Although my recent travels have been confined to my very own United States of America, it doesn't make them any less fun or interesting. In fact, they have greatly outranked China in the 'fun' department. But then, so does eating oatmeal in a bathtub full of lukewarm water. And what could be more interesting than almost dying on Interstate 40 in a thunderstorm? Nothing, that's what.
My dear friend (a description which, while being concise, doesn't really
elucidate my particular relationship with this person in any sort of simplistic way) decided to move from San Francisco to New Orleans. Because the mere thought of this person leaving my side, much less the city, makes me blind with despair, I decided to make the drive with him. Plus, it gives me an excuse to eat fried road food without guilt. Our first taste of said guilt-free livin' took place before we even crossed the California state line. We made up for $3 gallons of gasoline by eating food prepared for its quantitative properties. Not that In and Out Burger lacks quality, but we did fill up on burgers, fries and shakes for barely any money. Yum. There were also some Cheetos, ice cream bars, sodas and other delectables before we finally reached the end of the road for the night in Needles, CA.
Taking a little detour onto Historic Route 66, we drove (in 15 seconds) through
the town of Needles and found the white A-frame that announced the Needles Inn. "High-speed internet. Cable," they bragged. Hell, we just needed a place to sleep and to allow my road acne to incubate. This little touch of the Alps near the Arizona border seemed like just the place. After a dinner of potato skins, french dip, and Budwiser, we drove the 100 feet back to our "chalet" and crashed out
on the world's most comfortable mattress.
I have now come to believe that this perfect mattress contained small amounts of sedatives which were absorbed through the skin and that, in tandem with the mattress's insanely perfect loft, allowed us to slumber blissfully while someone made off with the gas from our gas tank. And that bright white smile from our Indian host upon check-out--was it a knowing one? Like, "wink wink. . . my friend, in approximately 10.2 miles you will run out of gas, even though you fueled up last night before retiring. . . thank you, come again!"?
In any event, that is exactly what happened, only it took us awhile to figure out what had transpired. Under a clear morning sky, we crossed over the Arizona border. As we were enjoying the pinks, purples,oranges, grays, and greens of the desert, the truck began to lose power. The depression of the gas pedal did nothing to accelerate us, and we heard some sputtering and spitting. "Didn't we just get gas last night before we got to Needles?" "Maybe it was bad gas." "Maybe it's the fuel pump." "Maybe someone stole our gas." Fuckers. We pulled over, hazards on, and drove slowly on the shoulder, trying to make it to the next exit on fumes, giving up about a mile from Shinarump Drive. When I speak of "fun", I'm speaking of the pure delight I get from hearing a very masculine grown man first say, then spell, 'Shinarump' to the AAA dispatcher. The guys showed up with the gas in 1/2 hour and chuckled knowingly when we told them where we had stayed the night before. It was a pleasant half hour in which I ate Bulgarian cheese, Stephen smoked a cigar and drank Gatorade, and we tried to identify the desert foliage and the desert debris, the most curious being a water bottle full of what looked like turds. Oh, and we named the enormous manitou that had erupted on the left side of my face. Needles the Zit is not with us anymore, but she accompanied us on the rest of our journey southeast.
Then we got back on the road in time to eat breakfast at IHOP. Some egg and beef torpedo for me, and in the spirit of the Big Lebowski, lingonberry pancakes for the man. Our portly, stain-covered, and amazingly friendly waitress asked us where we were from and going to. We mentioned we were heading to the Grand Canyon, and she ohhed and ahhhed, and advised us to definitely check out the watchtower. That makes the third person to recommend it, so we headed for the south rim. Two hours and a 20-degree drop in temperature later, we were in Tusayan, getting our bearings on the Grand Canyon. Rain looked certain in the future, but we got our passes into the park and took a drive to a couple of overlooks into the Canyon. Who would have thought a big hole in the ground could be so majestic? Still, the clouds were obscuring its full glory, and we opted to come back the next day to hike around in there when it was lighter.
In the morning, I went running into some residential neighborhood, and then out the other side of it to a logging road inhabited by rabid crows. Well, just one crow in particular who turned what was a beautiful and insipiring run into a fearful sprint for cover. Not only was it huge, but was intent on dive bombing me in order to gouge my eyes out. Or at least pull my sweaty hair out with his razor sharp talons. Alright, I'm exaggerating, but I booked it back to the hotel, where we ate instant oatmeal (way too healthy for this trip) and checked the weather report. It called for rain, but if we moved quickly we could see some of the Canyon before it hit.
We got out at the head of the Grandview Trail, where if you closed your eyes you could pretend that you were in Germany and the locals were giving directions to French visitors. Or vice versa. That is to say, we were outnumbered by Europeans. After an arduous and exhausting trip halfway into the canyon, we were forced to turn back because of some sort of sore vagina problem. At least that..s the official line. I never even felt my vagina, but that..s the excuse I..m supposed to give for not going all the way down. Someone else..s knee hurt, but you know, he could have kept going. . . Anyway, it was, gorgeous and smelled nice like burning mesquite and sage (the canyon, not his knee.) We were so overwhelmed with all the natural beauty, that we headed towards the watchtower and the gift shop. In the watchtower we looked through binoculars to the Colorado River where people with more planning skills than us were rafting or canoeing. To think that one must actually make plans months to a year in advance to partake in canyon adventures. I can't travel that way. I was satisfied with just touching the canyon and then buying a Christmas tree ornament in the gift shop. I was just satisfied that the Grand Canyon is not in China.
After we had had our fill of nature, we decided to try to make it to Amarillo for the night. Not that there is anything worth seeing in Amarillo, but it's good to have goals. The problem was that our goal, while realistic, was to challenge us as a result of bad weather. Somewhere outside of the Grand Canyon it began raining enormous, smooshy, heavy raindrops. Our excitement crested at around the time we spotted the billboard for "Knife City". It was there we hoped to fill a gift request for a switchblade. Imagine our disappointment upon seeing the decayed ruins and grass-infested parking lot of what was once a glorious weapons outlet. No switchblades on this trip. On we pressed into New Mexico, and then Texas, still with the same unrelenting rain. I was fortunately not driving during the worst of it, though I would have if asked, and I..m grateful for Stephen..s excellent handling of the truck under these circumstances. Especially when we nearly hydroplaned into a semi. It was either skill, or a miracle, or both that kept us from flipping the car and dying together on I-40. We had been debating over whether a beautiful old orange car being hauled by the semi was indeed an Impala or a GTO. We almost had to die to find out it was an Impala. Not worth it. But we did finally make it to Amarillo around 2am. Mission accomplished.
Why hang out in Texas when we can drive 14 hours straight to New Orleans? which is what we did. We stopped along the way to eat Tex Mex food outside of Dallas. Good God! It was so cheap and had the best melon aqua fresca on the planet. The entire way through Texas I was feeling nostalgic, and while everyone else in the world bitches and moans about driving through Texas, I love it. I am supremely comfortable in Texas and often have a little voice telling me to move back. That, and "Kill for Satan" I usually ignore both. We pulled into Hammond, LA around midnight and went directly to the Tasty Donut (Krystal burger was closed) for some sliders. So I..m thinking about 10,000 calories per day? By the time we arrived at Stephen..s mom..s house, I couldn..t fit into my jeans anymore.
The next night we went to Decatur street to do some drinking, and it was my first New Orleans experience in which I maintained my sanity and wasn't injured, robbed or drugged. I know it doesn't as sound as exciting as if we'd been knifed or something, but it restored my ability to enjoy that city, and made it all the more heartbreaking to see what has become of it. It's terrifying to think that the only people that have the money to build upon its ruins are fucking multinational corporations and chains. I only wish there was something I was able to do. Is there?
So 100 pounds of fried food, 100 milller high lifes, and only 20 minutes of chalga later (aren't I accommodating) I am back in San Francisco..alone..and wishing I lived in the south again. Or wishing that Stephen came back with me. Or wishing that we could keep driving to somewhere together. Only next time, I'll pack jeans a size larger.