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!
Ashley (the poet) and Marine (the scientist) met at A-Camp, fell in love and set off into the sunset – on a budget. These shoestring-travel enthusiasts are hitting every major city between Boston and Los Angeles on a country-wide tour and staying with as many Autostraddlers as they can find. Ashley just released a book of poems and is promoting it on the road, while Marine is keeping things organized and on budget. This is their journey.