Atlanta, GA & Knoxville, TN: April 5th – April 15th

Atlanta, GA: April 5th – April 10th 

After spending a whole week in Fort Lauderdale constantly in the presence of 15 other people, I suffered from the culture shock of only having Tanaja and Conner around as well as a mild case of post-spring-break depression. But, as I’ve learned many times in the past year, you always have to keep moving forward, and I did so quite literally by once again packing up Ro-Shell and taking off for Atlanta, GA.

Most of my time in Atlanta was spent getting my life back in order after a chaotic Spring Break. I emptied the sand out of my bags, did heaps of laundry, reconnected with the people I’d been neglecting and got myself to a gym stat after 9 days of 0 workouts and way too much junk food and beer. In between all of that I also got in some much-needed relaxation time by watching several movies and sleeping A LOT.

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cookie dough –  the only thing I’ve ever found that can compete with my love for ice cream

Despite the need to take some time for practical things, I definitely didn’t want to miss out on my opportunity to explore Atlanta. I spent a whole evening driving around Atlanta (having a chase car is a beautiful thing) and making stops at major sights like Centennial Olympic Park, the botanical garden, Buckhead and Ponce City Market. At Ponce City Market I finally found a long-awaited place called Batter that serves scoops of cookie dough like ice cream – it definitely lived up to the hype. I also spent a night after work at Kennesaw Mountain, which is an awesome hike with great views of the Atlanta skyline as well as cool memorials as it is a preserved Civil War Battlefield.

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Just a-nut-a day on the job!

We also got to hang out with some cool people in Atlanta. Elise’s sister Madi – who is basically like my younger sister now too – lives in nearby Auburn and met up with us for dinner at Atlanta’s famous Juke Joint restaurant. I tried chicken and waffles for the second time on the road and liked them much better this time, and it was also really nice to catch up with Mads. We also worked at Walmart one day with a touring MLB event that allowed us to play the MLB: The Show video game as well as be drawn by a caricature artist. We spent a long time talking to their crew about life on the road and mutual places we’d all been, and I thought it was really cool how we were able to form such an instant connection because of our similar experiences.

Knoxville, TN: April 10th – April 15th 

After a quick five days in Atlanta, we headed to Knoxville for what was to be another short five-day stay. We were staying at a Candlewood Suites, which are always risky because they can range from totally sketchy to some of the nicest hotels. This one may not have qualified as ‘totally sketchy,’ but it was pretty dumpy and, if you’re easily scared like me, the type of establishment where you have to sleep with the lights on. It didn’t help when we went to see the new thriller, A Quiet Place, which was a great movie but definitely made me feel extremely anxious the entire time.

To escape our creepy hotel, Conner and I took a day-trip to the Great Smoky Mountains where we did the Alum Cave Trail that took us up mountains, over bridges and creeks, and through caves and bluffs. While on the trail we met a nice older guy who told us all about the rare birds we could see on the hike as well as about the “eye of the needle” which was a perfect hole at the tip of one of the mountains in the distance. This guy was not only really knowledgeable and friendly, but he also was seamlessly climbing the mountain while Conner and I were sweating profusely and struggling to keep up. I hope I can be that fit and cool when I’m in my 70’s.

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shoutout to Conner for climbing a rock to take this pic of me

When we weren’t hiking or being sketched out by our hotel, we explored the downtown area, which had some college-town vibes since Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee. We ate at a great Tapas restaurant one night where Tanaja claims she had the best burger of her life, and we also saw some live country music at an outdoor bar. All in all, Knoxville was a really cute city.

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I’m not a huge country fan, but I can appreciate any kind of cool live music

Spring Break was the last big milestone of my year, and though I’ve been aware of its rapid approach, during my weeks in Atlanta and Knoxville it really started to sink in that the end was near. A lot of people I work with were already seriously looking for new jobs, including both of my partners, and I felt like I had to make the choice to either coast through the rest of this job and start focusing on the future or to fully enjoy the time I have left and worry about what comes next later. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely thinking about the future, but I also want to make the most of the time I have – or at least that’s my excuse for being lazy and unmotivated about the job hunt. So it looks as though I’ll be unemployed for a while post-peanut; please hit me up if you have an open couch for me to live on!

Stay tuned, there’s fortuNUTly still more!

Spring Break (Fort Lauderdale, FL): March 27th – April 4th

Overall, I had an awesome college experience – I had great friends, interesting classes and more good times than I can count. But there were a few things that I always wanted to do but never got around to during my four years of college, which is why I’m glad I’ve had this last nutty hoorah before entering the “real world.” One thing I never had was a wild college Spring Break, but luckily for me, our program has a break in the spring that is traditionally used for a week-long vacation within our year-long vacation. And where better to take a week-long Spring Break with your fellow food-shaped truck drivers than the lovely Fort Lauderdale, Florida?

We were able to get 16 out of our 21 staff members down to Fort Littydale and packed ourselves into an airbnb that was just big enough to fit all of us, though barely. Although it was cramped and I hardly had a moment’s privacy all eight days, I loved our house. It was actually two small houses that were filled with as many beds and futons that could feasibly fit. In between the houses was our very own inground pool (which Liam “King of the Pool” Sullivan ceremoniously jumped into each night), a hammock, and a grill. Our house also came with a pet – a stray cat who, no matter how much we yelled and shooed, refused to leave and ended up winning us over by the end of the week.

