Category Archives: Travel

R.I.P. Gore Vidal

I was saddened to hear that Gore Vidal passed away earlier this week at the age of 86. There’s a nice obituary by Hillel Italie over at HuffPo.

I spent a pleasant afternoon drinking vodka with Gore Vidal and friends (both his and mine) at a restaurant in Ravello high above Italy’s Amalfi Cost back in 1993.

I was doing a placement at the nearby University of Salerno as part of my Master’s degree in Communication in Computing, and was staying in Vietri sur Mare a little further down the Amalfi Coast with Katie, my girlfriend of the time.

My friend and fellow MA CiC classmate George Woodcock — a big fan of Vidal’s — was visiting with his two young sons for a few days, and, after recognizing Vidal, introduced himself to pay his compliments. Vidal and his party were most hospitable, and invited us all to join them for some postprandial refreshments.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Vidal’s literary work at that point (and in fact had always struggled not to confuse him with Vidal Sassoon, the British hair stylist who coincidentally also died recently in Los Angeles), but he was most charming and entertaining despite my ignorance, and showed a warm and seemingly genuine interest in our academic pursuits.

I have since read and enjoyed a number of his books, both fiction and non-fiction. His “Narratives of Empire” series of historical novels are an excellent way for an immigrant such as myself to become more familiar with American history, while his essays on American imperialism are damning indictments that are still highly pertinent today.

Here’s a selection of links to some of my favourite Gore Vidal works:

Day 8: Mt. Pocono, PA to New York City, NY

Day 8 (Mt. Pocono, PA to New York City, NY): Another late start on the last day of my journey, followed by an even later breakfast, and then it was just a short 110 mile hop from Pennsylvania on I-80 across New Jersey, into New York state and through the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan!

Stephen (who I’m subleasing an apartment in SoHo from) met me on the corner of MacDougal & Houston, and guided me to a suitable parking space for unloading the car and checking out my new home for the next 6 months or so — so far it seems pretty much perfect (thanks again to Lucy Norris for putting us in touch with one another)!

Shortly afterwards I was off again, swinging by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to say “Hi” and pick up my homework for tomorrow’s ArtSTOR retreat, then off to find the parking garage on Roosevelt Island that will be the Deathmobile’s new home for the immediate future. At the end of her trip, the odometer read 90,904 miles — which (assuming the odometer is accurate) means that we covered some 4,134 miles together since leaving San Francisco a week ago!

So… I’m finally here!

Day 7: Niagara Falls, ON to Mt. Pocono, PA

Day 7:(Niagara Falls, ON to Mt. Pocono, PA). Today started badly, when I dragged myself out of bed and down to the dining room of the Imperial Hotel in Niagara Falls at 9:55am for my free breakfast, only to find that the kitchen had closed early, and there was only one young and completely disinterested receptionist to vent my spleen on. She was not very placatory. However, my mood improved dramatically after going to see the falls themselves, which were both spectacular and uplifting.
I crossed over the bridge to the U.S. around 2pm, and was given a scare for a few minutes when the customs guy went off to consult a colleague, taking my passport and parole documents with him. They eventually came back and waved me through though.

Once in the U.S. I headed for Buffalo to pick up my old friend I-90 again, but since I had time to kill (my apartment in NYC won’t be ready to move in to until wednesday evening) and rapidly got bored of the interstate, I came off on Hwy 63 at Batavia (where I found $10 on a gas station forecourt) and took a slower but more scenic route via I-390, I-86, Fwy 15, Fwy 6 (having dinner at the Towanda Motel), Hwy 107, I-81, I-380, and I-80, eventually winding up in motel in Mt. Pocono after driving a fairly paltry 349 miles.

The car is still doing fine, with the exception of the dodgy wheel bearing… It doesn’t seem to be getting any worse, though, so hopefully it will make it the last few hundred miles to Manhattan tomorrow!

Day 6: Ann Arbor, MI to Niagara Falls, Ontario

Day 6:(Ann Arbor, MI to Niagara Falls, Ontario). Yesterday I discovered that the meticulous weblog I have been updating on a daily basis at has not been updating on my web site, because mangled my template (hence this new design, since I don’t have time to recreate my original template). Grrr!
I only drove about 300 miles today; after a very enjoyable breakfast with Jim & Leslie Milroy at their place in Ann Arbor, I set off for a lunch appointment with my friend Jennifer Moldwin Gustafson, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. In addition to buying me lunch, she was also kind enough to give me a quick tour of Belle Isle, where we saw albino deer! Afterwards, I drove to Niagara Falls in Canada, which is awe-inspiring in spite of the cheesy Vegas-style tourist development surroounding it.
I stopped worrying about the Deathmobile today, too — if the bearing goes, it goes.

