Recently I drove. Then I drove some more. I drove until it felt like all I had ever done, all I ever would do. I drove up hills, I drove across ice, I drove myself mad, I drove past people, I drove behind and in front of, I drove in every way except without interruption. I drove my fist upwards into the night sky and cursed God for certain misfortunes. I drove and I strove with semi-reckless abandon, not quite untethered as I slingshotted myself into the great American west. I checked in with Mom and Dad state to state. I had a tin of cookies my girlfriends Mother had made for me that I ate essentially the entire time. I was the worlds latest arrival to manifest destiny and I was living rent free in my own head for the next four days, a chilling thought. The first of many.
I was out of Massachusetts in no time, before I even noticed and without a chance to symbolically wave goodbye to the the state that had been my home for the past decade. These are the types of things you can do non ironically when you are by yourself. I blistered through Connecticut briefly, and hit the mountainous New York landscape before it hit me that I was about to drive across the country, finally. This is about the area that it dawned on me how long this was actually going to take. I swore to myself I would stop thinking about how long, I knew it would drive me to the brink of insanity if I fixated. I had kicked cigarettes about four weeks prior, this was about the time I started gnawing ceaselessly at the inside of my mouth.
Then I happened upon my first obstacle and what, in my naïveté, I thought would be my most difficult one to pass. Pennsylvania. Pissing, horrible Pennsylvania. If Dracula’s ‘vania’ was this instead of Transl we would have read a story about a boring man who lived in a boring house that didn’t like to go very fast. Two lane highways, speed limits of 55 mph. Pennsylvania hates cars, cars did something to Pennsylvania at a young age and it has never forgiven them. Pennsylvania is a long state, Pennsylvania takes a long time to cross. The speed limits are strictly enforced. Do not go to Pennsylvania. The people are bonkers.
Next comes Ohio and the realization of why LeBron left Cleveland. People from Ohio shouldn’t even blame him, that place is the Stately representation of the word “blah” or the color beige. Their football team should be called the Cleveland Beiges. The Cleveland khakis, the Ohio Brown Chinos. I’m just joshing you Ohio, you treated me well. No incidents, not a cop in sight the whole way, a very clean Wendy’s and friendly drivers. I pooped once in your state, it was quite pleasant. Parting is such sweet sorrow, I’m glad I could leave you with a part of me to be remembered by.
I awoke for day two in Springfield, Ohio. The first of many Springfields that I saw along the way, there are quite a few. I also noticed that almost every single one had a billboard claiming they were the home of the Simpsons. You are not the home of the Simpsons, and your fox sponsored billboards are off putting and creepy, and there is NO reason why they should be built that high. The land is so flat, they are not competing with anything for height, yet they are as tall as skyscrapers with thick, jutting (phallic) poles supporting them as if to say HERE IS A BILLBOARD FOR BUD LIGHT, LOOK UPON OUR WORKS YE MIGHTY AND DESPAIR. Gross.
Springfield, Ohio is the last major town before the border between Ohio and Indiana, and what was in front of me was the most harrowing and unpleasant part of my drive so far, little did I know. Again, the theme recurred, that it happened upon me just after I settled into my seat and began to enjoy the drive a little bit.
The roads suddenly started to turn. The black asphalt that so neatly propelled me across the land began to change to the color of milk and harden. Suddenly, and without warning, I was on a piece of road that was no longer comforting charcoal black asphalt but hard packed white ice and snow. The beginning of what was probably the most unimaginably unpleasant driving experience of my life. I slowed down as I started to feel the cars wheels give out, ever so slightly. Less and less cars dotted my field of vision around me as my speedometer descended leftwards as if it were the last pathetic death throws of an untied balloon. 75..70..65..55...40.. soon the fastest I could go without losing control of my car was 15 miles per hour. I watched a Ford with a trailer hitched to its rear slide and spin, the trailer whipped around like the tail of a harpooned shark and flung itself towards me, this is where I learned the lesson that hitting the brakes would not be something that was possible to do for quite some time. My car skidded and slid, barely regaining grip on the road before I watched the truck spin off to the snow covered area between our shared highway and its exit. The DK Sentra was the Enterprise, I was Scotty, and I could barely hold her together Captain.
