Critical Mess

The tension between cyclists and drivers and pedestrians is not good and it’s exacerbated by the fact that the Bay Area is becoming more crowded with members of all transportation classes, most of whom seem to have no idea where they’re going. Traffic here really SUCKS lately and heightened tension on the roadways is doing no one any good.

Aggressive drivers and cyclists need to get some perspective. Both need to start paying a little less attention to who has the moral high ground and a little more to the mechanics of moving from Point A to Point B. Simply put, why can’t road hogs in cars yield some space without whining and moaning ? And why can’t road hogs on bikes drop the self-righteous notion that they have the ultimate right to any and all street (or sidewalk) space to the exclusion of people on foot or in cars? The perpetual rants about why it’s OK for cyclists to break whatever rules they see fit just because their mode of transporation is “superior” to driving or walking is growing a bit tiresome.

And here’s a biggie: why can’t Willie Brown cart his stylishly arrogant butt out of his limo for a few minutes and do something constructive about the problem?

Planet SOMA US Tour 1997

8800 miles. 29 states. 2 countries. 5 weeks. This was some trip!

On 2 September 1997, yer humble host leaves on a very long journey around the country. The object is to see the USA, via the old roads as much as possible, and to meet interesting people. Accommodations will be provided in large part by Planet SOMA readers and other friends. Updates will be transmitted from the road.  You’re invited along for the ride, but be forewarned: I break for drive-ins, sleazy motels, cute boys, etc…

So what the hell am I thinking? With minimal cash on hand, I’m embarking on a 7500-mile trip around the country alone. I’ll be gone for five weeks. I’ll be spending a good third of the trip staying in the homes of people I’ve never met face to face. For at least six or seven nights I’ll be lurking about completely alone in cheap motels hundreds, even thousands of miles from home.

This trip is something I’ve been contemplating for a long time. I was pretty damned amazed that a lot of Planet SOMA readers liked the idea well enough to offer couch space and bathroom privileges, as well as guided tours and more.

Why are you doing this?

Well, I guess it’s just because that’s what I do. Over the last few years, I’ve learned that the times I’m happiest are when I’m completely alone, driving down a highway I’ve never traveled before, en route to a relatively unfamiliar destination. It’s such a great sensation, seeing things I’ve never seen before, as well as new versions of things I’ve seen a million times before. The completely banal becomes exciting.

Aren’t you apprehensive about your living quarters?

I’m not worried about the prospect of staying with strangers, and I hope they’re not worried about the prospect of me in their homes. In fact, calling many of my hosts “strangers” is pretty inaccurate anyway. Thanks to e-mail, I’ve formed alliances with people all over the country — and the world. Surely there’s a considerably stronger bond here than with someone I might invite into my home after meeting up in a bar on Folsom Street.

Will you be giving updates on Planet SOMA?

I sure hope so. The level of detail will depend on my computer access as I travel, as well as on how much time I have. At a minimum I plan to put up simple text updates as often as I can. The pictures may have to wait until I get back because (a) I don’t want to spend the whole trip editing them and (b) not everyone can accomplish video captures easily.

That said, the simple answer is “yes…there will be updates from the road”.

Can I still join the fun?

No. I don’t want to meet anyone else.

OK…I’m kidding. I’m still itching to meet more people around the country. Take this as a hint, if you will, but Detroit and Oklahoma City are the two big spots where a friendly face would be appreciated. But there’s still time to meet up if you live somewhere else too. Mail me (before Labor Day would be nice). We’ll talk.

Thanks again to everyone who has expressed support and interest in the trip. It’s gonna be fun.

The Itinerary

The itinerary describes the trip as it actually occurred, and includes all changes made on the road, including the elimination of Phoenix, San Diego, and Fresno. But here’s the original, if you’re that curious…

Tuesday 2 September (Reno):

  • Route: Leave San Francisco on I-80 eastbound through Sacramento to Reno.
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goals: Finding the cool dyke I met while she was working at Subway in Winnemucca five years ago, and comparing Reno’s cheap buffets to those in Vegas.

Wednesday 3 September (Salt Lake City):

  • Route: Continue on I-80 to Salt Lake City (two nights).
  • Accommodations: Coutesy of Eric.
  • Goals: Obtaining an Osmonds lunchbox. Maybe a T-shirt too…
  • Obscure TV Reference: Donny and Marie.

