Life is a Highway

We started our coast-to-coast road trip with a visit to the Santa Monica Pier to find the official west end of Route 66. We found the official plaque that marked the end of the road. The actual Route 66 itself now only exists in segments, so we used a couple of books on Route 66 that traces the route along today’s modern highway.

Before leaving LA area, we made a couple of stops, first in Beverly Hills area to attend a service at Mosaic, then on the way out of suburban LA we stopped in Monterey Park to eat lunch in the Chinatown area. After lunch, we’re off for our first day of the trip.

We had roughly five days to complete the journey from Santa Monica to New York City. So, on the first day, our target was to reach somewhere in northeastern part of Arizona. Along the way, we wanted to take a segment of the old Route 66 in Arizona that according to the books on Route 66 still provided good representation of what it was like in the heyday of the Mother Road. Since the route supposedly went through pretty steep incline/decline grade on the mountains, we thought it would be a good idea to try reaching the area before it gets dark.

The road we took that afternoon consisted several segment that were pretty much a straight shot drive. It could get boring after a while and I found myself keeping myself alert by listening to songs, observing what’s around, or thinking about something. The first part of the trip in the eastern California towards Arizona reminded me to the song Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts. The first part of the song went like this:

Well, life’s like a road that you travel on
There’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

I did think about the lyrics of the song above and how that might be a good metaphor of what life is like as the song suggests. I think there is some good pictures there.

When driving on a highway, at times we go through straight segment where we can go fast, and then we encounter curves where we have to slow down. Life also goes like that. At times, things go well and we can progress fast. At other times, we face obstacles or challenges and we have to slow down the progress or even take a step back.

On the highway, we might pass other automobiles with people going to different destinations and with different reasons of traveling — some for leisure, others for business, and yet others for other different reasons. Some are still in the early part of their journey, others are already close to the end of theirs. Similarly, with life we encounter different people who are in the middle of life journey to achieve certain goals (studying at school, building a career, starting a family, retiring, etc.), and they might be at different stages of getting towards their goal.

Another interesting metaphor is to think about how one goes through the journey. On the highway, you can focus on getting to the destination in the shortest amount of time, and end up seeing the journey as the necessary means to reach the end (the travel experience becomes a blur or, worse, an exhausting experience you just want to get over with). Or, you can also have a destination and a plan / route to get there, but consider the journey as part of the experience to remember and even look forward to. It may not get you to the end in the fastest way possible, but you enjoy the journey more.

That was essentially the theme of Pixar’s animated movie Cars. As I did my planning before the trip, I came to learn that the inspiration for the movie was Route 66, its history, and many people who live along the road. Behind the great animation and funny characters there was a great story and message about cherishing life’s journey and the people you share it with.

I took the photo below during the drive on one of those long, straight stretches on I-40 eastbound. You can see the straight road, and other cars around us. One car in front of us had a U-Haul trailer on the back; it’s likely someone who was in the middle of a journey to move to new place, just like my brother.

Life is a highway

A Community of Faith, Love, and Hope

One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is that you have to adjust to the new place and find things that can help making it feel like home. This is even more challenging when you don’t know anyone in the new city; relationships have to be established if you don’t want to be lonely in your new place. When my brother moved to Los Angeles area, he practically didn’t know anyone there. One thing that was helpful for him however was being plugged in to Mosaic, his church community there.

Mosaic called itself a community of faith, love, and hope. It is unique as it emphasizes outreach to the community in Los Angeles area in a relevant manner. They recognized that many people like my brother come to LA area from everywhere around US and even from other countries, looking to make a living in this sprawling city. For these newcomers, Mosaic provides a community that these newcomers can belong to where they can be respected and cared for regardless of where they came from. They also see many people coming to LA to be involved in creative fields (visual arts, performing arts, fashion, etc.), so there is also a thriving artist community within the church body that encourages people to use their art as means to worship. All of these were provided to reach out and build a community of people who share (or seek to learn about) the faith, caring and loving for others in the community, and help providing message of hope to those who might be living in what seem to be a dead-end, meaningless life.

Before my brother moved to LA, I had heard of Mosaic because of its outreach to various ethnic groups in LA. But my appreciation for its ministry increased as I experienced the community when attending their Sunday service / meeting. It really felt like a home away from home. You could tell that most of the attendees were ‘transplants,’ but for that one hour, it felt like you’re among friends and family, and you’re welcomed even if it’s your first time attending.

Before we left Los Angeles to start our coast-to-coast trip, we decided to attend the Sunday morning service at Mosaic. One last service, fitting for my brother to say goodbye to the community that was his family away from home during his couple of years living in LA. I took the photo below during that service. This was Erwin McManus, Mosaic’s leader and principal teacher, giving his message during the service.

Erwin McManus

Trust Me!

