Dispatches From America - Part Four
Day 7 - El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ - 460 miles
"It's the wind, stupid"
After a few minutes, three days and 857 miles, I finally leave Texas and cross into New Mexico. Yellow signs warn of strong winds and dust storms. The winds come. I see my first tumbleweed, bouncing diagonally across the highway. There is a lot of road construction, and signs all over the place. After the "you're on your own" attitude in Texas, where I saw two police cars the entire time, this is a much more regulated state. I pass a border checkpoint even though we are not at the border. The guard gives my car a long look but waves me through. I guess Kinky is not an illegal alien.
West of Deming, I encounter my first dust storm. I had been wondering why my eyes were irritated all morning, and the reason is probably that I had outside air coming through the vents. It is becoming very dry, and the gallon of water I picked up in San Antonio comes in very handy. The car is buffeted by crosswinds. Then I see a sign which partly explains the conditions. I am at the Continental Divide, at nearly 4,900 feet elevation. Since the terrain is flat, I had no idea.
In Lordsburg, I stop to pick up a sandwich at Subway. Even though it is early, there are no other towns coming up, and I figure this is the healthiest thing I can get for many miles. I take a look at the front of the car, and the dead bugs have been replaced with an exploded tumbleweed. I start to pick the pieces out of the grille and air dam. Ouch! Those suckers are sharp! I go into the Subway, and ... it smells really bad. Even though it may be a long while before I find more food, I follow my instincts and walk out. On the way out, I pass a couple of lean men in cowboy hats and boots. They obviously do not use moisturizer on their faces. No metrosexuals here.
Outside, the sun feels warm, and the wind has subsided a bit. I must have declined in elevation. Back on the road, I enter Arizona. Finally, signs indicate an approaching town called Wilcox. This is when everything turns to crap. First, the exit appears to be blocked by construction horses. At the last second, I notice a small opening for an exit. The village idiots have placed the horses so that, from the highway, they appear to block the exit. I practically have to swerve onto the ramp. Then, everything immediately turns to gravel. The whole town is under construction. Creeping trucks block me wherever I go.
I spot a place to eat, and turn left to enter its parking lot. The entrance is blocked by more construction horses. I have no choice but to continue on the road, which turns out to be the entrance ramp back onto I-10. In the wrong direction. The next (previous) exit is over 4 miles away. I shout "FU#K!" out loud and pound on the steering wheel. That makes me feel better. At the exit, I turn and head back to Wilcox. I go back to the food place, where there is now a crowd of about 30 school students on line ahead of me. I'm going nowhere, and after a minute, I leave. There is a gas station next door, so I pull in and try to fill up. The pump won't take my credit card. At this point, I raise both fists in the air, slowly turn around and flip the town of Wilcox the double bird, shouting "FU@K YOU WILCOX!" This makes me feel better, although the construction workers nearby are wondering what they have done to piss me off.
When I finally leave Wilcox, I glance once in the rearview mirror. The Stranglers' "Peaches" comes on the satellite radio. Walking on the beaches looking at the peaches. I put the past behind me. Wilcox Arizona, YOU SUCK!
The Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song" comes on next, and I'm back into the journey. I see my first cactus. The sand is shimmering like water in the sun. The mountains are increasing in size.
About 45 miles outside of Phoenix, the cars around me pick up speed. I think I know why. It's after 2 pm, and we want to avoid the infamous Phoenix traffic. We make a high-speed run into town, and I arrive before rush hour. However, while the city is laid out in a grid, it is built among the mountains, so just when I think I am headed in the right direction, I run into a mountain and have to go around it. As a result, I eventually get caught up in the rush hour tide. With its traffic and attractive women in mirrored sunglasses driving sports cars, Phoenix reminds me that I am getting close to California.
I meet my friend "Paul" for dinner. I have known him for about 20 years. I once interviewed with him at NBC, and then he became a client. We go to an Italian place in Scottsdale called "Arrivederci." We walk inside and ... I see dead people. The average age is about 82. People have bandages on their heads and other body parts. Paul assures me that, despite the clientele, the place has very authentic Italian food. Sure enough, we are greeted by an Italian maitre d' and then an Italian waiter.
Having been born and raised in New York, Paul and I immediately go off menu. We ask if they have a Bolognese sauce. The waiter's eyes light up, and he says "Yes, we haff a Bo-lo-nay-zay, and it's verry goood." He is right. It is among the best I have had in the U.S. But something is bothering me. It's the bread. It is not real Italian bread. The crust is very soft. Before I can say anything, Paul has read my mind. He says that restaurants here are unable to make real Italian bread. "The water," I say. "Right, he says. He tells me that one restaurant in town flies water in from New York so they can make real Italian bread. "The owners must be New Yorkers," I say. "Right," he says.
Tomorrow, I will be far away from New York, at the California Coast...