Kansas City, MO: April 30th – May 4th

One thing that has always struck me as odd in my travels is that most people are horrible at recommending things to do in their own city. I’m not sure if it’s because most people truly don’t explore where they live like you would a vacation destination, but upon asking for what to do from a local, I often receive a simple shrug, head scratch, or worst of all – a recommendation for a huge chain like Joe’s Crab Shack. This pattern that I’ve experienced across the country has not only made me make a more conscious effort to appreciate what’s awesome about where I’m from (namely, cheese and beer) but also has made me more aware of when people rave about their hometown – which I experienced a lot in Kansas City.

The first thing I did in KC was get a much-needed haircut, where I had to inevitably explain to my hairdresser what I do and why I was in town. She immediately launched into a spiel on how she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, followed by an entire list of restaurants to try and places to see. My team and I experienced that same enthusiasm when we visited our fellow Hotdogger, Rosie’s family our first night in town. The Hutchisons treated us to an elaborate pasta dinner, kept us laughing the entire time – I could definitely see where Rose gets her awesome sense of humor – and sent us home with a huge list of Kansas City do’s and don’ts. We were officially ready to take on the town.

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the Hutchisons are good peeps

One thing the Hutchisons made sure to point out was the prime location of our hotel, which was situated right in The Plaza. This portion of KC is apparently sister cities with Seville, Spain, and was designed after it with Spanish architecture and tons of fountains. The Plaza was filled with stores, restaurants and coffee shops, and I enjoyed a good stroll along its streets nearly every day. Our hotel was also right down the road from the Kansas City Art Museum, which is home to the famous giant shuttlecock statues. Unbeknownst to me before I wandered over there for a closer look, the shuttlecocks are actually part of a whole sculpture path that weaves its way around the museum with interesting statues and art pieces along the way. Conner and I walked the whole path and even tried a glass maze, which Conner was ultimately able to complete faster than me.

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legendary shuttlecocks

We also utilized our wealth of KC knowledge to help us properly celebrate the birthday of my one and only guy partner – PeConner. After spending nearly all of his 22nd year with him, I knew Ner would want to do 23 big, and he did not disappoint. The day before, I received an invitation to a detailed e-calendar letting me know what the day would consist of. For starters, we had a big brunch and mimosas at a highly-recommended breakfast place, followed by a stroll around the Power and Light District of KC. At night Tanaja and I treated Conner to a big Italian dinner and drinks in The Plaza before we headed to see a show called Viet Gone – Conner was a theatre major and is hoping to pursue directing, so this was an ideal birthday activity for him. Unfortunately, the show was rather bizarre and we spent most of it trying to stifle our laughs at the horrible rap numbers, which was quite hard because it was a small, intimate audience setting.

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stay golden, ya big 23-year-old

The last highly recommended thing we had to try was a sports bar called No Other Pub. When I say sports bar, I mean the place was filled with sports and games of all kinds: ping pong, darts, bowling, giant pool that you play like soccer, and more! For someone who loves games and some friendly (usually) competition, this place was right up my alley, and I carried Conner and I to a W in more than one of our games against Tanaja and Torry.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: being a Peanutter is an awesome job. But even the coolest jobs can get old, and Kansas City marked just about 11 months of handing out peanuts and playing simple table games like “guess the peanuts in the jar” (sidenote: that game is extremely difficult and I’ve heard guesses ranging from 37-17,000 peanuts from adults). During one of our events in Kansas City I finally lost my cool over a particularly awful guess and the monotony that had become our events, and I marched myself into Walmart to purchase a state-of-the-art, 100-piece sidewalk chalk set. After that day, our events would typically be chalk activities like “draw a picture of the NUTmobile,” which I probably enjoyed more than most of the kids that participated, but it was the breath of fresh air we needed to keep us going. I was set to go for another year with the Nut.

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the NUTmobile is all it’s chalked up to be

I think Kansas City helped me solve my mystery on why people are so bad at recommending things to do where they’re from – familiarity dulls excitement. My first few months on the job I was jazzed to hand out nuts and talk to new people, but as time wore on I became a little jaded. The same thing can happen with partners or traveling, where after awhile you feel like there isn’t a single thing left to talk about or a cool activity left to try. But I think there’s always a way to spice things up whether it’s buying some chalk, trying a new KC BBQ joint or learning something new about a person you spend 24/7 with. I’m really scared that after a year of every single week being a fresh, exciting place, being in one place next year will make me stir crazy. But I’m going to try and meet my new, everyday life with the same enthusiasm the people of Kansas City have for their city and let the familiarity of a place be exciting and comforting rather than daunting.

Holla at ya soon Home Nuts!

