I Probably didn’t Hear that Right…

I’m at a bar, and a regular was leaving, and I could swear the bartender said, “Be careful; it’s starting.”


An Unplanned Visit to Vernal

I was making good time scooting across the southwestern part of the United States, plying US Highway 40 from outside of Provo to Denver, my target for the day. Somehow in all my traversals of the region, I had never taken this slice of roadway.

I paused in Duchesne to fill up the tank, and soon after I pulled back onto the highway I noticed that the battery warning light was on. Uh, oh.

I considered two possibilities: That there was some fleeting problem (like the window motors had briefly overloaded the system – the windows are getting very sluggish) and everything was actually fine but the error condition was still registered in the computer, or there was a deeper problem and I was currently drawing off the battery, and the running time I had left was strictly limited.

Highway 40 in eastern Utah is not exactly buzzing with humanity (despite this being the beehive state). The next settlement of any size was Vernal, so I turned off any optional electrical items and crossed my fingers. I made it, and pulled into a parking lot to see if I could find a clue about what was going on.

I happen to own a wifi-enabled ELM327 which, combined with an app on my phone, allows me to read and clear the error codes recorded by the car’s computer. I got the widget and my phone talking to each other, only to discover that whatever condition causes the battery light to come on is not recorded on the computer. As far as the OBD II port was concerned, everything was hunky-dory. Humph. I had to conclude that whatever condition caused the light to turn on was ongoing. I turned to Siri to find a mechanic. Mostly I got tire stores.

When I twisted the key to start the car, it turned over with a distinct lack of gusto. No doubt about it, I was running out of juice. I made a command decision: First I would find a hotel, then I’d find a mechanic once all my stuff was safely stashed in my room. I’m glad I did. Unloaded and rolling once more, I got about half a mile before the car shuddered and rolled to a stop as I ducked into the parking lot for a laundromat. The last few feet into the parking space took leg power. Then it was time to call the nice folks at AAA.

Those nice folks sent another nice guy with a huge-ass tow truck to drag my car to a local mechanic. The catch: It’s Saturday. He took me to a good shop that’s “pretty much almost always” open on Saturdays, but, alas, not this particular Saturday afternoon. Nor is it likely they (or anyone else) will be open Sunday.

Currently I’m sitting in a nice-enough place called Wingers Roadhouse, drinking a King’s Tale Pale Ale, by the Winger Bros. Brewing Company. Since it’s on tap, it can only be 3.2%, which makes for an odd pale ale. At this moment “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac is playing. If only I could.

Small-town Utah on a Sunday. Here we go.


Oh, Shit

While I put the finishing touches on a truly fascinating blog episode, a pep band is setting up directly behind me. There is a sousaphone, trumpets, drums, and all the rest. Even Cheerleaders. Who are we? “Spartans!”

And now they’re playing.

Topology in Bars

I’m in a bar right now, and it’s not crowded. Nearby a group of maybe ten people has collected. They are clustered around a table, wedging in new arrivals rather than annex nearby unoccupied tables and pull them into the party.

Why not spread out? Why not bring in tables so that all involved have a place to set their glass? Let me tell you a little more about the group.

This is a gathering of geeks. ebay, if clothing is an indicator. (This group is indirectly responsible, then, for the recent debt I incurred. I forgive them.) Tech workers of varied ethnicity, having drinks and appetizers.

Two of them are female. The other nine (I’ve counted now) are all working to minimize the distance between themselves and the the non-Y-bearing nucleus of the group.

Only it’s not so simple. Allow me to expand on that theorem. The males (hereafter referred to as ‘dudes’) are actually competing for the closest eye contact with the females (or, ‘chicks’). Dudes don’t just want proximity, they want attention. This leads to a kidney-bean shaped cluster, as the value of space drops dramatically once out of the peripheral vision of the two chicks. Good thing, too; otherwise my little island of tranquility, directly behind the chicks, would be impinged upon by careless geek elbows.

One of the two chicks just shifted her posture inward, slicing off a section of the kidney bean. The isolated bunch immediately began talking about football.

