Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Doom on the Open Road

Here is the dark flip side of the romance of the American road trip. There is almost no darker feeling than spending a fine weekend in Vegas, unhinging from the daily drag, throwing money around and generally wallowing in the weirdness of our National Adult Amusement Park, only to find yourself in a miles long, bumper to bumper traffic jam in the stark nothingness of the eastern Mojave.

Imagine you've left Vegas in mid to late afternoon, passed over the border and are rolling toward Baker, looking to make Barstow to check in for the night. You come over a rise between blackened rocks and have to step on the brakes to bring yourself down from 85 mph to 0, jarring your nerves and raising your blood pressure and sinking your spirits. Before you is an endless line of taillights, disappearing over the next rise. The sky is turning a light slate gray as the partially cloudy day turns into a hazy early evening. The air is redolent with exhaust. You're tired, dehydrated, and have a vague but persistent headache despite the decent lunch and the motrin. You're sick of the music on each of the three cds you brought for the trip, and radio stations are few and badly received. There's some banda music on FM from some station in El Centro, fading in and out; hard rock, or whatever passes for that, squawking in abruptly from Vegas; a gospel hour delivered in a faintly southern accent from the Hinkley Valley is all that comes through on AM.

Nothing moves for ten of fifteen minutes. Suddenly, the line begins to roll forward way ahead and you think its finally going to get moving. Taillights switch off as cars go into drive. You're rolling! Wonderful! Finally. You're beginning to feel hungry now and the snacks have been chewed down to highly salty and spiced powder in the bottom of a cellophane bag, but that's OK because the line is mov- AHHHHH! F**K!

Everything has come to a halt. After maybe...maybe half a mile, everyone comes to a complete halt.

Another fifteen minutes passes, it happens again. This time, you get as high as ten mph before you have to stop. Your fingers begin to leave impressions in the wheel. The headache has taken complete control of your entire skull, from the bridge of your nose all the way back to your foramen magnum. Your very brain stem throbs with a dull pain. It's getting later...darker. No sign of Baker. Barstow seems a light year away.

Barstow, fer chrissakes! It used to be a joke (except to those of us lucky enough to be born there, or nearby)! Known far and wide as a really good place to take a piss on the way to Vegas. Now, it seems like your own personal Mecca.

What would you do? As the night progressed, and your progress did not, would you begin to have visions of pulling off into the desert and hulling down for the night, taking the chance that wandering freaks or feral pig hunters would happen upon you as you snore away the night? Would you allow your own personal snarling beast to reach out from its cage and slash the world to bits and drive violently up the center strip until the CHP ran you down like a rabid coyote? Would you endure, meditate, count the little reflecto thingies on the centerstripe, and visualize an ice cold beer in Baker. Would you try to find the hardware store where Raoul Duke somehow discovered the cold six pack of Ballantine Ale? Or would you cross over to the east bound side, and high tail it for Sam's Place, determine not to gamble the night away and to be back on the road at 5AM?

That last would be the smart way to go, but we didn't. In fact, we didn't even spend the night in Barstow. We picked up some sodium saturated glop from McDonald's and drove on through the night; topping Cajon Pass and sliding down into the brightly lit night of San Berdoo to pick up I-10 west. By the time we turned south on 405 we were still mumbling at one another in a not unfriendly way. We nearly cried with relief when we crawled out of the car and across the sidewalk to her front porch. We nearly fell asleep on her front room carpet. Acrylic shag never felt so good.


Blogger Roy said...

Boy that is annoying, I know. One of the few things I really enjoy in life is sailing along on the open road, and to have expectations dashed like that . . . well, not only is it not fun, it is extreeemely aggravating. You paint a dark picture indeed.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Don said...

I couldn't find a definition for crylic, so I'm not sure what you meant by a crylic shag, but I gather it happened on the front room carpet and you nearly fell asleep afterward. Surely a masterful way to end an unpleasant road trip.

I've still never been to Vegas.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Well, actually it's "acryclic" shag. Acrylic being a synthetic fabric. Also, the only thing that happened on the shag was exhausted and relived realization that we were off the road. Wow. That was a long trip. The blood pressure was probably hovering around ICU levels. Dark indeed, Roy. Dark indeed.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Oh Yeah, Hip', you MUST go to Vegas. It is worth the trip. To me it's not unlike New York City in that I love being there...for a while. then I'm ready to flee. In dark NYC fantasies, this usually takes the form of jumping off the Staten Island ferry and swimming for it.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Roy said...

Ohhh, I thought you said Cyrillic Shag--I just figured that was some sort of imported carpet with the Russian alphabet on it or something. Like at Toys-R-Us.

The only bad thing acrylic shag carpet (and I know) is that if you fall asleep on it, one cheek gets this weird pattern on it after a few hours. That and throwing up. You know, in that unlikely event.

1:49 PM  
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