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the best pic of our house that I have ft. some of the crew

The majority of our days were spent on the beach, which, as you all know, is my favorite place to hang out. From long walks on the beach to jumping the waves to destroying college amateurs in sand volleyball, I love the lazy and carefree vibes of beach days. We also had a beach photoshoot where all the girls wore yellow swimsuits (the mutual color in Planters and Oscar Mayer) and the boys wore Hawaiian shirts and cyclops sunglasses. Another thing I wasn’t part of in college was a sorority, but doing cute matchy things with the Peaners feels like the closest to greek life that I’ve ever been.

While Fort Lauderdale was a good time, some of us also spent a day in neighboring Miami. There are certain cities in the U.S. that stand out as being truly unique (NOLA, San Antonio and San Diego for example) and Miami is definitely one of them. We spent the day exploring the streets, the famous Miami South Beach and the Versace mansion (Conner, Tanaja and I have been watching American Crime Story so we were really excited about this). At night, we went to the Demi Lovato concert, where my Hotdogger pal Connor Gray and I befriended a ticket lady and upgraded our seats from the last row of the nosebleeds to the 11th row from the stage. It was a finesse of legendary proportions, and on top of that, Demi was amazing and even brought out Luis Fonsi to sing Despacito.

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Just one of many pics that will be featured in our truck driver swimsuit calendar

It wouldn’t be your typical Spring Break without some partying, and we did plenty of that too. Most of our nights started with playing drinking games out by our pool and then moved to Capone’s – we quickly discovered this was the most fun bar – where we consistently had the best dance circle. One night we stayed in and held a beer olympics where we were assigned to teams to compete in drinking games such as beer pong and boom cup. I happened to be on the winning team, Rosie and the Rippers, with my fellow Badger Dom and the Black&Mild-ripping Rosie, and taking the beer olympics gold is one of my proudest accomplishments to date. We also had a Peanutter outing and did a cycle party, which if you’re unfamiliar, is a pub on wheels that you pedal from bar to bar. The biking was honestly pretty tough – especially the more we drank – but it was a fun way to do a bar crawl and definitely something to check off my bucket list.

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nuttin’ compares to a Peaner party

Other than that, we were honestly all just happy to have so many free days to spend together and we filled them with random activities. We had several family meals including brunch and a sushi buffet – which I previously didn’t know existed but was life-changing – and we also took turns cooking big breakfasts and dinners for the whole group. We also spent a lot of time at an outdoor coffee shop called The Alchemist that was in a neat area with cool shops and murals. Our airbnb conveniently provided us with a bunch of bikes, which we made great use of as we explored the city and went on grocery or alcohol runs. Spring Break was also over Easter, and though I was sad to miss a holiday with my family, but I got to shellebrate with my Peans and Wiens family by dying Easter eggs.

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a bunch of dogs and some eggs

For a huge group of people who have only ever spent a few weeks in person together, us Peanutters and Hotdoggers are actually very well-connected. Because we are the only people who truly understand the day-to-day life of each other, we communicate a lot via text, GroupMe and Snapchat, and we’re always aware of where each team is and what cool things they’re up to. Still, we rarely get to all be together, and when we are, we typically are racing from meeting to meeting, struggling to keep up with our bosses’ rigorous itinerary. After ten months of watching each others’ adventures from afar, it was awesome to get to have eight whole days to travel and make our own experiences with each other. I’m so grateful for so much about this job, but the people it’s allowed me to surround myself with definitely take the cake.

Nuttin’ but more wild adventures from the fa-nut-astic final stretch coming your way. Cashew soon!

 

Tallahassee, FL: March 19th – March 27th

People often ask me how I find things to do when I’m on the road. At first, I had no idea how to go about it, especially when I genuinely had no prior knowledge of the city I’m in. After nearly 10 months on the road, I’ve developed a process that I’m confident you’ll find highly technical and insightful. 1) Ask for recommendations either from someone from the area or from someone who has visited it. Luckily for me, I’m part of a huge network of people who have traveled the country, so finding the latter is usually easy. 2) Check Instagram and see where people have tagged photos in the city or what’s featured on the city’s page. Apps like Yelp are helpful too! 3) Simply google it and browse through lists like “Top 10 Things To Do in Tallahassee.”

The other thing that’s important to keep in mind when finding things to do is, of course, what you actually like to do. I personally enjoy walking around a cool area, exploring and seeing what I stumble upon. For Tallahassee, I couldn’t find any recommendations or info from Instagram so I resorted to the lists which first led me to Florida State University, where I spent several hours strolling around the campus. I won’t say for the millionth time on this blog how much I like college campuses, but I will say that FSU is a gorgeous school and it has officially been added to my list of potential grad schools. Even though I love Madison, I couldn’t believe people could be so lucky to attend school in what felt like a tropical paradise.

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Maclay Garden – pretty majestic, even for a Tuesday

My research also led me to Maclay Garden, which is an old home and elaborate garden that was given to Florida as a state park. Conner and I walked around the grounds’ brick paths that were lined with beautiful trees and plants and enjoyed seeing all of the different places they led us. We came to a sign that said “No Trespassing – Employees Only,” but Conner and I – who have been known for skillfully breaking into places like Coit Tower and our own NUTmobile several times – did not let that stop us. What resulted was us exploring hidden, back paths and hiding from employees in the trees so we wouldn’t get in trouble. We’re probably too old to be doing things like this, but it was honestly really fun.

FSU and the gardens were the only things I found in Tallahassee that really peaked my interest, and I was okay with that. Most weeks I try and make sure I see and do as much as possible, but Tallahassee was right in between NOLA and Ft. Lauderdale (a.k.a. Spring Break #1 and #2) and I wanted to take advantage of the chill time while I had it. The rest of the week was spent relaxing and preparing for Fort Lauderdale, other than work of course.

