Road Trip Coming!

Draw a rough rectangle anchored in California, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington, and you have an idea the route we’ll be taking sometime early next Summer. Sound vague? It is! (Though I prefer the term “flexible”.)

There will be three of us in the vehicle — pilot, navigator, and small dog. I want to keep the miles on any given day reasonably short, stopping at many rest areas to let the small dog sniff things and for photo opportunities I’ve driven through in the past. Unfortunately that means we won’t be able so stay in any one place terribly long.

That rectangle intersects many old friends, and some of the best sights the western United States has to offer. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this trip. Those in the path of our march will be hearing from us as plans solidify.

Road Trip! Wooooo!

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Requiem for My Travel Shirt

It was on another road trip to Kansas that I first dubbed my blue aloha shirt my Official Travel Shirt. I was wearing it for the second straight day (no sense sweating up another shirt), and I tore the breast pocket just a bit while stuffing in change from a drive-through, limiting the other occasions I could wear it.

But for driving across the United States in a convertible, it was pretty close to ideal. Light and breathable, the cotton fabric was quick to wick the sweat away from my back and provide cooling. When I put my elbow up on the door frame, the shirt would balloon up, creating a cyclone of joy across my torso. Good times.

Good times that finally came to an end on this trip. The ravages of sun, sweat, suds, and more sun began to undermine the integrity of the fabric. The dye faded and the fabric got thinner where the sun hit it most directly—on the shoulders and (rather embarrassingly) on the gut.

When packing for my latest road trip, I realized the shirt’s days were numbered. The pocket was really starting to flap in the breeze and the fabric was giving out along the shoulder seams. This was to be the shirt’s last ride. In retrospect, I should have given the shirt a dignified retirement before the trip even started; it just wasn’t fair to ask it to get me across the Nevada desert in its condition.

The first night, in Wells, Nevada, I took off the shirt to discover two bright-red patches on my shoulders:

Sunburn on my shoulders makes me cry

Sunburn on my shoulders makes me cry

By the next night in Vernal, Utah, blisters had formed, and while I waited for my car to be repaired I also tried not to ooze into my sheets too much while I slept at night.

My travel shirt, after one too many days on the road.

My travel shirt, after one too many days on the road.

The shirt had given its last, and while I had other shirts along for the ride that were adequate, they were all too new and too nice to dedicate to being the new Travel Shirt (though one had good Cyclone of Joy™ action—I might have considered it were it not so dark-colored).

So the search begins, but clothing like this isn’t just found on a shelf, it’s discovered through adversity. It is the product of miles, and the grace with which it handles them. It is sun, and sunscreen, and sweat and wind and time and groping in the pocket for the toll ticket. It is the stop at a rest area with a gentle pit bull going to her new home. It is the discovery of a new road, the onset of a sudden rainstorm, the knowing glance from another convertible driver, the pause on a deserted road at night to hear the chirping of the crickets.

It is the stories. The new shirt will have a lot of catching up to do.

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Remember me?

You would think that damn near forty-eight hours on a train would lead to a burst of blogging activity. I would have thought so myself. But no, I spent the time reading instead. It was pleasant. Then I got back to town and while I had collected some interesting stories on the road, I just wasn’t inspired to write about them.

Perhaps someday I’ll tell you about Charlie, the deep, gravelly-voiced dark-black (Barry White after 10,000 packs) man shorter than me from Louisiana who sat next to me from Los Angeles to San Jose, who was once stabbed in the neck by a random asshole and probably would have killed said asshole if he hadn’t passed out from blood loss first. That’s the way he tells it anyway. At the trial the prosecutor asked Charlie, “what do you think we should do with this man?” “Give him to me,” Charlie said. According to him, that broke up the courtroom. Charlie was all about making sure his grandchildren didn’t get into the same shit he did. He was all right. But man, he liked to talk.

I took refuge from Charlie in the window car (Lounge car? Observation car?) that sat atop the train bar. From Santa Barbara well north a pair of guides in forest green uniforms spoke through a makeshift little PA system, telling us about the history of the places we rolled through. It was pretty cool, actually. Figs, rockets, railroad lore, and pretty scenery. Between lectures I read a novel by a guy who is not afraid to kill people you like. Maybe more on that later.

