Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Coast To Coast #1: Running Down a Dream

As I type this, I'm sitting at a tiny table drinking coffee.  It's overcast outside, but it feels perfect.  If I walk out the door and look north, the Hollywood sign stares straight at me.  The table next to me currently hosts a crazy tarot reading.  In other words, I'm in LA!

And, good grief, I am happy to be here.

At 6:15AM (Central) Monday morning, I left Conway, Arkansas in a driving rainstorm.  At 5:11PM (Pacific) Tuesday evening, I arrived at my friend's Hollywood casa.  Let's break everything in between down really quick:

Miles Traveled: 1689
Ounces of Coffee Consumed: 80-1200 (approx)
Average Speed: 70? (approx)
Hours Driven: 24
Gas Stops: 7
States Seen: 6
Hours slept: 5.5
5 Hour Energy Shots Consumed: 4
Rolling Stones Albums Rocked: 2.5
New mixes created for this particular drive: 2
Muffins Stolen From a Hampton Inn: 1
Speeding Tickets: 0 (Knocking on wood...)

As for the states themselves...

Arkansas rocks.  It's pretty, and the people are really nice, and non-Arkansans sometimes forget about its existence.  There are few things I like more than great places that the outside world occasionally ignores. Basically, the state's PR campaign: "Come to Arkansas! Or, if not, more for us!"

I was really excited leaving Monday morning.  I hadn't driven/ridden across the southwest since I was nine years old.  My family spent the summer of '94 in Los Angeles--we lived in Northridge just a few months before it became the epicenter of that year's earthquake.  I remember listening to a TON of George Jones in the car, and seeing so many dead armadillos in Texas that I asked my brother if any armadillos were still alive.

Anyway, the drive through Arkansas gave me the only patch of rain for the trip.  Memphis and Nashville readers: you know the crazy tornado-storms you got Monday?  That's what I drove through at 6:30AM.  But, by the time I hit...

...the sun was up and shining.  I'll say this for Oklahoma: it's got a big backyard.  Big sky.  Big horizon.  Big clouds.  Shell stations the size of K-Mart.  I did a lot of quality thinking in Oklahoma.  Here are some of my notes:

--I'm 1/16 Cherokee.  Is that enough to get VIP treatment at an Indian casino?

--Why is it that every time I glance into the car beside me, they're already looking at me? 

--Heard inside a Shell station outside Oklahoma City: "I could literally eat a whole cow."  How often do people mean "literally" when they say "literally"?  8% of the time?  3%?

--I saw real, live tumbleweed.  Tumbleweed!  Before this week, I wasn't sure it existed. 

--Music rec for driving through Oklahoma: My Morning Jacket, "Rollin Back."

On I-40W, you only pass through the top peg of Texas (where Amarillo is).  So, a relatively short trek.  Still, I found time to listen to two full Lyle Lovett albums, some requisite Willie, and count three dead armadillos. 

By this time, Ruby (my car) and I were settled into a nice groove: sun shining, tank full of gas, veins full of caffeine.  That's when the wind started.  Holy Lord, the wind.  I heard later that it was up to 60-80mph at points.  I tweeted that it was like driving through a Blur video.

Then, I had a minor scare.  Here's my list of the worst things that could happen to my car:
1) Anything that prevents it from moving.
2) The stereo breaks.

I went to pop out Lyle Lovett's Pontiac, and "eject" didn't work.  Not one day into the tour, I was faced with the prospect of driving cross-country--twice--without a stereo.  I panicked A LITTLE.  Only after stopping for gas and (I guess?) letting Ruby cool down did the stereo work again without a problem.

Music rec: Lyle Lovett, "She's Hot To Go."  Just make sure you can eject the CD.

New Mexico:
As soon as you cross into New Mexico from Texas, the speed limit jumps to 75mph and you gain an hour.  It's rejuvenating.  Also, the landscape immediately shifts from "plains" to "prairie/desert."  New Mexico is really pretty in a weird, almost-cartoonish way.  Picture the way an early Mario Brothers video game might represent a "prairie."  That's exactly what New Mexico looks like: the late 80's video game parody of itself.

There aren't a ton of gas stations on this drive, especially not Exxon/Mobil's.  I have an Exxon card which, you know, comes in handy when you need to get gas and an Exxon is nearby.  The bad news: I found exactly one Mobil in New Mexico.  The good news: it was pretty awesome. 

Billboards started appearing for this Mobil about 100 miles away.  Ten miles out, the billboards came two-at-a-time, every mile.  For the last few clicks, the billboards simply do not stop.  Keep in mind: this is a gas station, attached to a Dairy Queen, attached to a large gift store that sold kitschy "desert things."  That's the whole place.  It's advertised like a new Vegas casino.

Anyway, the Coke (glass bottle!) I bought there was delicious and the cashier was exceedingly nice.  She pointed me to the restroom with map-maker's precision, and maternally suggested I wear a jacket.

Also, staying the night in Albuquerque is nice.  I can assure Breaking Bad fans that nothing meth-related happened to me.

Music rec: Monsters of Folk, "Say Please"

New Mexico, Arizona, and California:
From New Mexico to Arizona to California, the landscape shifts from "prairie" to "desert" to "pine tree-lined hills" to "straight up mountains" in a big, awesome way.  It's a really fun drive.  There's also a ton of it.  To wit:

America!  Take that!
Music rec: Kings of Leon, "Arizona" and Phantom Planet, "California"

I won't bore you with the final 10 hours of the trip.  However, I will bore you with this: there are two hours when you cross into California, before you hit Barstow, where there is nothing.  There was maybe one gas station.  There is one road, no turns.  One range of mountains visible in the distance that (somehow) never gets closer.  There are no other cars, no gas stations, no place to rest.  Just straight, desolate, stark, wind-torn desert, straight with heat lines hovering above the road and mirages in the distance.  I'm pretty sure the devil appeared to tempt me three times, and I'm pretty sure I resisted.

Pretty sure.

Anyway, by the time I hit the 101, I was never so happy to be stuck in standstill traffic.  As I've mentioned before, I love LA.  I love the Hotel Cafe.  And I've done nothing for two days straight but store up all my crazy energy, sing along with the stereo, and count the minutes til I play again.  Can't wait to let it out tonight.

See ya then:
April 6, Hotel Cafe
7PM (sharp--they run a tight ship), 21+

And I'll blog again real soon from the road, complete with pictures and videos from the shows.  Stay tuned!

Working on a mystery,

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