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!
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
Greyhound says you’re not important
The ticket clerk rolls her eyes
Tells you to deal with it.
Bus driver scoffs
Tells the last 15 people in line,
who are paying customers,
to wait for the next bus,
this one’s already full.
I sit in the back.
The lavatory door doesn’t shut,
It swings open whenever the bus turns.
The driver calls everyone to prayer
in a church I do not feel welcome in.
Everyone speaks my second language.
My tongue is broken
it is a record scratch.
The bus is full of men.
The hour-long layover turns into no more
than five minutes.
Our driver mocks his own passengers,
says, “this ain’t no Disneyland ride.”
Customer service hotline is disconnected
No one to tell you that you’re right.
A woman stumbles into the broken stall,
mumbles to herself
and comes out smelling of gin and pinesol.
You are a pretty white girl
on a Greyhound bus.
Your boarding pass says
someone will come looking for you.
It says you got a little too used to taking airplanes.
The driver told you not to sit up front,
you look a little too used to that type of treatment.
I stop holding my girlfriend’s hand
in the station.
Somewhere between Waco and Tulsa
I lean in to kiss her and she stops me.
We arrive in Dallas
and I am reminded that here,
they shot JFK in broad daylight
so I don’t stand up for myself.
I take a seat,
learn something the rest of the world
already knows about.
I am told the first row of seats
Is not allowed to be occupied
because too many drivers got stabbed.
Hours of empty field roll by outside the window.
We have 3 more stops and no one gets off.
Everyone has 6 pairs of eyes
and I am suddenly self-conscious
of my buzzed hair,
the half naked mermaid tattooed to my arm.
There are only 10 hours to Oklahoma City
where I can go back to the real world again.
The one where I am not a rolling field,
that everyone stares at
but just passes by.
We spent a night chatting and sharing pizza with other weary travelers in our Houston hostel, and the next day we were off to Austin! After our little trip to the big easy, we were ready to relax, get back on budget and try some real Texas barbeque!
When we arrived, we were greeted by our host, Jackie, a student and aspiring writer whose sister reads Autostraddle while living overseas in Israel! Jackie lives close to some hiking trails and a lake, so we spent some free time walking around and getting to know the area.
We went a little over budget eating beignets and seafood in New Orleans, so we knew we had to tighten our wallets in Austin. With a kitchen at our disposal, it was the perfect opportunity to grab more groceries and get creative.
After a dinner in, we went to the Austin Poetry Slam to check out the local poetry scene.
Ashley: I was happily surprised to run into an old friend and lovely human Sam Sax. He’s a fantastic poet who helped me get a spot on the microphone, and gave us some tips on things to check out in town!
Sam let us know that the Write Bloody store was located in Austin, and happened to be walking distance from our temporary home! If you ever need a recommendation of new poetry to check out, this is the place to be.
After spending too much on books, Jackie picked us up and took us to meet her friend, Jenn Hassin, who is an amazing artist that shared some of her work with us. Jenn works on projects that highlight important issues like drinking while driving, and sexual assault.
We didn’t realize just how artistic Austin was until we wandered down 6th street. There’s a bar on every corner with live music every night of the week.
We stopped for happy hour at Wahoo’s fish tacos. Once we saw a Wahoo’s, we knew we were getting closer to the best coast!
The University of Texas was our next stop, as we were planning on listening to Sarah Ruhl read from a new collection of essays. The work was engaging, and we ran into Sam again!
Before our last night in Texas, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to the capital, and a window shopping excursion down South Congress street, otherwise known by locals as SoCo.
SoCo was filled with creative shops. Anything from fancy cowboy boots, odd antiques and treasures, candy, and vintage clothing can be found wandering down this street. Tons of local artists and vendors convene here to share their wares and knick knacks to tourists and locals alike.
After wandering the streets and trying our damnedest not to tap out our budgets, we were closing in on our last night in the lone star state. Our hostess planned a fun night in with some close friends for board games, poems, and baked snacks!
We played Apples to Apples, Risk, and Quelf. We laughed, we cried, we made complete fools of ourselves and it was a lovely way to end this leg of our trip.
In the morning, we could barely peel our eyes open, but somehow managed to make it to the Greyhound station for a 10-hour bus ride to Oklahoma City. Though our love for megabus is unmatched, it doesn’t provide service throughout many of the remaining cities on our trip. Our bus ran late, and despite being in front of the line, we had to sit separately. After horrifying ourselves over some dastardly yelp reviews, we were both glad and shocked to know that we weren’t alone. If any of you have had any Greyhound horror stories, please share them with us!
Despite the conditions of the unkempt bus and the driver’s constant insistence on joining the whole bus in prayer, we managed to make it into Oklahoma City unscathed. When one of Autostraddle’s hottest ladies was at the station to pick us up, we couldn’t have been happier. The week ahead with Lauren Zuniga and her family is going to be a blast.
EMERGENCY: We need housing in Denver, CO October 24th-30th. Email Ashley [at] thatstarvingartist [dot] com if you can help us.
Up next: Oklahoma City, OK and Denver, CO