Friday, January 23, 2009

Road Trip, Mk. 3: The long road home

(this one is just a quick copy-paste from what I wrote before passing out last night, so my apologies for the (sic) )

It’s been a long day of driving, but we’ve managed to almost make it out of California the first day out on Road Trip 2K9. We’re in Needles, California, a city renowned for occupying what would otherwise be an empty stretch of Interstate 40. It has motels, and it’s located more-or-less halfway between Walnut Creek and Albuquerque.

Hmm. I probably should provide a little backstory here. Quick summary: I used to live in California, and then (as you loyal readers already know) I drove cross-country to return to my birthright in New Hampshire. This would be the end of the story, except for the fact that I left just about all my stuff in a storage unit back in Cali. My plan was to keep it there until I could figure out how to get it back east without spending too much money in the process. No such solution presented itself until a week ago, when my girlfriend’s company laid her off. Now, due to the conveniently horrible state of the economy, we both had enough free time to fly out west (thank YOU, leftover Southwest Rapid Rewards flight), rent a truck, and haul my pile o’ crap all the way back to New Hampshire. All of this brings me and my special lady (hereinafter “April”) to our present location: Needles, California.

Our flight got in to Oakland two days ago, where California welcomed us with brilliant sun and perfect 60-degree air. I had been snowshoeing through a solid foot of fresh snow just the day before, so the change in weather was a bit of a shock. California quickly changed its ways to make us feel at home, however: by the time Wednesday morning rolled around, a massive cloud of drizzling rain had covered the state. Woo.

We Yankees are made of tougher stock, however, and managed to make do in spite of the dreary weather. Aided by a dinner of excellent sushi, a little bit of San Francisco bar-hopping, and my buddy Ryan’s DVD collection of every episode of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” ever (including the excellent “King of Thieves” episode co-starring Bruce Campbell), we turned our stay in the Bay Area into a pleasant one. We spent the better part of the day loading up our rental truck (Penske 12-footer) yesterday, and this morning said our farewells and rode off into the rain.

California’s Central Valley is not the most pleasant place in the world, and the smog/raincloud mix that coated the valley today did little to help appearances. Along the way we learned such useful facts as:

1. The “Double-Double” at In-N-Out Burger is a truly delicious burger. Especially if you get it animal style.
2. Apparently, there is a Spanish equivalent to Bud Light’s dubious word, “Drinkabilty.” South of Fresno, we saw just that on a billboard. I think it was something like “Trubidablio.” I think. My memory is a bit hazy.
3. Bakersfield is a dirty, dirty, horrible city. Pick up your trash and show some damn self-respect, people.
4. California Route 58 through the Tehachapi mountains is an absolutely beautiful drive. As we made our way up towards Tehachapi Pass (the self-proclaimed “World Leader in Wind Energy” – the mountain ridges around the pass bristle with wind turbines), a massive rainbow domed the rocky, severe valley along which Rt. 58 climbed. I had never seen the Tehachapi mountains before, but I’m glad I have now.
5. The town of Boron, California (just off CA-58 between Mojave and Barstow) is apparently where the famed laundry detergent booster “Borax” is made. There’s even a “20 Mule Team Road” and a “Borax Visitor’s Center.” Unfortunately, it was fast approaching closing time as we passed the visitors center, so I will not be able to regale you with fun Borax facts. Sorry, everybody.
6. April is too short to drive the rental truck. She needs a booster pad (which today was a folded-up ski jacket) on the drivers’ seat in order to get high enough. I hadn’t planned on including this, but April just reminded me of it now. On the menu for tomorrow: get a seat pad!
7. I-40 between Barstow and Needles is one of the most desolate, empty, and boring roads I’ve driven across (granted, it was after dark – for all I know, we were missing beautiful desert vistas the entire way). I found myself getting excited any time that I saw a road sign approaching in the distance – and even those little bits of scenery were few and far between.

I’d like to finish this post with a special note regarding Carl’s Jr. Carl’s makes a tasty burger – this I will not dispute. However, their “Green Burrito” section of the menu is a crime against all that is good and right with food in this world. Their sad excuse for a “burrito” is a gray-brown, over-salted mush of what I can only assume used to be refried beans glooped into a stale tortilla. As I learned just too late, it’s effectively diarrhea wrapped up in a tortilla – though now that I think about it, that would probably be an improvement on its actual ingredients. It took a heavy dose of Rolaids and Pepto-Bismol to keep my digestive system from exploding out of my abdomen, “Aliens”-style, after consuming the hated “burrito.” So, in closing:

Fuck you, Carl’s Jr.