Sunday, February 05, 2006

loose ends

too much happening and not enough will to comment on it all. i've been spending a lot of time tcb-ing and probably an equal amount of a lot of time staring at my navel. boy, there sure is a lotta lint in there.

the holidays flew by, the last two weeks of december filled with social events and fun. me and the chief went to cinespace and saw this tongue-twisting u.k. rapper called lady sovereign. later in the month, 00soul and i got to see los lobos play their kiko album in its entirety at the house of blues. pretty magical stuff. i had drinks with friends and lunch with an editor, fulfilled family obligations and spent a memorable new year's eve with friends.

last month, penn state won the orange bowl and texas beat usc in the rose bowl, so i couldn't ask for a much better end to the college season. the citybeat gang trooped off one night to the opening of a very '60s-hipster-glitzy new bar called saints & sinners, with my old pal lee joseph spinning. i drank martinis out of bowl-sized glasses and slugged back shot versions of their other specialty drinks. ooo. that wasn't wise, but it sure was fun.

doubtless i am burying the lead, b/c the main thing that happened is i flew to my dad's place in florida and drove back in his '66 mustang convertible, my new car. he's been saying for years it is part of my inheritance, and recently he's been threatening to give it to me early. he's finally made good on those threats, although not for any apparent dire reason. he just bought a newer mustang, and his GF has a brand-new mustang convertible, so the '66 gets passed on early. and so now i gotta sell my old faithful '65 pony convertible and get used to this beast, an almost too-nice car with a pony interior, many bells and whistles, a 302 under the hood, and a dual exhaust that burbles in a pleasingly muscular fashion. i am not complaining, but i've had the '65 for something like, close to ten years. it's practically a part of me, and the yellow beast is still an unfamiliar, if willing, conveyance.

so the trip was basically, drive west on interstate 10. except for when i took i-12 around new orleans instead of driving through it. but i still got the triptiks and maps from AAA, along with guidebooks i didn't really need. a triptik is a detailed layout of your route. you can order them via the auto club's website, which is totally awesome. they come spiral-bound in a pamphlet size, personalized with your name on it (hee), and with tons of foldout pages with detail maps of bigger cities along the route and other useful diagrams. and lots of facts about the areas you're passing through.

and pass through is what i did for most of the 3,800-plus-mile journey. police weren't exactly on my back, but i was still runnin'....


i left dad's around noon and made it to pensacola the first night, as planned, traveling north on the 75 to the 10. 407 miles in 7 hours. it rained off and on, but no major outbursts; the clouds roiled past both dark and light, and as i drove i could sometimes see patches in the near distance where rain was falling. i saw a lot of semis and a ton of road kill -- mostly possums -- plus hawks soaring overhead. it was humid, and i wished it would rain more to break the stifling air. i played favorites from my ipod through the car's cassette stereo. if the woods and fields and road that passed by could seem pretty generic, certain billboards made it clear this was the bible belt: "there is life before birth" (with a picture of a crying newborn on it) and "evacuation route: head for the cross, turn right." riiiiight. there were a few signs of dissent, including a sign posted outside a house in a community near my dad's: "no war. no empire. no occupation." and i saw an electric car with a bumper sticker that said "proud to be a liberal" wending its way boldly among the semis on the highway.

i crossed the bridge over the blackwater river -- just one of many, many bridges i would cross, as the south is apparently the land of bridges -- around sunset. the bridge was under repair, but thankfully two lanes are open going west, so there wasn't much of a slowdown. support columns holding up nothing rose in silhouette against the red-orange sky. low trees on the shores of the river were shrouded in mist -- gray and forbiddingly gorgeous. just on the other side i found my hotel. i ate dinner in the restaurant alone and gazed contemplatively at the endless string of ruby brake lights heading east on the 10.


in the morning i grabbed some free coffee and a bagel from the hotel's complimentary breakfast lounge. (free breakfast and high-speed wireless internet hookups were all i required, and i got both 'most everywhere.) i was on the 10 in a flash, regretting that i didn't take a picture of this enormous bridge being repaired, but ... there was no place to park. i aimed to be in houston by drive's end, passing through the rest of florida, alabama, mississippi, and louisiana all in one day. this was hurricane-aftermath country, although i missed the devastation done to new orleans b/c i took the 12 to bypass it. but along the way i saw enough broken trees and bent-over freeway billboards and half-reconstructed homes to feel a chill from the storms' ghosts. i had been debating whether to go through new orleans anyway, just to see it. i've never been there. i am glad i didn't go. not sure what the traffic would've been like, but more to the point, what i saw was sobering enough. mainly b/c it took so long to drive through all of the areas that had been hit -- most of the day. the scope of it made the devastation at once vaster and more intimate than what has been shown on tv. it was disquieting to the soul, the longer i passed on and on alongside shattered trees and the like.

