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Monday, April 8, 2013

The drive back

The drive back from California to Connecticut had a few points of interest.

I can now confirm from personal observation that the Bonneville Salt Flats are indeed flat, and do seem to be made of salt. (How can salt be faster than tarmac?) In their honor I revved my car up a little past 80 mph as I went by. (The speed limit in the western states tends to be 75, so I wasn't breaking the law by that much.)

The highway there goes on, absolutely straight, for about 30 miles, without a single bend, rise, or dip. The Flats are located right next to the Great Salt Lake, which makes sense. (They are the remains of Lake Bonneville from the Pleistocene Era.) After you drive for a while, they seem awfully bleak, especially since absolutely nothing can grow on that desolate land.

The only surprise is that they didn't put an Indian reservation there.

I strolled around Salt Lake City briefly, hoping to catch a revealing glimpse of Mormon culture. Like maybe some Latter Day Saints rushing up to proselytize me. Or perhaps a gentleman out for a morning stroll with his six wives. But no, nothing like that. People were a little bit friendlier than I'm used to, and perfect strangers would give me a cheery "Good morning."

But that's always a culture shock for anyone from the greater NY area.

In Utah and Colorado, you see a lot of scenery of the kind they used to show in the old Westerns. There are a lot of the high cliffs where you'd see the Apaches or Comanches suddenly appear, to let the white guys know they were dead meat. (It always seemed to me as if it would take them an awfully long time to get down from those cliffs, in which time you could easily make your escape.)

In Utah, you'll also see the Colorado River a few times, at points where it would more fittingly be described as the Colorado Stream. Hard to believe that little thing carved the Grand Canyon.

Along the highway you also see a lot of what can only be described as one horse towns. What are the lives of their residents like? How tired must they get of their few neighbors?

The St. Louis Arch is right next to the highway. Like Mt. Rushmore, it looks much smaller in person than you'd expect from the photographs.

At the East St. Louis turnoff, I saw a sign for "Barack Obama Boulevard." It occurred to me that the various streets which take that name in the future might become like all the various Martin Luther King Boulevards, which, as Chris Rock once pointed out, are named after a man of peace but seem to be where much of the violence in any big city takes place.

I took the exit, on the theory that I ought not to criticize the denizens of such places without a firsthand look. The city is every bit as rundown as advertised. There are rubble-strewn vacant lots and the main commercial thoroughfare has a lot of advertisements for "checks cashed" and "bail bondsman." The whole place had the feel of a Skid Row. I've always been of the opinion that people create their environments, and not the other way around. But I have to admit, it would be hard to grow up in a place like that without it leaving its mark.

When I'm driving along the highway, and see a sign for a local inn (which is not part of a chain), I always wonder, is this another Bates Motel? Will it feature Procrustes' bed? Will it be like that place in Hostel? Have I seen too many movies?

When you're tired, especially when it's already dark, you want the easy familiarity of a Days Inn, or a Comfort Inn. Or, in my case, a Motel 6. Which I guess is why the chains have become so ubiquitous.

Truck drivers are usually the best drivers on the highway. They almost never go over the speed limit, always signal lane changes, and are generally courteous. Actually, once you get away from the New York area, most drivers of any vehicles are good. I didn't see a single truly bad driver until I arrived back in the NYC area. In the short time it took to cross the Bronx, I encountered four dangerously aggressive ones.

East of the Mississippi, the scenery is generally pretty boring. Thank goodness for books on CD. I got two Elmore Leonards and a David Sedaris for the return trip. The Leonards (Road Dogs and Raylan Givens) were, as always, great.

The Sedaris book was When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Sedaris's arch, bitchy, and often self-deprecating humor works well on paper. But he was the only author who actually read his own book, and his whiny alto-tenor seemed a little like overkill. A gay literary voice is somehow less enjoyable when delivered by a literal gay voice.

As beautiful as some of the western scenery was, only about 1% of the trip looked like this:

The other 99% looked mostly like this:

(Okay, so I'm not a great photographer; you still get the idea.)

But even the beautiful scenery can only take your breath away for about two or three minutes. After that, any kind of scenery gets sort of boring: how long can you look at the same mountain?

Otherwise, they could have extended that initial scene in Avatar when the hero first sees that cool forest for the entire movie. After a while, you want dialogue, action, and drama.

That's why a drive across the country is so boring: it lacks a plot.


Anonymous said...

John--I'd love to know if you would have done the drive again if you knew what you now do after the fact. I did it twice as a youngster and a part of me would like to do it again but don't know if I have the fortitude plus fear of boredom. How does it rate of the scale--0-10? Also, did you visit any people who you knew along the way or not? Bottom line, not too many people would do that and/or have the time, money, and inclination. Thanks in advance John. Brian

John Craig said...

Brian --
I"m not sure; I'd probably do it again, but not in the immediate future. I saw one friend on the way out, one friend (and his wife) on the way back. If I did it again, I might go a different route, maybe via Canada or something. Thanks for asking.