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In the back of a VW bus at one of our events. Pretty neat, but still not as cool as a NUTmobile.

Most of our events for the week were at Walmart, which has become much too typical for the Central team’s liking, but we did work one exceptional event: The Peanut Proud Festival in Blakely, GA. Ten years ago, Blakely suffered a terrible storm that destroyed their crops, and they were afraid their economy wouldn’t bounce back. However, thanks to the miraculous peanut, it did, and they created the Peanut Proud Festival as a way to honor the legume. The whole town participates by painting their own peanut cut-outs and displaying them outside their homes/businesses. The festivities begin with a parade around town square, where a banner exclaiming “Eat More P-Nuts” majestically hangs. The festival afterward served peanut-related foods like PB ice cream and grilled PB sandwiches, and featured several popular country bands and an appearance from their congressman, who gave a passionate speech about peanuts. In my opinion, Blakely was beyond peanut proud and borderlining peanut worship, and honestly, I loved every second of it.

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The first and only peanut statue I’ve seen to date.

 

When I started this job, a lot of members of the old class told us that the “lifestyle” of living on the road takes awhile to master. I didn’t know what they meant by that for a long time, but I’ve definitely figured it out this half. Even though my first half out west was a blast and a half, there’s no way I could’ve kept up that way of life without going broke and gaining a ton of weight (haha). This half my weeks haven’t usually been jam-packed with excitement, but I’ve been a lot better at working out consistently, keeping in touch with friends and family, saving money and cooking for myself. It may not be quite as carefree and jam-packed with good times as out west, but my life has been much more balanced this half, which I think is what mastering the on-the-road lifestyle is all about.

More sweet & salty Sunshine State stories soon!

NOLA & Baton Rouge, LA: March 11th – March 19th

Everyone has their opinion of what makes a city great, but for me, it has to be well-rounded. By that I mean that the cities I like most offer a little bit of everything: sight-seeing, beauty, food and night life, to name a few. Other than the fact that New Orleans has a distinct culture and is by far the most unique city in the U.S. that I’ve yet to see, I think the main reason I loved it so much was that my week there was, as one would say, well-rounded.

On top of that, there were a few special circumstances that made my week in NOLA that much better. First, by the grace of God and an even higher power, my boss, our team had four days off in a row, giving us plenty of time to enjoy NOLA. Second, we stayed five minutes from the French Quarter in a duplex owned by a past-Hotdogger named Caitlin. Two of the current Hotdoggers, Jackie and EJ, were also staying in Caitlin’s side of the duplex while we stayed in the guest side. What resulted was similar to an episode of Friends, with all six of us roaming freely in and out of both sides of the house – it was a shell of a time.

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My wiener wives Caitlin, EJ and Jackie. No, we don’t practice bunogamy.

I have to tell you more about Caitlin, who’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Caitlin was a Hotdogger ten years ago who continued doing corporate tours for over seven years with everything from Sunny D to Audi to Oprah – yes, Oprah. After all of this touring, Caitlin bought a house in her dream city, NOLA, and she is more passionate and knowledgeable about her city than anyone I’ve ever met. She is extremely outgoing and personable, and she automatically embraces everyone as a friend, including us. Caitlin completely took us under her wing during our time in NOLA: we stayed at her house, she showed us around, introduced us to her friends and, by the end of the week, told us we are friends now too and welcomed us back at any time (fo free I must add).

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We spent a day touring a plantation and a bayou! This lil gator peed on me when I held it and the tour guide called it Gatorade lol

Because she’s so well-connected with corporate tours, Caitlin mainly picks and chooses when she works, so she was able to spend a lot of time showing us around. One day she spent the whole day walking us around the French Quarter and telling us the history and ghost stories behind several of the buildings. Of everything we did that week, simply walking the streets was probably my favorite because the French Quarter looks and feels unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, and the interesting stories made it that much better. We also were able to tour the famous St. Louis Cemetery where we learned about voodoo, tombs and NOLA’s struggle to contain its dead – it was very unsettling, but cool.

NOLA is obviously known as a great place to party, and we definitely took advantage of it. We spent a couple nights out on Bourbon Street at the typical touristy places, and my favorite place was a karaoke bar called The Cat’s Meow where I did my first ever karaoke song, Super Bass by Nicki Minaj. Outside of Bourbon, Caitlin took us to several bars around the French Quarter including one with a carousel, a vampire speakeasy and the oldest bar in the country that is known to be haunted, like everything else in NOLA. She also took us to Frenchman Street, which is a more local, but equally “lit” street filled with bars and live music. Caitlin is very connected to the music scene and we saw several live shows and got to hang out with the bands afterward.

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Captured: legendary jazz and blues hall, Vaughan’s Lounge AND a potentially juicy secret.

One of my favorite things about NOLA, and life in general, is the food. I was able to try all of the classics on my list: shrimp and grits, crawfish jambalaya, shrimp po boy, a hurricane and beignets. I won’t go into detail about how good each of them were, but if you ever find yourself in NOLA, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t fully indulge in all of these Cajun delicacies. Conner and I also went to a rooftop bar with Caitlin where we were spontaneously given a platter of crawfish from a traditional crawfish boil – this sort of good fortune seems to happen A LOT to Caitlin. I wasn’t too fond of breaking the bodies, but I was glad I got to try it!

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shrimp and cheesy grits – a meal I still dream about to this day.