Friday 5 September (Denver):

  • Route: Continue on I-80 through Cheyenne, switching to I-25, headed for Denver (one night).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: Not running out of gas between SLC and Cheyenne.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Dynasty.

Saturday 6 September (Kansas City):

  • Route: I-80 to Kansas City (two nights).
  • Accommodations: I’ve been offered lodging by Bernie and dinner with Gary.
  • Goals: Managing to get through the whole visit with no references to Dorothy or “The Wizard of Oz”, and visiting Country Club Plaza, which was more or less the first suburban shopping center in America.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Lots of Cops episodes, Mama’s Family.

Monday 8 September (St. Louis):

  • Route: East on I-70/US40 to St. Louis (one night).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goals: Never spent any time here. It intrigues me. I want to check out a few Route 66 landmarks, like Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard. If memory serves correctly, this is also the first place I get to eat White Castle Burgers.

Tuesday 9 September (Madison):

  • Route: I-55 (old Route 66) north to Peoria, I-39 north to Madison (two nights)
  • Accommodations: Chez Steven.
  • Goals: Last time I drove through Madison, all I did was buy a Coke and a Kit-Kat bar. I plan to eat better this time. A side trip to Milwaukee is very likely at this point in the trip.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley

Thursday 11 September (Chicago):

  • Route: I-94 east to Chicago (two nights)
  • Accommodations: Staying with Joseph. Visiting Curt.
  • Goals: My last trip to Chicago didn’t do it justice. Buildings…the el…White Castle…the South Side…Big Chicks (the bar)…
  • Obscure TV Reference: Good Times, Bob Newhart

Saturday 13 September (Indianapolis):

  • Route: South on I-55/Route 66 to Peoria and west on I-74 to Indianapolis (three nights).
  • Accommodations: Here I visit Bob, to whom I am eternally indebted for suggesting the trip in the first place.
  • Goal: Rumor has it Indianapolis is a roadside archtecture mecca, with a smattering of interesting historic districts as well.
  • Obscure TV Reference: One Day at a Time

Tuesday 16 September (Detroit):

  • Route: Switch north on I-69 (I’m excited about this particular highway) through Fort Wayne to I-94 and Detroit (two nights).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: I really want to see this place; my friend Rae (a native) loves it, plus I just have this fetish for urban decay. Auto-culture exhibits at the Henry Ford Museum. A WOWO bumper sticker and T-shirt.

Thursday 18 September (Pittsburgh):

  • Route: South on I-94 to Toledo, east on I-90 to Cleveland and west on I-76 to Pittsburgh (one night).
  • Accommodations: A last minute offer from David (I LOVE people named David) has resulted in accommodations and a Mac here.
  • Goal: I’ve known an awful lot of people from Pittsburgh over the years. Hopefully it will not be obvious why they left.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Mister Rogers Neighborhood

Saturday 20 September (Baltimore):

  • Route: East on I-70 (veering onto US 40, the old National Road) to Charles Town and Harpers Ferry. Then on to Baltimore (two nights).
  • Accommodations: Risa, the only high school friend with whom I still communicate is here.
  • Goal: Cruising the Giant Foods near Johns Hopkins, recapturing my childhood and photographing motels in Charles Town and Harper’s Ferry. And I love Baltimore. There may be a side trip to Washington and/or Wilmington.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Homicide: Life on the Street

Monday 22 September (Greensboro):

  • Route: South on I-95 through Washington to Richmond. West in I-64 to Norfolk to visit Taylor, and then onto Greensboro via US 58 and I-85.
  • Accommodations: Mom and Dad. Plus I get to hang out with Jeff and Adam and Daniel and Taylor.
  • Goal: Very much rest. Very little driving. Babylon, Waffle House, K&W, Libby Hill. Cruising UNCG. Side trips to Myrtle Beach, Reidsville, and hopefully the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.
  • Obscure TV Reference: The Andy Griffith Show.

Tuesday 30 September (Charlotte):

  • Route: South on I-85 to Charlotte.
  • Accommodations: Duncan.
  • Goal: Gus’ Sir Beef, my first Krystal burger.
  • Obscure TV Reference: The PTL Club.

