May 13: After a marathon twelve-hour drive northward through Florida in heavy rains, we arrived in Pensacola to visit our friend Jordan, who joined the Navy a few years ago and is stationed down there. Jordan, Matt, and I used to create music together under the name Tears for Agnes years ago when we all still lived in Central PA. (Hopefully the project is not dead; we still hope to continue collaboration online ... whenever we all have spare time.) Sadly, our time in Pensacola was too short to do any proper jamming (being short on time was a theme that ran through our entire trip).
We were both really pleased to see and hear that being in the Navy has really agreed with Jordan. A few weeks later, while watching Prometheus in a cinema, I couldn't help but notice that Jordan pretty much looks like one of the "Engineers" now.
N.B. Believe it or not, this is a still from the movie, and not Jordan. I have never seen Jordan in his underpants.
The next day, after accidentally attempting to drive onto the navy base while searching for Starbucks (apparently they have a Starbucks on the base for navy personnel only, who knew?), we set off for New Orleans through first Alabama, and then Mississippi, which has the honor of having the worst math and science scores in the country. Imagine our snobby Yankee surprise, then, when Matt spotted a highway sign for the Stennis Space Center. A space center? In Mississippi? Neither of us had even heard of it, but since we had already stopped at Kennedy and were on our way to Johnson in a few days, we figured we had to drop in.
Stennis Space Center's new Infinity visitor center only opened three weeks previously, and many of the displays were still in development. It were still fun, though; we arrived only about half an hour before they closed, so everything was pretty much deserted, and we could jump in and do whatever we wanted. It may not have had quite as much flash as its larger cousins, but it was not crowded with screaming middle schoolers, a definite plus. Helpful staff members all but gave us a personal tour of the facility, although perhaps that was more about getting us out the door so they could go home. I bought a nice pair of earrings.
The Everglades, Key West, and going north through Florida.
Sat 12 May 2012 - Sun 13 May 2012
The last two days' time-lapse videos are a bit different from the previous crop, for rather silly reasons. Two days ago, after we wrapped up lunch in Key West, I turned the GoPro on, and forgot to change it out of it's default startup mode of 'video', so the last half of the day was recorded as full HD 1080p realtime video, which I could probably take the time to cut down to a time-lapse version, but time on this trip is precious, so I'm just excising it. Most of it is us driving around Key West, and these sorts of videos are more interesting (to me) when we're going down long stretches of highway, or if we've planted the car in front of something interesting.
The following morning, while an amazing amount of mosquitos flew around our car and tried in vain to get through the flyscreens we magnetically attached over our sunroof and windows, I sat down with the GoPro manual and had another look at the settings, as I hadn't had much time to get to know it before the trip. I discovered that I could set the camera to record the pictures upside down, saving me from having to rotate the video in Vegas. I also discovered the different exposure modes, notably, the one that's designed for mounting it on your dashboard pointing outward. With the new default mode being set, hopefully I won't miss any more of our travels.
Since the Day 7 video was so short, instead of playing it back at half-speed, it's actually at quarter speed, and if you're one of the 7 or 8 people who watches these things, please comment and let me know if you prefer that to the speed all the other ones play back at, or if it doesn't really matter. And in a break from the musical backgrounds we've been including and composing, the Key West video simply uses field recording from the street where we were parked for a bit in Key West. It'll be interesting to see if YouTube identifies the music in the background and chastises me for it.
Day 8 was long, long slog from our camping spot, located at the end of the one road into the Everglades, stopping at the Robert Is Here Fruit Stand (it's really so much more than a fruit stand) and pausing at Starbucks for our morning upload, then driving up through central Florida, ultimately heading west into Pensacola, where we stayed with an old friend of mine, Jordan. He's stationed there with the Navy, after having spent a while in Gitmo- as medical staff, not as a detainee! The drive was something to the tune of 12 hours long, it was definitely 12 hours boring. The magic of the GoPro intervalometer has transformed that into two short minutes, where even in HD mode, you'd have to strain to see all the bug splats before we hit the storm that helped wash them off our windshield, if not our bumper.