After a tiring, jam-packed four days, we said a sad goodbye to New Orleans and hit the road for Baton Rouge, LA. Our morale was at an all-time low as we headed to our St. Patrick’s Day parade at the crack of dawn, but it turned out to be one of my favorite events of the whole year. Why? Because Louisianans do not mess around when it comes to parades. As I drove through the parade route following Mr. P (who impressively walked over two miles in that swampy heat) I was repeatedly yelled to, cheered for and pelted with beads and other parade favors by what seemed like the entire population of Baton Rouge who were all completely plastered for the occasion. Yea, I’m pretty sure I peaked in that moment. The rest of St. Patty’s Day was spent at three different bars seeing two live bands and eating, ironically, one large Italian dinner. For having to follow a city like New Orleans, Baton Rouge wasn’t half bad.

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I simply won’t settle for a job where I don’t get to ride through streets filled with thousands of drunk, screaming fans.

Honestly, every week as a Peanutter is pretty great. Even when I’m in a more boring, middle-of-nowhere city, I’m still getting paid to travel and there’s always something new to see or do. That being said, some weeks are just so exceptional from start to finish that I know when I look back at the year, they’ll definitely stand out among the rest. New Orleans was definitely one of them.

That’s All-mond for now, folks!

 

Corpus Christi, TX: March 4th – March 11th

To top off our month-long trip through Texas, the CenTrill nuts headed to Corpus Christi, which prompted the question, “Why the shell are we being sent to Corpus Christi?!” For one, it didn’t make logical sense with our tour; it was very out of the way for our next stop in NOLA, and we were going there to work at your average, everyday Walmarts instead of some grand event. Our resident Texan, Conner, had no good things to say about Corpus and was especially disgruntled that of all places in his home state, this is where we’d be ending up. I on the other hand was trying to stay positive about Corpus because of its proximity to two things: the ocean (this would be my first time at the Atlantic this year) and Mexico.

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yes, it’s true: I possess the ability to be in two places at once.

I’ve mentioned before that I am very competitive (sometimes over trivial things) but luckily for me, so is PeConner. When we realized that, thanks to the large amount of time we spent in California and Texas, we would be hitting a smaller amount of states on our tour than most of the other Peanutters, we were both on the same page that that simply would not do. While our number of states was mostly out of our control, we decided the next best thing would be getting the most amount of countries, which is how we found ourselves on a day trip to the United States-Mexico border.

After driving two and a half hours and walking a short bridge over the Rio Grande River, we found ourselves in the new and exciting land of Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. Despite being only a quarter mile from the U.S., Nuevo Progreso felt drastically different. The streets were alive with loud Spanish music and carts selling everything from fake Ray Bans to cheap dental services. Conner and I enjoyed the best (and cheapest) tacos of our lives, received quality $10 pedicures, bought some very cheap and very fake souvenirs and took a shot of tequila in the middle of the street before heading back. All in all, I guess you could say country #2 was a great experience, and if any of you are looking for a food-shaped truck driver to do a Mexico tour next year, I’m your girl!

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Iara’s brother Josio is too stinkin’ cute. He was super bashful about playing for us, but also very proud of himself when I eventually got him to!

Our day-trip to Mexico ended with a spontaneous stop by the home of our nutty buddy Iara. We were originally unaware that we were so close to Iara’s home, but upon discovering this fact we quickly re-routed to visit her family, who turned out to be the sweetest people alive. When her mom found out I had never had homemade tortillas, she quickly whipped up a batch which we enjoyed with butter and fresh avocado while talking to her nearly identical younger sister and listening to her brother show off his skills on his new mariachi guitar. Our visit was extremely short, but it didn’t take long for the Aldapes to completely win over our hearts.

Back in Corpus, there didn’t seem to be much to do outside of work other than walk/run up and down the beach and converse with the staff of our hotel’s breakfast restaurant (who were really obsessed with us shellebrities and treated me like their BFF all week). So I was really happy when I met a cool local guy who offered to show me around in exchange for a ride in the NUTmobile (you know, everyone’s dream). Said cool local guy turned out to be really nice and not only delivered on his promise to show me around, but also invited me out with his friends and showed me around the U.S. Coast Guard station that he works at. It’s always fun to make new friends on tour, but it’s also bittersweet when you inevitably have to leave them behind and hit the road, potentially never to return again. All drama aside though, I hope I get to see the cool local guy again someday!

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The streets of Nuevo Progreso, Mexico

I often completely leave out the fact that we actually did have to work during the week, but I’d like to take this opportunity to share some heartwarming stories from our events in Corpus. 1) A man walks up to our table and the first thing out of his mouth is “I bet you can’t rob a bank with that thing.” What followed was a debate between me and him where I detailed why I did think it was possible and exactly how I would go about the deed. 2) A grown man took a crayon out of our box for kids and, without saying a word, began coloring directly on our leather tablecloth. It took a few seconds of shock before we were able to put a stop to it. 3) We pulled up to see emergency vehicles at our Walmart event. The manager came up to us and extremely cashewally said “Yea, we just had a fire, but it’s all good.” 4) Last, but certainly not least, a man pulled up to the NUTmobile and showed Conner his prized bumper sticker that read “Horny in Texas” before taking off into the store with his car still sitting next to us… running…with no one left in it. I simply couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, you guys.

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a lovely, filtered photo of the beach next to our hotel, courtesy of my Instagram story

So far I have been nothing short of #blessed with my central schedule, and though I was not about to complain and jinx that good fortune, Corpus Christi initially felt like the weak link among our solid line-up of Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and NOLA. But, everyone loves a good underdog, especially me, and I have to admit that Corpus Christi might be a front-runner for my favorite weeks of the half thus far.

That concludes Texas in a nutshell! Up next: Legumes of Louisiana.

 

San Antonio, TX: February 26th – March 4th

In traveling the U.S., one thing I’ve realized is that most cities are more similar to each other than they are different. Every city has something unique about it, but a lot of places have the same overall look and feel, the same mix of people and the same types of bars and restaurants comprising their downtown area. So when I find somewhere that feels and looks unlike anywhere I’ve yet to see, I find it very striking. And that’s how I felt about San Antonio.

The uniqueness of the city was apparent even in our first few moments in town. We first stopped at The Alamo to take cool pictures with the NUTmobile for our Instagram (@plantersnutmobile – a shameless plug) and I learned a lot about the history of Texas. I’d always wondered why Texans seem to have such a heightened sense of state pride in comparison to the rest of the country, and learning the history of their fight for independence shed some light on the answer for me.

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fun fact that Conner told me: Six Flags theme parks are called ‘six flags’ because they began in Texas, which has had six flags flown over it. 

After taking some pictures and exploring the Alamo, we headed over to our luxury hotel, which my amazing partner Tanaja was able to score. In reality, it was more of a resort than a hotel and it included a full gym, a cafe and bar, a rooftop pool and even a toucan and tortoise that lived in the lobby. While that was all awesome, the best part was that the hotel was right on the river walk and we could easily walk along the river and access all of downtown San Antonio in only about ten minutes.

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Mom took 1,000 pics of me – but this one has a cool view of the first ever San Antonio lights festival that we got to see on the riverwalk!

We did just that our very first night as we took to the river walk in search of dinner, and wound up at a cute Tex-Mex place looking right over the river. That night set the tone for what was to be a week filled with the joys of Tex-Mex – complimentary chips and salsa, strong margaritas in various flavors and all of the classic Mexican dishes – my favorite of the week was shrimp quesadillas.  

We also discovered Paramour – not the alternative band, but the mecca for hip bar lovers (which the CenTrill team definitely is) that we found on the rooftop of a law office of all places. I refer to it as our ‘mecca’ because the place checked every box on the list of things a good bar should have: great decorations/aesthetic, a wide variety of delicious drinks and a bumping music selection. As if that were not enough, Paramour also doubles as a coffee shop by day, so I was back less than 12 hours after our night out for an iced coffee. I’ve never felt I could live at a bar before, but I would definitely move into Paramour no questions asked.

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If this isn’t the coolest bar you’ve ever seen, you’re wrong. 

Of all the amazing things about visiting San Antonio, I saved the very best for last: my mom came to visit! When my mom found out I was going to be in the Central region, she told me she’d love to come see me in San Antonio, and sure enough, when it got added to my schedule she didn’t hesitate to book plane tickets for a long weekend visit. My mom and I were both in awe of the river walk and we were content to walk up and down it over and over again, each time noticing something new. We also took advantage of the brand new river boats made in honor of San Antonio’s 300th anniversary, and took a boat tour where we learned all about the history of the city. The boats also served as water taxis, which we used to get around. My favorite stop was the Pearl Brewery, which is no longer functioning but is now grounds to a beautiful shopping and eating area.

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me and the GOAT 

As a lot of you probably know, in order to take the Peanutter job I had to sacrifice a trip to Europe that was planned (and paid for) with my mom. It was supposed to be both of our first times going to Europe, and the fact that she had to go without me made both of us really sad. As I was walking down the river walk with my mom and she was telling me about how it reminded her of Venice and the Seine River in Paris, I was thinking about just how much I love spending time with my mom. Both of us are similar in that we are content with just walking around, taking in the sights and enjoying the atmosphere with a coffee or alcoholic beverage in hand. I truly enjoy my mom’s company, and even though I had to choose this year-long road trip over our Eurotrip, she’s one of my favorite people to travel with and I can’t wait for the future trips we’ll take together.

Crazy (and probably annoying) as it sounds, after being on the move for so long, traveling can start to lose its spark. You find yourself feeling less motivated to get out and see a place and more and more okay with allowing yourself to chill at the hotel and watch hours of Netflix. I think it happens to everyone, and though I’ve tried hard to fight it, it definitely happens to me sometimes. San Antonio, with it’s unique riverwalk and the good company that I had there, revived my excitement to travel and got me refreshed and ready to finish up the year strong.

BUT the year is NUT done yet. More to come soon!

 

Houston, TX: February 16th – February 26th

One thing that continuously blows my mind on the road is people’s willingness to meet up with seemingly random other people. Imagine your friend reaches out to you and says “Hey, I know some people visiting your area and you should go hang out with them despite never having met or even heard of them before.” Would you go? Much as I’d like to say I would, before this job, it probably would’ve made me uncomfortable. And yet, it happens to us on the road all the time. Not only do people with distant connections to our program come hang out with us, they host us, take us around and show us so much kindness and generosity that I can hardly fathom it.

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The path around Rice University. Safe to say I’m going here for grad school at some point! 

Such was the case in Houston, where eight months ago I didn’t know a single soul, but now I had friends, family and plans waiting for me as we rolled into town. The first person we met was Aimee, who is my old partner Elise’s best friend from home. After being partners with Elise and sharing rooms with her for seven months, I have listened into and participated in several phone conversations with Aim, and have come to feel like I know her extremely well, despite never having met her in person.

Aim showed up to our event and immediately gave each of us a huge hug, as if we were reconnecting after years apart instead of meeting for the first time. After finally getting to see the contraption that her best friend has been driving around the country, she left, but not before inviting us to tag along on her plans for the week. Throughout our stay, Aimee took us to Axelrad, which is still my favorite bar from the road, and her weekly open mic night, and provided us with expert recommendations for things to do and see in Houston.