 

St. Louis & Macon, MO: April 23rd – April 30th

Alright, so I’ve kind of been cheating and combining multiple cities into one blog post in an attempt to finish this blog by the end of the year. In my defense though, our team was not in a single city for more than five days after spring break, so I find this tactic acceptable. The rapid changing of cities and hotels and the constant packing and re-packing was really starting to get old though, and I was so happy that we would be staying in real houses in both St. Louis and Macon.

St. Louis, MO: April 23rd – April 26th 

St. Louis is home to one of my best Hotdogger pals, Cheesy Nicks, and him and his partner Rose Beef were in town and offered to let us stay at his house with them during our three days off in St. Louis. Although our two giant vehicles parked out front made quite the spectacle in Nick’s neighborhood, it was so nice to feel like we were living a “normal” life for a few days. On our first night, we got groceries and made a big spaghetti dinner with Nick’s mom, and afterward we had drinks and stayed up late playing endless rounds of Clue and Spoons.

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The most stylish people you’ve ever seen + me at Anheuser-Busch 

The next day I took full advantage of being in a large neighborhood and went for a long run along the winding streets and hills (UGH) before getting ready for our day full of activities around the city. We started with a big brunch followed by a car tour of St. Louis where Nick showed us everything from cool neighborhoods to famous parks and provided us with the local gossip along the way. Afterward, we did a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which I highly recommend because it’s free to begin with and you also get two free drinks just for doing it! We topped off the night by going to the St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium and checking out a bunch of Nick’s favorite bars after.

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Go Cubs Go! 

After that extremely long day, we were all exhausted and decided we deserved a day of nothing but relaxation and recuperation. Other than a brief venture out to the The Loop for a greasy lunch, some darts and a little thrift shopping, we spent the majority of the day sprawled out on Nick’s couch, drifting in and out of sleep while watching movies on TV. At night we made another large dinner with Nick’s mom and went to Bailey’s Chocolate Bar (see my last blog on STL) for an amazing half-baked brownie topped with salted caramel ice cream. The next morning we packed up, took some shellfies with Nick’s mom and hit the road for Macon, MO – which is so small that even the Missourians we were with had never heard of it.

Macon, MO: April 26th – April 30th 

You never anticipate the places that end up stealing your heart, and I definitely didn’t expect Macon. We rode into town expecting a tiny, dumpy city that is commonly associated with Missouri. What we pulled into instead was a ginormous bed & breakfast and an enthusiastic greeting from the homeowner, Carol, who immediately pulled me in for a hug and gave us a tour of the house. I don’t think I can do it justice with words, but I’ll try my best. The main house had a huge porch – which I’ve always wanted in a house –  filled with eclectic furniture and swings, a huge front sitting room that was elegantly decorated, and about a million other rooms that were all filled with cushioned window seats and mementos to give the place a homey feel. Conner and I were staying in the carriage house where we each essentially had our own two-bedroom apartments upstairs while the downstairs had several more rooms, two hot tubs and even a sauna. The place truly blew my mind and I spent a lot of time just hanging out at the house and trying to savor every second of our stay.

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It’s hard to show how awesome our B&B was with just one pic…but do yourself a favor and look up “The Phillips Place” if you’re ever in Macon.

Even more amazing than the house was the woman who owned it – Carol. Like I said, Carol immediately embraced us, both literally and figuratively, and she would prepare us a big breakfast each morning and then sit and talk with us while we ate it. Carol told us a lot about her life, and she seemed to be the type of person who always finds the good in things and truly accepts and embraces life for what it is. One morning after a pretty terrible interview for a sales job I knew I would probably hate, I ran into Carol and Chuck (the groundskeeper/Carol’s bae) and told them all about it. They didn’t miss a beat in telling me life is too short to not do something I’m passionate about and “really how could you be so stupid to go from an awesome job like driving a nut to something boring even if it meant more money?!?” (their words not mine). Seems like simple, straight-forward advice, but I could tell they meant it and truly believed I could find something better, and that made me believe it too.

Outside of hanging out at the house or reading books on the porch, I went for a lot of walks and runs around the streets of Macon. I don’t think Macon is necessarily a cute town but it reminded me a lot of Johnston City, IL, which is where my Grandpa grew up and was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid. So in my extremely biased opinion, I thought it had a lot of charm to it. We also worked small, local stores during the week and the store owner was so excited to have us that he had the store grill hot dogs and make cotton candy to go along with our event. We had people stopping by Carol’s house at all hours of the day and night to see the NUTmobile, and we even managed to get on a few news stations in the area.

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The team with Carol and Chuck! 

