November 16, 2006

Dispatches From America - Part Final

Day 8 - Phoenix, AZ to the California Coast - 425 miles

"So if you meet me, have some courtesy"

I am joined by other drivers in a high-speed westward run out of Phoenix similar to the one I made coming in the day before. It is the most stunning scenery yet, with desert scapes and mountains that look like reclining human forms.

The combination of speed and scenery is pure bliss. I am eager to get to the West coast, but it cannot be this pretty, and I don't want the journey to end.

Music on the satellite: The B-52s "Roam," Shawn Mullins "Lullaby," Allanah Myles "Black Velvet."

Two asshole drivers with California plates lead the way, and I grant them plenty of space. They dodge in and out of traffic, and pass trucks on the right going uphill, when the trucks are themselves passing other trucks and trying to move over to the right.

After crossing the Colorado River and into California, I exit at Blythe. Once again, it is early for lunch, but the next town, Desert Center, is 44 miles away and doesn't sound too promising. Blythe turns out to have a great strip, which includes places like Steaks and Cakes. A bank sign reads 10:48 am. I have crossed into Pacific time.

I pass by a place with a big sign at the top that reads "Courtesy Coffee Shop." I know that I have to stop there. I walk inside, and right into "Pulp Fiction." The Courtesy is circa 1960s, with stone walls, wooden beams, slanted roof, and faux wood grain counter. I ask the Hispanic waitress, who is about 60 but was probably very cute once, for recommendations, but then I ignore them, at my peril, it turns out. She is in no hurry, and makes my salad before even submitting my order. Oh well, this is my last day to mosey. When my hot turkey sandwich arrives, it is buried in bright yellow gravy.

Kim Carnes' "Betty Davis Eyes" comes over the speakers. The cook starts dancing. A couple of older Black gentlemen enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee at the counter. A very young and very skinny mom sits in a booth with her newborn baby. One of the waiters behind the counter, a thirtysomething guy with tatoos and shaved head, is playing practical jokes on the waitresses.

Back in the car, I learn for the second time that trucks bearing the company name "Swift" aren't. On the satellite radio, I hear "Dani California" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'm Dani California. It is now my state, and thus far I love it. "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol follows. To the left are the aptly named Chocolate Mountains. To my right, dry lakes followed by broad beautiful expanses. Who owns this land? Then I realize that it is Joshua Tree National Park. So, I own it. You own it. "Breaking the Law" by Judas Priest comes on. I dedicate it to my friend Jann and the girl at the rest stop in North Carolina, both lawbreakers extraordinaire.

The bliss continues until San Bernardino. Then everything literally comes to a crashing halt. I hit one traffic jam due to construction blocking the right lane. Shortly thereafter, there is a second tieup. Eventually I pass a white pickup truck flipped upside down, with its occupants sitting dazed nearby. The traffic opens up again only for a short time. Near the giant cartwheeling windmill farm outside of Palm Springs, the road becomes congested again. It continues like this until, finally, I reach the Pacific Ocean. The real world has encroached once again.

So the question is, did I find what I was looking for on this journey? Did I find America? The answer is, I think so. I found that America, or at least the sliver of America through which I traveled, exists in the proud New Orleans French Quarter. America also exists in the uber-commercialization of the Houston Galleria. America exists in the variety of people who gather in the Courtesy Cafe in Blythe, California. America is a place of awe-inspiring natural beauty and rich diversity, both geographical and ethnic. America is also a place of soul-crushing sameness, brought on by giant corporations. These forces are constantly at odds. Which will win? I have no idea.

And the naysayers. Those folks who said that I should not take this trip, that it would be too long, too boring, that I would be too tired, etc. To you I say, those were your fears that you were projecting onto me. I know what I like. I knew I would enjoy this ride. What I did not know was just how much I would enjoy it. Aside from the spectacular scenery, the best part was visiting old friends, some of whom I have known for 10 to 20 years or more. I love my friends!

As my journey across America ends, I feel invigorated, and hopeful for the country. I am ready to turn this car right around and do it again!

Thanks for coming along for the ride.


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