Bloated, round-bellied white sea horses.
This is a sea dragon. It evolved over millions of years to fool other animals into thinking it is merely a piece of drifting seaweed. I guess they forgot that lots of things eat seaweed.

We arrived at the Baltimore Aquarium at ten after five and were able to purchase tickets to get into the Aquarium at 7:45pm. A scintillating two and a half hours of gift shop browsing followed. The Great Fish Museum was a phantasmagoria of ocean life. Highlights included the seahorse exhibit (see left), the poisonous frogs (Baltimore Aquarium! More than just fish!) and the ray tank, which had a spotted eagle ray among its inhabitants.

Aside from fish, Baltimore's most prominent feature on the evening in question was bad driving. I couldn't even begin to describe the circus of incompetence we witnessed as one man's determination to–against all odds–parallel park caused a chain of traffic violations that will probably continue, domino-style, until they are finally stopped by the heat death of the universe. Let's just say this: even though we only saw him parking, he was still a worse driver than the man we later saw hit a bicyclist in the middle of downtown. The bicyclist was okay, and saved himself from further injury by apologizing to the crazed skinhead who burst out of the car to berate his victim.

The end result of Maryland driving.
The carnage, oh, the carnage.

Annapolis has the worst traffic in all of history, anywhere in the world. Half of the permanent resident population of Annapolis is actually people sitting in their cars waiting to drive over the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge. It is so bad that people will intentionally ram their cars into other cars just to give them both an excuse to pull out of traffic.

So why did we drive over the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge? Because the road trip is as much about food as it is about spending thousands of dollars on crappy hotel rooms, and one high and mighty goal was to visit one of those Maryland crab houses where you sit at a big table covered in brown paper and people dump buckets of crabs in front of you, which you smash open with a hammer. Then you eat them. Mmmmm mmmm, good. The one place I was certain we'd find such a place was in Ocean City, so we sat through hours of abysmal Maryland traffic, baking in the sun, wearing out the Shark's clutch. The place we were headed wasn't on the way. It wasn't nearby. All told, it was at least two hundred miles out of the way. But I knew that in Ocean City I would find Hooper's, the biggest crab house of them all. A huge, airplane hangar-sized barn of a restaurant that could churn out hundred of crabs every minute. For a crab aficionado, it was a dreamlike paradise that fully justified driving a couple hundred miles out of our way, sitting in stop-and-go traffic for over five hours. Finally, finally, we saw the sign for Hooper's. At last, the great crab smash feast was upon us.

This is what we found:  

Hooper's had burned down. To the ground. Or rather, to the water. As it happens, it had burned down earlier this year, on the day after my birthday.

The moral of the story: before driving two hundred miles to a restaurant, call ahead. As you can see from the picture (above left), we did get to smash crabs after all, at Sneaky Pete's. It's the tiny little shack sitting on the burned out remains of the greatest crab restaurant of all time. Soon, Hooper's will rise like the mighty Phoenix. Soon, my precious...

In other news, here's an interesting fact: if you drive into Delaware from the south at nine o'clock at night, you can still make it out the north end before midnight, and have time to stop for a cappuccino on the way. This is not speculation; we know this for a fact.

It all started here sixty-five years ago with some leftover top round and a bottle of Cheese Whiz.
Geno's is across the street from Pat's. It's only been there for thirty years. The debate rages as to which is better.

The place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The mission: five sandwiches in two days. Dirk is a cheesesteak nut, so Philadelphia was set to be his Mecca. In addition, Adam swore by the tuna hoagie at Lee's Hoagies, and The Meat Cookbook swore by Tony Luke's as the best roast pork sandwich in the land. So, we had a lot of sandwiches to eat. This is not helped by the fact that Philadelphia doesn't actually have any sandwich shops downtown; they're all scattered around the suburbs. And Philadelphia has a lot of suburbs. It's almost as bad as L.A. So, to get from sandwich shop A to sandwich shop B took a long time as we crisscrossed the city over and over again.