I was convinced they had just missed a spot but no, oh no kind reader, they had laid a trap, ready to spring on me and my unsuspecting Nissan Sentra. Indiana had a score to settle, and not since the Colts beat the Bears in the 2006 Super Bowl did I curse every person in the state of Indiana, did I swear up and down the road in order to keep the panic from taking over? Did I grip my steering wheel with both hands in a futile attempt to stabilize my car? Yes, I did, but to no avail.
My father was on the other end of the telephone for much of the harrowing 373 miles from Springfield to St. Louis. Guiding me through the worst of it, eyeing traffic maps and giving me advice on how to drive on these types of roads. I could hear the worry and stress in his voice, and I am admittedly not the easiest person to deal with in these types of situations, but he was tracking traffic, easing me through it. He said to me later that I had two choices, plow through as I did, slowly but surely, eventually making it to non icy roads, or pull over to the side of the road and cry, then have to plow through anyway, so at least I didn’t take the latter option.
This was the first time I missed Massachusetts. I cursed the kind of state that would see not one plow on its roads in these conditions, opting instead to declare a state of emergency and wait for a thaw. In my home state, we would have had motorcycles back on the road by lunch, this shitty midwestern hole in the ground needed until thursday. I had my Dad telling me I was a genius for picking the worst weather in the recorded history of the United States to travel through, and my brother chanting “I told you so” as he had advised me to drive south, then west.
There was a section in the last part of Indiana that was devoid of all moving vehicles, and I later learned that I-70 had been shut down, it was illegal for cars or trucks to be driving on it. There were a lot of cars and trucks, but none driving save mine.
I saw so many vehicles, abandoned and littering the highway it made me think I was witnessing the apocalypse. Massive big rig trucks flipped over on the median between the highways traveling east and west. A stretch of road with so many big rigs abandoned it was like an elephant graveyard, eerie and silent. No police, no plows, just me and the ice and the snow and the cars.
At one point, at the tail end of the worst of it, a Hyundai came roaring up behind me, I was going about 19mph and I moved to the side to let it pass. He careened past me and crested a hill, it was a couple of minutes before I did the same, slowly, like the tortoise I saw what fate befell the hare, he was flipped upside down on the median, with two pickup truck drivers running over to help drag him out of the car. I would have stopped to help, maybe, but I hadn’t hit the brakes in about 250 miles, I saw too many cars brake lights flash for just a second only to have them lose complete control of their shaggin wagons and go not so gently into that snowy goodnight. You may as why I didn’t stop to assist but trust me, it was every man for himself in that tundra, and there was no stopping.
As the roads started to clear I could feel my body vibrating. The sheer exhaustion of traveling 373 miles, what should be a six hour drive, in the better part of twelve hours, unable to let go of my concentration for a second for fear of crashing, finally fell on me like a cartoon anvil, and I couldn’t regain my composure until I saw the arch in St. Louis, which was as anticlimactic as other things had been, yet was the single greatest thing I had ever seen at the same time, as I was able to get to forty miles an hour, then fifty, then sixty, and that day sixty miles an hour made me feel as though I was piloting a rocket ship to the stars, I was Major Tom and I had lost contact with ground control (my central nervous system).
I stopped at a pub for a meatball sandwich and a Jack and Coke that I slurped down faster than I had ever done before, then got back on the road. I know, you should never drink and drive, but trust me, it wasn’t the most dangerous thing I had done in a car that day. The waitress asked me where I came from and when I told her she looked shocked.
“They declared a state of emergency in Indiana, you drove all that way?”
“Sure did. Wasn’t fun.”
“What kind of truck do you have?”
“I drive a Nissan Sentra. It’s a compact.”
I really was so proud of my little Nissan that day. While SUV’s and big rigs and pickups tumbled on the tundra she gritted her teeth and drove on.
I wanted to make up some time and get past St. Louis before my body shut down completely, I made it about an hour before the weariness really set in, and I stopped at a shitty Holiday Inn express before passing out.
I awoke dazed and confused with my days confused, not knowing what time zone I was in as my phone read 6:37am, I remember because I stared at the clock for the entire ticking minute trying to figure out where I was and if the day before had actually happened.
It had, and I was in Missouri. I set out with a prayer that this day would be easier than the one that had come before it, and it was, the day was at least. The night was another story entirely.