We recorded the music for that video a few nights ago while staying in Homestead. I didn't get as much time to work on this. Actually, it's about as raw as you can get - it's just Melissa playing over a beat I wrote. There are more important things to do on this trip than fleshing out musical sketches - but I really like that we're making music as we go. Given how much American Routes we are consuming via streaming audio on the drive (to AT&T's chagrin, according to a text message I got) I wonder how long before what we record starts to sound like rootsy blues/jazz/country/rock. That actually works as a nice wrap to this post, as our next stop is New Orleans! We have to go to Basin Street Station and give them a fat donation for the binge streaming we've done over the past week.
Wed 9 May 2012 - Sat 12 May 2012
on mormolyke's travel map.
Well, well, Florida. Aside from an amazingly run of bad luck trying to find a decent wifi connection (first world problems!), we have had a pretty damned awesome time here so far. Remaining activities: camping in Everglades National Park tonight, and a drive out of the state toward Alabama tomorrow.
On Wednesday night, we found ourselves a surprisingly decent cheap motel right across the street from Daytona Beach - I think it was called Budget Inn Express. The rooms and exterior were newly painted, and it was run by a South Asian woman who had scented the lobby like spicy incense and curry, so I was sold. Oh, and it was only $40 per night. What. I continually find it difficult to accept that RV parking and camping is routinely around the same price as a cheap motel.
Thursday morning, I took my turn in the driver's seat, and the first place I steered the Magnum was out onto the beach. Yes, Daytona is one of the few places in the USA where you can actually drive on the beach itself (for $5 per day). It's not quite the international speedway, but that didn't stop me thinking about all the money I fondly fed into Daytona USA arcade machines back in the days when one would actually leave one's house to play video games in dedicated venues. The beach speed limit was only 10 miles per hour, but that beats standing in front of an arcade game.
Then it was off to our first true nerdgasm of the roadtrop: Kennedy Space Center. I think one of the reasons Matt and I work so well as a couple, especially when traveling, is that we shared the same obsessions as kids; we each went through phases of intense interest in Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, and space. I was lucky enough for my space fascination to carry me all the way to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1994, where I spent a week at the NASA Space Academy earning my Level II NASA wings. It was a very cute experience, in retrospect: a kind of crash course in the very, very basics of being an astronaut, full of hilarious cultural clashes and 14-year-old hormones run amok.
So going to the Kennedy Space Center was a bit like being a kid again, especially since the park is kind of geared toward kids. Which is fine; if you want a return to living in a country with a decent space program, you probably have to start by inspiring the next generation to actually give a shit. I found my moment of shivering awe in the Apollo/Saturn V facility, where we were treated to a three-screen documentary about the launch of Apollo 8, ending with a bone-shaking recreation of the actual launch (they had some pretty boss subwoofers in the theater). I was actually choking back tears when it was over, and it only got worse when we exited the theater to find ourselves in an enormous pavilion containing an actual Saturn V rocket.
I don't agree with Ayn Rand's views about nearly everything, but one exception is that I too feel fiercely proud of humankind's greatest achievements. (The difference is that I sort of feel that the greatest achievements of all are the result of many people working together, you know, collectively - a feeling that seems to be shared by all the astronauts in every documentary, who rush to lavish praise on the 100,000 nameless people on the ground who make each mission possible. Sorry, Ayn, this is not really the work of solitary misanthropic geniuses.)
The next day, we finally made it to Miami, a city awash in the colors of the 1980's that I have secretly wanted to visit since Miami Vice (though the pop culture reference we kept making as we were driving around was GTA: Vice City). We swam in South Beach, where the lukewarm and gorgeous waters are so clear that when two $20 bills accidentally floated out of Matt's shorts, he found them both on the sandy sea floor within five minutes. For dinner, we ate delicious Cuban food in Little Havana, and afterward drove around the fairly impressive downtown area.
