In retrospect, I don’t believe I actually did it but, in a strange way, I’m glad that I did, because everybody should attempt something this insane at least once in their life. And it was insanity because I did it for love — naively and stupidly as it turns out.
Long story short, someone I was dating at the time had decided to turn it into a long-distance relationship by unilaterally deciding to go back to school — at the University of Texas at Arlington. He’d already been out there to find an apartment and get some furniture in, but now needed to make the trip to bring all the shit that wasn’t the best to fly with.
We loaded up his car the night before, then drove out to his parents’ place in San Marino, the neighborhood that all of the people too rich to live in Pasadena had moved to. To say that his parents owned a mansion was not an understatement.
It was a two story place built very early in the 20th century, and one of the things that most struck me about it was that a lot of the upstairs bedrooms were sort of joined. I don’t remember now, but it was either so that the parents could sleep in back with the nursery in the front or that the back bedrooms were nanny’s quarters.
Either way, he essentially had a bedroom behind a bedroom with its own private bathroom, and that bathroom was humungous. I seriously think it was the same square footage as the studio apartment I lived in at the time. Kind of ridiculous for a bathroom if you think about it, since the toilet, shower, tub, and sink took up very little floor space near the edges.
Maybe it was designed for impromptu games of soap hockey.
Anyway… the plan was to stay there for the night and then leave very early in the morning, as in very pre-dawn early which is a standard L.A. trick if you’re heading east any time in the summer and it’s not to Vegas. The idea is to get your ass out to Arizona and then up into slightly cooler climes in New Mexico before the heat tries to incinerate you.
I think we left around four thirty in the morning, and he did all the driving for the first leg of the trip. Note: First leg. After our first stop in Arizona, it was all me the rest of the way.
As is typical on this drive down the 10, we hit Arizona right around sunrise, which is the best time to hit the western edge of the state. The stony mountains and canyons are truly spectacular and colorful. The whole thing looks a promo for the Grand Canyon itself.
Our first actual stop is in Quartzite, Arizona, to gas up and grab something to eat at the attached mini-mart. We probably hit there around nine a.m., give or take, and it was already hotter than balls.
That was why we didn’t stay long and hit the next stretch, which took us to Tucson and lunch, from an altitude of 879 feet up to a respectable and much cooler 2,400 feet, give or take, and more gas and dinner in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at about a quarter to seven.
This was also the highest altitude we stopped at, 3,900 feet. I don’t know why I’m mentioning that, except to say that driving through New Mexico always feels like you’ve climbed America’s servant’s staircase, and are ready to start the trip down.
The Rockies don’t make it this far.
From there, with the time change and all, it’s about 9:30 at night when we leave, and close to an hour later just before we hit El Paso, Mexico hits us. This was one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me, really, because it was so visceral. It was after dark, but we’re suddenly right next to what Americans call the Rio Grande and, in fact, about 600 feet from Mexico itself, but even invisible, the contrast is striking.
To our left is El Paso — brightly lit streets stretching off in neat lines. To our right is la Ciudad Juarez, mostly dark, but what it isn’t emitting in light, it is emitting in stench.
Now, whether it’s the river or the city itself, I don’t know, but it’s like a thousand rotten eggs have exploded from their shells all at once, and we quickly roll down the windows and crank up the car fan.
We’re only that close for a mile or two before the 10 veers us farther away from the border, but it was quick education in contrast, and the damage that a government can do when it keeps its people in poverty — object lesson for the U.S., 2020.
It’s another few hours we stop at some small place in the middle of Nowhere, West Texas that happens to have an open gas station and mini-mart. It’s probably about two in the morning, and we have the most fascinating conversation with the old woman working the counter.
Basically, she explains, she works the nightshift because here, in summer, it’s just too damn hot to work by day. A few dozen miles past this stop, I spot an off-ramp that seems to have nothing at all glowing on either side, and on a whim I pull off.
The boyfriends wonders what I’m doing, but I tell him to just go with it. I park the car next to what looks like the minimal heart of a tiny town — combo Post Office and General Store next to the overpass, both closed, single road leading off to who knew what.
But there are no street lights, no lights at all, in fact, so I park the car in the open and we lay on the warm hood in the slightly cool night and look up — and see the galaxy.
Being city boys, we don’t really know stars. There are about a hundred in L.A., but the majority of them are not in the sky. But here? My god, it was a revelation. The sky is solid stars, horizon to horizon, and we can even see the Milky Way.
This single moment, frozen in time, is the one thing that made the insanity of the entire trip worthwhile. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve seen the sky the way that ancient humankind did — undiluted by our need to play Prometheus and set fire to the sky to obscure Apollo.
