Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Weekend of the Rental Car, or How I Got Lost Everywhere I Drove in California

This past weekend, I rented a car on a whim. The inception of this idea went something like this:

Me: uhhh, I don't know what to do this weekend. Maybe I should just rent a car and drive around.
Andy: Oh, look, Hertz has super cheap cars this weekend.


I was supposed to have a compact car but instead wound up with a Toyota Corolla, which is quite a bit larger than your typical compact. The larger size of the car will be relevant later in the story.

I had a vague framework of destinations in mind - Palo Alto to visit my friend Jakub, San Jose to see my friend Diana, and some sort of viewing of redwood trees. Also, since I was so close, I also decided to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Google. Mostly, I just wanted to embrace the California highway culture and explore the land beyond Livermore.

On the way to Google, I stopped at NASA Ames Exploration Center to geek out over space travel and to bask in the excitement of the Curiosity landing.

Almost my shoe size?

Just down the road was the place where all of the magic happens...


I don't know what I was expecting (maybe armed guards or a labyrinth of mind games at the entrance?), but it was pretty cool that you could just drive around the campus. If I had some time, I probably could have even ridden around on a GOOGLE BIKE.

It's like seeing a unicorn or something.

After a quick lunch at a taqueria in Mountain View and a stop at the Stanford shopping mall, I visited my high school friend Jakub who is a grad student at Stanford in chemical engineering. En route to campus, I stumbled upon the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts, which very much reminded me of Arts Fest in State College. Lots of roads were closed off in the downtown because of this festival, and I got super disoriented and mildly lost. Eventually, I found my way to campus. Apparently the mall where I was shopping was adjacent to the campus. I did not know this at the time. Oops!

Stanford's campus is HUGE and absolutely gorgeous. I saw the brand-spanking new engineering labs and even managed to find the materials science building.

Ta da! 

In the main quad, we stopped by the beautiful Stanford Memorial Church. Check out the gorgeous mosaic on the front.

Proof that I didn't just take these pictures from the internet.

That night, I grabbed dinner with Diana, a friend of mine from my REU at Lehigh a few years back, and her boyfriend in San Jose. Again, I missed my exit at least ten times, but I finally made it to downtown San Jose. We ate at a Thai place just adjacent to the San Jose State campus. Then I drove back to Livermore and passed out for the night.

The next day, I decided to venture out of the 'burbs and get in touch with nature at Muir Woods. The journey to Muir Woods was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. 180 degree turns? 45 degree inclines? Blind corners? The drive up to Muir Woods has it all!

The longest 500 ft elevation in my ENTIRE LIFE.

I think my crowning driving achievement was turning around on a road that was barely wide enough for two cars, with no guard rail, and parallel parking on a 20 degree grade along the side of the road. If I can do that, I can do ANYTHING. The drive was completely worth it, though, as I got to see these trees!

 That tree is gigantic.

On the way home, I drove through Sausalito, which has cute, quaint, nautical seaside charm a la Cape Cod. I topped off the day by getting horribly lost in San Francisco. This resulted in me driving around the Presidio for half an hour before inadvertently driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. I took a picture while driving. This is obviously super safe and probably voids some sort of agreement on my rental car.

Surprise! It's a bridge!

This time, I got super lost, and after freaking out a little (okay, a lot), I finally stopped at a Walgreens where a nice lady with an iPhone helped me with directions and a Russian woman thrust an atlas at me and insisted that I take it before I drove off. So now I have a U.S. Atlas, which will probably come in handy given how many times I got lost.

When I returned the car, I discovered that I had put 288 miles on it over the course of the weekend. I am fairly certain that I drove on pretty much every road in northern CA that ends in "80." It was a great experience. I think I'm really starting to like California. :)

Cheers for now! Have a great rest of the week, kids!

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