from the strip to downtown without a car is relatively easy. Don’t take a cab! Cabbies have their own “shortcuts” and are never nearly as cheap as the bus. Ride the deuce or the SDX instead! You pay a few dollars for a few hours and can hop on and off as many times as you’d like. It’s a double decker bus that rolls right on down the strip so you get the best view, with the lowest price!
Ashley: After the show in downtown, I told Marine I had something special planned. Our first anniversary passed the day we traveled from Oklahoma City to Denver, and we weren’t able to do anything special and I wanted to change that. I know it was a little late, but better late than never! I took her to Olive’s restaurant at the Bellagio and we sat near the fountain and drank wine and reflected on the 106 days behind us.
The following day we explored the strip! We drank bottomless mimosas at the brunch buffet, explored the hotel, and had a gift card to Crystals at Aria, so we went to go spend it! When we made our MGM reservation, there was a promotion going on so we were given a credit to Crystals. The shopping center houses stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier, and everything else ridiculously expensive. We took our $75 gift card to the gift shop and then to Wolfgang Puck’s for happy hour. We even bought a cook book from Olives, the restaurant we ate at the night before.
Next up, we were off to see Ka, a cirque du soleil show. We got all gussied up for our last big night out and got our minds blown by all the incredible acrobatics, pyrotechnics and design. We spent the rest of the night sipping on free drinks and loosing our money at blackjack tables and slot machines. If you want to party in Vegas, don’t waste a lot of money on booze. Put a few dollars into the slot machine and wait for the cocktail waitress. If you’re playing games, the casino will bring you free drinks in the hopes that you sit and stay. Tip the waitress and play the penny slots!
We didn’t turn in until 3 in the morning and awoke to the alarm telling us it was time to get up and check out. To realize it was our final day on the road was kind of surreal. To know we were going home and sleeping in our own bed, putting our clothes back into a closet and not into a backpack, to have a car and know the roads instead of navigating every bus stop and subway was going to be a breath of fresh air. It was also really scary. The real world was waiting for us. Bills to pay, jobs to hunt for, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season are all at home, not budging until we arrive.
We had a final brunch with Nathan at a café in the Paris hotel before waiting for our bus back to Los Angeles. We discussed the craziest moments from the trip, our least favorite stretches of country, the moments we wanted to re-live over and over again.
There are so many people to thank who opened their homes for us, who showed us their cities and fed us and made us feel welcomed. It is impossible to return the kindnesses we have received, but we are determined to try.
As the bus trekked along the 15, the sun setting over the California desert, we dreamed about our next trip. Another adventure is already in the works for us if we can find half the support we have been shown in the states.
In the spring, we take on Europe! Email us at Ashley [at] thatstarvingartist [dot] com so we can have an international Autostraddle meet up everywhere! We will be looking for housing in Spain, France, and Italy! Don’t forget to find more pictures, stories, and poems from the road on our wordpress!
After our Halloween in Seattle, and the start of our international tour, we were hardly ready to pack up and head back to the states. On our last day in Vancouver we stopped and grabbed all you can eat sushi for lunch. This was a marathon and not a sprint. We tried a little of everything and both endured major food comas afterward.
Despite the urge to lie down and succumb to the food baby inside, we decided to walk to Stanley Park instead. The park was incredibly beautiful with all the fall colors scattered on the trees by the Vancouver bay. It was a perfect way to walk off some of our sushi.
After the park we decided to head to Commercial Street, which we heard was queer, artsy and full of poetry. We went in search of Vancouver’s Van Slam, but were saddened to learn that the venue was closed. We later learned we had gone to the wrong venue; it turned out to be at Café Deux Soliel and not Café Du Soliel, so confusing!!
Mishap aside, we ended the night strong with pizza and Dexter on Netflix. In the morning, we had to say goodbye to Canada and head back to Seattle, where Hannah and Tiffany were waiting to greet us again! The four of us grabbed dinner on the waterfront, and went to a free production of Les Miserables in Issaquah.
The glass blowing museum was incredible and it was truly spectacular to see what could be created with molten glass and human breath. It was hard to determine which of the two attractions were the most breathtaking.
As the sun went down, we started heading towards Scratch Deli for the Rain City Slam. The venue was intimate, but powerful. They packed the house and the poets were incredibly talented. The audience was live, appreciative and supportive. Poetry lovers in Seattle should make it a point to stop by and check out this venue!
Our stay in Seattle was wonderful, but there was only more magic to come as we headed south to Portland, Oregon to visit our A-Camp cabin mate, Andie! The first night we arrived it was her birthday! We grabbed dinner at a local Indian restaurant, and a lot of her friends made an effort to make it kind of boring because the next night, we were planning a surprise party!