If I can whinge for a minute, I have to say that Miami's inner-city highways are a confusion of utterly terrifying spaghetti roads, and our Garmin seemed determined to try and kill us. "Take ramp to highway [whichever] on right." OK. Note that the highway is comprised of ten lanes full of Bentleys and Ferraris traveling at 70mph, but our Magnum has a pretty great 0-60, so we make it easily. "In 300ft, take exit on left." WHAT. YOU WANT ME TO VEER THROUGH FIVE LANES OF SPEEDING SUPERCARS AND TAKE A HAIRPIN TURN EXIT IN 300FT. WHAT THE ARRRRRGHH--
Today, after checking in at Everglades National Park to make sure there are available campground spots, we drove through the Florida Keys to Key West.
I am pretty sure Key West was created to give me somewhere to retire. I am obsessed with cats and chickens. Key West is obsessed with cats and chickens. I hate the cold winters of the North East. Key West is frost-free. I love a city with a huge LGBT scene. Hello, it's Key West. I like to be able to see the ocean now and then. Water, water everywhere. The only sticking points of retiring here one day are the cost of real estate and the unfortunate consequences of hurricanes. This is why I need to become stupendously rich and also learn how to control the weather with my mind.
Oh, once again, we have time-lapse videos from Day 6 and Day 7:
In planning for this trip, I thought it might be a cool idea to do a timelapse video of our journey. We certainly wouldn't be the only people who've done this, but it would be a great way for us to remember a month-long trip that's so packed with events that a week in, I'm already having trouble remembering just where it was we were three days ago. At first, I thought about getting some older Canon point-n-shoot, installing hacked firmware, and mounting that somewhere, but after doing some research, I discovered that a camera called the GoPro Hero HD has a built-in intervalometer. You can set it up to shoot pictures every 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds. Maybe even more than that, but that's all I needed to know. So a few weeks before we hit the road, we checked Adorama, and they happened to have a blowout on the previous generation of the camera, to make room for the newer, even flashier cameras.
These little things are amazing machines. I'd seen videos people took with them, but in doing this research, it was the two videos of people dropping their GoPros while skydiving (at 2,000ft and 13,000ft), then finding them (while they were still filming!) that sold me. Or maybe it was the video of a GoPro falling off a surfboard and rolling around in a reef that impressed me (That one was found a few months later, in perfect working condition). I knew that nothing we were doing would be that hardcore, except maybe climbing Half-dome, but that level of engineering really impressed me. What also impressed me was that it was $153 for the camera, with six mounts, a 200mph suction cup mount, and two cases (one waterproof), new in the box.
I tried mounting it to the dashboard, but had I read the instructions I would have known that for as great as the 3M moutning adhesive is, it doesn't work on textured plastic. So, on the glass behind the rear view mirror it went. Through a somewhat archaic process involving the two buttons and cryptic LCD display, I set the camera up to take a photo every 30 seconds. I had to buy a new (third!) case that allowed me to run USB into it so that we could power the camera whenever the car was on.
The case also has a slot on the side for easy removal of the hot-swappable SD card. I can pull the card out, dump the photos onto a hard drive, then pop it back in and it picks up taking photos where it had left off.
Like any other digital camera, it stores the photos using incremental numbers appended to the photo name. This comes very much in handy when its time to turn those photos into a video. For this, I use one of my favorite all-around programs, Sony Vegas. I started out using this for multitrack audio, but it's developed into a phenomenal video editor, and I've learned how to utilize that. In this case, I import the photo sequence, set a framerate, and because the camera is mounted upside down in the car, rotate the video. I play around with the resolution, reducing it for a speedier upload, add audio, render, then whenever we have wifi, upload it to YouTube.
With some downtime in Daytona, Melissa busted out the mandolin she brought with her, and recorded a tune into our Zoom H4n. I put together a beat using Figure on my iPhone, and dubbed in some traffic sounds I recorded outside our hotel. Since I had uploaded the first few videos before having audio, I simply used YouTube's audio replace function to swap in music, but you can hear part of the track we recorded on the Day 4 video. Day 5 features a beat I put together on the Tempest a few months ago as part of Melissa's composition for "Pulse," a dance piece performed in New York earlier this year.
Day 1: Philadelphia to Cape Hatteras
Day 2: From the Outer Banks to Knoxville, TN
Day 3: Knoxville, TN to Atlanta, GA
Day 4: Spending the day in Atlanta, then driving to Savannah