I HAmsterdam

Dave – my oldest friend – and I have had a lot of adventures over the years.

 

In high school we would drive around in my sweet Mitsubishi Starion for hours, gas being around $1/gallon back then. When it rained, the car would stall out, which was entertaining in a McDonald’s drive thru. Or if parked, the headlights would flip up and down whilst the horn blared incessantly leading to finger pointing and laughing.

 

In college, well, there’s really not enough room here for that chapter. But we both made the trip on more than one occasion to visit our respective higher learning institutions. He at James Madison in Virginia and me at University of New Hampshire in said state.

A favorite memory would be a visit of Dave’s to UNH, hanging out in the dormitory lounge I lived in (because emergency housing) late one evening. Suddenly, the door burst open and a neighbor stumbled around until he found our garbage can. Which he promptly picked up and dumped all over my roommates desk, then muttered some obscenities and disappeared. No explanation, no context. I’ve never laughed harder.

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Hermosa Beach, Summer 2004

I recently found an old journal documenting the beginnings of an epic summer of fun in Hermosa Beach, CA more than 10 years ago. I’ll copy it for now and then try to fill in the blanks as best I can. The basis of our trip – myself, my brother Tyler and Dave Russ – was to spend a summer accomplishing nothing. Our original plan was to work and save enough money so that when we got to Hermosa from New Jersey, we could spend the summer doing anything but working. Here’s how it began…

Hermosa Part 2

The summer kickoff was Tyler’s 21st birthday. We all went to the Sun Tavern in Fanwood to celebrate. By the end of the night, Tyler and his buddy Matt were arse over elbow into the bushes outside the bar. Off to a good start.

 

On the walk home, Tyler, Matt and another friend, Lucas, rampaged sleepy Fanwood with a fully exposed streaking episode. They successfully generated NINE phone calls to the police. The nudists mercifully made it home without being detained. Tyler’s friends visiting from New Hampshire – Andi and Matt Dolan – did not. Drunk, lost and disorderly in someone’s backyard, they were given a cop cruiser ride back to 154 Herbert.

 

Upon arriving at the homestead, me, my sister Caroline and Tyler’s friend Gary had to wake up the Mother unit for some “please don’t arrest these clowns” conversations. When one of the friendly local cops mentioned reports of streaking, the sideways look I received made it VERY difficult to keep a straight face. For obvious reasons but also due to the fact that Tyler and the Nude Crew were hiding in the backyard bushes snickering the whole time.

 

The next night at midnight, 4 of us hit the road – myself, Tyler, Dave and Matt Dolan. We were given use of my parents’ 1995 GMC Suburban. The perfect vehicle for a 3,000 mile road trip with 4 surfboards on the roof. A generous gift. We had about 20 hours to our first planned stop at my Aunt Bonnie’s place in Conway, Arkansas. But we didn’t get there quite to plan.

Hermosa Part 1

Somewhere in Tennessee, the Suburban started bucking in bumper to bumper traffic. To our elation, there was an exit just up ahead and a truck repair station right off the highway. The gentleman running the place was a little squirrelly but happy to help. Hooking up a scanner, he learned the throttle position sensor was out of whack. Incredibly, a GM dealer 10 miles up the road had the part and our new friend agreed to make the fix if we could be back in 2 hours. Foot to the floor, we said a collective prayer for the ‘burban.

 

The old beast made it there and back without much bucking, new part in hand. It was then that we noticed the beer cans in our savior’s hand and the engine sitting on the floor. He happily explained that was the motor he blew up earlier in the day “fixing” it. Hmmm. With no other options we pressed on. The guy got our new part in but wanted to check his work. This involved stuffing his hand in the engine bay and revving the hell out of it. If you’ve never driven a Suburban, they’re not exactly rev-happy machines. Satisfied with this abuse, he prepped for a road test as final engineering sign off.