yet these woods were still standing, only some of its members had fallen. and i began to think that in a way it was a sign of hope. some still stand. more shall grow up. there were also human signs of solidarity: "we will rebuild our community -- together" was a common slogan.

the doc had asked me where i would cross the mississippi river, and i am honestly not sure where that happened. b/c i was so focused on getting where i was going, i was often not totally aware of what was rolling by. i may have gone under it when i crossed into mississippi in a tunnel. or maybe over it on a bridge in louisiana. (yes, my geography sucks. thank the pennsylvania public school system for that.) that bridge loomed like a giant roller-coaster, big and slow but sorta gut-thrilling.

but the most spectacular bridge was the 18 mile or so one that passes over the swampland of louisiana. man. you just roll along, suspended low above the marshes, seeing a dirt track that runs alongside the pillars and wondering who or what lives in that watery world. it was the first of many times i marveled at the road and the feat of engineering it represented. be pretty damn tough to cross the swamp without it.

my schedule and the road commanded me to keep going. it was just as well, for the car attracted a lot of attention. at a travel stop in alabama, i was leaving the store and a man was coming in. he held the door for me, and i tersely said "thank you." apparently, in alabama, this means "please follow me back to my car and proposition me," b/c when i got back into the beast and looked to my left, the fellow was standing right next to the car. i rolled the window down a little and said, "yeah?" and he said, "you wanna sell that car?" i said, "nope." and then he said, without missing a beat (as if this were the real question all along), "what are my chances of getting you and the car?" oh, fer -- take me now you big hunk!!!!!! fucking hell. "pretty much negative," i growled. he tried to say something else. i rolled up the window and said, "gotta go!" started up the beast and jetted on outta there.

the road was in surprisingly good shape for much of the trip, but it was crap as hell in western louisiana, and construction in beaumont, texas, slowed me down a little. as i traveled through houston in the blessed late-evening darkness that followed a blazing, eyeball-searing orange sunset, a horn honked and i instinctively looked to the right. a guy waved tentatively from the driver's side of some late-model sedan. i looked away.

i did 524 miles in 8 1/2 hours. after a few hours my biceps started burning, but they eventually went numb. a few stretches in the hotel room proved surprisingly effective. good thing. i'm in training for a marathon called tomorrow.


this is it, houston to el paso in one day. that's 763 miles. just for fun, the stereo gave up the ghost in the morning, so i was reduced to listening to my ipod through headphones. i had brought a bunch of CDs to put into the car's CD player, but it wasn't working and i couldn't figure out why. i burned some of them onto my laptop and then transferred them to the ipod, so at least i had more of a selection of new stuff.

i don't remember a lot from this day, other than repeatedly thinking that texas is fucking big. i've been through it before, even on this route, but never alone. even the roadkill is bigger -- mostly deer. i think i went slightly mad for a while somewhere in a hilly desert land full of scrubby bushes and grey rocks, a land of nothing but flat-topped mesas and low pointy hills as far as the eye could see. and the eye could see pretty far. i just remember marveling at the landscape and cackling somewhat uncontrollably for a while.

when you're flying along at 70-75 mph (the speed limit is usually 75) for extended periods of time, it begins to feel like you are standing still. the only sport is keeping track of the trucks and how many times you pass them, and how many times they pass you. you see the same vehicles for so long that it feels like some unspoken convoy. the surreality of it all was compounded by the necessity of playing music through headphones. i had a lot of useful music for this leg of the journey -- cracker, grant lee buffalo, a new album by steve wynn & the miracle 3, plus less obvious stuff like imogen heap's latest, old throwing muses, and my own playlist of recent favorite rock tunes.

but this was an endurance test nonpareil. it was often quite windy, and, although the car is stable as can be, it took a lot of concentration and strength to keep a steady course. the worst part of every day on the road was, unfortunately, the hours before sunset -- usually my favorite time of day -- when the glare was at its worst and there seemed no way to alleviate it, despite sunglasses and hats with brims of different lengths. yet after dark proved more challenging, as the 10 is pretty desolate out that way. it got down to just me and the truckers after awhile, and the odd local resident bombing along in his/her giant pickup truck (a staple of texas living, of course) for a few exits. i had to turn off the heat and the music for the last 40 miles, to stay awake. few signs of civilization could be seen to my right, but away to my left glowed the lights of foreign towns -- mexico.

at last i got to el paso. the trip took me about 12 1/2 hours. too much driving for anyone sane. the wind was blasting when i practically fell out of the car to claim my hotel room. i settled in a little, then staggered across the parking lot to a nearby chain restaurant, where i strong-armed the nice young manager into letting me take the rest of my bottle of wine with me. i devoured a steak and a baked potato and a salad. tipped the waitress and the manager and returned to my room with the wine. it was on the third floor, and from the outside landing i could see the lights of ciudad juarez, city of murdered women.