And it was three-thirty in the morning and we’d been on the road for about 21 hours with seven to go, adjusting for stops and time changes, so, reluctantly, we got back in the car and continued on.
Seriously, I’d considered convincing him to let me bang him on the hood of his car right there and then, but that was only one of the many red flags in our relationship: My libido, high as a kite. His, lower than whale shite.
Of course, when you’ve been driving for so damn long and the Sun comes up on Day 2, it’s easy to get really punchy, and the most surreal moment of them all came when we stopped off at a McDonald’s in Abilene, Texas, at about 6:30 on the second morning.
I don’t remember what he ordered, but I ordered a couple of sausage cheese biscuits, and we decided to get it to go and eat it in the car. But as soon as we got in the car, he referred to my order as “a couple of gut grenades,” and, for some reason, I found this phrase so goddamn funny that I started laughing and I couldn’t stop.
This set him off, which set me off, and it was like we were stoned off our asses, which we probably were. I mean, come on — neither of us had slept since about 3:45 the morning before, West Texas was, visually, boring as hell, and we were still a couple of hours away from our destination.
But we held it together, arrived at his big-ass fancy apartment complex in Irving, Texas, pulled up in front of the leasing office to check in and… that was the moment his car decided to die.
On the one hand, “Hooray for getting us here first?”
On the other hand, “Oh, fuck you for dying a good quarter mile away from his actual apartment.”
Yeah, it was one of those complexes, because Texas got land it can squander. So, basically, hundreds of cookie-cutter buildings on buttloads of land that span more acres than any freed slave was ever promised, although there are no mules.
And there was his car, which suddenly wouldn’t start, with all of his crap in it, which we had to get to his place.
Now, while the Stepford Barbies who worked the leasing office were kind enough to allow him to leave his dead car in what was technically a “Oh, hell no, don’t park here” zone, they were also not inclined to offer us any help via the staff in getting his shit from here to there, even though the grounds were almost as big as their Aqua-Net Cemented bouffants.
Yeah, everything is big in Texas, even the hair.
So… we spent the next hour or two schlepping his shit up to his apartment, and then finding a mechanic who would come check the car out and either tow it or fix it on site. Fortunately, he found one who did the former — it was one of those trivial fixes that involved something as stupid as blowing canned air down one thingamawhatzit.
Of course, it would have been nice if the BF had thought about calling the mechanic before we moved all the shit by hand.
But then there was that other part. See, when he first moved in, he had adopted a couple of kittens, although he really wasn’t the kind of person who should ever have pets, since — as I eventually realized — he had the attention span of a goldfish.
So, he had the kitties for a couple of weeks in the place, then gave them away, but we came back to the fleas they left behind, which attacked us immediately.
Oh. That, and the fact that he hadn’t bought a bed yet, because he hadn’t actually stayed in the apartment overnight.
So — quick shower to try to get the little biters off of us, then longer trip to Target to get some bug bombs and buy an air mattress, but then trip away from home while the bug bombs do their work, and we wind up wandering around downtown Irving during an afternoon when it’s 110 and muggy and all I want to do is sleep for a week.
This relationship really should have come with a hundred red flags, but I missed them all. Long story short, this Ex, who shall not be named, was the 11th of 12 children born to a Mexican man and an Irish-American woman.
Now, they had met just after WW II while working something like the Peace Corps in Europe, at which point they were just a couple of poor kids trying to do good. During those poor days after they married, they had six children, who grew up in basic poverty more or less.
Then, Dad had the brilliant realization that Italy was poor as shit, but had a ton of marble. Meanwhile, American construction was taking off, and marble was a hot commodity, in both commercial and residential real estate.
So… he started exporting the stuff from Italy to the U.S., made a shit-ton of money, and the family suddenly moved stateside, now quite affluent — and this was before he started his second business, when he realized that the need to acquire as much shit as possible pounded into the new middle class meant that they were running out of places to keep that shit.
Ta-da: storage business.
And Dad and Mom had six more kids, but these six were born after the parents became rich as hell. Funny side-effect: The first six all became very successful entrepreneurs and multi-millionaires on their own, with no help from the family, starting businesses and making their fortunes.
The other six? They spent their lives living off of the family fortune.
If that isn’t an Aesop fairy tale right there, I don’t know what is.
We finally made it back to his flea-free place at I don’t know what time. All I knew was that I’d been awake for at least 36 hours by then, and as soon as that mattress was half inflated, I was crashed out on it.
Fortunately, his Mom (not his Dad, who was a homophobic dickhead) had paid for my return flight to L.A., so that was a much quicker trip, but I had still managed to miss all the clues along the way, and kept coming back for about the next nine months.
At least I never drove to Dallas again. And it was an insane road trip made for stupid reasons but, again, I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.