 

I hopped in the passenger seat, armpits sweating, as he wheeled us to a narrow, hilly side road. At 100 mph, I casually suggested we wouldn’t be hitting these speeds. What with the 4 surfboards on the roof and all. He chuckled and quipped about hoping the brakes had enough lining since the end of the road comes up quickly. We did get back to the shop in 1 piece and apparently we only paid $22.00 for this service. I also paid with 22 years off my life but we were on our way.

The Druss Road Trip Day 6 – Scottsdale, AZ to Encinitas, CA

Ah, the last leg of the trip, the culmination, the end as it were.  A mercifully short leg of driving at 6 hours or so, we were of course thrilled to land on the West Coast.  On the way, we had some more laughs, especially when it came to the Border Patrol check points.  This day’s travels marked the fourth stop we experienced during the trip.  Here is how they went, in order, with the first being a couple days earlier.

  • Stern dudes with alert canine friend.  Stern dude A asks Dave his citizenship.  As we both agreed later, the answer was unclear.  Is it American?  Or United States?  Dave threw out United States and passed the test.  Turning his hard glare on me in the passenger seat and saying nothing, I stated “Same.”  WRONG answer. “Citizenship?” the man repeated, more sternly.  Stuttering, I spit out “United States” and whimpered.  Again saying nothing, he waved us on.  WHOA.
  • This check point was more laid back.  The 2 agents were visibly goofing around and laughing when we pulled up.
    • “Just the two of you clowns in there?”
    • “Yup”
    • “Have a good one”
  • This was easily our favorite.  With the real agents apparently on lunch break, there was a portly man with a crossing guard vest leaning against the security shack.  With a bored look and chin full of drool, he simply waved every car through, no questions asked. We felt much safer after this check point.
  • The last one of the day, as we got in California was a combination of 1 and 2.  Stern but not angry.  Though they had the mirrors to look beneath cars, just like in James Bond.  Neato..

With only a few hours left, we floored it through desert dunes, windy mountains and fields of produce. Dave also tuned in to the 90’s Hip Hop station on Pandora.  This was epic not only for the tracks being played but for how we must have appeared with the windows down, deliriously belting out lyrics.  We got to Tyler’s place about 4:30, just in time for him to wrap up work and go surfing.  The waves were fun and the ocean felt AMAZING.

For dinner, we met up with Dan and Kim at the Priority Public House in Leucadia.   The following was consumed:

  • Peanut Butter Milk Stout by Belching Beaver – best beer of all time
  • Rogue Dead Guy Ale
  • Omission Lager
  • Green Flash 30th Street Pale Ale
  • Scotch
    • How many of each of these liquids were gulped is unclear
  • Specialty Fries – parmesan, garlic and gorgonzola
  • Sliders Sampler – pulled pork, short rib and spicy sausage
  • PPH Burger – stuffed with jalepenos and chipotles, topped with cheese and house made pickles
  • Blackened Shrimp Po Boy
  • Pulled Pork
  • Mac n Cheese with Crab
  • Mac n Cheese with Bacon
  • And I’m missing something else here.

Also important is noting how awesome the people working there are. From the host to the waitress to the guy bringing out drinks, super friendly bunch.  You should go there.

Dave found a convenient short term place to stay via AirBnb and I shared a bed with Tyler.  The next morning, Tyler claimed his tummy was upset but wasn’t sure why.  I regaled his roommates with the above list – they laughed.  I also suggested they not enter his room for at least 3 days while it was aerated.

Tyler and I did some work on the following day, Friday, while Dave checked out a place to live, scraped bugs off the Audi and got some errands done.  We met for coffee and food and generally marveled, as usual, at the incredible atmosphere and lifestyle of SoCal.  That afternoon, all 3 of us went surfing.  The waves were AWESOME, and we were all fried by the end of the day.  I flew out the following morning and Dave is lining up a place to live.  Overall, a ROCKIN’ trip and with lots of fun had by all.  Wish Dave luck on his new beginnings, I know he’s gonna kill it!

