I had a nice long weekend that I’m slowly recovering from, so in the meantime, I thought I’d share the story of my road trip across the country in the mid-90’s. Then I’ll blog about my weekend.
This one time, my friend, my friend Stephanie? She and I drove across the country in a used sedan she had just bought at a little car dealership in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
We were both single and in our early 20’s at the time, and prone to making spontaneous plans like that. She had been living in Florida for about six months, it wasn’t her home, and she was ready to come to L.A. I flew there and met up with her, but we took a few more days to get on the road. In the meantime, we had some fun in Florida and she introduced me to Thai Iced Tea, and the delicious taste of Brie on bagels. We also went foam dancing, a trend that was occurring in night clubs and made me wonder the whole time whether or not someone was going to slip and hit their head and drown in the foot and a half of water on the slanted dance floor. I was also introduced to humidity as I’d never known it in my life. I went swimming in her aunt’s pool and couldn’t tell which part of me was in the water and which part was out, unless I actually looked.
Anyway, with four or five days sufficiently killed, we packed in some road trip food, hugged her dad and sisters and niece, Hailey, goodbye, and set out for California. Home. We drove up to Georgia, then across the bottom of Alabama, then swiftly through Mississippi. It was just like that, too –we started the trip off with a bang. I mentally took pictures the whole way across the Mississippi River, and thought of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and tried to drink in the verdant beauty as much as I could because we were FLYING. We both got summit fever early on, as she was looking fwd to California, and I was missing it. I tried to call a friend of mine when we were in Louisiana, but her roommate told me to fuck off. I guess they hadn’t left on good terms.
We spent our first night in Lafayette, Louisiana, hometown of makeup artist Kevin Aucoin, rest his talented soul. The next morning we were introduced to what continental breakfast really means (pastry in a wrapper, and orange juice), and then we set out again on the still long road ahead of us. We were just outside the Texas border when we discovered that our air conditioning was broken. Yeah, in June, in the south. It remained this way for the rest of our trip. We reminded ourselves that it could have been something worse that was broken, like a belt.
We took photos of roadkill the whole way across Texas. There are other ways to pass the time, but that was our way. There was a trucker who pulled over every time we pulled over, and since we’d passed each other many times that day, we both knew that he knew we were alone. This didn’t prompt us to be more concerned about our personal safety, much like the time we lived in the bad part of Long Beach together and never locked our door because we never got around to having a second key made. Our solution to the either concerned or serial killing trucker? We pulled over and took photos of roadkill really fast and then jumped back in the car and sped away. When she and I were in our early twenties, we thought we lived inside of a bubble, and like, why would anyone ever hurt us? And we conducted our lives with a wide-eyed lack of concern so thorough that it’s uncomfortable to look back on it.
That road across Texas goes on forever and ever and ever. During our long haul across that big huge state, I couldn’t help but notice how clean the rest areas are. I never fail to bring this up to Texan natives to this day, and they are always very proud to hear it, and have this sort of “of course!” response (Well gol’ dang). We visited a lot of rest stops, too. I think it was because the A.C. was broken, and we were guzzling water. Even with the wind, we got pretty retarded from the heat. I’ve heard of this happening, but I have a foggy memory of both of us getting out of the car at one of the rest stops and slowly making our way in a zombie-like stagger to the rest room and we stayed in there at least as long as it took for our heads to start to clear. Stephanie is always good company, and she made us hummus and picked up some bagels, which was a nice alternative to boring road trip food. Also, we hadn’t seen each other quite a while before that, so we had a lot of visiting to do while we were driving. Even in this ragged state, we were probably yip-yapping away. She was bringing me up to date on her life in the time that had elapsed since we’d said goodbye in Long Beach a few years earlier. She had traveled around a lot of the country, then back to the west coast, then back to the east coast, and finally was on her way back to L.A. She’s a musician and an artist and a songwriter, so I’m sure all of that fueled her adventures, and the adventures fueled the art. There was so much that I wanted to hear about.
Early that evening, I saw the largest insect I’d ever seen before, just sitting there on a gas pump. It was this giant green walking stick-grasshopper looking thing, just staring at me as I pumped gas. In the thick night air, it was the only thing reminding me that I was in a state that was a stranger to me.
On our second night we tried to stay awake and keep plugging away towards our destination. I mean, it was the only time it was cool, so why stay indoors? But I could not stay awake, no matter how hard I tried, and when Steph tried to drive, she had the same problem. Plus she’d already been driving for several hours. We ended up in the crappiest hotel room I’ve ever slept in. There was ancient shaggy carpet, and if I remember correctly, the walls, or maybe it was the headboards, had old shaggy carpet on them too. I am thankful that there wasn’t a black light in there or we wouldn’t have slept at all. It seemed more we’d broken into an abandoned shack to sleep in.
Our third day found us just outside the border of New Mexico. Right about this time, we put “Horse With No Name” on the stereo, and the tape looped around three times, and we didn’t mind because we were feeling rather simple-minded by this point. Our horse didn’t have air-conditioning. We were soaking napkins and wetting our faces to try to cool off. We called my parents and told them we were heading for their place in Joshua Tree. I don’t remember ever feeling relieved like that to be in weather that was only as hot as J.T. in the late spring, but it felt so much better than spring in the South. I’m serious. The route from Arizona to the Morongo Basin had always seemed like such a long lonely highway, but we had just torn across the whole country, so that last stretch went by in a flash. That lonesome, Salt flats, Amboy stretch where they filmed “The Hitcher”.
After staying the night at my parents’ house, we got back on the Ten Fwy and stayed on it until the 60 detoured us to the beach, and we were home and able to spend the next several days doing nothing but staying cool. It was well worth it, but if anyone is thinking of driving across the country in June in an older car, may I recommend the northern route?