Sometimes you have a meal that is more than just a nourishment for your body — it’s an experience in itself. What makes these meals special could be any combination of the following factors: the quality and deliciousness of the food, the company you eat with, the place where you eat, the person who prepared the food, or perhaps the unique circumstance and experience you have while eating.

While planning for our trip, my brother said that there was one experience he wanted to share with me on his last night in Los Angeles before moving to the East Coast for good: having sushi at a restaurant he (and many Angelinos) considered as the best in LA, a place called Sushi Nozawa. This place was known for its sushi chef, Mr. Nozawa, who had been preparing sushi for more than 40 years serving only the best he could find at the market at any given day. Mr. Nozawa was also nicknamed ‘the sushi nazi’ by some because he implemented a very strict rule of dining at his establishment. His motto was ‘trust me’ — you’re supposed to trust him to prepare the meal for you and eat your meal in the manner that he suggested as the way to consume the food (e.g. don’t ask for extra soy sauce, wasabi, etc.). And while dining at his place, you should turn off your cell phone to focus on the dining experience. But in return, you would experience among the best sushi dinner anywhere.

My brother had been there once, and hearing his description about it, I was quite excited to go for this dinner. We went to the restaurant… and found that it was closed for that night. We’re quite disappointed. As we tried to figure out an alternative, my brother remembered that there was another restaurant in Santa Monica that was similar to Sushi Nozawa as the chef was supposedly a disciple of the master chef. Thanks to Google, we were able to locate the restaurant. It’s called Sasabune.

We drove to Santa Monica and found Sasabune. As we entered the restaurant, the host mentioned that the place only served sushi omakase (‘chef’s choice), and it didn’t have dishes like california roll, tempura, or other dishes you might expect at a typical Japanese restaurant in the US. We’re okay with that, and after starting with typical green tea and miso soup, we had our sushi omakase, served a couple of pieces at a time. There were twelve courses altogether, and every single one of them came out amazing. The fish were so fresh and clean tasting; we could tell this was a first rate sushi experience. It was easily the best sushi meal I had ever had in my life.

We didn’t get a chance to eat at Nozawa, and earlier this year, Sushi Nozawa closed its doors and it’s now succeeded by a new chain run by Mr. Nozawa’s son called Sugarfish that took the Nozawa’s philosophy and quality standard to a more modern concept. But I’m glad we ended up at Sasabune that seemed to carry the same spirit and served equally high quality of meals.

I took the photo below just before we started our omakase meal. The chopstick cover had a nice description of what sushi is, and the tag line similar to Nozawa’s: trust me!

Trust me!

Facebook and Traveling

In the last few years, Facebook and other social networking tools have become an integral part of society. it’s hard to believe that none of these existed more than 10 years ago. I personally started using Facebook less than four years ago. Now checking Facebook for the latest happenings from my friends is part of a daily routine, and it is becoming a norm to announce major life events or share important news in one’s life through Facebook postings, and for others to reciprocate with replies there.

Facebook also enables connection (or re-connection) among friends who otherwise live world’s apart. In my case, my list of Facebook friends include those who I interact with frequently in real life, as well as some old friends whom I knew from as far back as elementary school in Indonesia and who live half around the world away from where I live.

In relation to traveling, having this network of friends can be nice in planning a trip. Sometimes you find out that someone you know had been to the place you wanted to go, and you can ask them for thoughts or advice in planning your trip. Or better yet, someone you know may actually live in the area that you’re visiting, and not only you can ask them for advice on their area to visit, but you may also include a visit with them as part of your trip.

When my brother and I were planning our coast to coast road trip, we noticed that we would be passing several places where we knew of friends whom we can meet along the way. So we checked with these friends to see if we could meet up even only for a meal during a stopover that would give us a chance to catch up and see them in person.

The first of these meetings was with an old friend of mine who lives in Southern California area. We went to junior high and high school together back in Indonesia, and reconnected via Facebook as we re-established the network of old friends from school years ago. Now she lives in California with her husband and young daughter. When I told her that I would be coming to Southern California to start my road trip with my brother, she suggested that we meet up for lunch if we could make time for that. And fortunately it worked out pretty well and we were able to meet up.

The photo below was taken at a small Indonesian restaurant where my brother and I met up with my friend and her family. During the two years that my brother lived in the area, he had become a regular visitor to this restaurant and its adjacent grocery store, so he knew the store keeper and restaurant staff. This lunch also served as his last visit to the place to say goodbye before he moved on to the next chapter of his life back in the East Coast. So in one lunch, we were able to meet old friends, say goodbye to others, and also enjoy delicious foods. Not a bad start for the trip.

Simpang Asia lunch

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a city about 14 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, California. It is known for its beach, and as an affluent area where some of the Holywood rich and famous live. Many people probably recognize the Santa Monica Pier, a landmark in Southern California with the little amusement park at the pier, white sandy beach nearby, and the row of expensive beach front homes. And the image of people at the beach and the lifeguards in red swimsuits were made famous worldwide with the TV series Baywatch.