It turns out that the cheesesteaks in Philly are terrible. Geno's, which along with Pat's across the street are the two most famous cheesesteak places, makes a cheesesteak by squirting Cheese Whiz (I'm not kidding) onto a piece of shoe leather (I'm kidding here, but you get the idea). Dalessandro's, which supposedly has the best cheesesteaks in Philly (according to CitySearch), did not have any bell peppers. For those of you not intimately familiar with the cheesesteak, it only has six possible ingredients: meat, cheese, bread, and optionally bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. How do you run out of one of your six ingredients at noon on a Monday, in the middle of the lunch rush? Dave's Steaks (Adam's recommendation) were dry, like the rest of them, because they only used a little tiny amount of cheese along with a huge swath of dry meat. In this situation, we actually longed for the Cheese Whiz.

In the end, I recommend you go to Jersey Joe's in Belmont, CA. Their cheesesteak is as good as any in Philly, and certainly better than any we tried.

On the other hand, the hoagies at Lee's Hoagies were pretty good, and the roast pork at Tony Luke's was excellent.

In between stuffing our faces every four hours, we tried to find things to do. The things to see in Philadelphia are the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and Independence Hall was sold out for the day. In between that and driving hither and thither, we were exhausted, so we went to a movie. We saw Minority Report. It was pretty good.

Augh! I can't handle the pressure!
Huh huh, he said "doody." Huh huh.

We were driving innocently along Route 70 past Fort Dix in New Jersey when it came: the deafening thunder of a military helicopter as it appeared from nowhere, its thumping rotors like the terrible heartbeat of the Grim Reaper! There was nowhere to turn! Like an olive drab eagle it descended upon us, machine guns glinting in the sun! The flying death machine turned its evil glass eyes toward our car! It came straight at us! Then it flew past us an into the distance! So I guess it wasn't really that threatening after all!

The Jersey Shore delivered all the Boardwalk fun you could want, unless you're a greedy pig, always wanting more fun, more fun! Point Pleasant had a Fun House, which was worth the five dollar admission charge simply for the four minutes of air conditioning it provided, and for the fact that Dirk went down the slide. It also had a hallway full of rubber butts set into the floor that you could step on to create a melody of fart noises, which is exactly the sort of life-enriching entertainment that kids today are missing out on with their Nintendos and their Britney Spearses. But my favorite part was the animatronic, morbidly obese, red negilee-wearing prostitute who cackles at you as you go by. I understand the mirror maze, the blacklight room, the hallway with the shifing floor, but what the hell? An artificially animated four hundred pound hooker? Did I wander into the House of Horror by accident?

We also stopped at the arcade to try out the bear claw game, which I cleverly defeated by using the claw to push the desired object instead of lifting it. It only cost a couple of bucks to obtain the Eric Cartman-as-cop doll that we coveted. It took us less than a week to lose him somewhere in New England, but at least we defeated the machine. We also played some crooked skeeball, winning enough tickets to obtain a "water bomb" mini football and a small plastic airplane that was manufactured, poorly, in China.

Asbury Park. I'm not sure "Palace" is strong enough to capture the grandeur.
Hey look! It's the same guy from the Asbury Park Palace! Looks like he had
some highlights done.

Here are two things you cannot do in New Jersey: pump your own gas, and turn left. I don't think the gas pumping is a safety issue; I can't recall a single incidence of a service station being obliterated by the careless refueling of a non-professional. The only reason I can imagine for this eccentric law is to create jobs for the underskilled (read: teenagers), for which I have just one word: communist! So, it's official; New Jersey is full of Commies. And all of the left turns are done from the right lane, using a weird little side road, like at the Stanford Shopping Center. I guess Commies don't like left turns. But they looove traffic circles.

