Battle Planning

My visit to Colonial Williamsburg started with an orientation by a staff dressed in the era’s costume, providing the lay of the land of the area and giving us pointers to interesting things to see and programs to attend during the day. After the orientation, I continued with attending the first program of the day, a retelling of the history by a resident historian.

I was not expecting to attend a lecture, but listening to the historian providing the background about the events that led to the particular event we were commemorating (the battle of Yorktown) provided an excellent context to understand the historical event reenactments throughout the day.

One of the unique things you can do at Colonial Williamsburg is to locate an actor playing a historical character and interacting with him/her as if you were talking to the real character during the Colonial period. The actors not only dress up in periodic costume, but also talk like those from that era. They are also very knowledgeable about the historic character they represent, and can answer questions about the character that may not even be directly related to their relation to Williamsburg.

After the lecture, I went to one of the houses in the middle of the old town where the Continental generals spent time planning before their march to Yorktown. It was pretty neat to listen to a couple of actors who played the role of two prominent generals during the war, General Anthony Wayne and General Henry Knox, talking with each other and also interacting with a couple of visitors who seemed to know a lot about the history behind these two characters. They asked them some trivia questions about these characters’ personal lives, and the actors answered the questions with ease that you could have thought for a moment you were transported back in the history and listened to the real characters talking about themselves.

Here were the two generals sitting near a make shift discussion table and talking with audience about their plans to attack the British in Yorktown.

Battle Planning

History Triangle

The area around Williamsburg is also known as the History Triangle as there are three places where important events in the American history happened. Jamestown is the site of the first British settlement in the new world. It was the first capital of the colony of Virginia until it was moved to Williamsburg. Williamsburg then served as the capital of the colony for several years. Yorktown entered the history due it’s strategic location from maritime perspective, and it was the place where the British troops surrendered that led to the end of the American Revolutionary War and the United Stated became gaining recognition as an independent nation.

Today history buffs can come to the area and spend some time to learn and relive history by visiting these three places. They are connected through a route called the Colonial Parkway, so you can easily drive between the places. Alternatively, you can also park your car at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, and take shuttle bus to visit the three places.

During my day trip to the area, I arrived at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center right before it opened around 9 am in the morning. I considered trying to visit the other sites on the same day, but later I decided to just spend the day in Williamsburg and attend the special events that went on throughout the day as part of commemorating the siege of Yorktown.

The photo below was taken right at the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. You can see the governor’s palace at the end of the grassy area, and a reenacted encampment of the Continental Army to commemorate their stay in Williamsburg prior to going to Yorktown.

Governor's Palace

Day Trip to Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Virginia, is a city located about 3.5 hour-drive away from Washington, DC. The city was the capital of the Colony of Virginia before it was moved to Richmond. It is the home of the second oldest college in the United States, the College of William and Mary. Part of the city is known as Colonial Williamsburg, where an area consisting around 50 buildings has been preserved from the Colonial era. It serves as a living interactive museum as life from that era is reenacted by actors daily.

I had heard of the Colonial Williamsburg since a long time ago, having lived in Virginia for several years. However, I had never visited the place until earlier this fall when I made a last minute trip on Saturday. I found out that during that particular weekend, they were going to commemorate the preparation before the American troops went on to nearby Yorktown to attack the British under General Cornwallis. The siege that happened in Yorktown was an important event during the American’s fight for its independence as it marked the surrender of the British troops during that war.

I did not grow up and go to primary or secondary school in the US, so I never really learned about the US history. During this visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I learned some interesting historical facts and about some important figures from that era. So in the next few posts I will write about that day trip to Williamsburg.

The photo below was taken in the Colonial Williamsburg area. You can see here the actors and volunteers reenacted the American troops marching into Williamsburg following General George Washington, on their way to Yorktown. For a moment, you can be transported to that era and feel that you are reliving the history.

Colonial Williamsburg

Reflection on the Journey

The coast-to-coast road trip that my brother and I completed was a special one because of many reasons. It was the first road trip for both of us that covered the entire span of the country from the West Coast to the East Coast. It was the first road trip where the journey and the route we took was the star attraction in itself. And for my brother, this trip marked a closure of the California chapter in his life and the start of his second New York City chapter (not long after this trip he ended up meeting his wife, purchasing a home, and now expecting a child — so pretty much settling down as a New Yorker now).

Looking back at the trip to complete this blog series, I have some thoughts that came to mind. On planning for such an epic trip, here are some things to consider:

  • Transportation Options: Many people would do a coast-to-coast or other long distance trip like this as part of relocating from one place to another. In such cases, the transportation option is given (e.g., using one’s own private vehicle). Otherwise, you need to consider either driving round trip (double the distance to cover), or perhaps driving one way and then flying the other way (in which case you need to think of what to do with the car for the road trip part). In our case, since my brother was going to sell his car in CA before leaving and he was relocating, we decided to fly to LA from our respective city, meet there, and rent a car one way.
  • Drop-off Fee: Beware of the fine prints when looking for rental car options. Some rental car companies institute a ‘drop-off fee’ when you plan to pick up the car in one city and returning it in another city in a state that is not adjacent to the pick-up place. The drop-off fee would be calculated by distance traveled, and it was about 25-40 cents per mile at the time of our travel. Not a big deal if you travel short distance, but when you go for more than 2,000 miles like us, that drop-off fee ends up being even more expensive than the quote for the rental car itself. We ended up using Hertz, which had slightly higher rental cost but no drop-off charge.
  • Theme for the Trip: To make the trip memorable, think of a theme for the trip and plan the places to visit along the way based on the theme. That would allow you to come up with a nice story about the journey rather than simply a long drive from one place to another with rest stops in between. In our case, the theme was obvious once we selected the particular route, Route 66. To make it even more fun, we decided to also do a ‘scavenger hunt’ and locate the places that inspired the animated movie Cars.
  • Time Management: When planning the trip itinerary, my tendency is to try fitting in as many activities as I can to make the best use of my limited travel time. When planning for a long road trip, you need to take account several factors. Consider the drive for each segment of the trip. That would consume part of your available time that otherwise you could use for sightseeing. If you choose to be more efficient and start the day early and/or end it late so you can cover longer distance and do more things, but keep safety in mind and ensure that you do not drive when fatigue sets in. Make sure whoever is driving has enough rest (or stop if you need some). Also consider allocating some buffer time for traffic if you go through major metropolitan area especially during the rush hours. Lastly, consider time zone change if you are traveling across time zone boundaries. If you go east bound, you will gain an hour every time you pass a time zone boundary, and conversely you will lose an hour if you travel east bound.
  • Places to Stay: When you are doing a multi-day road trip, you need to consider places where you stop, get some rest, freshen up, or even visit as a destination. The options can range from stopping at a rest stop or parking lot and sleeping in your own car, camping at a camp ground, staying at a budget motel, staying at a boutique hotel / bed & breakfast, staying at a luxury resort hotel, or if you happen to know someone along the route, staying at their place. Consider your budget (time and money), how important is the place itself as a destination or part of the experience of your trip, and also how easy or difficult it is to make reservation. In our case, we ended up staying at budget motels because we wanted to drive as far as we could on the first couple of days and only needed a place to rest and freshen up. And then for one night we stayed at my brother’s friends’ home, and on the last night, we stopped at my home.

On the road trip itself, here are some thoughts from reflecting about it:

  • Authentic Americana: When we started with the idea of going through this route, I was wondering exactly what kind of experience we would have as we seem to be going through mostly small town and rural areas of the US that on my previous trips I would drive past as fast as I could to get to the destinations of my trip. The perspective changed once we looked at these places as the ‘star’ of the trip; these are places that authentically represent the American culture, especially in the rural areas. The people were not pretentious, and many of them had been living in the same place for a long time that they represent the culture and heritage of the place.
  • Local Cuisine: You can find fast food chain restaurants along the way, but you can also enhance your experience by eating your meals at local restaurants that focus on regional cuisines that also highlight the ingredients grown locally. Within our route, we could find fish tacos in CA, prickly pear salad in AZ, Mexican food with red and green chile sauce in NM, steak and barbecue in TX and OK, snoots in MO, and red hots (Chicago-style hot dogs) in IL.
  • Story Behind a Place: When you visit a place, try to find out the story behind it: the history how it came about, the people associated to the place past and present, and how it impacts the culture both locally and beyond. We learned some interesting history about a ghost town that was founded after a gold rush, a hotel built as a home away from home for Hollywood stars coming to shoot western movies, and the place that claimed to be the origin of a food/snack that is now popular around the country.
  • Route 66 Characters: Along the journey on Route 66, you can also learn and meet some people play an important role in keeping the Route 66 story as an important part of the American culture. The folks treasure the history and culture that was shaped by the existence of the Mother Road and they work tirelessly in promoting and preserving the history for future generations, and we have them to thank for.
  • Enjoy the Journey: In the end, the most valuable lesson about life I was reminded of by this trip was to enjoy the life journey and not just focus on the destination. While getting to the destination or goal is important, the majority of time spent is in the journey to get there. It makes life richer and rewarding if we can also enjoy the moments and the steps along the way.

The photo below was taken in Santa Monica, CA, at the beginning of our trip. This is the official marker of the West end of Route 66 (traditionally people would travel the route from East to West). We took this photo to mark the beginning of our journey. Unfortunately we could not find a similar marker in Chicago, IL, at the East end of Route 66, but we did get another photo taken to mark the end of our journey in New York City.

West End of Route 66

The End (or the Start) of the Route

After three long days of driving, we finally reached Chicago. We had a great time catching up with my brother’s old college friend, but we were quickly reminded to get at least a few hours of sleep before we had to leave again in the morning to continue our journey.

We left quite early in the morning as we’re planning on meeting up with some more friends in the suburb of Toledo for lunch. I wanted to make sure we could get out of Chicago without getting caught in morning commute, and we also wanted to make one more stop to complete our Route 66 journey. We started the journey three days before at the plaque near the beach of Santa Monica, CA, that marked the west end of Route 66. We thought it would be appropriate to also stop at the east end of Route 66 in Chicago.