I was about 137 miles out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, when I made that fatal mistake again. That mistake that whatever mischief weaving jackal waited for, I sat back in my seat, turned my music up, and relaxed. I started to enjoy the road just as my steering wheel started to wobble. Slightly at first, and I convinced myself it was the road, yes, that’s it, the road is rough. The wheel shook more and more until it rattled violently in my hands and I peeled off into the next exit, not on the ball enough to take note of which one it was. I pulled onto a small dirt patch, with desert as far as the night sky would allow my eyes to see. I heard the flat tire as I slowed down, and my heart sank. I knew I had nothing but a donut in my trunk, which wouldn’t get me far, I had no idea how far I needed to go either, so the math wasn’t adding up in a head that was never very good at math.
I called AAA but couldn’t tell them where I was, then I called my Dad. He guided me angrily through changing a tire as I argued with him. Before I started I climbed a hill up to the highway to try and see which exit I had taken to tell AAA, but I couldn’t see a damn thing. He yelled at me to go back to my car, I complied. He instructed me to take the donut out, jack the car up, change the tire, and drive to the next town. I complied, but couldn’t get the tire off. He told me not to force it, the car would fall off the jack.
This was about the time I shook my fist at the night sky and cursed whatever God had given me the worst road trip luck possible. I cursed the heavens loudly with abandon.
That’s how the AAA guy found me, looked at me strangely, kicked the tire violently off the car, replaced it in seconds, and gave me his card. I drove the five miles to Santa Rosa, New Mexico and slept, poorly.
The next morning I drove to a junkyard and bough a replacement tire for the cash I had in my wallet. Thirty dollars from me to the junkyard worker who didn’t speak English and admonished me for standing too close to him while he was changing the tire, or breathing too heavily, or something.
Failing Spanish in high school, twice, doesn’t get you very far in Santa Rosa.
“Will this tire get me to Los Angeles?”
“Okay. How much?”
“How much you haf?”
“I take thirdy.”
“What about the other tire?”
“I’m gonna keep the other tire.”
Back on the road with a newfound wheel shake and the determination not to relax again until I hit Los Angeles.
I was on the road leading up the hill to Flagstaff, Arizona, on what I hoped would be my final day of driving when my cruise control shut off unexpectedly. I floored the gas, but couldn’t get past 75. In fact, I was doing all I could to remain at 75, thinking my transmission had given out. I was pretty much ready to give up and settle down in Flagstaff at this point. I could carve out a life for myself here, I thought, it doesn’t seem so bad. I pulled over, turned the car off and let it sit for a minute, then got back on the road to see if there was any change. There was, for a minute, then more of the same. Come on Sentra, baby, we’ve made it this far, don’t quit on me now. Although the car had become my Iron Mask at this point, I loved it and had the utmost faith it could make it the rest of the way. Suddenly I looked to my left and saw a sign that read “6000 ft. elevation”. It dawned on me then why the car was struggling, I was on the steepest incline of my drive so far, and the Sentra was doing all it could to climb the mountain.
The panic lessened, as I knew it would flatten out eventually, which it did. I crossed Flagstaff and then cannoned down the other side of the mountain like something out of cool runnings. It was the most fun I’d had so far, careening down winding canyon roads 85mph, miles away from the shitting trudging of Indiana or the deathtrap deserts of New Mexico. Days from where I started, with miles to go before I sleep.
I whooped audibly when I hit the California state line. I messed with the guy a little at an inspection station who stopped me because I had Mass plates.
“I stopped you because of the place.”
“What’s wrong with Massachusetts?”
“Nothing, we are a fruit and vegetable checkpoint”
“What’s wrong with Massachusetts fruits and vegetables?”
“Nothing! Are you- ugh- do you have any fruits or vegetables?”
“This cookie has raisins in it.”
“I mean like a lot.”
“I don’t know, I could count the raisins? What’s a lot?”
“You can go ahead”
I finished the last of my 12-pack of red bull and cruised into Los Angeles and the first real traffic I hit since my journey began. They drove at me like an ironic welcoming committee, around me past me, at me. I gritted my teeth and pressed the Massachusetts button, weaving in and out until I hit the exit, then the street, then my aunt and uncles house. Finally, thank god, I’d made it.
The best advice I can give any would be traveller, attempting to wind his merry way across the country, wind at his back with a pocket full of dreams?
Fly. Always fly.
I now live in Los Angeles, and it took some doing, but I am here. I found an apartment quickly, I’m learning the Valley and I’ve gotten used to the Freeways. Thankfully, the drive didn’t kill me, even though it tried.
So goodbye to Massachusetts, and the people in it, thanks for all the memories.
Here is me going slightly mad, rambling about different things, somewhere in the middle of the country, for your enjoyment: