Monday, September 04, 2006


well, to put it simply, i now live in California.

to go into a bit more detail...i drove 4,000 miles to get here.

to trace out my route, you need a big map of the entire USA. Then, using a pencil, two pins, and a piece of string 1.25x the width of the country, draw a boolean curve between East Hampton and San Francisco. Then turn your pencil over to its trusty eraser side and rub out any curve between mid Arkansas and eastern California, and grab a ruler. Draw a straight line from Conway, AK to Barstow, CA and step back. What you've got there is a fairly accurate model of my trip across country. WHAM.

The collective presidential purchases of Thomas Jefferson and James K Polk amounted to the acquisition of a helluva lot of land--more land than we really knew what to do with. Much of Jefferson's purchase (what was then known as Louisiana) was useful farmland in the heart of the continent. A good chunk of Polk's, however, was arid, empty desert, that would turn out to be completely unuseable except for a little sliver along the coast in modern-day California. These huge landmasses, at the time largely uninhabited, were marked out on a map in giant squares. These squares were divided into smaller squares, and then smaller, and frontier-bound families were offered these stakes free of charge provided they just got out there.

Not that many people bothered.

So roads were built along the original map divisions. If you look at a close-up of Oklahoma, what you see there are not "generalizations" or roads that have been somewhat smoothed out. What you see is exactly what you get. And no, they haven't left out some of the smaller towns. If I moved there and built a shack on a quarter-acre of land, sat on my front porch with a shotgun and declared it "Kristenton, Population 1" chances are it'd make it onto the full-page map of the state with a dot indicating "medium-sized town."

Little has changed in New Mexico since Polk decided to fulfil the US's Manifest Destiny except for the addition of a 4-lane interstate and a few thousand miles of power cables, which make a side-by-side beeline for southern California and disturb little of the vast emptiness which passes for scenery around here. This hypnosis-inducing stretch is known as I-40 and is the best route from the East to the West, provided you're comfortable with never making contact with inhabited human settlements, trees, water, or temperatures below 110F. Posted speed limits have been replaced with signs reading "Go Faster." Wide, smooth curves in the road, visible for hundreds of miles before you reach them, are heavily signposted with "CURVE AHEAD: STAY ALERT." In place of county lines or city limits, you will see big outlines of the state with a dot to indicate "you are here."

In the Mojave Desert I had the pleasure of encountering a large yellow sign emblazoned with "WELCOME TO NOWHERE! Center: 250 miles" and an arrow pointing ahead.

I may be making that up.

The car did fine, and my navigator, on loan from London, had the difficult task of tracing the way across Texas. "I think, at this next mile should continue straight ahead for 2,000 miles."

We would have done well to set the cruise control, lock The Club on the steering wheel, and climb in the back to make out.

We traversed (in order):
New York (2 days, if you omit the 3 months i lived there--I picked up my foreigner from JFK and visited my sister in Harlem)

New Jersey (8 minutes to look at the map)

Pennsylvania (10 minutes to get gas)

Maryland (no stops)

West Virginia (no stops, and kept an eye out for yokels)

Virginia (stayed the night just outside of DC)

Washington DC (1 afternoon, toured the monuments and got the hell out)

North Carolina (no stops--it smelled entirely too bad. I think it must have been official Wildlife Road Crossing Day, but motorists didn't get the memo)

South Carolina (3 days to visit the folks, have free food, tour my university, pick up a shirt i made for a class, and hang out with my neighbors)

Tennessee (a few stops for lunch, gas, and dinner. Might i recommend, to anyone crossing that years-long state, a little restaurant on the Pigeon River called The Beantree. Picturesque, good service, good food, and inexpensive. We really liked it.)

Arkansas (with a one-night stopover at Grandma's where the Brit got an unexpected cultural awareness credit involving firearms. My vegetarian uncle cooked us some fabulous steaks and my Panamanian aunt made this wonderful beet-and-potato salad that kept us full till Albuquerque. And it wouldn't be a trip to Grandma's if she didn't send us off with a cooler full of food for the road. Cheapest gas on the trip was found here--$2.58 about 60 miles west of Conway)

Oklahoma (did we stop? i set the cruise control to 85 and mentally checked out.)

Texas (two stops--one in Shamrock at a very overpriced Best Western, and at a neat rest station with a beautiful view of a cragged, ravaged landscape.)

New Mexico (one stop in Albuquerque's historic Old Town, where we had a lovely mid-afternoon lunch at a neat Mexican place called La Placita. It had a big ol tree growing through the roof. another stop for gas in Tucumcari, the epicentre of nowhere, which has a gift shop full of junk)

Arizona (slept two nights in this state. First Holbrook, where we passed out in the middle of the night after I bypassed trashy Gallup, NM earlier in the evening. It was only after we crossed the AZ border that I realized the next motel was nearly 100 miles away. Then, after a fabulous day at the Grand Canyon (the most awe-inspiring ditch you'll ever lay eyes on. seriously, the depth and breadth of this thing are entirely too much for the human mind to comprehend in one try.) and a fortuitous wrong turn into the Navajo Nation and the equally beautiful Painted Desert (an area where you just have to stop the car every 500 feet, get out, walk a few feet, and gaze) we found a motel in Kingman in the middle of the night. Kingman is one of those odd western oases that is only a few decades old--the town was born during the construction of the Hoover Dam and just stuck around. There's not a whole lot there but we did find a Mobil station.)

California (yay! we made it! now on through the Mojave Desert, a land that gives clout to conspiracy theorists' claims that the Mars landings were staged. Interestingly, when whe hit the CA border the speed limit dropped but the average auto speed doubled. You'd swear these drivers were on fire. It was around here that my TD called to check up on my progress and suggested that I turn north at my earliest convenience, drive straight to Vegas, and put all my money on Red. or Black. Barstow was a wide space in the road, and Bakersfield was so industrial and inhospitable that i started driving faster, too. Interstate 5 wasn't particularly interesting but the clerk at the Los Banos Econo Lodge was fun. The drive into Berkeley was creative, as I'd failed to consult anyone on just how to get to the theatre until then, but to say the least I found my job and friendly faces who were happy to welcome me.)

I've been working for a little over a week now and I'm really enjoying myself. My coworkers are great, the weather is beautiful, and I'm starting to learn my way around. My better half has returned to his native land, which was a bit of a thunderstorm on my parade, but i'm keeping busy and hopefully i'll have a functional bike in the next few days.

Whew. that's been my last two weeks, in a nutshell.

happy labor day.


PartyingMyPants said...

that story's made me kinda nostalgic about my very similar cross-country driving experience. i know exactly what you're talking about. there's a lot out there. well, by "a lot" i mean a lot of space and not much else, but it's really cool to see none-the-less. my only suggestion is this: on your way back, make it a point not to stay in any motels or reputable sleep establishments. sleeping in campgrounds, rest stops, and the roadside adds a whole new level of excitment to the experience.

Veronica Tomorrow said...

You should make it so you can publish whether you are a blogspot member or not so your mother can post too. Meanwhile, I have a blog now too... but all I could think to talk about is shoes... i hate being broke!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for not making me not sign up for a blog of my own. Now I can't remember what witty thing I was going to say. I hope that some day you will look back on this trip and really appreciate all that you saw ( and who you saw it with) and realize what a unique gift that it was. I grew up traveling back and forth across country when I was a kid, and it was a pretty cool experience. We really have a wonderful and diverse land. You got to see parts of it that I have never seen. Thanks for writing down your impressions.