While Andie was distracted with a fancy date night, the rest of her friends gathered with booze, streamers, cake and a creepy but awesome birthday banner. She had no idea and we ended up scaring the crap out of her. The party was a smashing success, and we managed not to wake up in a drunken hungover haze.
In the morning, we headed to the Saturday Market in downtown Portland. We perused all kinds of art vendors, tasted free samples and even got a birthday present for Marine’s dad. We grabbed some infamous Voodoo doughnuts after waiting in line for half an hour. Walking around with the pink box was like holding a talisman of deliciousness. Everywhere we went people asked about the delicacies lurking inside.
In the evening, we met up with fellow A-Camper and poet, Brenda for an impromptu poetry reading, and everyone there agreed upon brunch the following morning.
We met at Night Light for bottomless mimosas and delicious breakfast foods. We definitely got our money’s worth and ended up a bit out of sorts for the rest of the afternoon. Bottomless mimosas generally spell out a really unproductive day. However, not all was lost because Powell’s bookstore was open until 11pm.
Powell’s is a Portland landmark and spans an entire city block. It’s a reader’s paradise, and we snatched up a few books for sale before calling it quits.
In the morning, we fly to San Francisco. It will be the first time back in the sunshine state in almost three months. There’s still a few weeks of the adventure left, and we promise we’ve saved the best for last!
Up next: San Francisco, CA
After a week crammed full of poetry, meet ups and thrift store shopping in Denver, it was time to head up to perhaps the rainiest part of the country, Seattle. We arrived on a dark and stormy night and were picked up by Hannah and Tiffany, an adorable couple we met at A-Camp!
While on the road, we’ve kept a lot of our costs down by getting groceries and cooking wherever we’ve been staying, which is something we love to do at home. Halloween was no exception. We walked to the local grocery store and picked up some ingredients to make these awesome “Hatch burgers” made infamous by Unami burger.
We roasted some Anaheim and poblano chile peppers, then grilled up our burgers in soy sauce and served them on a toasted butter bun with garlic mayo and chips. It was inexpensive and delicious!
When Hannah and Tiffany got home from work it was time for the witching hour to begin! Seattle on Halloween was fall perfection. The leaves were falling, the children were wandering the streets in search of candy and the dog was dressed like a bumblebee.
Luckily, we had managed to score some cheap costumes at a thrift store back in Denver, and had some fun accessories to prowl the night in! We first stopped for some hard cider and people watching before heading to the infamous ”10 Things I Hate About You” troll.
When we got there, there were bagpipers playing, and a whole host of people dressed in costume. We carried on to Hannah’s family friend’s place, which was decorated to the nines with creepy baby corpses, vats of dry ice and jumping spiders.
Overall, our Halloween was the perfect mix of cute and creepy, with plenty of candy to go around. We couldn’t stay out too late because the very next morning, we were going international!
We woke up extra early and caught a bus to the Greyhound station to head into Vancouver, Canada. Of course, Greyhound being the corporation that it is, failed to tell us that it had cancelled all early morning buses to Canada. This left us with a free afternoon to go explore downtown Seattle. We made the most of our snafu and headed to the famous Pike Place Market to shop around, score free samples, and watch the day begin to stir from sleepy morning to bustling afternoon.
After a bowl of chowder and a shrimp louie salad for lunch, we meandered back up to the greyhound station ready to head up to Canada! Despite the early morning mishap, the coach was clean and all the staff was friendly. This station was an entire departure from the greyhounds we rode through the south. We only arrived a few minutes past our newly scheduled time and we were greeted by A-Camp staffer and friend, Geneva!
She helped us navigate the public transit and we feasted on Chinese takeout before ending the night with Mario on her old school Nintendo 64.
The next morning it was pouring rain outside and we were in desperate need of umbrellas, Canadian money and food. After stopping and stocking up on bus tickets, umbrellas and cash, we headed to Granville Island to check out their shops, brewery, and grab something to eat! We ate lunch in this cozy spot by the fire and warmed up with some honey lager before braving the rain again.
The next morning was Sunday Funday, which all queermos know is the best time for brunch. After skyping with Gabby and Carmen, who were brunching it up in DC, we decided to make crepes. However, after failed attempts at making them over a hot plate, and even baking them in the toaster oven, we figured bagels and mimosas would do just as well.
In the evening, we headed out into downtown Vancouver to explore the gay part of town,Davies Street, and to find some dinner for ourselves.
