Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
Pearls Road Trip 2019
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
In October of 2019, the girls of Pearls (a trio of sopranos) drove across the country. Two of us drove Elise’s car, and Julie met us once we got to Pennsylvania (she’d been attending a conference). The drive across was mostly 10-hour days, so there aren’t many images from the trip across, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t tales to tell. In the two weeks we spent together, we never had a bad meal (okay, Elise and I had a barely adequate meal in Wyoming, but most of the rest were very good indeed), no car trouble, and no bad weather (a little bit of rain, but not a storm, once we were in West Virginia). Lovely people the whole way, lots of singing and laughing, and generally a great time.
October 15, 2019—507 miles
Elise and I loaded up the car and headed out of the Bay Area on a clear Tuesday mid-morning. We’d had several meetings to plan our overnight stops and daily goals, we’d bought some bread-and-butter gifts and snacks for the car, and we were ready for just about any emergency. Our first stop was for a very late breakfast in Nevada City, CA. It was a nice little brew pub with plenty of business on a weekday lunch time. We ate and headed out, still excited about the adventures to come. When we crossed the state line, it was as if a miracle had happened, and suddenly the roads were well-taken care of. Now, it’s true that there was roadwork most of the way across the country, but what we drove on was really smooth and well-marked road for the rest of the way. I was a little surprised, because I think of CA as having mild weather, and therefore the roads should be easier to maintain. Interesting.When we tired and stopped for dinner, we were in Elko, Nevada, which happened to be our first planned stop, according to our trip planning. We decided to find a meal and see how we felt about driving on afterward. We went into a casino, looking for food. I had low expectations of finding vegan food or food that accommodated my nightshade allergy, but they had four restaurants, so maybe. The first thing that hit us was the smell of cigarette smoke. In CA, there’s no smoking inside public buildings, so that was a bit of a shock. We weren’t sure we could eat in a place that smelled like that, but when we got to the restaurant area, they had some sort of great ventilation system, and the smell was reduced to barely perceptible. The first three restaurants were steak and potato places, but the fourth offered a buffet. We strolled through it, and thought it looked promising, so we settled in. The buffet was excellent, in fact, and both of us had seconds. The dessert tray had gluten-free and vegan offerings that were both gorgeous and delicious. Yup, I had seconds on those, although I think Elise was more self-controlled. When we went to pay, it turns out that they were having a 2-for-1 sale, so we ended up paying only $15 for two top-notch and enormous meals. We were pretty stuffed, which made us sleepy, so we checked out the price of a room. It was pretty inexpensive and still a very nice room, so we settled in.
October 16, 2019—664 miles
After an uneventful drive (stopping for gas—so much cheaper than in the Bay Area!—and meals), we found ourselves in Laramie, Wyoming at bedtime. The town was charming, with arty signs illustrating the cowboy culture and the Hollywood stars who’d played cowboys in the movies. We found an inexpensive motel, the closest to a dive that we stayed in the whole way. The landlord was congenial, and Elise picked up some interesting brochures about how a Laramie resident, Louisa Swain, cast the first ballot ever voted on by a woman in the USA, in 1870. Laramie was also home to the first female court bailiff in that same year, 1870. That same day, six women sat on a jury for the first time. In 1899, Laramie was home to the first female prison chaplain. This is a place that needs another visit.
