Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Drive

I used to enjoy driving.  When I was in high school, I would just jump into the 1987 Chevy Astro van, blast some music, and head to a stretch of road that ran along farm fields and held just as many kids smoking pot as it did people with legitimate business.  I would simply drive along the road, all by myself, enjoying the empty asphalt and singing along with whatever terrible band I was into when I was sixteen (probably of the nu-metal variety).

But now, driving sucks.  I worked as a delivery driver in downtown Atlanta for two years and my shifts started in the peak of afternoon rush hour.  My road rage had built to intimidating proportions and the former joy and sense of freedom I had gained from driving has been replaced by a deep-rooted hatred of my fellow drivers and perpetual annoyance with their habits.

That being said, I just drove across the fucking country.  Eastern Time Zone to Pacific Time Zone.  Altogether, it took forty hours in the car.  I packed my car full of all of my belongings and my dog, Ted packed his car with all of his belongings and his dog, and we drove until the end of time, trying to camp along the way when the weather wasn’t dangerous.  We stretched it out over five days because we wanted to try to enjoy the trip instead of wanting to explode because we felt trapped inside a tiny box flying down the highway.  That feeling of wanting to explode happened anyway, but at least there were a few things to break up the monotony.

To say that I came close to dying three times in the last five days sounds pretty crazy, but driving is dangerous.  That’s what they tell people that are afraid of flying.  “You know more people die in car accidents than in airplane crashes, right?”  Three tiny instances that took no more than two seconds over the course of a forty hour drive seems almost negligible.

The first was while driving through northern Texas (or Oklahoma) (not that there’s that much of a difference) when all of a sudden a police truck on the opposite side of the highway pulled out of a lane and onto the shoulder.  Not onto the side of the road but off the road and into the field next to the highway.  I watched this with interest because it made no sense.  Then I luckily glanced forward and saw that a ladder was sitting in the middle of my lane and I swerved to the side no more than five feet away from the damn thing.  After watching Ted do the exact same thing in my rearview mirror, I saw a truck pulled off to the side of the highway.  It was towing a boat and the owner was walking down the shoulder towards the ladder that had just presumable fell off his stupid boat.  I don’t know how he planned on froggering his way out there before some poor bastard slammed into his ladder, but hopefully he did it before he ruined somebody’s family’s day. 

The second instance was in New Mexico when the car in front of me suddenly decided to slam on its brakes and turn around on the stretch of gravel connecting the east and westbound lanes that is usually reserved for police cars.  No warning.  No thought about the fact that there is a solid car behind him and obviously no understanding of Newton’s first law of motion.  All of the stuff in my car shifted forward as I tried to slow down in time to give him enough room to get out of my way.  I’m sure an elongated, “Ffffffuuuuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkk!!!” fell out of my mouth in the process, but I can’t be too sure.  After he finally got out of the way I heard, “What a fucking asshole,” through the walkie talkie (I’ll explain later).

The third instance was in Arizona.  We pulled off to a rest area to look at the mountains surrounding us and hit golf balls at them.  Unfortunately, there were too many people around so we had to leave the driver in my car and just look around.  The exit from the rest area basically comes to a T with the highway and you get about two seconds to figure out what to do.  There was a semi-truck piggy-backing two other semis rolling down the hill when I came to the T.  I freaked out and just pulled onto the highway directly in front of the truck and luckily sped up enough and swerved into the next lane in time to avoid getting crushed by about 60,000 pounds of truck.

“Is there any reason you merged into traffic at forty miles per hour?” Ted asked me a few minutes later.

“I don’t know.  I didn’t know what to do, so, I just, I guess, did that.”

“Good.  Well, you’re an idiot.”

“I know.”

Aside from almost dying three times, the terrible weather in Mississippi/Arkansas/Oklahoma/Texas, tenting in the rain, my dog refusing to eat food or drink water even though that decision can eventually cause her death, and eating nothing but fast food, the trip was amazing.  Before the trip, I bought walkie talkies so Ted and I could talk to each other the whole way out there without racking up a ton of roaming charges on our phone bills.  Quite frequently, the walkie talkie would beep and I’d hear Ted’s distorted voice say something like, “Holy shit, dude.  Look to your right.”  And then when I turned my head I would see a wind-farm covering a giant field/flat land stretching to the horizon in every direction/mountains stretching as far as I could see.

