September 24, 2008
back from the road trip
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Monday night I arrived back in Alpine, after one week and 3,200 miles on the road. I went from here in West Texas, to LA, to Berkeley, to Las Vegas, to Flagstaff, to Albuquerque, and back again. I stayed in cheap motels and lived on mostly American diner food and Diet Coke. Here are some random notes on the trip, in no particular order:
Day One, Monday. Alpine, Texas-Blythe, California. 816 miles. The longest leg of the trip was on this first day, from West Texas to the the Arizona-California border, right on the banks of the Colorado River.
En route I was hoping to meet up with Pam Slim and other Twitters in Phoenix, but got into town too late. It was around 2am before I made it to my hotel.
Southern New Mexico is a stunning place, if you like bleak, tall, red desert, mountain country. I certainly do– when I’m there I feel I could go on driving forever.
Day Two, Tuesday. Blythe, California-Hollywood, Los Angeles. 290 miles. Until you get to Palm Springs, I-10 seems little more than a dirt track going through the desert. Little small towns full of rusted-up mobile homes and billboards, offering food, gas and lodgings. Then you get to Palm Springs and the wind farms begin. Hundreds of wind turbines. Thousands. Beautiful and surreal. The the coastal mountains begin and the traffic gets insane, all the way to Los Angeles.
I had no reason to be in LA other than it’s en route to Berkeley. Luckily, one of my oldest friends, Dave Mackenzie is there at the moment, working on a movie. He let me crash at his pad in the Hollywood Hills for the night. Not much to report other than two old buddies catching up, eating dinner, drinking whisky [just like the old days back in Scotland], talking late into the night.
Day Three, Wednesday, Hollywood– Berkeley California. 369 miles.
In the morning Dave and I headed for breakfast at The Griddle Cafe on Fairfax. After breakfast we hugged each other in the parking lot, said our goodbyes, Dave headed for a meeting with somebody in “The Industry”, and I headed North.
For such a massive city, Los Angeles is a fairly easy town to escape, once you’re on the freeway [so long as it isn’t rush hour, of course]. After an hour or two of driving through the mountains on I-5, Suddenly you find the mountains coming to an end, and below you is the vast, flat Central Californian plain.
There’s not much to say about it, except it’s vast, it’s flat, and it’s America’s largest produce-growing region. Just imagine mile after mile of huge fields, vineyards, orange groves and small towns. After a few hundred miles of this agri-industrial monotony the hills outside San Francisco begin– all covered with this almost mysterious, mustard-colored grassland. Then, like all big American cities, the highways end and the freeways begin. By this time I am so wired from the driving I don’t notice the traffic all around me. I’m in a trance. The crazy commuters don’t phase me– it’s like they’re not there.
I make it to Berkeley. A small college town in the Bay area– kinda reminds me of Austin. I’m there for a reason I can’t quite talk about. Something to do with business. All very hush-hush. Though I have some good friends across the bay in San Francisco, I don’t look anyone up. Too much to do. I’m only in town one night. I’m on a mission. I’ll see them next time.
Day Four, Thursday. Berkeley, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.
I stay one night. In the morning I meet the person I’m in town to see for breakfast at the Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland. Great fried chicken, though I think they could’ve used less rosemary. The breakfast goes well. I happily hit the road, heading for Vegas.
A few hundred miles of re-tracing my drive along the Central Valley. About two thirds back to LA I turn off I-5 at Wasco and head West. Middle of bloody nowhere– enough to give anywhere in West Texas a run for its money. Farming towns, pickup trucks, and little else. Eventually the vast, agricultural plain ends and I’m driving up into the eastern Californian mountains. Spectacular. They too, end eventually and just as sunset kicks in I find myself driving through the Mojave desert. Colors so beautiful I almost want to cry.
I’m on Interstate 15 heading into Vegas from the South. It’s nighttime, it’s pitch black, save for the headlights of other cars. Then suddenly you see Vegas in the distance, a vast ball of colored lights. I find my hotel on the Strip– the MGM Grand, and check in.
Then the blur begins… like all blog conferences. Talk. Networking. Business. Alcohol. I’ve done it all before, many times. We’re professionals. We know the score.
Day Five, Friday, Las Vegas.
Blur. Surreal. Vegas. Overwhelming.
Day Six, Saturday, Las Vegas.
More blur. More surreal. Meet lots of people at Blogworld. Fun time had by all.
Day Seven, Sunday. Las Vegas-Albuquerque, New Mexico. 585 miles.
The day starts with the usual “End of Conference” thing. I pack, I check out of my hotel, I hang with Loren and Michelle for a while, till they have to go grab a cab to the airport. I go grab my car and head east out of the city, hoping to make Albuquerque by midnight.
I make it to Albuquerque in good time, i spite of the two-hour traffic jam going over the Hoover Dam. I stop in Flagstaff, Arizona for dinner– a modest fare of Big Mac, fries and coke. I love this part of the world, if I wasn’t so damn busy, if I didn’t have this massive deadline hanging over my head, I would have taken a few more days to check out the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. I’ve been to both before, both spectacular place, but I decide to save them for next time. I almost didn’t.
I make it to my hotel in Albuquerque just after midnight. A nice Best Western, just off the freeway. I’m asleep within minutes of first entering my room.
Day Eight, Monday, Albuquerque to Alpine, Texas. 486 miles.
The road between Albuquerque and El Paso isn’t much to talk about. I’ve been on similar drives in Texas, and I prefer them. By this time I’m starting to burn out on the road trip. I make it to Texas and keep on heading on till I reach Alpine. I slept 12 hours that night.
B. Random Thoughts.
1. Besides all the geographical splendor this part of the world affords, the best part of a road trip like this, of course, is that is gives you all that time to think. And what di I think about? Short Answer: How the heck am I going to manage all the stuff I’ve currently got going on, AND find the time to draw cartoons. If you know the answer, please tell me.
2. I didn’t go to Vegas for the Blogworld conference. I went for the semi-annual Board of Advisors meeting for b5 Media. I am a board member, so are Stowe Boyd, Doc Searls, Robert Scoble and Renee Blodgett. We all hung out most of Friday with b5’s CEO, Jeremey Wright. Great meeting. My original plan was just to fly up to Vegas for a night or two then fly back, but the lure of the road got the better of me. Sure it added a couple of days to the equation, but hey, you only live once.
3. Being on the road taught me exactly how useful a Blackberry can be, especially one with GPS-enabled Googlemaps. Like the old advertising line says, don’t leave home without it.
4. I like being on the road. If I had to choose a blue-collar job it would be a truck driver. No question. Second choice: Dry wall builder. Third choice: Plumber.
5. Seems I’m well on target to drive 40,000 miles this year. All those trips to Austin, Marfa, Terlingua etc.
6. Part of me just wants to quit everything, live in the desert, and make & sell paintings. I know it’s more than feasible, it would be a gig most “creative” types would kill for, but I suffer from other yet unrealized ambitions.
7. It’s a good life. I think what keeps it good is the spirit of adventure. Hopefully we can hold onto that feeling for as long as we are alive. Otherwise, why bother? Rock on.
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