My Travel Shirt

I promised chronicles of my road trip with Chiquita (who is currently lying on the bed with me and crying about my neglect) and they will follow. It’s been tough finding the words, which is trouble considering I’m going to writing camp starting tomorrow night.

I am wearing my travel shirt. It became the official shirt of road trips last summer (or was it the summer before?). Driving through humid climes, there’s nothing nicer than putting your left elbow on the door sill of your convertible and having your sleeve balloon up and scoop air down into your comically-inflated shirt. Man, that feels good.

When you’re out on the road, certain social niceties can be set aside. If you’re just going to slather sunscreen all over yourself and sweat profusely as you crawl across the surface of the Earth, there’s no point putting on a clean shirt in the morning. You may as well throw on the shirt that is already saturated with road fluids. Mountain Dew stain on your chest? No biggie; more will follow.

It’s an aloha shirt, the sort of thing that fits my style anyway, built for comfort when things are warm. Cotton, of course, and roomy enough for me.

The shirt also has a breast pocket, which is absolutely required while traveling. It’s where hotel keycards go, where the change from the drive-through lands, and where anything else that you might need to recover while your seatbelt is fastened will ultimately reside. On my travel shirt, that pocket is starting to tear off, the fabric failing in different ways on either side. It’s the result of reaching in there for something way at the bottom so many times. The left-handed reach while I juggle items in my other hand is the most punishing, I think.

Today, zipping across the Texas panhandle, my dog started licking my shirt. Not the breast pocket (where there was jerky from a nice gas station owner in Clines Corners), but my right shoulder. I gotta think that might be a sign.


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.


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.


The Question I Really Wanted to Ask Tonight

“So, are you guys prostitutes?”

Road Trip by the Numbers

My sweetie and I just made a quick road trip from here in San Jose down to Tucson, Arizona, and back. The light of my life happens to be the light of other people’s lives as well, and one of her closest friends has been having a tough time of it lately. It was time to go lend a bit of moral support, and to introduce me to part of my sweeties (non-genetic) extended family.

Time was limited, however, and cash not as plentiful as we would like, factors that combined to make this a long drive with little rest. Here are a couple of interesting stats:

Waking hours spent driving: 50% (about 33/65)
Increase in car's mileage: 5.5%

That second number may not seem that significant, until you realize the car is ten years old:

Miles per day, first ten years: 33700/3650 = 9.2
        (includes a road trip from San Jose to Los Angeles)
Miles per day, last four days: 1880/4 = 470

The last stat of note:

Beers consumed: 0

Yeah. Next time, we’re flying.

And then there’s Mikie

The real beginning of this blog, on Road Trip Day 1 of Muddled Year Zero, a happy occasion, also marks the end of my years with Mikie. The first two days of that road trip are the last time I ever saw the guy.

Had I been serious about this blog earlier, your opinion of me, dear reader, might be different. We had some times. Getting kicked out of Las Vegas and driving through Trona with two chihuahuas. Karaoke violence in Louisville, KY. Strong drinks and slurred words. Mikie and I, we go back.

I just heard from him recently, and this Kentucky Derby brought back memories. I’m just sitting here right now, thinking about all the things we did. Most of them, I’d do again.

Most of them.


Tunnel Vision

Back when I lived in Prague I used to laugh about the crappy service in pubs and bars. They don’t work for tips over there, so pissing off the guests really doesn’t matter much.

Right now I’m sitting at a place called BJ’s, which is practically part of the Apple Campus. My service today has been worse than anything I saw in Eastern Europe. The problem: tunnel vision.

For example: I am sitting next to the main thoroughfare to the kitchen. Every waiter and waitress passes my table regularly. Yet, when I wanted something, they all strode directly past me, steadfastly ignoring my increasingly urgent gestures. Finally I got the attention of a hostess, who stopped a waiter and asked him if I was his table. He shook his head no, eyes fixed on the stone tiles ten feet ahead, and pressed on into the kitchen.

The hostess then asked me, “do you know who your waiter is?” and I found myself feeling apologetic for not knowing my AWOL guy’s name. Anger at myself fueled my current state of indignation. The right answer: “I don’t give a fuck who my server is, and neither should you.”