Throughout high school, I always said that I wanted to travel Europe.  I didn’t have a particular reason, it just seemed kickass to me.  After a while, however, I realized that there is an entire country right here that I haven’t seen.  Why fly across the world when I can just travel here?  It saves money and plus I don’t have to screw around with another language.

It took a long time, but I was finally able to do it.  I finally saw my first natural cactus in Arizona.  I finally spoke with a Native American in New Mexico.  I finally spent time in six states that I had never previously seen.  I finally found myself in the middle of a desert with nothing on either side of me for a hundred miles.

Being isolated like that is an interesting experience.  Within city limits, you have help all around you if something goes wrong.  Tow trucks, police/fire department, ambulances…  But when you on I-10 east of Quartzsite, you’re on your own.  You’re basically just another animal, besides the personal tank you have the privilege of driving at 80 mph.

I guess I could add a fourth near-death experience, but not in the same genre as the others.  This one was entirely self-imposed.  Earlier this summer while driving through Tennessee, I had my first panic attack after looking across a mountain range.  I don’t know what the hell happened, but I was worried that it might happen to me again.  As luck would have it, towards the end of day 2 on our way to the Motel 6 in Gallup, New Mexico, I started to freak out.  The only difference between this time and the last time is that there was a last time (follow me?).  I knew what was happening and I was able to talk myself through it.  I got shaky and nervous, I wasn’t able to look at the mountain ranges surrounding me, but I was able to finish the drive without flipping my car off of a cliff.

And this makes no sense to me because the next day we drove through more extreme mountain ranges and I was fine.  No problems at all.  I don’t get it.

As I closed in on my final destination today, I got a phone call.  I said how I had just finished driving through more crazy mountains and she said, “Still?”  This is because I had driven through mountains for about ten straight hours.  Ted made a comment as we started driving through California that he had no idea there were that many mountains in this area of the country.  He’s right to be amazed, because there was a veritable shit-ton of mountains. 

I feel like I should say, “The one thing I got from this drive is that this country is a lot bigger than I had thought.”  But that sounds like something someone would say after the Disney version of a movie about a road trip like this.  It’s too easy.  It’s clich√©.  Of course this country is big.  Of course there was a lot of stuff I didn’t expect to see.  That’s why we did it.  That’s why I was excited to do it even though I hate driving.  That’s what everybody who does something like gets out of it, and it’s one of those things you don’t fully understand until you see it.  Everyone knows the country is big.  But after you see a giant mountain in the distance and drive straight at it for two hours at 80 mph only to find it still looks just as far away as it did two hours before, you feel how big everything is and how tiny you actually are.  I could do whatever I wanted to that mountain; dig at it with construction equipment, dynamite it, start chopping down trees; and none of it would matter.  That thing has been there longer than the Indian walking down the side of the highway and all of his ancestors, and they were here long before we showed up.  And that thing is going to continue being huge long after my insignificant life is over.

Somehow, we made it to our destinations; myself in Yorba Linda and Ted in San Diego.  My car didn’t blow up even though the oil light came on at the border of New Mexico and Arizona even though the oil level was fine.  Neither of our cars ran out of gas even though service stations were spaced perilously far apart.  We were able to easily find shelter each night, even when the weather fell to drastic temperatures or the wind blew like a hurricane.  And above all, we were somehow able to keep high spirits even after driving our fucking cars all day long for days in a row.

It’s still too early to call this trip a success since we’re technically homeless and unemployed at the moment.  But aside from all of that, the physical trial is over.  I’m far from saying “the hard part is over” but at least one flavor of the hard part is over.  Now I just have to figure out which parts of LA to stay the hell away from and convince somebody to give me money on a regular basis simply for hanging out.  That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

1 comment:

  1. If you ever want to hit the road into the desert again, I'm game for sure. Also I hope whatever shitty little hovel you end up living in has enough room on the floor for a fake mexican cause I'm coming there to visit sometime soon.