The Druss Road Trip Day 5 – El Paso, TX to Scottsdale, AZ

With a wonderful recommendation from my wonderful wife Sarah, we left El Paso and headed for White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  My sister Caroline and Sarah’s friend Anne had both visited this national park and were both in awe of it.  We quickly realized why.   The park is a series of massive white gypsum dunes covering 275 square miles.  Standing within the park is what I imagine being on the moon is like, otherworldly.  Once inside, our only regret was not grabbing sleds at the visitor center.  The 40 foot plus ridges were made to be sledded upon. We made up for it with running leaps off the edge of these cliffs.

The other interesting fact was the park being within a national missile range.  Occasionally the roads around White Sands are shut down to ensure no visitors become errant missile fodder.  Watching fighter planes zoom around above us only made it cooler.  And I found out after the fact from the father unit, Richie, that the air force base launching these jets in Alamogordo, was the same base my grandfather was stationed at during World War II.  Very cool.

From here we stopped in Las Cruces, NM for a quick bite to eat.  The diner was standard fare.  The week old Valentine’s Day cupcakes forcibly sold to us were not.  Hard icing, dry cake and an enthusiastic waitress watching us eat them was super duper.  Fortunately, the hotel motel next door claimed to have the World’s Largest Chili Pepper.  Looked pretty damn big to us and of course entailed a photo op.  We then hopped back on the road for the drive to Scottsdale.  But not before I nearly crashed the car thanks to a tumbleweed flipping down the road directly at the front bumper.  Having never seen one of these, I was shocked to find out they are identical to those found in Bugs Bunny cartoons.  But as it comes bouncing down the road, 3 feet in diameter, it appears you’re about to be slammed by a gigantic ball of twine, hence my overly dramatic reaction.

I would be remiss in not sharing Dave’s coffee experience at McDonald’s during this leg of the drive. When he asked for a cup of decaf, he was informed the pot was empty but they’d brew him a fresh one.  Thinking Mickey D’s coffee is like the food and ready in minutes, Dave headed for a bathroom break while waiting.  Unfortunately, it was more like 15 full minutes for the brain trust behind the counter to assemble his elixir.  Muttering with irritation at the ineptitude on display, Dave hopped behind the wheel and headed out of the parking lot.  As he began the sentence “What did I do with my cof…” he simultaneously threw out phrases like “Dang It” and “Oh Shoot” while watching his hard earned café flip off the roof and splatter all over the parking lot.  There may have been some ensuing laughter, but we can’t be sure. A few hours later Dave also experienced the shocking sensation of a tumbleweed encounter but at 80 miles per hour instead of 35.  The Audi appeared unscathed but the same can’t be said for the collective undergarments in the car.

We got to the Wagner’s house in Scottsdale at about 7 PM, very much looking forward to sleeping in real beds.  Mr. and Mrs. Wagner were so nice to have us for the night and fill us with pizza and beer.  It was really a great visit, catching up with them, having some laughs and sleeping in real rooms with a real shower in the morning!  THANK YOU WAGNER’S!!!! I also got a quick visit with Katie Zentmeyer at Four Peaks Brewing Company down the road where I thoroughly enjoyed an Oatmeal Stout.  Katie was nice enough to drive to us, correctly assuming we were likely fried from the drive.  As usual, it was great catching up with Katie and the beer was tasty too!

The next morning, Mrs. Wagner made us breakfast (THANK YOU) which was an EXCELLENT change from the food we’d been finding on the road.  And then Jeff came over and we all got to catch up for a couple hours.  It may be nearly 10 years since I’ve seen Jeff so it was really nice to get together and catch up on life, tell funny old stories and sit in the glorious AZ sun.  All in all, the Scottsdale visit was a highlight of the trip and a huge thank you is owed to everyone!

The Druss Road Trip Day 4 – Fort Worth to El Paso, TX

Today we woke up in preparation for a full day of driving.  I have already blocked it out but I believe it was a 9 or 10 hour day.  And down this far south, there is not a whole lot going on.  Along with the loooooong, straiiiiiiiight roads, the thermometer touched 90.  Though the Audi was blowing cool air, it wasn’t cold but it was better than windows down.  Apparently wild wind is an every day occurrence in these parts.  There were multiple signs urging ‘Extreme Caution’ and ‘Dust Storms May Exist!’ Actually, there was no exclamation point but the bold red lettering made it feel that way.  We did not encounter any zero visibility conditions but with the windows open, the howling wind made it hard to hear, think or breathe.  Windows up.

In general, we were blasting BPM and Lithium on Sirius the whole time.  A little house followed by some music of the 90’s kept us running.  At one point, requiring food, we ended up in a Subway that has surely been forgotten by the mother ship.  This shack on the side of the road looked very off the beaten path but was really the only option.  The guy behind the counter asked me if I wanted eggs or eggs white in my breakfast thing.  As he gestured towards the pile of limp yellow circles in a metal bin, I bit my tongue as my mind ran wild with thoughts like ‘Those are eggs?’ and ‘If that’s an egg, I’m Barack Obama.’

We got to El Paso and checked into a hotel that had beds but that you would likely not revisit.  Dave pulled out all the stops and got a workout in at CrossFit 915.  I did not.  That night for dinner we found a boutique burger shack right around the corner, Toro Burger Bar. Turned out to be a great find with a big selection of craft brews.  The Old Chub by Oskar Blues Brewery was especially tasty. Along with it’s ludicrous name it had the tagline ‘It’s like Sputnik!’.  Nobody knows what that means but everybody likes it.

We split the Toro Burger (pepperjack, avocado, Toro sauce) and the SOB Burger (swiss, onions, bacon, BBQ sauce) along with some sweet potato fries.  I deliberately enjoyed some lighter beers with dinner since they had a Double Chocolate Stout Float on the menu that I was salivating over the whole time.  When it came time to order however, I learned they were out of the stout and was crushed.  The bartender was extra friendly however and that along with the quality of the food more than made up for it.  Oh, and I subbed a 1554 by New Belgium for my float that was chocolaty and glorious.  From there – straight to bed.

The Druss Road Trip Day 3 – Clarksdale, MS to Fort Worth, TX

On this day, we headed into Clarksdale for breakfast hoping against hope that our options wouldn’t be limited to Mickey D’s and Subway.  Mercifully, we discovered Yazoo Pass, a café boasting the tagline ‘Always Fresh, Always Friendly!’  They should include ‘Always Tasty’ in there because it was easily all 3 of those things.  In a town that looks a bit old on the surface, this place was a burst of clean, bright niceness.

We were greeted with smiles and dynamite food.  I had the YP omelet with green onions, bacon and cheddar plus biscuits.  The omelet was super fluffy, the fillings were very fresh with a nice bite from the onions.  The biscuits were clearly homemade and glorious.  You, reader, should go there for breakfast right now.

After this meal of deliciousness, we checked out of our lodging of radness and hit the road for the Dallas area.  For lunch, we decided Cracker Barrel was a must, at least once during the trip. Roughly, they have a billboard every 3-6 feet from NJ to CA so it’s hard to ignore.  Dave had an odd looking salad with 2 giant triangles of yellow ‘cheese’ on the side.  He dared me to eat them, I dared him to touch them with bare hands.  In the end, they stayed right there on the edge of the platter, solid and unmoving.  My turkey sandwich had the calories required to suppress my hunger monster annnnnd that was about all.

On the topic of Cracker Barrel, does anyone know the process behind their interior decorations?  It looks like the items were ransacked from a flea market in rural Kansas, circa 1852.  But upon closer examination, there are barcodes on every single item.  We wondered, can you buy this crap?  Or are the barcodes there from when they produce the items by the truck load, at a factory in China?  Though it appears to be totally random, we theorized that if left to their own devices, each Cracker Barrel would have a seriously bizarre mix of doodads on their walls.  I mean, what would the directive be for this sort of thing?  “To maintain the CB brand, please decorate your establishment with lots of random shit that looks sort of old and American-y.”  We decided the mass produced China route with specific guidelines was more likely.