On our second day on the New Jersey Shore, we stopped at a very different kind of Boardwalk: Asbury Park. We pulled over just long enough to snap a few pictures, and while Dirk was off getting a few shots of the beach, a disembodied voice warned, "If there's anything in that car, I wouldn't leave it there." I turned, but no one was there. Woo-eeee-ooo. We did not leave the car unattended, and we left with all of our possessions.

Depressing, abandoned, disembodied-voice-cautioning Boardwalks are fine and good, but they're no Coney Island. We enjoyed some Coney Island hot dogs at the original Nathan's, played more crooked skeeball, and this time won enough tickets for a paper fan, a plastic backscratcher, and a shiny sticker with a picture of an armadillo on it. Dirk also displayed his lightning-quick reflexes by winning a Chef (South Park, again) Squeezie keychain from a blinking-light game. Coney Island also set the record for most expensive postcards at a whopping one dollar apiece. It did rain heavily, but thankfully briefly, while we were there. My greatest regret is that the Freak Show is closed on Tuesdays.

A final word of caution to anyone considering driving in New Jersey. People there seem to think that pulling up on the right shoulder at a red light and passing you in the intersection is not only legal, but gives them the right of way. This wasn't an isolated incident; this happened at least three times in New Jersey. If you don't yield to them, they will swear at you. Here's a tip, Jersey friends: if you don't want people to think you drive like assholes, at least try not to get abusive when you are too slow to pull off your bizarre, illegal driving maneuver.

The Statue seen from Battery Park.
Downtown seen from the observation
deck of the Empire State Building.
The Empire State Building seen from Bleecker Street.

We stayed in Jersey City, gambling the possible theft of our car against saving $100 a night. It also gave us the chance to experience the Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) light rail train into Manhattan. The cost to send two people round-trip from the Journal Square Transportation Center into Manhattan and back was the same as the toll to drive over a bridge into the city ($6), but with slightly less terror. First, though, we had lunch at Five Brothers Pizza, where you can get a really good sub sandwich, or roast chicken legs at a very economical $1 each, or for the more adventurous, quail with barley for three dollars.

We did go to Ground Zero when we got to Manhattan, because we just had to see it for ourselves. My only comment is about a sign hanging on the perimeter fence, which says "Liberty Street Open to the Public," and my comment is that someone had written my name on that sign. They even spelled it the way I do, which is really uncommon. That was kind of freaky.

We saw the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park, and all of Manhattan (and most of the other boroughs, some of upstate, and part of New Jersey) from the top of the Empire State Building. Two facts about the Empire State Building: the view from the top is amazing, and the basement is painted bright yellow. Go in the middle of the day; we went around 5:30 in the afternoon, and we only waited in line for about fifteen minutes, but by the time we left, the lines had easily tripled.

As you may recall, a member of New Jersey's Bergen County Harley Davidson riders told us back in Amarillo, Texas, that the best pizza in New York is at John's on Bleecker Street. You don't just ignore a recommendation like that, so we caught a cab to John's. (We tried to take the subway, but the train we were on was stopped indefinitely for a "medical emergency." I can't be certain, but I believe that was code for "someone jumped in front of the subway." Anyway, back to the pizza.) Apparently, a lot of people agree with our Harley friend; in addition it the various award clipping in the front window, a whole line of people waiting to get inside testified to the finetude of John's pizza. Try a pie with just sausage, you won't regret it– unless of course you're a Hindu and get reincarnated as a liver fluke for eating meat. It's really good, but I'm not sure it's reincarnated-as-a-liver-fluke good. You know you're in the classiest joint in town when they have autographed pictures of Bruno Kirby and Vanilla Ice.

Now, John's Pizzeria was good, really good, but the tiramisu ice cream at Cones next door was amazing. I don't even like ice cream and I wanted to buy a second cone. Damn, that was some good ice cream. I don't care if you're a lactose-intolerant anorexic vegan, you have got to try the tiramisu ice cream at Cones, next to John's on Bleecker Street, between 6th and 7th.

And that ended our one-day tour of Manhattan.