From Sea to Shining Sea
After spending most of my adult life living in Asia, I’m going to celebrate a milestone birthday this year. What better way than to re-discover my own country and visit places I always wanted to see? Like falling leaves, it’s time for me to return to my roots this fall!
A milestone birthday and the accumulation of enough miles to cash in on a round-trip Business Class ticket across the Pacific Ocean was happy coincidence.
I hadn’t been back to the United States in about four years, and I hadn’t been back to my hometown in at least 15 years.
I started fantasizing about traveling across the United States, visiting some of the many places that I had always wanted to see.
Much of my initial inspiration came from a charming couple, Pat and Pete, who had driven across the United States along the Lincoln Highway. I followed their exploits on Facebook.
A major obstacle was that my driver’s license had expired years earlier.. Could I replicate their experience on public transport?
First, I purchased a thick travel guide called Eyewitness Travel Guide USA (I like guides with lots of maps, pictures, and diagrams).
I also started scouring the web pages of Amtrak, which I found both inspiring and frustrating.
Eventually, I also started reaching out to the tourism boards of some of the cities I was hoping to visit.
This introduction was written on 12 March 2019, as I set about tidying up the posts I had already written and filling in the many gaps that needed to be filled in.
The following Prologue was written in 2016, when I first started planning this trip. I have left it as is even though the trip slowly started evolving in a different direction to what I had originally planned
Open Jaw Ticket to Sunny California
I had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to fly Business Class from Hong Kong, where I live, to the West Coast of the United States, where I am from, and if I didn’t cash them in now, they would expire.
I had several options. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided that rather than cashing in my miles on a series of shorter trips or economy class trips, I’d rather blow all 120,000 miles of them on a Cathay Pacific Airways Business Class flight from Hong Kong to California.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, and I wanted to go home in style.
So I’ve booked an “open jaw” ticket, which means I’ll enter through San Francisco and return by way of Los Angeles. You can do that at no extra charge so long as the fares are the same.
How to Accumulate Enough Miles to Fly for Free
If you’re wondering how I had managed to accumulate so many miles, it wasn’t really all that hard.
But it wasn’t because I’m a travel blogger. I don’t really fly enough to rack up that many miles before they expire.
It’s because I’ve got a credit card that awards miles on most of the things I purchase using it, and they DO pile up!
I basically charge as much as I can on it – such as supermarket purchases. And when I dine out or go drinking with friends, I often charge the bill using my credit card and ask them to reimburse me for their share in cash.
Together with the one or two trips I pay for each year, I can easily accumulate enough miles to cash in on a trip from Hong Kong to Bali within 10 to 12 months, which would otherwise run me about US$500.
Since I held off this time, waiting three or four years, I was able to accumulate enough miles to cash in on a round trip business class ticket from Hong Kong to the West Coast of North America.
I did the math, and you really do get more value for your miles if you hold off and cash them in on a Business Class rather than an economy class ticket.
A key element of this strategy is that you MUST pay your bill in full each month. Otherwise, you will be slammed by interest and late fees.
The City (San Francisco)
Back to my trip … As I was saying, I will fly in by way of San Francisco and out by way of Los Angeles.
I will want to spend a few weeks in Northern California on my way in, because that is where was born, and that is where I grew up.
Needless to say, I want to reconnect with old friends still living in the Bay Area. I want to re-visit old haunts. San Francisco – a city I haven’t been to in nearly 20 years – will be my first stop.
I want to see how the waterfront has changed. As a dedicated foodie, I am particularly interested in finding out how the Ferry Building turned out.
I also look forward to riding a street car along The Embarcadero, which I hear is now a beautifully landscaped boulevard.
Do the seals still hang out at Pier 39?
I want to check out South of Market. I want to attend a Giants game at AT&T Park. I want to see how the Chinese food in Chinatown compares to the Chinese food in Hong Kong.
The Town (Oakland)
After spending a few days exploring San Francisco, I want to head across the Bay Bridge to see how much my home town – which is now commonly referred to as “The Town” – has changed (hopefully for the better).
Will I be like Gertrude Stein, who – after spending several years in Paris – returned to Oakland, where she had grown up, and was disappointed that everything had changed?
“There’s no there, there,” the novelist, poet, and playwright famously said during her brief visit home.
Her observation wasn’t meant as a put-down, but that was how it was interpreted, and Oakland never lived it down.
What Gertrude really meant was that a place she had remembered from her childhood was no longer there. She referred to it as “there” because she didn’t have a name for it.
So I’m wondering about the house I grew up in – will it still be there? How about the grocery store down the street, Casper’s Hot Dogs on MacArthur Blvd, Hooper’s Chocolates on Telegraph Avenue, the Kwik-way Drive-in on Lakeshore Blvd (or was it Grand?) …
Small Town America
Then I will want to make my way across the United States and see all the places I always wanted to see and do all the things I always wanted to do – or at least as many of them as possible.
