June 19 and beyond.
The final punctuation on my adventures as a Californian had come. Heavily it weighed on me on the eve of my departure. It was that long, awful drive across the big country. It was that long, dark, introspective descent into the nether regions of my brain on those long lonely western roads. It was going to be a doozy.
In the morning I got in my car and drove east.
400 miles on the 40 and then some. I was experiencing America the way God intended: at 80 miles an hour with air conditioning.
There were plenty of Navajo trinket stands along the roadside in Arizona should a curious traveler decide to obtain a keepsake to commemorate their sojourn. But I had no time for such things.
After about 9 hours of driving I stopped to eat. I had been eating only Slim Jims and apples out of a plastic bag on the passenger’s seat. The weird Navajo man at the Inn ‘n’ Grille made dinner unsettling. He kept repeating, “Where you headed, sir? Are you sure about the address? It gets dangerous…at night.” He was not speaking to me. I heard this a total of seven times. What was most unnerving was that he kept repeating it to two young, disinterested girls.
After passing through Monument Valley at sunset (a truly wondrous sight) I got a hotel in Moab, Utah. In my hotel room I believe I did something that just might have ruined me forever. I sat in the massage chair for a straight 2 hours. It changes a man.
Following a night of crazed cartoon dreams of desert roads lunging at me from every angle at 100 miles an hour I awoke. I knew I had to get an early start. Not just to make good time, but because when undertaking such a thing as driving 13 hours a day you have to get going before your brain can wake up and stop you. Sleeping-in spells doom for such trips.
It was not long before my car entered Colorado. The parched rock spires gradually metamorphosized into imposing stone towers and grand precipices festooned with manly pines. It actually felt like the earth was bullying us in our cars with its majesty. My photographs cannot do justice to their striking beauty. In fifty years this paragraph will remind me better than all of the foolish pictures I took.
When I passed Denver I realized that it was the first city I saw since I left Buena Park, California. Much of America seems sparse and inhospitable. Having never before trekked the southwest corner I admit that my own country struck me as somewhat alien. It would have been totally unfamiliar had it not been for Roadrunner cartoons.
Beyond Denver I hit the Great Plains. The scenery becomes insufferably homogenous here. Such flat and repetitious landscapes can create the illusion that you’re standing still. My mind wandered to a few spooky places. Luckily insanity was mostly staved off.
The radio stations sputtered only country music, gospel music, conservative talk radio, and gospel talk radio. This was the land where sports and religion reigned supreme. And who can blame them for clinging to tradition. There’s not much else out there. I can honestly say, however, that conservative talk radio might just be one of the worst things in the world. Did all of the Midwest still think Obama was a Muslim?
I started to go buggy in the brain but I still had 3 ½ hours to go before Liz’s house in McPherson, Kansas. Crashing on her couch sounded better than paying for another hotel and I was supposed to see some old friends from when I went to Central Christian College. The radio interrupted what sounded like Richard Burton reading passages from Ezekial to issue a storm warning. Apparently I was passing into the eye of a tornado. So I hit the gas in the hopes of outrunning it.
I made it.
The next few days had me sleeping on couches and playing with babies and dogs and seeing old friends who had either never left Kansas or had been cursed to return. Some had married. Some hadn’t. The agonizing nightmare was that things just seemed to settle and stopped moving forward here. All was stagnation. Was it Kansas? Was it marriage? Was it merely my perception of the situation? I couldn’t be sure, but I didn’t want to wait around to study it further lest I too be cursed to stay and live and die on the prairie.
There’s a reason everyone looks the same in Kansas past the age of sixty.
They’re lovely people and I wish them the best. I only hope that they can leave this place someday.
After a rambunctious yet relaxing few days rollicking with old friends I hit the road again and wound up in Columbus, Ohio in one day. The next day was the shortest day. I only drove for eight hours. When I hit New York I found myself trapped in a system that I had been able to avoid throughout my entire journey. I was now on New York’s infamous toll roads. I was not sure if my funds would get me home, but I thought I would chance it.
What other choice did I have?
Pulling up to the tollbooth in my hometown I noted that I did not have enough cash. Naturally, these money-hungry relics do not accept plastic. I was only twenty-three cents short and the troll inside the booth was waiting for the remainder. I told him I had driven all the way from Los Angeles to see my family and the troll took pity on me and let me pass.
I was back in the land of lopsided barns.
A word or two about my hometown: I used to avoid explaining exactly where I was from. I used to just say “New York” and leave them to imagine I hailed from the City. Only occasionally did I correct people or reveal the truly bumpkin nature of the village I was born and raised in. Upstate New York is a sad place. Zero economic growth and miserable weather. The fact that the rotting husks of countless abandoned factories leftover from the Industrial Revolution speckle the landscape does not add to the cheeriness. It reminds folks that they were once on top, generations ago. Now the drug-addled heap of society that lurks in these festering inbred stalls of forgotten hickdom wander about aimlessly. I doubt many even realize what the dead factories symbolize or what they were.
Long ago the Erie Canal went right through my village. When I was growing up all that remained was the overgrown towpath that donkeys used to trot as they dragged the barges. The towpath was a popular destination for kids to go get high.
The Mohawk Valley is a spooky shell that I seem to relate less and less to every time I return to it.
Had all my time so close to Hollywood, the phony nerve of culture, tainted my view of the land where I was born? Maybe so. The phrase “you can’t go home again” stung my face like a heavy wool glove soaked in ice cold water. I was not in Southern California anymore, nor would I be for at least a year. Maybe more.
Perhaps I’d never return.
Ah, well. With any luck by the end of the summer I would be off to South Korea.