October 17, 2019—629 miles
We drove all the way across Nebraska and stopped for the night in Des Moines, Iowa. We’d had the best hummus and pita of our lives in Hammond, Indiana (just outside Gary). This place also had an amazing model ship tucked away near the restrooms. According to the placard, it was an American warship, circa 1900, roughly 1/32 scale, and built by the previous owner of the restaurant. Apparently, they couldn’t figure how to get it out of the building, so they just left it there. Another notable event was when we stopped for gas in North Platte, Nebraska. It was one of those super stations with about 30 pumps and a huge shop. I went in to use the restroom and found that they had bidets! In a gas station restroom! The shop was like a combination of Walmart/Kmart and a local mom-n-pop, with sparkly dance costumes, indigenous-looking artifacts, and homemade fudge, all in the same place. I made Elise go in to look. I’ve never seen anything like it. The whole way across, we had great luck finding decent meals and hotels using a combination of Yelp and some sort of GPS on Elise’s phone. It never steered us wrong except on this night. We were feeling pretty pooped and it was about 11 p.m., so when we noticed a sign advertising a Denny’s we decided to pull in. Elise’s phone’s battery was low, and we could charge it up and find a hotel in one go. So when we saw the sign, we turned off the highway and plugged the address for the Denny’s into the GPS. We made a left and then another left, so we were headed back the way we’d come on a road parallel to the highway. The GPS (whom I’d named Fiona by this point) told us to turn left into a parking lot, which we did, and then she announced that we’d arrived. Well, we hadn’t. It was a huge parking lot. No signs, and barely any buildings. We drove around a bit with no luck. Lots of trucks, though. At last, we saw a human, gassing up his semi-truck, and we asked where the Denny’s was. “On the other side” says he. We should have asked “on the other side of what.” We did a little more driving around, and finally decided to park and go up to one of the small buildings that had a few lights on. Sure enough, when we got to the door, the Denny’s sign, barely lit, was just inside the door. It was hard to trust Fiona after that.
October 18, 2019—564 miles
We drove all the way across Iowa and Indiana, and then stopped for the night in Toledo, Ohio. We’d had lunch in Oberlin, Ohio, where they had a great vegan restaurant (downtown near the university). The place had lovely hand-crafted vegan cheeses and such, and a beautiful bar. We got the waitress to take our picture, but not much of the enormous bar made it into the shot. The leaves were beginning to turn…
October 19, 2019—424 miles
The last leg of the drive was to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where Elise’s parents live. They gave us a lovely tour of their charming home (Elise’s dad is quite the woodworker, and I wanted to steal all of the furniture he’d made) and we told stories of our trip.
October 20, 2019, Chambersburg, PA to Shenandoah’s Junction, West Virginia
We slept thoroughly and well, and I (finally) went for a run in the morning. It was a charming neighborhood, with the roads in lazy eights, so you can always find your way back, and big rolling yards. The leaves were just beginning to change and there was a slight drizzle, just the way I like it. I didn’t go more than 3 miles or so, though, because after all that sitting, my legs were a little rubbery. We headed off to pick up Julie from the airport and then to Elise’s sister’s place in Shenandoah’s Junction in West Virginia. Julie was tired from her trip, and we were all hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant that turned out to be part of a chain called Cava (that apparently has locations in Texas, Southern California, and the East Coast). It was one of those places where you pick from an array of elements and they assemble it as you walk through the cafeteria-style line. It was fast, inexpensive, and most importantly, had no trouble catering to two vegans! This was the first of two chain restaurants that we would get excited about while we were there. Elise’s sister Rita (and her husband Travers) live in what could be called a rural suburb. It wasn’t too far from main points of interest, and the folks who lived there had plenty of land and great scenery, including corn fields and cow pastures. Their home was large enough that we three travelers each had a private room without dislodging the original residents. The first point of order was to go to the grocery store. Rita had no idea how to feed a couple of vegans, so Julie and I did most of the cooking during our stay. We managed to not make too much of a mess, and we had a great time cooking together, too. Rita had every cooking utensil known to man and a huge and well-lit kitchen, so I was a very happy camper. (My kitchen is basically a tiny dark tunnel.) In the morning, we went off to get Julie’s rental guitar from a local music store, and when the owners found out that we were in town to perform, they set up another concert for us! Rita had scheduled some time off work and was an amazing tour guide, driving us all over the place and introducing us to things we might not have found on our own. We spent two days in Gettysburg, and part of a day in Harper’s Ferry and another part in Antietam. There are photos of these places in separate documents.
October 21, 2019, Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry
Again, we zoomed all around, our first day all together and rested, sight seeing and doing a little practicing for a concert the next day.