But I’ve been back now a couple of weeks and then some, and I haven’t even checked in on my favorite blogs. I’m in a twilight place, with an intimidating literary to-do list, and I’m pretty much frozen. I check Facebook more than I ever have before, clearly a sign of the apocalypse. I even retweeted something yesterday. (Spelling checker does not object to retweeted. I’m not sure how I feel about that.)

So, now I feel the need to reconnect. I’ll start with my favorite comics, then go and read the blog episodes I’ve missed, and leave comments that are far past stale.

And here at MR&HBI, I’ve got some ideas. Not new ideas, but ideas. We’ll see.

Summer Camp!

Today will be a day of Automobiles, Coaches, and Trains, in that order. Stopping off in New Mexico to hang with (a whole lot of) family, then heading on to Kansas to be a writer for a while. Man do I need that.

The good news is that I may have the time to reinvigorate this blog, and post some more creative stuff, at least for a little while. I’m going to miss my sweetie something fierce, though.

More from the road (electricity permitting)!

A Day of Many Miles

The day broke clear and didn’t waste any time warming up. After a not-terribly-satisfying breakfast and a fuel stop, I climbed onto Interstate 40 and headed west, west, west.

I wonder, on that stretch of Interstate between Albuquerque and Winslow, how many people are enticed these days by “The World’s Tallest Teepee” (a rigid, multi-story structure), or “The World’s Longest Map of US Rte 66”, which is painted on a wall of a curio shop. How many people spontaneously decide to buy a hunting knife, or a bit of petrified wood? Not as many these days, I suspect, as cars get ever more comfortable and the excuses to climb out and stretch one’s legs get less enticing.

I certainly wasn’t a candidate to stop this time. I wanted to put some miles behind me, the more the better. As I rolled along somewhere east of Flagstaff I saw a sign that did catch my eye. “Fresh jerky 227 miles ahead.” Bison was listed, and I think elk as well. By my calculations that put the jerky store somewhere around Kingman.

Although I have to say that I’ve never visited the much-hyped ice caves or gone underground on any of the mine tours. One of these days… On I drove, stopping only for fuel and beverages.

I never found the jerky store. By the time I got to Kingman I was occupied with the Big Decision. North, past Hoover Dam, through Las Vegas, and on up to Beatty to cross into California high in the Sierras, or west, through Needles to Barstow, to drive up the central valley.

In favor of north: 1) There’s a new bridge to keep the damn terrorists off the damn dam. I bet it’s pretty cool. 2) two-lane highways. 3) Far, far more scenic. 4) A chance to relive another trip with a buddy and two chihuahuas, getting kicked out of a casino in Vegas, followed by a night in Beatty, and my one and only pass through Trona, CA (a hellish place when it’s windy, which I gather is most of the time).

In favor of west: 1) two less hours driving, even if I didn’t stop for pictures on the north route.

When decision time came, I went west. Note to Gus (I think it was Gus), while your “227 miles to jerky” sign was certainly effective for me, you might consider a second sign, a little closer to the promised land. I’m just sayin’ is all. Or maybe I just missed it.

The last 100 miles of the day as I stretched my drive from Needles to Barstow seemed as long as the entire rest of the trip. There was still plenty of daylight left, but I was ready to stop. Perhaps if my air conditioning worked things would have been different. As I pulled in to the Von’s parking lot to buy large amounts of chilled liquids I reflected that had I chosen north, I’d still have an hour to go, assuming Las Vegas rush hour didn’t add to that.

I noticed as I drove across the street to the California Inn (an excellent choice), that there was a little strip-mall bar nearby called Molly’s Pub. I showered and packed a laptop and book (in case this wasn’t a laptop sort of place), and tromped over to Molly’s. It wasn’t a laptop sort of place at all; in fact it wasn’t a book sort of place either. So I bellied up to the bar, had a large beer in a mason jar, and watched the Dodger game with glazed eyes, which kept me entertained. (For a while I sat next to a guy who used to be the mascot for the Dodgers; I was rooting for the other team on general principles. It was all good-natured, though.)