The main stop for this leg was Gas Monkey Garage, made famous by the TV show ‘Fast ‘N Loud’ on Discovery.  If you haven’t seen it and have a passing interest in cars, check it out.  The 2 main dudes are pretty awesome, regularly souping up cars and blowing donuts in their parking lot.  I’m a big fan and though the main shop was closed for filming, we did get a glimpse of Bearded Wonder Aaron Kaufman, the master mechanic.  I bought a shirt, the super friendly girl running the swag room did some cheerleader moves and we generally had a great little visit.

From there, we did a quick jump to the historic stockyards of Fort Worth.  Dave discovered this section of the city and it turned out to be pretty cool.  It’s where all the cattle were bought and sold way back when.  Today, it’s got all the history you can stand plus lots of great bars and restaurants.  We had dinner at H3 Ranch which is known for steaks and barstools made out of horse saddles.  We decided that sitting on a big goofy saddle for 2 hours wasn’t happening and instead grabbed a booth with 3 stuffed buffalo heads observing us from the wall above.  The local Buffalo Butt brew was served in a glorious schooner and was really good.  We both had top shelf steaks and I ordered the homemade peach cobbler to go.  What I didn’t count on was them filling the to go container to the point of overflowing with the peachy goodness.  Even I, known for possessing a hollow dessert leg, could not put down this 5 pound pile of goo.  We DID however sleep quite well.

The Druss Road Trip Day 2 – St. Louis to Clarksdale, MS

This was Dave’s 8th or so and my first official day on the road.  We departed St. Louis at Noon with a destination of small town Mississippi in mind.  Our original plan was to visit Memphis but after too many reviews – both online and over the phone  – that spoke of poor experiences and no desire to revisit, we decided against it.  Dave’s buddy Rui threw out the tremendous recommendation of Clarksdale, MS.

This town is considered to be a significant site in the history of blues music, according to Wikipedia and actual humans.   Take this old tale of a local blues legend for instance: (it’s just too cool not to quote completely:

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The “Devil” played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the Devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.

Though debated, some claim that the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in downtown Clarksdale is where this deal with the Devil took place.  Pretty wild.  Not to be outdone by the music scene was the place we stayed, Shack Up Inn.  This truly rad location is located on an old plantation a few miles out of town.  Along with original buildings like the cotton gin, we got to stay in one of the old sharecropper shacks.  Updated only slightly to make it livable, these shacks were killer with tons of cool artifacts and memorabilia floating around.  And if that wasn’t enough, these folks have a hilarious sense of humor as evidenced by these excerpts from their website FAQ section:

  • Wireless internet – Yes
  • Brochures – Hell no
  • Room service – Call the Peabody in Memphis
  • Phone & fax service – Call a Comfort Inn anywhere
  • Sheet thread count – NO KIDDING FOLKS, SOME CRAZY LADY ASKED THIS QUESTION…call the Alluvian in Greenwood, they really have the good ones
  • Wake up call – Yea right, automatic one minute after check out time, it consists of a chain saw right outside your bedroom window at 11:01 AM
  • Beer – We got all you can stand

After checking in and remarking 352 times about how sick the setup was, we headed for town and an old blues club known as Red’s Lounge.  I’d give you a hyperlink to check it out but they don’t have a website.  They also don’t have beer on tap, windows or conformity.  What they DO have is rockin’ live music, Budweiser bombers in a cooler and some old leather recliners to lounge and get fuzzy in the haze of cigarette smoke.

And the man himself, Red, was there swearing up a storm and watching the Olympics on the tube.  Along with a handful of what appeared to be regulars, we spent about 2 hours in easily the most authentic, non-tourist-trap, anachronism of a bar I’ve ever visited.  Super cool to be there, definitely worth a visit if you’re down that way.

That night, we nervously joked about how our rooms looked like horror movie sets in the pictures we’d taken.  We then made it clear that should one of us hear strange noises in the night, it was this person’s responsibility to do SOMETHING.  You see, these shacks, rad as they are can bring out any Boogie Man fears you may have thought gone.  At 5 am, I helped Dave realize these fears by trying to quietly close the bathroom door.  What happened was me standing over him (the door was close to his bed) in the dark while scraping the door NOT quietly.  You can imagine the results.