In Canada, Halloween and Thanksgiving are now over, so every store-front in town is decked out for the Christmas season. The temperature was dropping so we linked arm in arm and strolled through the twinkling lights of the city. We stopped to try some roasted chestnuts and settled on a spot for dinner. It might be the most romantic time of the year speaking, and we’ve been on the road together for 85 days, but the fire isn’t even close to going out.
Up next: More Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR
We were starving and fed up with Greyhound, so Lauren took us to dinner at McNellie’s, a popular Irish pub in town. The food was good, but the conversation was better. It was nice getting to know Lauren off the slam stage! Later that evening, she took us to Partners, and its sister bar, P Too, two back-to-back lesbian bars in Oklahoma City. We were kind of astonished because nearly everywhere else we visited had no lesbian bars, or the bars had gone out of business. Not only were Partners and P Too thriving, they were smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt!
In the morning, Lauren took us to see the Oklahoma City Memorial, in honor of those who were killed in the OKC bombing in 1995.
Traveling across the US, we’re learning that every city is completely different, but in a lot of ways are exactly the same. New Orleanians are still reeling from Katrina, New Yorkers from 9/11, and the citizens of Oklahoma City from the ’95 bombing.
After this, we spent a lot of time lounging at the house with Lauren’s pets and awesome housemates, Aulbry and Nigel, another rad queer couple! We spent a lot of this time daydreaming about future adventures and destinations.
Marine: These are tips that Ashley and I used to get the ball rolling for our US trip, please use and adapt them for your own trip. If you have tips to share please contact us or leave a comment!
1. Plan Long in Advance: Daydream and write places you want to go to. Plan the dream trip before you even think you’ll start the adventure. It’ll give you time to surf the web and find the perfect money-saving techniques for you. Maybe you’ll even make a living off it one day. The idea for this trip was planned before Ashley and I were dating and definitely before we had any savings.
2. Estimate Cost Reasonably: To start planning a backpacking tour, you must be reasonable about your expenditure so that you don’t remain stranded somewhere without money for a flight home. You’ll spend a lot more money traveling Europe than South America or the states. If you have no preference, find a region where food, transport and lodging is the cheapest.
On the road:
3. Lower your biggest expenses: Your biggest expenses on the road will be lodging, transportation and food. If you like food, like we do, you will probably not want to lower this expenditure by much. However, you can still eat well and spend less by eating out at lunch and cooking your own dinner. Lower your cost of lodging by staying with friends Hello straddlers!! Take the cheaper method of travel to lower your cost of transportation. When you have a limited amount of time, use some simple steps to find the cheapest flight. If you’re taking the bus, use budget lines. Who can beat megabuses $1 dollar fares.
4. Avoid unnecessary expenses: I told Ashley to cut down on Starbucks and get the $1 coffee at 7/11 instead or better yet, brew it. Bring reusable water bottles because buying water can add up. Have your own drinks before hitting the night scene or limit your drinks at the bar/club.
Before leaving Oklahoma, we stopped in the arts district to explore and share some poetry. We got a private tour of a gallery that used to be a bank, found a unique gift shop and had pho for dinner.
After saying goodbye, it was time to hop on a plane headed to Denver, CO. We were greeted byJovan Mays, a champion slam poet from Slam Nuba. We hopped in his truck and he drove us to Word 4 Word Slam. The slam was unique, but really strange. The hosts didn’t know to have a bout draw, and instead of judges, each audience member got to vote for their favorite poet.
To kick off the weekend, we went to South High School’s Slam Off, which is put together by teacher and slam champion, Jen Rinaldi. The kids perform in their own open mic and slam, and Jen brings in featured guests like Ashley and Amy Everheart.
We hurried out of the youth slam and managed to catch More Than Metaphors, a social justice themed open mic benefitting Syrian refugees at the Damascus Grill. Amal Kassir was the featured poet of the night, and shared alongside other national champions like Dominique Ashaeed and Ken Arkind.
The next day, fall was in full bloom in Denver. We walked around and explored the neighborhood a bit before meeting up with more straddlers!
The International Autostraddle Meet-Up was at Vine Street pub and grill, where we socialized, played Cards Against Humanity and sampled a few of Denver’s craft beers, which were absolutely delicious!!
The group then took us to Charlie’s, the fabulous local gay bar, where our quick two-step tutorial by a straddler was not enough to match the dancing talents of the locals. When the night ended,Chealsea, a local Denver musician and straddler, gave us a ride back.
Sunday morning was greeted with coffee, scrambled eggs and potatoes with the Mays family. It was great to be treated as family when we’ve been away from ours for so long. That night, we went to the Mercury Café, a completely organic and locally sourced restaurant, which ended our week with some great poetry, free food and new friends.
Up Next: more Denver, CO and Seattle, WA