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 We witnessed a proposal while at Axelrad, and thank goodness the girl said yes or I would’ve died of second-hand embarrassment. 

We also met Elise’s aunt, uncle and her baby cousin, Logan, when they came to our event at the Houston Arboretum. Again, despite never having met us before, they plopped Logan right into my arms without hesitation and hung out and talked with us for quite awhile. On our West Team, Elise saying, “Look at this picture of Logan!” followed by the three of us passing around her phone and laughing adoringly at whatever picture she received was somewhat of a daily ritual. In a weird way, Conner and I have sort of watched Logan grow up over the year from afar, so finally getting to meet this small celebrity brought us more joy than we could say, and definitely made our work day much better.

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Our honorary Peanutter, Lightly Salted Logan. 

I of course can’t forget the Grovers themselves. In addition to taking us out to lunch and inviting us to their work, Mr. and Mrs. Grover had us over for dinner one night for Mrs. Grover’s famous spaghetti, extra-strong margaritas (they even gave us rides each way so we could fully enjoy these) and some hot-tubbing. We also got to meet Elise’s brothers, Ryan and Reece, who were the only two family members I had yet to meet. Eight months ago I didn’t even know the Grovers existed, yet there I was sitting on their couch, sipping margs and chatting with Reece about his latest acting gig and Mr. Grover about sports like I was a part of the family instead of just a guest. Like I said, it’s hard for me to fathom the kindness and generosity of people sometimes, but the Grovers accepted each one of us on the spot and made us feel like Houston was our home too.

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The team feat. Reece (he’s going to be famous so follow him now @thelittlegrover), Aim, Mabel and Elise’s bedroom

We also checked out a lot of cool areas in Houston that are worth mentioning. For one, we were staying only two blocks away from the Galleria – the biggest mall I’ve ever seen besides the Mall of America. I spent entirely too much time and money at the Galleria, and justified it by telling myself it was for Spring Break – my vacation within my year-long vacation. I spent nearly every morning at a different coffee shop in Montrose – the hipster area of Houston – attempting to catch up on blogs (which clearly didn’t go very well). Last, but certainly not least, Houston was where I discovered my intense love for Smoothie King – a smoothie chain that is like Jamba Juice only infinitely better. I had never seen a Smoothie King before, and honestly I’d probably be better off if I never had – I’m completely addicted and haven’t been able to pass them up since.

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A pic from Montrose and a polite reminder that I have completely bypassed Winter this year and am enjoying 75 degree weather in February. 

There were a lot of reasons I decided to do a blog this year such as keeping my family and friends in the loop and showing future employers that I did a “project” of my own instead of just drive a peanut around and have a blast all year. Most importantly though, I did it so that I would always have it to look back on and remember this year. Each week on this job is so action-packed that I’ve already started to forget some things, and as I look back on past blogs, it strikes me that, much like this post, they’re all more focused on people rather than places or things that I saw. Traveling the country is awesome, but cheesy as it is, the people you do it with and those you meet along the way are definitely the most noteworthy things, which is why I think I’ve unintentionally centered these posts on the people I’ve met in every nook and cranny of this great country.

Hasta Legume-o!

 

Austin, TX: February 12th – February 16th

How does one land a job driving a giant peanut? It’s a question I’m asked countless times every single day, second only to “What y’all got for free?” My own story is pretty boring. I knew the Wienermobile was holding a hiring information session on campus, but, being the busy little college student that I was, I couldn’t attend. I sent in a resume anyway – expecting to never hear from them again – and actually received a call from the NUTmobile the next week. And the rest is history! While my case is a little different, the majority of our program gets hired through on-campus information sessions (like the one I missed), and that’s what we were doing at the University of Texas at Austin for the week.

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how could you not want to work with these good looking people?!

I’ve mentioned several times in past blogs how much I love being on college campuses, so I was expecting recruiting at UT to be a blast. The reality was more bittersweet than anything. It’s kind of cruel and unusual to be tasked with finding your own replacement for a job that you love, and it was also a harsh reminder that my time with the nut was nearly over. On top of that, many students were flat-out uninterested, which made me want to shake them while yelling, “ARE YOU DENSE?! THIS IS THE BEST JOB EVER!!” I was able to refrain from doing so, and the downers made me enjoy the students who talked to me for a long time and peppered me with seemingly endless questions that much more. After one class presentation, the five of us (we were recruiting with two wiener women) were reflecting on how “selling” our job to others gave us a new kind of excitement and appreciation for what we do – which ended up being the sweetest part about the week.

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Also on my list of cool animals I’ve held on the job: an iguana, a snake and an alligator.

Despite the drawbacks of recruiting, I still loved spending a week on campus. We parked the NUTmobile and Wienermobile right in UT’s main circle, so we were constantly surrounded by the hustle and bustle of college life. One day there was even a pop-up petting zoo right in their center quad, and we were asked to help carry the animals. I got to hold a kangaroo wearing a diaper, and Jackie got to carry a full-grown alpaca as we trekked them across campus and back to their van. It just goes to show that college campuses are a place like nowhere else, and I love the feeling that there’s always something new going on.

Outside of being at UT, I didn’t get to spend much time seeing the rest of Austin, which was definitely a bummer. Of all of the cities in the central third of the U.S, Austin was the one I was initially most excited to visit because my friend Maggie lived there over the summer and Conner, who is a proud UT grad, had a monstrous list of restaurants and bars for us to check out. While there was no chance we’d make it to all of them, we did get to try a good amount of bomb Austin food, and had a great night out on the legendary Dirty Sixth Street.