When people find out that I live in hotels, they often assume I must hate it and make negative comments about it. But I honestly haven’t minded it at all; I get a free breakfast and my bed made and room cleaned everyday. For a year-long gig, that’s not too shabby. But, I admit, even I miss the comforts and homey feel of a real home with familiar people living in it, and our stay at Nick’s as well as Carol’s got me excited about living in a place of my own again in just a few short weeks.

MO from Missouri, coming soon!

 

Nashville, TN & Champaign, IL: April 15th – April 23rd

Nashville, TN: April 15th – April 20th 

If I haven’t made it clear by now, one huge thing I’ve learned this year is that traveling is all about the people you’re with rather than the place. So while I knew Nashville would be awesome on its own, when I found out that we would not only be there with two wiener women, Sammi and Alex, but also that our fellow Peanutters Elise and Iara were coming to visit, I knew it was about to be an absolute shell of a time. And it was.

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One of Nashville’s many famous murals #artsy

We did a lot together in a short amount of time including eating several amazing meals out, traversing the city to take pictures with its murals and having a wine and intense monopoly night. However, my favorite thing was our night out on Broadway. It started with seeing a country band, and though country is none of our music of choice, we can embrace anything and we ended up having a great time at the show and making friends with the band. The night moved on to another bar with a state-of-the-art dance floor that was being extremely under-utilized, so Iara, Elise, Sammi and I made it our personal mission to liven up the place by dancing our faces off. The mission was a success and by the end of the night we had developed a fan base who referred to us as “The Spice Girls” and been invited to join a bachelorette party. All in all, a pretty solid night.

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a very blurry pic of some of our bachelorette party friends. I think I may have been mid-dance move. 

After a much too short visit, Iara and Elise had to head back East, but we thankfully still got to hang out with Sammi Sandwich and Alexandog as well as a new friend, the legendary Jacob Groves. Jacob, who also has a travelling job, has now met almost our entire class during his travels, and I was excited he headed over to Nashville to meet us as well. The six of us decided to check out the famous Gaylord Opryland Resort where we walked through the hotel’s seemingly endless, elaborate atriums, ate dinner at their Mexican restaurant and got completely lost within the hotel in our effort to leave. When we finally made it home we said our goodbyes, packed our bags and prepared to to part ways with Music City and head back to the lovely Midwest for the weekend.

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Biscuit Love was great and all, but Waffle House was definitely my best meal in Nashville. 

Champaign, IL: April 20th – April 23rd 

I was really disappointed because Champaign is a mere three hours from home, but I was unable to visit because we were only in town for three nights and had no days off. I hadn’t been home since Christmas, and of course I was dying to see my family and be on my home turf. However, I was able to get a literal slice of home because we found a Giordano’s in Champaign, which if you’re unfamiliar (if this is the case I feel terrible for you) is the best Chicago-style pizza. I could barely contain my excitement during dinner, and it was fun to watch Conner experience the cheesy, saucy goodness of Giordano’s for the first time.

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like I said: cheesy, saucy goodness.

I also felt closer to home because my friend Amanda came down for a visit. I’ve known Amanda for over 10 years now, and even though we’ve both changed a bunch in that time, our friendship has always stayed the same, and this time was no different. We caught up on our lives over drinks, explored the U of I campus and watched movies in my hotel room. Amanda also got to witness one of our craziest events of the year, Peanut Pals, which was really fun but weird for me to watch two of my worlds suddenly collide.

You’re probably now wondering what Peanut Pals is and why it’s so crazy. Peanut Pals is a group of mainly elderly people who are absolutely NUTS about Mr. Peanut and Planters and collect brand memorabilia. They then hold conventions where they sell and trade their memorabilia as well as do activities together. We got to work their trade show, and we were treated like shellebrity VIPS and given a bunch of Planters swag. I scored a dope Mr. Peanut bomber jacket as well as a Planters backpack with a working radio on the front of it. We also were offered a sizable amount of money for our work polos and talked with the members about everything Planters, including what one man called “the bad topic” – nut allergies. As weird as the Peanut Pals may sound, I admired their passion for their quirky hobby and how they’ve built a community around it, and the event was a shell of a time. I just may have to become their newest – and youngest – member after this job.

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ya, I’m smooth as peanut butter in this new jacket.

As people often do at the end of an era, I’ve been getting pretty sentimental lately and thinking a lot about my memories from the year. I realized that even though I’ve had an uncountable amount of cool experiences, it’s so much easier for me to recollect the people who have made an impression on me than it is for me to remember places, attractions or even, dare I say, great meals. Whether it’s an elderly gang of peanut enthusiasts, a spontaneous visit from nutty buddies or a good catch-up with a life-long friend, I know I’ll look back and remember who I experienced it all with much more than what we did. Though I doubt I’ll ever forget being compared to the Spice Girls.

Peace & Peanuts!

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!