that night while i watched some permutation of "law & order" (a staple of road cable, along with "roseanne" and "MASH" in the middle of the night), i really had to work out the kinks in my neck and shoulders, and my left arm was developing a shooting pain. but at least i was almost out of texas.


i was figuring about 7 hours to phoenix, which would be cake compared to the texas marathon. something like 435 miles, i think. i was planning to arrive with time to have dinner with my cousin mark.

i cheered when i passed into new mexico. it was just as damn windy and desert-desolate, but at least it was a different state. after a while the differences became more apparent. rockier hills and mountain formations. the incredibly awesome place known as texas canyon -- it looks like those vertiginous, impossibly balanced rocks you see in the roadrunner cartoons, except it's real. and lots of billboard exhortations to stop at native american- and cowboy-style tourist traps. "we have toe rings!" "...collectible dolls!" " galore!" "...indian jewelry!" etc.

then it was arizona. and i drove on. navigated the tricky world of phoenix freeways and got into my hotel around 7:30, i think. my cousin came by around 8:30, and we went off to eat mexican food at his favorite local. we are both blessed with the conversation gene that's dominant on my dad's side of the family. so there was no loss for talking, although the conversation jumped around a lot, from family to the state of the union and movies and writing fiction and poetry and on and on. (mark is also a writer.) i am so glad we got to hang out, if only for a little while, and i hope to return soon and meet his wife and have more time with them.

now i was spent. it was all i could do to coordinate plans with the divine ms. m, who had flown to nearby scottsdale on thursday so we could hook up for the last leg of the trip. she couldn't take driving all that way -- too much time, and she really gets nervous around semis. but we cooked up this scheme of meeting in phoenix and then driving to 29 palms to meet our friend cindy and stay the night at the funky-cool 29 palms inn. sort of a girls' night out in the desert, i suppose. i agreed to pick m up the next morning around 11:30.

and so ended the solo-flight portion of my journey.


the resort where ms. m had scored a cheap room via some internet travel website was lovely, but apparently not as nice as it looked. they charged for the same continental breakfast i'd been getting for free all across this great land. and she said the walls were so thin, she could hear her neighbor making noise all night long. huh. sometimes you don't get what you pay for.

on the way in to find her, i parked in the guest lot and hoped no one would mind. i asked a man who worked there if it would be ok. he said, sure, no problem. then he asked me if i was married. sheesh. and people wonder why we say that men are all the same.

i collected the princess, and off we went. we had to go back across phoenix. got breakfast on the other side. hit the road. made amazing time. i was grateful for the passing gear that let me blaze by the trucks at upwards of 85 mph without a hitch. at least i had the presence of mind not to tell her about the pickup truck i'd seen on the highway in new mexico the day before, marooned in the median on four blown tires, its contents pulverized and blanketing the road like a glittering, dusty carpet. pulled over on the right side of the road had been a semi, obviously involved in the accident. i figured the truck tried to pass the semi, got too close, and either it or the truck whipped slightly in the wind. POOF! instant confetti. it's a wonder the people inside weren't killed.

semis don't make me nervous. i grew up around them. and, i dunno. i'm just not a nervous driver, usually.

we found the highway into joshua tree national park and took that to 29 palms. that was the thing she really wanted to do. the timing was perfect, late afternoon, and we wended our way along the desert road, gawking at the landscape. she read from the little map/pamphlet we picked up at the ranger station. we stopped at one point and took some pictures. it was becoming twilight, so the light was changing. i tried to capture this on film. have no idea if i managed.

we emerged from the park just as it became truly dark. it was only a short way to the inn. cindy was waiting for us in this adorable little shack with two bedrooms and a bathroom, and a porch overlooking the lagoon. complete with a hammock!

this portion of the story has been edited to protect the innocent and the guilty, but suffice to say we had a grand time.


and in the morning, with coffee and homemade bread in the little restaurant, we ran into a bunch of people we knew from l.a. man, you really just can't get away from it all sometimes. ms. m told them about the car, so everyone trooped over with their coffee and tea cups to take a look at the yellow beast, which was universally proclaimed awesome.

by this time i was knackered in the extreme. i can't remember ever wanting to get home so badly in recent memory. we'd been thinking of doing some shopping at cabazon, but decided to just get some lunch and head home. i took her to burbank to retrieve her car from the airport. it seemed to take forever to drive the last few miles to my own canyon home at twilight. i hauled in my stuff, shut the door, and sat down.

"well," i said, channeling sam gamgee. "i'm back."

1 comment:

Jenn said...

I know the swamp bridge you speak of. Beautiful it is. Everytime I've driven across it, I've wondered where that dirt road goes to also.

Sounds like an awesome trip. And yes, Texas is really frakking big.