Both my brother and I had been to Chicago many times, and we were somewhat familiar with the downtown Chicago area. But neither of us ever noticed seeing any sign there that marked the east end of Route 66. I looked through guidebooks about Route 66, and I found information about either it’s located at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Street, or it’s somewhere near the nearby Grant Park. So we decided to just drive to that area, park our car, and perhaps walk around a little bit to find the marker.

We parked at the underground parking on Michigan Avenue nearby our destination, and we were greeted by something unexpected that we should’ve known and anticipated better. When we got out of the elevator from the parking garage, we were greeted by a cold and windy Chicago autumn weather. Here we were, wearing light jacket and sweat and sandals. That was fine when we were traveling in California and the Southwest, but not in Chicago. So my brother’s comment was about finding this Route 66 marker quickly and then perhaps get hot coffee and leave.

We reached the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Street, and we couldn’t find that end of Route 66 sign. The only other info I had said the official east terminus of Route 66 was the Grant Park. Well, that’s not really helpful as Grant Park was quite a large park. I told my brother, ‘how about walking around the park a little bit to look for the Route 66 sign’. My brother said, ‘why don’t you go ahead and do so; I’ll just wait at the coffee shop around the corner because it’s way too cold to walk around outside.’ So I did go to Grant Park and walked around looking for the Route 66 sign, but couldn’t really find it. Finally I ran out of time (and it was getting too cold out there), so I decided to just cut my losses and took the photo of the Chicago skyline to show that we did reach the east end of Route 66. It would’ve been nicer to bookend the trip with another photo of a Route 66 plaque, but unfortunately this one would have to do.

Grant Park

Cozy Dogs

Corn dog is a variation of hot dog where you have the hot dog wiener stuck on a stick, coated in corn batter, and deep fried. In the US, you can often find corn dogs at festivals or local fairs. If you ever had a corn dog, have you ever wondered who came up with the idea for a corn dog? When we looked for interesting places along Route 66, we found out a place that claimed to be the first to come up with corn dog. The place is called Cozy Dog Drive In, and it’s located in Springfield, Illinois.

Ed Waldmire Jr. and his wife Virginia opened up the Cozy Dog Drive In in 1946 after Ed came up with the idea for the corn dog and made it popular among the armed services after World War II. The place has been serving the corn dog that is called the Cozy Dog ever since, and during the heyday of Route 66 in 1950s, it became a popular landmark along the route.

Later on, Ed and Virginia’s son Bob ended up becoming a famous character along Route 66 as he open a restored store along the old Route 66 in Arizona where he lived during the winter time, and spent his summer driving up and down Route 66 on his VW van. Bob and his VW van became the inspiration for the character Fillmore in Pixar’s animated movie Cars.

We passed Springfield area around dinner time. We already planned to stay at my brother’s friend’s place in the suburb of Chicago for the night, and we wanted to meet up for dinner when we get there. But knowing that we wouldn’t be reaching Chicago area until close to midnight, we thought we would stop quickly at Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield for some snacks.

We found Cozy Dog Drive In on the busy business street in Springfield. Today it looked like just another busy road in a city, but back in the day this was part of Route 66 that would likely be among the first stops traveler made when traveling from Chicago to Santa Monica.

The restaurant was similar to many local fast food joints, except that you could find some Route 66 memorabilia that would tell the story about the past. We ordered some Cozy Dogs and decided to take them to go to save time for the night.

The Cozy Dogs themselves tasted like what we expected of corn dogs. What made them special was the story behind the place where we got them. Now we could say that we’ve eaten corn dogs from the place that originated them all.

Cozy Dog Drive In

Gateway to the West

St. Louis is the second largest city in the state of Missouri. It is located on the northeastern border of the state, on the bank of the Mississippi River. The city was founded by French explorers (thus the name), and it was also the city where Lewis and Clark started their expedition to explore the western part of America. In 1904, St. Louis was the site of the World Fair and the first Summer Olympic Games held outside Europe. The city reached its peak in population size in the 1960s but sinmce had been in decline. Today it is still one of the largest inland ports in the US and is the home of several Fortune 500 companies, though its influence was not as prominent as it was in its heyday.

Our visit to St. Louis during the coast-to-coast road trip was very brief. After lunch at Smoki-O’s in the North Riverfront area of the city, we drove downtown to briefly visit the Gateway Arch. The downtown area seemed to be a nice place to visit, and you can actually take the elevator up the Gateway Arch. There was also a neighborhood that seemed to be a happening place with stores and restaurants. We didn’t have time however, so we just found spots at the nearby park to take photos of the Arch, and then left before the rush hour started.

The city reminded me to Pittsburgh, where I lived for a couple of years when I went to graduate school. Both cities thrived in the 19th century and in the early part of 20th century due to manufacturing industry, but went on decline in the last few decades. But now both cities enjoyed a little bit of renaissance with the biotechnology and medicine industry related to the local research universities (Washington University in St. Louis and University of Pittsburgh). Both cities have nice downtown areas that are nice to visit, but driving through the suburbs you could feel the ‘blue collar’ nature of the cities.

The photo below was taken at the park near the Gateway Arch. This was the closest we could get where we could still get the whole Arch within the frame.

Gateway Arch