I ordered a second beer, which arrived just as the cougars showed up. My long hair kept them away for a while, but by the end of my beer I’m not sure how many sentences I had started with “My girlfriend…” It was time to quit that congenial place and catch some sleep, to dream of jerky missed and the road not taken.

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From the Prairie to the Mountains

Kansas is hot right now. Really stinkin’ hot. When I staggered from my nice-but-not-seventy-bucks-nice hotel room in Dodge City I could already feel the heat settling down over the town like a sweaty, feverish hen spreading her damp feathers over an egg that was never going to hatch. I made a hasty decision to modify my course. Oklahoma panhandle didn’t seem like a good idea.

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure Dodge City is in Ford County.

Before I could even get out of Dodge, as they say, I needed to send a package via FedEx. The ladies running the hotel desk had no idea where I might do that, then Google lied to me. Luckily I detected the falsehood before setting out, and managed to find through the FedEx site (duh!) that a local mall had a drop box. The hotel women gave me (incorrect) directions to the mall, and after I recovered from that it only a matter of twenty minutes to find the box (or, more exactly, someone who knew where the damn thing was). I put in the package, which included a signed document accepting the terms of a full-time salaried position at Apple. Rather a momentous occasion, for all it was just sliding paper into a slot.

Then, at last, I was on my way. The course alteration mentioned earlier was to head a little more northerly, coming down to Los Alamos via Taos rather than up from Santa Fe. This got me to higher altitude sooner, and got me deeper into the rain shadow of the rocky mountains.

It was a good drive. Highway 160 through southern Kansas and into Colorado was new to me. There was one section I dubbed The Euclidian Highway, because the road was always either exactly north-south or east-west, with all corners being right angles. One of the zigs and zags took me down the north-south main street of Pritchett, Colorado, a very small, picturesque little town with brick storefronts with plate-gass display windows. A cafe sits right where you would expect it to. The plains stretch to the horizon in every direction. The only thing is, most of the stores are empty. The café is closed, and has a For Sale by Owner sign in the window.

Might be a good place to film a movie. As I drove away, it occurred to me I should take some pictures. But I didn’t. I was driving. After a few more zigs and zags the road returned to more road-like behavior, and I met the freeway at Trinidad, Colorado.

I had no idea Trinidad has such a cool downtown area. I was tempted to stop for the day and bum around for a bit. But I didn’t do that, either. My parents were expecting my arrival. (Ironically, my parents were not expecting my arrival. I put the wrong day in an email.)

From there a quick hop over Raton Pass and once more I left the Interstate behind to take highway 64 west. I drove past skinny cattle picking over utterly barren rangeland, past Cimarron and up into the mountains. That’s some good driving right there. A few raindrops hit the windshield, but not enough to make me stop and put the top up.

From Eagle Nest over and down into Taos (the usual traffic jam), across the Rio Grande at Española and up the hill to Los Alamos. The mountains above the town are still smoldering, the fire working its way through terrain too rugged to send in crews. The hills all around the town used to be heavily forested; now they are barren and rocky and coated with blackened toothpicks. Will the soil last on the mountainsides long enough to let the forests reestablish themselves? I sure don’t know. People are working hard right now to mitigate erosion.

So here I am, in the Land of Enchantment, tired from a long but never-dull journey.

Return to Kansas

As I write this I am at the end of the fourth day of my road trip to Kansas University, where I will once again hang out with skilled and insightful writers who are willing, nay, eager, to help me become one of them.

This odyssey has been different than some in the past, and I’m having a tough time putting my finger on what has changed. Normally when I get out on the road I pop reflexively into a literary frame of mind. Everything I see is a symbol or a metaphor or some shit like that. This time, not so much. It’s got me a bit worried.

The Road Ahead


For instance: Day one, even before the Emergency Broadcast Mystery, I was passing a beat-up pick’em-up-truck and its exhaust pipe fell off. Thump clatter clangety-clang-clang as the motorcyclist behind him swerved out of the way. Someone in the heavy traffic behind no doubt got a nasty surprise. There should be something more to say about that. I had been directly behind the pipe-loser only moments before.

Inspiration? Bueller? Bueller?

Then there was the truck I passed. On its rear-view mirror, just above the convex part of the mirror, in white block letters, was the word “GOAL”. So every time that driver looks in the mirror, he sees GOAL printed neatly over what he is leaving behind. It’s probably an acronym for how to be a better driver, but it’s still kind of sad. No matter which way he goes, he’s driving away from his GOAL.

The Road Behind


Speaking of better drivers, I’m a pretty good driver most of the time (above average, like most drivers), but sometimes, every five years or so, I do something really stupid. Thanks, giant red pickup with anti-lock brakes in Ely NV, for not demolishing me.

I have never seen Nevada so green. Maybe it’s just timing, maybe Nevada looks like this pretty often, but I’ve traversed the state a few times and I saw green where I didn’t even think there was vegetation before. Three days through the desert, happy for the new wipers and water-tight top each day.

Rain-Washed Miata in the Desert


I added time to my pilgrimage this year with the express goal of taking lots of pictures. It hasn’t gone as planned. There were many complicating factors – a run-down bar facade I wanted to shoot simply isn’t there anymore. Highway 50 is not as lonely as it used to be, so I couldn’t stop in the middle of the road to take pictures when no pullout was available. Mostly, when I looked at the results, I realized that I had forgotten almost everything I had learned while shooting landscapes in the past. The pictures just weren’t that good. I slap my own forehead now, seeing the same mistakes I made my first time through the desert repeated at higher resolution.

Roadside Reflections


Next time. I think a co-pilot would be a huge help.

Either I missed a 40-foot-tall sign marking the entrance to a military base, with a rocket at the top that I would love to turn into a (technically challenging) pinup shot (sexy ’50’s-style cowgirl riding the rocket, ruby-red lips and white teeth, her hand holding her turquoise cowgirl hat high… chaps? yeah, I think she’s wearing chaps.), or the sign is gone. Perhaps the base was closed. If so, that sign should be in a museum somewhere, and I will go to that museum. All I saw was a simple green sign pointing to (if I recall correctly) bombing range B-17.

One of the advantages of taking a couple of extra days for the trip is that you have more flexibility to dodge the weather. This presupposes that you pay attention to forecasts. Last year I had a thoroughly unpleasant time moving east through Kansas as thunderstorms knocked me about and generally tried to kill me. “Not this time!” said I, and put in a long day to get from Ely (rhymes with mealy), Nevada, to Boulder, Colorado. I drove right into a massive thunderstorm as I crossed Vail Pass. Whee.

A side note: Don’t people put crowns on roads anymore? This highway was freshly resurfaced, and there was no effort made whatsoever to encourage water to flow to the sides of the road. Good God Almighty, does the highway department think water behaves differently these days? I settled in behind a car (at a safe distance) and when great geysers of water flew up from his car, I prepared myself for the same. Slowly, sanely, we all made our way down off the mountain.

View out my window this morning


Overall, I-70 west from Salina, Utah to Golden, Colorado is the most consistently scenic 400+ hundred miles of road in the US interstate system. (If you have a few extra minutes, highway 60 west of Golden is an excellent aside – today I followed the course of the pure rocky mountain spring water muddy rocky mountain thunderstorm runoff almost to the brewery gates.) As with any road that spans hundreds of miles, there are a couple of boring stretches, but overall no amount of engineering could overcome the joy of driving through the rocky mountains and the majestic deserts of eastern Utah. (The goal of the interstate system is to engineer out all joy of travel in the names of safety and efficiency.)

I’m in rural Kansas right now, conservative as it gets (or at least Republican). I look like an old hippie. Kansas folk are friendly, though; they just can’t help it. All they need is a little help from me, a friendly hello, a smile, and then “he may be an old hippie but he’s a nice man.” This is true pretty much anywhere; people want to have a friendly interaction with you most of the time, so just help them out.

View out my window this evening


Latest Google Search: Does too much turkey jerky cause hemorrhoids? Followed closely by: God, is there any other indignity you would care to thrust upon me?

Yes, in my short time here in the Bible Belt, I have already become a man of prayer.

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