I didn’t know much about the area until few years ago when my brother got a job with a company located there. During a couple of years that he worked and lived there, I had several opportunities to visit him, and came to appreciate the place. My brother lived in an apartment about 5-minute walk from the beach, and from his living room of his apartment we could actually see the beach in a distance. The temperature is pretty constant about few degrees cooler than in the inland, and the area enjoys around 310 days of sunshine a year. Despite of being in a driven metropolitan like Los Angeles, life seems to be more laid back as you get closer to the beach.

Few months before my brother moved back to the East Coast, I had a major life event happening, and my brother suggested that I took a little break and came over to California at least for a few days. I did that, and not only it was nice to hang out with my brother for a few days, but it’s also nice to just walk around the beach simply to get fresh air, watch life goes on around, and think about the next steps I would take in my life. What we didn’t know was that my brother himself would go through similar situation not long after, and he ended up making decision to move back to the East Coast afterwards.

The last time I went there was to mark the beginning of the road trip back to the East Coast with my brother. Now that I don’t really have anyone I know living there, I’m not sure if I have any reason for going there to visit. But at least the place has more meaning to me than simply a place you see on TV shows.

The photo below was taken the night before we started our road trip. This was the neon sign at the famous Santa Monica Pier.

Neon sign

Coast-to-Coast Road Trip

A while ago I wrote a blog post about Route 66, based on a road trip that I did with my brother three years ago. For the next series of blog posts, I’ll write about our experience doing this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip.

When my brother asked me if I would be interested in doing a road trip with him from California to New York, it didn’t take me long to say yes. I had done long road trips in the US before, including some with my brother, but the thought of doing a coast-to-coast trip across the continent sounded intriguing, and I think it would be one of those that we would remember for the rest of our lives. We wanted it to be a good, lasting memory, so we tried to be planned accordingly to make the best use of our trip time.

The main reason for the trip was my brother’s relocation from Santa Monica, CA, to New York City. He had some belongings that couldn’t be easily transported coast-to-coast without paying significant shipping cost, so he thought it would be more cost effective to rent a car for one-way trip, load it up with his belongings, and drive it across the country. Given the long distance, he didn’t want to do it alone.

Since my brother was very busy with the logistics for getting things wrapped up in California before he officially moved for good, he asked me to plan out the trip. I always enjoyed the planning aspect of the trip, so I agreed to take on the task.

The first decision we needed to make was the route we would take for this road trip. The start and end points of the trip were fixed, and we also had a time constraint. My brother had just started with his new work position, so he didn’t have much vacation time that he could take. More over, he had to be back in New York City for an event. Altogether, we had about maximum 6 days time to complete the trip. Considering the distance and safe traveling time, we pretty much had to take one of the direct routes between the two end points without much detours.

Even with the constraints above, we still had decision to make in terms of the route to take. There were several possible routes we could take that would meet the travel time criterion. I used a book by Jamie Jensen called Road Trip USA that was quite helpful in providing overview of the major routes across the country. We decided to take one that is roughly tracing the famous ‘Mother Road,’ Route 66, and then finish out with a route that was pretty familiar to me in the Midwest / Mid-Atlantic area. For the Route 66 part, there were also several books I read to learn about places along the route to decide roughly where we would stop.

Beyond the route planning, we made rough arrangements to meet some people we knew who lived in the places that we passed during this trip. But other than that, we left everything else open as we wanted to keep the trip somewhat flexible.

We ended up going around 3,300 miles over 16 states in five days. The map below shows the route and the stops that we took along the way.

Coast to coast route

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon National Park is another national park in the Sierra Nevada that is north of the Sequoia National Park. The two parks are contiguous and are connected by a highway. Kings Canyon National Park consists of two parts. One part is the General Grant Grove, which has a smaller concentration of giant sequoia trees compared to the area in the Sequoia National Park. The General Grant Grove includes the General Grant Tree, the largest in the the park and the second largest by volume after the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park. Another part of the Kings Canyon National Park is the backcountry area east of the General Grant Grove, which comprises 90% of the total area of the park. This includes the namesake of the park, the Kings Canyon, which at the maximum depth of 8,200 feet is one of the deepest canyons in the United States.

I visited the Kings Canyon National Park right after visiting the Sequoia National Park. We drove through the General Grant Grove area and continued eastward until we reached the end of the paved highway. It was towards the end of the day, and there were hardly any other visitor in the area, so it really felt like we’re alone in the middle of the nature. It was very quiet and peaceful out there.

The photo below was taken when we stopped at the east end of the paved highway through Kings Canyon. In the distance is the Kings Canyon and the mountain range around it. We didn’t go on any hike down the canyon, but even just from this overlook we could imagine it would be quite an experience going through the backcountry and experiencing the nature there.

Kings Canyon