I always write a lot privately about traveling but never post very much publicly about my trips — usually because I’m too exhausted. This gets complaints. So here are some things before I forget, in reverse order:
* I am in a hotel in El Paso, where I-10 comes swooping down from the mountains and you get a view of El Paso & Ciudad Juarez stretching off into the distance, a plain of lights. I wonder how they control the border, in this border town. My friend says a fence and the Rio Grande; I stare off at the lights as I whiz past hotels and gas stations and imagine the slums, the amazing food. I get gas, about to fall over from tiredness, then eat in a kindly mexican place next door were the waitresses are nice and the chile rellano gives me heartburn.
* I drove through four states today: why I am so tired. The change in terrain is amazing. When you enter Arizona, suddenly the saguaros and mesas start up, as if they’d been planted there on a Hollywood set (perhaps they were). New Mexico was dark, but it continues the mountains and Dairy Queens, a hallmark. When you enter Texas suddenly all the exits lead off into feeder roads that run beside the highway and go underneath underpasses under the freeway, all the businesses lined up on either side with big, garish signs. Texas, Oklahoma and perhaps a few eastern states are the only places I know that do this in exactly this way.
* Arizona is stunning, so beautiful it makes me catch my breath, and reminds me why they made Westerns; when faced with this territory, you feel a certain need to film it. It is impenetrable, majestic, and I drive along with memories rolling up of my childhood spent clambering over this part of the desert. I couldn’t live here but it’s in my blood, this west.
* I am terribly upset at myself for not stopping at Joshua Tree this morning. I don’t know why I didn’t. I probably won’t get the chance again for a long time.
* I had fun driving through LA last night, the 101 across town to the 10. I don’t miss much about living in the southland, but I do miss the freeways, those ribbons of light stretching across the enormous city. There is something that gets my blood up about driving down the mountain into the LA basin at night and looking back to see five lanes of lights behind me, bearing down, zipping around the curves. The LA freeways are not like anywhere else in the world that I have ever been. Everyone is so controlled, so fast — it’s not chaotic like other cities, or slow. It’s perhaps the greatest car racing game in the world. I love it. (This is the sort of thing that gives my father apoplexy.)
* I drove down the pacific coast yesterday, from Monterey, where I was visiting my cousin, to San Luis Obispo, and then down through Ventura et al. This drive through Big Sur of course is stunning, the stuff of movie sets, even if it did take twice as long as any of the alternatives. Somehow or another I have never been to Santa Barbara and SLO before, somehow managing to avoid that part of the coast. I had a nice dinner in Santa Barbara, which has a great downtown, one long street filled with lights and stores and restaurants, sort of gentrified but not entirely. I was startled to find myself squarely in Southern California again: the warmth, the palms, the “like oh my gods” from the girls. (I have spent too much time in San Francisco lately; I’ve forgotten how the other half lives). I watched as an ambulance came for a girl convulsing in the arms of her friend, on the sidewalk in front of a nice outdoor burger place; surrounded by street kids who yelled at the passers by to keep away, she looked like she was ODing, she looked terrible. There were a lot of people asking for change on the street; it reminded me of Santa Cruz, Seattle. Driving past Morro Bay and Pismo Beach, I wanted to stop, watch the surf and the surfers, remember why California is amazing. But I had another country to see.
I like long-distance driving because the changes between places, in scenery, are slow but startling; each mile drags on but then you look up and it is as if you are in some other country entirely. It is a good time for thinking, for meditating, or in my case, for teaching myself patience, for uncurling from an angry casing of tension and stress. It is a kind of mindfulness, this watching the road.
p.s the more I hear about national airport apocalypse the happier I am that I made this particular choice, to go driving through the desert instead.