Day 5: Albert Lea, MN to Ann Arbor, MI

Day 5:(Albert Lea, MN to Ann Arbor, MI). Another “4 State Day” today… After another late start and a pretty awful breakfast in Albert Lea, I covered the rest of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois & a chunk of Michigan, before ending up in Ann Arbor at about half past midnight — a total of 710 miles and about 13 hours, including a few refuelling stops and a skanky cheeseburger just outside Chicago.

Tonight I am staying with some friends, Jim & Leslie Milroy, who I have known since I was 14 years old — their son Andrew is one of my closest friends from my school days in Sheffield. It’s good to see friendly faces after 4 nights of anonymous motels!
Today consisted pretty much entirely of driving; I didn’t do any sightseeing at all, although I did shoot some “drive-by” video footage of farms in Minnesota & Wisconsin, and the Chicago skyline as I blasted around I-94.

The Deathmobile is still running pretty well, although I had to fight with it more than I would expect in the gusty Illinois cross-winds — I’m starting to think that it’s a front wheel bearing that’s going, and that the steering has been adversely affected. Still, I’m at least a day ahead of schedule, and it looks like I’ll be going through Detroit tomorrow — what better place to get the wheel bearing looked at than Motown, where my car was born?

Day 4: Custer, SD to Albert Lea, MN

Day 4(Custer, SD to Albert Lea, MN): Today worked out pretty well in the end; despite a late start in cold, wet Custer, and various stops to see Mount Rushmore National Monument (impressive, interesting story), Wall Drug (triumph of roadside marketing), The Badlands (including a short helicopter ride for $35, which was great!) and the Corn Palace (which was holding a freaky polka gala for seniors), I still managed to cover 637 miles, ending up in a town with the unlikely name of Albert Lea in Minnesota (directly south of Minneapolis, on Hwy 90). I’m getting pretty skilled at “drive-by tourism.”

The car is still going strong, although I definitely have a (wheel?) bearing that’s about to fail. I can’t tell if it’s a front or a back wheel though. Still, the noise is only noticeable at low speeds, so once I’m on the interstate it doesn’t bother me so much (I’m kind of in denial about it I think).

I was finally able to get a signal on my Sprint PCS cellphone today in Minnesota, for the first time since I was in Oregon 3 days ago; someone had left a message expressing doubt that I would be able to update my weblog on a daily basis… Ha! Updating the blog is MUCH easier than picking up cellphone messages!

Day 3: Butte, MT to Custer, SD

Day 3:(Butte, MT to Custer, SD). Only saw three states today — Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, almost all of which was spent blasting along I-90. The last and most interesting portion of the journey took place on Hwy 16 just after Gillette; I eventually stopped in a Super 8 motel in a town called Custer, SD, a few miles shy of Mount Rushmore, which I’ll check out tomorrow morning.
Today was another largely problem-free day for the Deathmobile too, although I gave myself a scare setting off from Butte this morning, when the battery appeared to be dead… The battery was fine, I’d simply left the car in gear (to get better access to a tape that was jammed in the stereo), and the neutral safety switch had disabled the ignition. Luckily I figured it out before calling AAA! On a more worrying note, there seems to be some rear-end noise again — this would be particularly frustrating, as the entire rear end was re-built TWICE in the last couple of weeks…
I decided to quit driving relatively early tonight, both so I could see Mt Rushmore & the Badlands tomorrow, and because I was pretty tired from the previous day’s driving. This evening I ate Buffalo steak in The Captain’s Table, then had a couple of Budweisers (it was either that, Bud Light or Coors) and a gamble in the Gold Pan Saloon. It was fun, but this town is a bit too “Twin Peaks” for my liking…

Day 2: Bend, OR to Butte, MT

Day 2:(Bend, OR to Butte, MT) Today I covered 4 different states — Oregon (Hwy 97, which was beautiful and fun, and I-84, which was fast), Washington (I-82, FWY 395 & I-90, all surprisingly dull), Idaho (I-90 very briefly, quite pretty) and Montana (I-90, fast, dark & fun) — before finally stopping at a Best Western in Butte, Montana. So far, I’ve covered 1,364 miles since leaving San Francisco yesterday morning.

The Deathmobile performed faultlessly all day, and I really enjoyed large chunks of the driving. High points were overtaking trucks on twisty Hwy 97 between Madras & Biggs (wish I had stopped to take pictures of Shaniko — population: 25), and swooping down through forested valleys on I-90 in Montana.

Day 1: San Francisco, CA to Bend, OR

Day 1 (San Francisco, CA to Bend, OR) After running various errands in the morning, I set off from San Francisco at about 10:45am this morning, heading out across the Bay Bridge and up I-80, before switching to I-505, I-5 and then Hwy 97, ending up for the evening in Bend, Oregon (via Crater Lake, which I got to see just before the sun went down — pretty spectacular, although without the famous blue colour).

The Deathmobile seems to be holding up pretty well so far out here in truck country, although it gave me a scare by running a lot hotter than usual (it was 90F+ most of the way), and then dumping a load of coolant on the floor the first time I stopped for gas. I eventually persuaded myself not to worry about it.