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my trusty ex-partner Elise brought Shell-don to Gurnee, IL to meet my mom, aunt, uncle and grandma for Valentine’s Day dinner!

My favorite meal of all though was our Galentine’s (+ Conner) dinner at 24 Hour Diner. The food was pretty average (except for my amazing pb & chocolate milkshake) but the company was amazing. This year has brought a lot of changes, and one big one is that I am no longer in a relationship, which means this was my first solo Valentine’s Day in over 5 years. Admittedly, I was slightly worried about how the day would make me feel, especially because it sometimes freaks me out when I think too hard on how much my life has changed in a short amount of time. However, as I sat at dinner surrounded by just four of the countless incredible people I’ve met in only eight short months, I found myself feeling grateful for how much I’ve gained this year instead of nostalgic for what used to be.

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the five best friends anyone could have and a bunch of potential young nuts and dogs

I feel like I write a lot about change, but it makes sense because change has been the only constant for me since last June, and recruiting was a big reminder that the changes aren’t stopping anytime soon. This job is quickly coming to a close, which means I have to find a new job to replace it as well as a new home. My natural inclination is to let that terrify me, but if there’s anything I’ve learned this year it’s that change is good, and there’s no point in being anything other than welcoming to it. As our week at UT-Austin progressed, I found myself being more excited for the students we met rather than resentful because they were potentially beginning the job of a lifetime. As much as things have changed and will continue to do so, I’ve always stayed connected with what’s important to me, which is how I know that I’ll always be connected with this program and with future Peans and Wiens. That thought gives me at least a little bit of comfort about the uncertainty of the future.

Catch you on the nutty side!

 

Dallas, TX: February 5th – February 12th

You know what they say, “everything’s bigger in Texas, even the peanuts,” and after two weeks as a CenTrill Nut,  it was finally time for me to head to the biggest state of them all. With over one fourth of my coworkers being from Texas, including two of my partners for the year, I had heard a ton about the food, the people, the variety of cities and landscapes and more about this foreign land, and I was excited to take on my first stop: Dallas!

When crossing over from Arkansas into Texas, where else would one stop other than the great city of Texarkana?! Especially if it happens to be the hometown of your travel buddy, Peconner. Our team stopped for an interview with the Texarkana Gazette, which mainly revolved around Conner, as he was born and raised there. I’ve done a lot of media this year, but there seems to be something more fulfilling about riding the NUTmobile up and down the same streets you were born and raised on and, after 22 years, landing on the front page of your hometown paper. I’m now eagerly and hopefully anticipating my own return to Kenosha, although I hope to avoid mistaking my own past and telling the reporter I graduated high school in 2008 (*cough* Conner *cough*).  After our interview we grabbed a quick lunch and finally got to meet Conner’s parents before finishing our trip to Dallas.

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My cousin Shane happened to be in Dallas for a Lacrosse game, and I got to surprise him with the NUTmobile. He was shell-shocked. 

On our day off, Conner showed me around the places he worked during the semesters he lived in Dallas. I toured his old office at the Dallas Theatre Center, got to stand on stage of the Wyly Theatre, and even received an invite to the company’s annual ‘Pie Day’ which happened to fall on the day we were there. When I say pie day, I’m talking 50+ pies that were sweet, savory and everything in between all waiting to be eaten by us (needless to say, my goal of eating healthier this half has been a struggle at best). After touring the theatre, Conner also scored us all free tickets to their production of Frankenstein the next night. It pays to have connections, and I’m already counting on this privilege continuing when Conner becomes a big-time Broadway director.

I spent my second day off biking and sightseeing. I’ve always thought biking was a great way to see a city because its cheap, convenient and keeps you active. I sadly hadn’t biked on the road since way back in South Dakota, but luckily, Dallas has an amazing bike-share system – all you do is find a bike and scan it with their app, pay $1/hour and when you’re done you just leave it wherever you are and it automatically locks its own wheels. The ease of the bike system plus the famous Katy Bike Trail made it a no-brainer for me to spend the day biking the trail and the streets of Dallas. I stopped at the Katy Trail Ice House for lunch, rode the streets passed the Cowboys stadium and Dealey Plaza (where JFK was assassinated), completed the trail and topped it off with a cherry limeade popsicle as a reward for my efforts.

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My rented bike at the Katy Trail Ice House. 

There also happened to be two Hotdoggers, Maddie and Mayra, from last year living together in Dallas, and they treated us to dinner and drinks one night. They gave us a bunch of recommendations for the area, including some awesome bars in the Deep Ellum area, which Ner and I checked out the next night (I got to go to my very first speakeasy!). Mayra even took us out with her and her friends for a night that started in a luxury, high-rise apartment and ended at the bars in Uptown, dancing all night and screaming “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers at the top of our lungs – nothing new there. The best part of meeting Maddie and Mayra (besides the fact that they’re both awesome and fun) was that they’re both only one year out of the job and have only recently moved to Dallas, yet they clearly both had great jobs, a nice apartment, a community of friends and an overall appealing life in their new home. I told them over and over again that seeing them calmed a lot of my nerves about the future, and I really meant it. It was definitely reassuring.