Tuesday 30 September (Atlanta):

  • Route: South on I-85 to Atlanta (one night).
  • Accommodations: Tony.
  • Goal: Krystal Burgers, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and Little Five Points call.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Matlock, Gone with the Wind (OK…it’s not a TV show, but I couldn’t skip it…)

Thursday 2 October (Memphis):

  • Route: West on I-20 to Birmingham, north on US 78 through Tupelo (the Elvis birthplace) to Memphis (one night).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: Graceland? Beale Street? The National Civil Rights Museum?
  • Obscure TV Reference: In the Heat of the Night (Mississppi leg only…)

Friday 3 October (Oklahoma City):

  • Route: West on I-40 (detouring onto Route 66) to Oklahoma City (two nights).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: Many many Route 66 sights. The seduction of a member of Oral Roberts’ family.

Saturday 4 October (Amarillo):

  • Route: West on I-40 (more Route 66 detours) to Amarillo (one night).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: Cadillac Ranch.

Sunday 5 October (Gallup):

  • Route: West on I-40 (with yet more Route 66 detours) through Albuquerque to Gallup.
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: The hidden cities of Route 66.

Monday 6 October (Kingman):

  • Route: West on I-40, through Holbrook (home of the Wigwam Village Motel) and Flagstaff, to Kingman (one night).
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: More hidden cities of Route 66.
  • Obscure TV Reference: Route 66.

Tuesday 7 October (Bakersfield):

  • Route: West on I-40/Route 66 through Barstow and Needles to Bakersfield.
  • Accommodations: Motel.
  • Goal: Making it through the desert without a dead grandma in the back of the truck (per Steinbeck).

Then back to San Francisco, where by this time I will most likely be homeless. OK…just kidding…


Three days and counting. I’d get more excited if I could get rid of this cold I seem to have picked up somewhere. Actually, it’s a little better now, but I’ve been sounding a little like Brenda Vaccaro all day.

Anyhow, Friday brought good news and jumper cables. I needed both as it’s been a long week and I’m not convinced that AAA will instantly remedy any roadside traumas I may experience.


So there was the obligatory trip to Target for trip supplies. Mark came along and over burritos at Pancho Villa offered me the use of a spare PowerBook for the trip. This made me most happy. This will also, in his words, “guarantee that we get updates”. Cool.

There was an inordinate fascination with the shopping cart lift at Target and with the warm and fuzzy T-shirts contained therein. I was unable to find a suitable travel alarm, but I settled for Cocoa Pebbles on sale. We made it safely back into the City before Critical mass hit.


Saturday and Sunday are devoted to laundry and cleaning up and yet more errands and printing cards and gathering maps, and…

There will be no rest this weekend.


The McDonald’s at Seventh and Market is really creepy and getting creepier. It’s a strange mix of crackheads, career alcoholics, street people, and very scrubbed but very lost foreign tourists. How so many tourists end up here I don’t know. For some reason I felt extremely paranoid there today; the place usually doesn’t phase me. It got worse when this really scary guy brushed up against me as he got in line behind me. When I reached for my wallet to pay, it wasn’t there. I freaked. It turned out I’d left it at home, but this thought didn’t even occur to me at the time.

Why am I so paranoid lately? Frankly, I usually feel safer in SF than almost anyplace else. But I’ve noticed myself being much more apprehensive lately. I find myself checking my back pocket constatly to make sure the wallet’s till there like I do in New York. I’m afraid every time I go to my car that I’ll be missing a window. I’m more likely to keep the windows rolled up and the doors locked. Muni is getting more and more frightening.

The neighborhood’s getting annoying. Too much construction. Too many noisy, drunk yuppies. Not nearly enough parking, even on my sticker-protected street. More on this soon. But doing any of the following one more time may cause me to snap and go “postal”:

  • Standing in line behind one more stoned trendoid who takes ten minutes to decide on one bottle of liquor at the corner store.
  • Walking in the middle of Folsom Street because Julie’s Supper Club can’t contain all its loud-mouthed slumming stockbrokers or even make them leave a path on the sidewalk.
  • Getting a parking ticket on a street two blocks from my house because the Department of Parking and Traffic can’t seem to control the non-residents parking on my own sticker-protected street which is where I SHOULD have been able to park in the first place.
  • Being awakened early in the morning by whatever that pounding sound is at the building they’re renovating up the street, which is no doubt in the process of being converted into yet another zoning-exempt “artist’s loft” which no artist could possibly afford.