My Trip to California
(from North Carolina)
by T. Mike
Dealing With Stuff.
My cross country journey from North Carolina to live in Los Angeles, California certainly soured me on the whole concept of "owning crap." That tends to happen when you have to cram all your possessions in a truck, then stuff 'em in a garage and finally whittle everything you own down to a midsize carful. Crass materialism just kind of loses its charm. You don't just start resenting your possessions, but resenting them on graded scale according to size and weight. "You, little pocket knife are my friend! You fit so snugly in my pocket! Not like that lousy Magritte poster! Why did I have to frame that?! Curse the day!"
The Trip Itself.
About driving itself, let me just say this: Check your pants! You don't want to drive cross country with your pants riding up on you all day, believe you me. Besides the obvious discomfort, dying because you lost control of the car while trying to pull your pants out of your ass crack doesn't look good on a tombstone. I recommend something loose and billowy, like a kilt. I also recommend driving in the day as opposed to night. Because that way you can see more stuff! And hey, wouldn't the drive go faster if the wind wasn't always blowing against you? Why is that? Oh, and guess what! The sun sets in the west, so it's always in your eyes in the evening! Wait. That means if you were driving the other way, it would always be in your eyes in the morning. Man, you just can't win. Why couldn't America be one of those countries that go North-South?
Driving through the great Southwest of our country, following Interstate 40 as it led through miles and miles of desert and scrub, I couldn't help but wonder: We stole this land from the Indians? What the hell were we thinking? Why couldn't we have stolen some nice land from the French or English or Spanish? We could have had Quebec! Or Acapulco! But nooo, we had "Manifest Destiny," we had to go from sea to shining sea. Well, why not from top to bottom, instead of from side to side? Harrumph! The only good thing about the Southwest, aside from reasonably priced turquoise jewelry made by real Indians, are the ghost towns. The ghost towns of the Old West have a fascinating history - they were built by ghosts who were forced out of England due to religious persecution (The Catholic Church "refused to believe in them" and claimed "they don't exist."). So they came to America, where people are free to believe in whatever they want, no matter how stupid. Yup, the ghosts are dead now, but their abandoned towns live on. Some say they're haunted! Creepy.
Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park
Okay, okay, the other good thing about the Southwest is the beautiful national park areas, like the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park. It's a good thing it's located way out in the middle of a national park, cause if it was anywhere else, someone would have razed it and put up a strip mall. Actually, now that I think about it, a lot of our country's most beautiful areas are located in isolated, undeveloped national parks. Hunh! Man, America really lucked out!
At the Petrified Forest National Park, you're not allowed to take home any of the cool petrified wood laying around, no matter how much you swear you'll bring it right back. The rangers are real hardasses about it. I asked if could see a piece and they said "See with your eyes, not with your hands!" I protested I just wanted to see it for a second and they held it out and counted "one!" and then put it behind their back. Apparently they used to have a real problem with people taking stuff home, because the park used to be several hundred acres bigger. But you know what? I bet if you dressed up and claimed you were a "petrified beaver" and you had to get some petrified wood to eat or you'd die? I bet they'd give you some then. I did buy a souvenir petrified wood kit, though. It comes with a piece of wood and water with lots of minerals in it. You shake it up every once in a while and in a few thousand years, bingo - it becomes a piece of real petrified wood! I passed on the "Paint Your Own Desert!" kit. A bag of sand and a bucket of paint, big whoop.
The Meteor Crater
The meteor crater is not a national park, but a privately owned "Natural Landmark." That's kind of like double A ball to the Painted Desert's major league "National Monument" status. It's not as nice as a real national park either, I mean, the meteor crater isn't as deep as it used to be because it's starting to fill up with garbage. On the plus side, they're not as picky about the not taking rocks out of the park rule, so I backed my car down to the center of the crater and loaded up a good chunk of the meteorite in the back. While I was doing that, a lot of other people totally stole my idea and wanted to borrow my shovel, but I was all like "Get your own!" Yeah, that meteorite chunk will come in real handy on snowy and icy days when I put it in my trunk over my rear axle to improve traction. While there, I bought a meteor kit- a fun little science experiment you can do- you get a real chunk of iron-nickel and NASA's phone number!
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is absolutely amazing! Just viewing it makes me feel better than other people like you. After viewing its majestic splendor, I want to divide people into two groups: the people who haven't seen it, and good, normal people like me. But I looked and looked and couldn't spot the president's faces anywhere. I guess it's probably in another part of the canyon I didn't get to see. It is pretty big!
If the Grand Canyon is best viewed alone, then historic Route 66 is a trip you want to share. How I wished I had some way to contact my buddy Jason (he made the same journey a week later) and tell him to make this wonderful detour and see all the scenery there is to see! But the really sharp curves with no guardrails made me seriously doubt how this road could ever have been a major artery for traffic. Driving along it without power steering seems criminally irresponsible. In fact, many motorists injured on Route 66 in the 30's and 40's sued the major automakers for not having invented power steering yet. Just to check, I borrowed a hairpin and measured the angle with a protractor and then compared that with the angle of a particularly heinous bend in the road. Just as I thought, a perfect match! It was a "hairpin curve" alright. Then after another dozen of them, it slowly sank into my brain that Jason was driving a 14 foot rented moving van, towing his car behind it, and being followed in a separate car by a nervous girlfriend. How I wished I had some way to contact Jason and warn him! Do NOT take historic Route 66! It's a deathtrap! Route 66 is also where I gave my only ride to a hitchhiker, a gila monster trying to get out of the sun for a bit because the rocks were starting to burst into flames. He chipped in a few bucks for gas, which was great, since in the desert they get away with charging outrageous prices! I ended up paying two dollars a gallon for gasoline and five bucks for a glass of boiling hot water with a hair in it. Out of politeness, I offered some to the gila monster, but he said no thanks, he saw the attendant spit in it.
After narrowly escaping Route 66's deadly scenicness, I arrived at the California border patrol checkpoint, where the fruit and vegetable cops busted me for a couple of peach pits and a pistachio. Personally, I think it's disgusting that the junk food industry is so powerful here it can get away with confiscating all your fruit and vegetables at the border. California, I also noticed, was the only state where my speed was checked by plane! I saw a leadfoot get strafed, but I was let off with just a warning shot. I tell people the bullet hole in my hood was from when I bravely fought off this carjacker. Then people ask if I shouldn't get the bullet hole in my engine block fixed. Dude! Then I wouldn't have the story to tell! Sheesh!