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street mural at the Dallas Art Museum because I’m #classy and #refined

I’m sad to admit that the last thing that really sticks out in my mind when I think of Dallas is fast food. No, not the local barbeque or Tex Mex, but the everyday, everywhere fast food chains. This is because we have long been in a heated debate with each other and with other Peanutters about which fast food restaurant is the best: In-N-Out, Shake Shack or Whataburger. Dallas happens to be one of the only cities to have all three regional chains, so we decided to finally put the debate to an end through a structured analysis of their burgers. When all was said and done, In-N-Out came out on top, although this was mainly because price was included on our rubrics and In-N-Out is much cheaper than the other two. Shake Shack won in ‘overall dankness’ and, in my opinion, is still the best taste-wise. Whatabuger truly can’t compete when it comes to burgers, but I also got to try their Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, which is in a whole league of its own (note: I am not trying to start another debate and thus have to sample a ton of fast food chicken sandwiches because of this comment).

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fast food burgers in all their glory

As I said above, Elise and Conner are both from Texas, and they often were in a heated disagreement about whether they liked Dallas or not. My own takeaway was that Dallas was the type of place I loved to visit, but probably wouldn’t want to live – although this may be tainted by the fact that the highways in/out of the city are extremely confusing and we spent much of our time lost, late or both. All in all though, the first week in my 16th state was one for the books, and I have high hopes for the many more weeks (and tacos and bowls of queso) in Texas to come!

Keep it cashewal!

 

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Here’s the rubric we used for our burger challenge. If any of you are feeling like you want to take on this great feat for yourself, let me know what your results are!

 

Little Rock, AR: January 29th – February 5th

Because of all the people we already knew that we got to see in Missouri (my mom, Tanaja’s boyfriend and Brian), our week in St. Louis didn’t involve a ton of time spent as a team. Little Rock, Arkansas was our first official week with just us Central Nuts in a place none of us were familiar with, and already I could see the growth in each one of us as well as as a team.

For Tanaja, I could see it through her willingness to try things out of her comfort zone (Teri Goudie would be so proud). When we were at Winter Staff one of Tanaja’s old partners warned me, “Tanaja will never do anything outdoorsy with you.” Well, lo and behold, it was only our second week and Conner and I successfully convinced her to hike Pinnacle Mountain, which is an uphill, strenuous trek that is more like rock climbing than a hike at certain points. Although she did have some complaints and it took her awhile longer than Conner and I (we hiked a lot during our 7 months out west), she completed the whole thing and we were both extremely proud of her. I think she was happy with her experience too, although she claims that hike will be a one time thing (we’ll see).

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The river and back porch of the cabin

For Conner, it wasn’t so much personal growth as it was a growth of my understanding of who he is and where he comes from. During our days off in Little Rock, we traveled to Conner’s family cabin in the middle-of-nowhere Arkansas for a night. We got tragically lost in a maze of dirt back-roads on our way in, but when we finally made it we were greeted by Conner’s extremely sweet and Southern Grandma. We spent the night four-wheeling, cooking a huge spaghetti dinner, making s’mores and playing Monopoly, of course! Conner’s grandma also shared tons of stories about Conner, and learning more about his past and what he was like growing up was so interesting because I feel like I know everything there is to know about present-day Conner. The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of honey biscuits and real scrambled eggs (as opposed to fake hotel eggs) prepared by Conner’s grandma before heading back to civilization.

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driving an ATV is even more fun than driving a NUTmobile

My own personal growth happened mainly through the things I did on my own. After work one day my teammates were tired, but I was eager to explore. I first headed to Little Rock Central High School, the School that the Little Rock Nine attended. I spent time walking the grounds and the commemorative garden, and afterward checked out the museum. It was cool to be at a such an important, historic site that I’ve grown up learning about and I can be a huge nerd about history and museums, so I loved being able to take my time and look through/read the exhibits. Afterward, I headed to the Little Rock River Market where I hung out at a coffee shop for awhile. I intended to work on my blogs, but really ended up staying for much longer than anticipated eavesdropping on a very intense conversation going on next to me (gotta love coffee shops).

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People often say one of their best experiences from this job is doing things independently. I’ve always been happy being on my own, but my old team was usually on the same page, so if one of us made plans, the other two would end up tagging along. My new team does a lot together too, but we all have our own preferences, and though that’s not bad at all, it is different. Being in an unfamiliar place and making a plan for your day definitely teaches you really quickly what you enjoy, and even though I love being with my team, I’m hoping to have more solo adventures this half as well!

As I’ve written about before, I am a huge fan of traditions, which naturally means I’m a huge fan of the most American holiday of all, Super Bowl Sunday. Although I couldn’t care less about the football itself, I love the Super Bowl for the hype, the commercials, the half-time show and the food – which for me usually means a heaping plate of loaded nachos. Tanaja and Conner thankfully honored my food request, and we spent the game at a bar with a huge viewing screen and endless rounds of nachos, wings, chips and drinks. As marketing professionals (sort of lol) we all especially enjoyed the commercials and even found ourselves getting sucked into the game – we love a good underdog and ended up passionately rooting for the Eagles.

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This Walmart greeter is known widely in Little Rock as “Walmart Willy.” He spends his shifts yelling hi to every customer and giving them fist bumps before saying “BOOM!” He collects money during his shifts for homeless/orphaned children. He had us smiling and laughing during our whole event and is easily my favorite Walmart worker of all time.

For the millionth time since June, Little Rock had me hyper-aware of how extraordinary this job is. Not only am I learning a ton about who I am and what I like to do, but I get to learn more and more everyday about my “coworkers,” and do all of that while visiting somewhere I’d otherwise never go, like a river-side cabin in Arkansas. I can’t even fully comprehend at this point how much I’ve already grown and changed because of this job, but seeing that same growth in the people around me has been an incredible experience.

Cashew soon with a-nutt-a one!