I have yet to work out an exact itinerary, but I am thinking about taking the California Zepher from Oakland to Chicago, making a few stops at cities and towns along the way.
I’ve always been fascinated by Small Town America and would love to make stops at some out-of-the-way towns that you don’t read about in the glossy travel brochures – places with exotic names such as Winnemucca, Nevada.
And what about Galesburg, Illinois?
I picked Galesburg at random because on the Amtrak System Map it appears to be at the confluence of seven railway lines, and yet I’ve never even heard of the place.
How could a place be so strategically located and yet never warrant a mention on the 6 o’clock news?
So the trip that would take about 60 hours if I traveled straight through, might take several days.
After spending a couple of nights in the Windy City, the Eastern Seaboard is definitely on my bucket list.
I would love to visit Boston. Could I to take in a baseball game at Fenway Park. Will the Oakland Raiders be playing the New England Patriots?
Actually, I’ve been thinking that – as an avid sports fan – I’d like to take in as many games as possible in my round-trip across the country. And since it will be football season, that will probably mean the NFL.
The Big Apple
From Boston, I’d like to head to the Big Apple to re-visit some of my old haunts (I lived in New York City for three years) and maybe meet some of my Facebook buddies in person.
Chinese food, perhaps? As I recall it, New York had some of the best – and some of the worst – Chinese food I’ve ever had. And I’ve heard about what sounds like a fascinating Pizza Crawl through Brooklyn.
Should I take the subway to Sheep’s Head Bay for a bagel at that 24-hour bagel shop across the street from the subway station? I can’t remember its name. Will the place still be there.
Then I’d like to check out Philly, Baltimore, and DC. One of the things about publishing my series of travel guides for Oakland Raiders fans is that I’ve been tempted to actually visit some of the places I’ve written about!
If it’s not to far out of the way, I’d also like to see Charleston, South Carolina. Would I want to retire there? I’ve heard it’s a great place to spend your twilight years.
Country Music, Rock’n’Roll, and Dixieland Jazz
As a big fan of country music, I can’t bypass Blue Grass Country. I’ve got to visit the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and Graceland in Memphis.
I’ve heard it’s not nearly as tacky as you might expect. Maybe I can also hook up with some of my Raider buddies while I’m in Tennessee!
And speaking of Tennessee, should I take a riverboat from Memphis down the Mississippi to New Orleans? Or a Greyhound Bus?
Either way, I can NOT miss The Big Easy! If I have to trim down my list, Nola will definitely be one of the last places to go.
From Louisiana, I’ll make my way back to California. Hopefully my trip back to the Golden State will include a stop in the Grand Canyon and Monument National Park.
What about Phoenix or Texas? I’ve got some Raider buddies in both places!
Can I do all of this in 70 days? Am I biting off more than I can chew? Referring to my interactive Amtrak map, I’m starting to get a bit confused.
You can’t connect all of the dots the way I would have imagined. In fact, some of the places I’d like to visit don’t even seem to be connected by train.
There are some obvious omissions in the aforementioned itinerary: I’ve always wanted to see Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.
But I’ve looked at the map, and they both seem a bit out of the way. Would it be really be worth a detour of several hundred miles to take a selfie in front of the six-storey high stone carving of four U.S. presidents?
What about Detroit? Should I make a stop there on my way between Chicago and Boston?
I have ALWAYS been a big fan of Motown. It’s the music I listen to most on YouTube. Is a visit to Motor City warranted?
And what about Niagara Falls? Does it really live up to all the hype? Everyone says the Canadian side is better than the American side. But they say the same thing about the Canadian Rockies …
For personal reasons, I want this trip to all about the United States. Perhaps on a future trip (another milestone birthday?), I can travel across Canada. My mother was, after all, born in Newfoundland.
Anyway, nothing has been written in stone. I’ve got five months to figure things out. But I also know how quickly time can fly. Before I know it, I will be packing my bags and calling a taxi to take me to Hong Kong International Airport.
And part of me would prefer to just get off the plane at SFO and spend the entire time chilling out in California.
There’s the wine country, the Gold Country, the national parks, Highway One, the Seven Mile Drive …
Not to mention five Major League Baseball teams …
Surely there is enough there to keep me occupied – and happy – for the entire fall.
Your Feedback Wanted!
Would love to hear your suggestions of places I should (or should not) see and things I should (or should not) do.
Maybe I can also get the chance to meet some of you along the way!
Please leave comments in the COMMENT box below.
This is the first post in a series on my epic journey, 70 Days Across America.