October 22, 2019
Pearls did a concert at a senior center in West Virginia, the one set up at the music shop the other day. It was a nice place and a decent crowd. Rita had convinced us that they would go nuts if we sang John Denver’s “Country Roads,” so we worked it up. They weren’t particularly excited. 12 They did ask a lot of questions about our repertoire, though, which goes from Landini and Palestrina to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, with pauses in British folk music and some American jazz. Something for everyone, we like to say.
October 23, 2019
It was time to head off to Julie’s family in Virginia, so off we popped. We paused in Maryland for a meal and met up with my friend Pamela Shraedley Desmond for lunch and sang for her a bit. The restaurant owner put us up on her Instagram account. It was pretty cute. We visited Julie’s dad in a fabulous retirement community. Acres and acres of land, activities, restaurants—just about anything you could want, and Julie’s dad has his own apartment, so all the privacy he could want or need as well. It was a very elegant place. We performed in the memory care center. Elise’s parents and her sister Rita came to see us, and we all went to lunch at the Silver Diner. (More on that in a moment.) We left Julie there with her dad, and Elise and I went to stay with Julie’s brother Halsey, and his wife and daughter. Again, a lovely home with room for us each to have a room to ourselves. This was in another semi-rural neighborhood, around which I ran a couple of times. (Photos elsewhere.) I think the most interesting thing about going to the east in October was that they seemed to be celebrating the whole season, not solely Halloween, as we do in the west. It was lovely to see people’s decorations celebrating the colors and the fading light. Again, there are pictures aplenty in another document.
October 24, 2019–Springfield Virginia
We picked Julie up early enough for breakfast, with a plan to go into Washington DC to see the Holocaust Museum, The check engine light came on in the car, and we took it into a place Julie’s dad recommended, leaving it there while we ate breakfast at the second wonderful chain for variety and good vegan food, the Silver Diner. The fixit place had said it would be $120 just to look a the car, so we spent some of the meal discussing what to do about that—probably any damage that had been done had been driving it cross-country. Just as we finished the meal, the place called to say our car was ready. When we got back there, they said that it was just due for an oil change, no charge. We were pretty grateful not to have to pay $120, so we sang for them. They put us up on Instagram too. 12 We headed out to the Holocaust Museum. It was very moving, and surprisingly full of people on a midweek day. Lots of out-of-towners, just like us, I suppose. I’m not going to describe what I saw or felt—you can find out about it here: https://hmlc.org/about-us/visit/virtual-tour/Julie had left early to see her niece’s soccer game, so Elise and I found another Cava to have dinner in, and then made our way back to Halsey’s place.
October 25, 2019—Springfield Virginia and Mount Vernon
Julie had plans with her dad, so Elise and I headed out to see Mount Vernon (photos in another document). It was very well documented for a self-tour, and the docents were informed and helpful. There were few other people there, but it was a lovely quiet retreat, and I can imagine why George Washington was happy there. I can also imagine why his 200+ slaves were not happy there. In the evening, we performed at a church Julie had grown up in. It was a lovely crowd—Julie’s dad and brother came to see us, and apparently everyone who’d known Julie as a child. They were so nice, it was nearly two hours after the concert before we were able to head for a meal and bed.
October 26, 2019, Virginia, Maryland, Texas, and California
In the morning, we headed off again. Julie and I to the airport, Elise back to her parent’s and to return the rented guitar. The flight was into the setting sun, so some of the land views were with some gorgeous colors. I’m pretty sure I saw the Grand Canyon, although it was mostly in shadow with just reflected light from the setting sun on it. Arriving home was odd, as there were still terrible fires in the area, so the sky was dark orange with smoke still. We Ubered to Elise’s house where my car awaited, and I drove Julie home and then myself. It was a lovely lovely trip and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’d love to spend more time driving across and stop and see things, and I’d love to spend more non-rehearsal/performance time with the girls of Pearls.