“Zombies don’t drop everything and move across the country because they think they’ll have better luck eating brains in Portland, Oregon.”
I grinned, a hint of self-satisfaction spreading across my face. Joseph Scrimshaw’s disembodied voice resonated through my car speakers, calmly explaining how to emotionally prepare for the zombie apocalypse. With Cheyenne 40 miles behind me, I was driving through the foggiest fog I’d ever fogged. Occasionally, it departed just long enough for me to steal tiny glimpses of snow-drenched mountains. They reminded me of the white, distant summits where Gondor’s distress beacons were answered in Return of the King. I scribbled a mental note: whether my experiment was successful or not, I wasn’t Portland-bound due to brain availability. Surely that fact awarded me a measure of superiority over the zombies.
I was, however, scavenging for better luck. After a decade and a half plastering job applications all over Upstate New York, I’d been forced to conclude that the grass for wordsmiths just might grow greener (as well as organic and gluten-free) on the opposite coast, where a community of friends and a handmade paper store for which I’d developed an unhealthy affinity were waiting. And so I trekked 3,000 miles across the country in early January, with only a GPS, two buckets of clothing, three guitars, and a mostly mid-90s-pop and alternative CD collection in tow. After all, if you’re venturing into uncharted emotional territory on a roadtrip of extended duration, it’s best to bring along a Kiss From A Rose.
After 12 days of hotels and highways, I finally lay sprawled upon Portland’s proverbial shore. But what had I learned from the experience?
I hobnobbed with a Cracker Barrel waitress in Indiana who squeed over my Bob Ross Paints The Universe shirt; she confided, somewhat conspiratorially, that she often uses his show as a sleep aid. Later that day, I waxed philosophic upon meeting a hotel front desk employee who inquired as to whether or not the three guitars I was awkwardly balancing marked me as a musician. “I thought you might have been,” she said, “but I didn’t want assume.” I recall dodging storms in Illinois, but also being enveloped by a fog so dense that if I had stated there was an AT-AT stomping about, no other driver in my vicinity could have definitively refuted that claim. I pulled into a rest stop in Peoria for the sole purpose of plucking a few notes on my 12-string guitar and then tweeting “I just played in Peoria.” I’ve imagined that tweet must’ve sparked a collective groan from my followers, but I’m not sorry.
In carefully considering the broader implications of my travels, I’ve accounted for the brief (yet moving, if I may say so) emancipation ceremony I conducted in Iowa for an individual serving of Earl Grey tea, which had shifted and then escaped as I hurtled down the interstate. I’ve noted the fact that the city of Coralville cannot possibly be the middle of nowhere, as it has a Kohl’s. As I lumbered towards my hotel room, fiddling with my hotel key for the evening, I watched a man in overalls explain the benefits of a gas loyalty card program to two skeptical bros, and wondered if I had reached peak Iowa. Most vividly, I remember the colossal windmills spanning every direction, seeming otherworldly in scope, in height, in frequency. As I drove, I periodically slipped into daydreams that I’d been transported to the planet the locals called Windfarm, and every rotation signified more electricity for the colonists who dwelled in this strange and wondrous world ruled by aeolian machines.
In Nebraska, I decided to pass a truck without properly gauging the variables, which resulted in a speed meeting with an especially affable law enforcement official. Although he did write me a ticket, he also complimented my courageous fashion choices (apparently, most people don’t wear shorts in January), and offered me a fist bump. The next day, my adventure added a tinge of 1880s Western flavor when the first of my three Wyoming hotels greeted me with a sign on the door that said “Howdy, y’all!” Half a minute later, the desk clerk appeared and bellowed “Howdy!” in my direction. It was my first–and to date my only–double howdy.
I’ve reflected on the billboard I passed in Utah for a DWI attorney. Under her picture, it said: “*I* would call me,” and I admired her bold choice of advertising slogan. I’ve half-completed a sonnet about the majority of Utah (from the highway, at least) being an ant’s-eye-view of a rock garden in winter, a perfect complement to Oregon’s fantasy-novelesque coast.
I sprinted headfirst into the most severe snowstorm Oregon has known in decades, and was stuck in the city of Pendleton for three days. As I meandered over the complimentary breakfast nook on Day Two, I became half-convinced that the gentleman at the adjacent table was the musician Dave Grohl, and that the motley crew joining him for bacon and Corn Flakes was his band, the Foo Fighters. On the third morning, having now been accustomed to speaking with long-haired, rock-shirted types, a hotel employee brightly asked me to remind her to which band *I* belonged. When I replied that I was unattached to a touring operation, she looked vaguely disappointed. Upon my eventual release, I encountered a man in the parking lot who cracked an atrocious Dad Joke about the shorts I was wearing, then laughed at his own pun.
I’m a pragmatist, at least in terms of travel–a perpetual student of Updating Your GPS Faithfully, Arriving At The Airport 3 Hours Early, Checking Your Wallet Six Times Before You Leave The House In Order To Be Absolutely Positive You Have Your Boarding Pass, and other related coursework. Excel sheets and To-Do lists are among my fondest acquaintances and travelling companions. From an efficiency standpoint, shipping my valuables and booking a flight for myself would have saved roughly 11 days, a thousand dollars, and three months worth of mileage.
But I’d be so much poorer for it. I envision all I would’ve missed, every story I now hold. A saga of compelling characters, marvelous landscapes, and at least three days of non-stop Leverage marathons. Even the night I spent in Hood River, Oregon, where my car was rendered nearly immobile by ice and snow, and where my sole sustenance turned out to be a gas station Pop-Tart, now seems somewhat charming to me.
I learned that sometimes, the only route worth taking is a scenic one.
@syscrush suggested I write about “Something that reflects an observation of yours… Maybe related to your trek across America? A little vignette about something that you noticed.”