I suspect my guy was on a break and hadn’t handed me off properly. He’s been very attentive, and even cool, since then. But I’ll tell you this: if I was manager of this place there would be jobs on the line. “Not my table” is no reason to ignore a patron. That I was ignored by so many people indicates that the problem is institutional. If I was owner, the manager’s job would be on the line.

As I was writing that last paragraph, my server came over, told me he was taking his dinner break, and introduced me to his stand-in. Chris will look out for me, I’m sure. My needs are modest. But I still have the feeling that it’s just Chris. If he’s tied up, I’ll be out of luck.

Update: Unlike my previous cry in the wilderness, this one was answered. I got a message from the manager of the local BJ’s, taking my message very seriously. He even asked to meet me personally next time I come in, but I’m not sure I want that level of attention.

It is a sign of good management to take criticism as valuable feedback and use it constructively.


Drink What Now?

It’s Thursday, and I blew off a free concert (with free beer!) thrown by the iTunes group to have a little beer-blogging time. It’s been tough, lately; they keep putting hockey games with the local team on Thursday nights, and the bar fills up and it’s hockey so it’s intense — and, well, fiction doesn’t happen.

Tonight, things are calmer.

The bar features a pretty wide variety of beers on tap, from the basic American lame-ass beer to some nice microbrews. This spectrum is not broad enough for two guys at a table near mine, however. They are drinking Old Milwaukee. From cans.

ADDENDUM: On one the TV’s here in the bar, I just saw an ad for “Badass American Lager”. Genius. Now you can say “badass” — and believe you are one! — while you drink like a pussy.


What I Want to Say Right Now

“Excuse me, but can you stand farther away from me until your perfume drops below the bleeding-eye, exploding-nasal-passages level? The guy in the mohawk next to me is hurting too.”

This is the worst since I was in Sam’s Place, so very long ago. I’d link to that episode, but I’m hurting right now.

High Desert Storms

Rolling out of Los Alamos at the bright-and-early hour of 10am, I realized two things: First, that it was a day to find little, wiggly roads I’d never taken before, and second, that I’d forgotten my toiletry bag. I was already going forward, however, and at times like that I’m quite simply incapable of turning back. Stopping for gas in Totavi was difficult enough.

It was not a day for driving with the top down. The first significant showers hit as I was passing Cuyumunge, but it was a small storm cell and I was through it quickly. I took a right turn at Albuquerque but only stayed on the Interstate until the turn-off for Quemado.

I’ve been through Quemado plenty of times (haven’t we all?) but only going east-west on Highway 60. Today, for the first time, I decided to take the little north-south highways down through the last echoes of the rocky mountains, the spine of the continent.

Immediately I knew I’d made the right choice. I had NM 117 almost entirely to myself, except for the State Police cruiser I passed almost right away. A good reminder that today was about the road, not the destination. No need to hurry.

As I crossed the continental divide I had a massive storm feeding the Atlantic off to my right, lightning flicking and flashing with abandon (thunder in my little world provided by Social Distortion), and ahead a smaller but no less electric storm dumping into the Pacific. The latter would be my host for the last few miles into Quemado.

After a brief fluid-related stop in Quemado, where I had a pleasant conversation with a local, mostly about the weather, it was further south on NM 32. That was a fine bit of roadway right there, and hopefully next time it won’t be bucketing on me so hard I can’t look anywhere but the road. Cruising down a narrow canyon by Apache Creek was especially nice, and exceptionally rainy.

After the signage confused me a bit in Reserve (roads that don’t show up on my maps accompanied by a turn that felt like I was going in the wrong direction), I got myself on US 180 for another southward leg. It was only sprinkling off and on, and I had a little more attention for the world around me. After I came through something-or-other pass (elevation six thousand something) I started to notice patches of white flowers along the roadside, sharing space with purple-blossomed thistles. The white flowers looked like poppies as I motored past. Very pretty.

There is a section of US 180 past Glenwood that is a) Under construction and lacking all markings, and b) 35 mph speed limit. I, in my “what’s the hurry?” attitude, was doing 55 mph along there just to keep the people behind me from running me over. Then it started to rain. Did I mention the rain before? Yes? Well, that wasn’t rain. This was rain. Lashing, blinding, dumping, end-of-the-world rain. No stripes on the road to key on. I slowed down, and those behind me (who had tail lights to track) got even closer.

some sort of white flower

some sort of white flower

The good thing about those really intense storms in the mountains is that they are relatively compact. Soon after the twisty-curvy by Braille was over there was a turn-off for a scenic view, and I took advantage. I did not want to see any of the people who had been behind me again, ever.

Along the road up to the overlook there were more of the white flowers. I stopped and took a couple of pictures, but I was standing in the rain and didn’t have the patience to get the really good shot. I did notice, however, that despite the petaled, poppy-like flowers, the stems were bristly and stiff like a thistle. Perhaps I was looking at some Frankensteinian hybrid of a gentle garden plant and a thug from the wrong side of the tracks, botanically speaking. (If I were in charge, the plant would also be able to uproot itself and shoot poison darts. I saw no evidence of these abilities today, however, so there’s no need to panic… yet.)

Not far south of the rest stop was a turnoff I’d been debating. NM 78 broke off the “big” road and headed west into Arizona. I was still enervated from the previous downpour adventure, but I decided to give the little road a go.

When I turned onto 78, there was a sign reading, “Steep grades and sharp curves. Trucks not recommended.” Music to my eyes.

I hadn’t got far when I saw the battered old pickup some distance ahead of me hit the brakes. Hm. I got closer and as i came over a rise saw what he had. There was a pretty decent river flowing across the highway. Still, an old pickup got through, so why should someone in a low-slung sports car worry? With all due caution (I have a friend who lost his engine to high water), I forded the river, came out the other side in second gear with a sigh of relief. On I went, but not very far before I encountered the next river. I noticed that where the river flowed off the pavement on the downstream side there was a pretty significant dropoff, with a waterfall I might have appreciated more if the Bronco coming the other way weren’t trying to get over on my side to avoid a big rock. We all got through just fine in the end, Mr. Bronco waited for me to pass. Good thing, too, because I didn’t have a free hand for the window control.

The four fords went something like this:

  1. Holy cow! I hope I can get through this.
  2. Stay calm, take it easy.
  3. Don’t get cocky, sport; that kills engines
  4. I should have my camera ready for the next one.

Of course, there was no next one, but I did manage to get my phone ready for pictures just in case. From there 78 became steeper and I made a note to add this little ribbon of asphalt to the list of the best drives in the US. I suspect it would be better to drive it eastbound (better to be going uphill for the steepest parts), but my buddy in the pickup and I were treated to one heck of a beautiful and active drive.



Have you ever smelled a pine forest after a heavy rain? Something about the bed of needles on the ground (that’s my theory anyway) gives it a smell that is like no other. A little sharper than other forests. It’s incredible.

Down, down, and more down, the sort of down that affects your mileage, on twisty-windy roads, trapped behind trucks pulling camping trailers, but that was all right. As we came out of the mountains I almost stopped at a wide spot on the road that had one of those desert views, where you can see across multiple time zones, and you can see the rain falling over there and the sun shining on that mountain and a hell of a lightning storm off to the north.

Did the Navajo think the Earth was flat? What about the Apache? Seems like a question we need answered.

At the bottom of AZ 78 I was faced with a choice. I pulled over for a moment and consulted my not-very-good road atlas. (My previous was Rand McNally and was much better.) I decided on US 191 all the way down to Interstate 10. As I mototed along the flowers gave way to succulents. An occotillo-like plant a vivid green against the red clay. Yuccas and either skinny barrel cactus or stunted saguaros. Cholla and woody shrubs in the overgrazed areas (the contemplation of which triggered a get-poor-quick scheme for another day).

(Note to self: If I ever need a good movie location with an impressive bridge with no traffic that we could maybe even blow up, there’s one next to Highway 191. Ample parking.)

I rejoined civilization in Safford, AZ, a farming town and then some. Not sure, but it might have been cotton in those flooded fields. Safford seemed like a nice place on my flyby, with a sense of community if the signs for this and that event are to be believed. After my high-altitude excursions, however, I could really feel the heat.

I stayed true to my highway headed due south of Safford. On the stretch between Safford and Interstate 10 I saw three things that I claim are thematically related. Just don’t ask me what the theme is.

I saw decay. The human settlements along that stretch of road had obviously seen better days. Even some houses that at 60mph looked like they had been pretty nice once lay abandoned. There were still plenty of people living there, but whatever had been supporting that community is gone. A ghost town in the making, populated only by people with nowhere else to go.

I saw plenty. The yuccas’ long stalks were bent over, forming weary arches. At first glance this is in harmony with the human plight of the town, until you realize that the plants are bowed over by the weight of their own fruit. The yuccas, at least, seem to be doing well this year.

I saw waste. For most of the way south, US 191 is a simple, well-maintained stretch of two-lan blacktop. Then, without any change in circumstances, there is a section that is divided highway, and then a section of perfectly adequate two-lane again, and then back to divided highway. I’m sure someone somewhere can tell me why it’s critical that US 191 be upgraded, but seriously, I’m not buying. I thought at first I was looking at stupidity, but then I realized I was most likely looking at the price tag for the vote of a powerful senator on some other issue. “We’ll send one hundred million of other people’s dollars to Arizona if you vote for…”

If you study those three observations long enough you’ll see an important convergence, a glistening polyp of knowledge that will make this whole crazy thing called life make sense. When you find it, let me know, ok?

Freeway! High speeds (except where there’s construction)! The entertaining route is rarely the fastest one, and there was still a long way for me to go. I was already exceeding the speed limit when I hit the top of the on-ramp. Time to fly!

Only, directly ahead loomed a big-ass storm. We’re way in the south of Arizona at this point, right? This desert could eat your pisante desert for breakfast, and wash it down with a glass of burning sand. Yet there in front of me is a rainstorm. Careful readers of this blog, those who keep score and try to catch my continuity errors, will note that the last time I drove this stretch of road, it was a white-knuckle gullywasher experience. That time I found myself in an America’s Best Value Inn, and likely that will be my last time with that chain. It sucked and cost a lot.

This time the plan was to fly Best Western. In the days of my months-long road trip they were the most likely to have Internet access, and that made me a fan. Right now they’ve got a buy-two-get-one-free special working. I hope to figure it out. Anyway, I was thinking, as I approached this storm, that if I saw a Best Western sign then my day was done.

I saw one such sign, in Hickox (Willcox?), and got off the freeway. I navigated the flooded roads for a while, never spotting the promised hotel. Finally, I saw the tall standard in the shape of a Best Western sign, empty. The hotel has apparently severed ties with my preferred chain. I drove on, into the mouth of the storm.

It was all pretty much routine, except when I was passing a truck, with a car in front of me, when we all together hit a section of the pavement where the water sheeted up. I never lost traction, but I was completely blind, all the glass of my car completely covered by torrents of water. Somewhere to my right was a big-ass truck. To my left, the median. Ahead, who knows? What if that driver hits the brakes?

My first fumbling act was to flip the wiper speed lever up to full blast. It wasn’t until several seconds later, the crisis passed, that I even realized I had done that, for the effort was completely futile. Water was dumping on me far too quickly to be wiped away.

I tapped my brakes, partly to send a signal to people behind me but mostly just to know they worked. I clenched the wheel, invented newer and better curse words than have ever been uttered before, and forgot them. Then we were through the crisis, all still alive, and slowly I got my heart under control.

Total time elapsed: maybe fifteen brick-shitting seconds.

That’s the thing about the road. It doesn’t care how much you love it. It’ll kill you anyway.

Sunset in Arizona

Sunset in Arizona

Now I’m at a Motel 6 in Casa Grande, Arizona. It’s nice enough, and it’s cheap. (Not as cheap as the hotels in Tucson, though. Those who plan their trips should try to sleep there.) Internet is extra here, but my phone can get me some Internet love. Tomorrow I’ll put up the photos. I bought a toothbrush and toothpaste at the truck stop across the street.