"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Highways, pyscho trucker killers and bad food. America the Beautiful

Scoobs Von Rothstien urged I write a blog about my drive across the country where I sit on a summer Vermont morning with sunlight pouring in through the maple trees, elm and sumac. Thunder storms are predicted this afternoon. All kind of birds come down to the deck here because my sister and her husband feed them and sometimes I feel like I am in the tropics instead of New England because of all the color of these birds, but I am told that the kingdom of the icy north takes hold of this region in an astounding short period of time, somewhere around September. But the autumn colors will do it's thing and all the New York and Connecticut "Peepers" travel up here to see the covered bridges and colored trees and clapboard architecture from the 1700's. And then snow comes, they say it gets a lot of it here. I am told that a whole different variety of birds will appear then. And there is red squirrel and gray and chipmunks which the cats like to catch in sadistic pleasure as only cats do. I love cats but some people loath and fear them and seeing them here, living in the forest, I see what dreaded predators they can be.


I got here by no easy means indeed. Upon realizing I was moving to a rural place I had to come to a decision in California some months back just what I was going to do about transportation when I got to Putney VT. Well I had this car I bought from a surfer back in 2004. It was a real gem, a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle, with surf decals. Before my affliction I surfed. I drove this bug all over the surf spots and it was always a good girl to me. Even when she was malfunctioning she still somehow got me to the beach, or work. Everybody called me Pappy in the surf lineup so they named my car 'The Pappymobile.' I thought it over, I had a little cash, rebuild the old girl and drive her to Vermont, easy enough!
It cost me more than I had expected to rebuild her!

Fast forward.

My car in Glendora California, a dear friend I stayed with. Glendora lies somewhere between Pasadena and San Bernardino off the 210. Everything was ready to go but my friend was not a little concerned about my drivers seat. I tried to get the seat replaced but it being such an old car that was much harder than I thought.
I gave up on it.
I would put pillows on the seat to buffer the bare springs. Yeah, well my good friend gave me a going away present. He reupholstered the drivers seat for me.

Now that is a friend and I want to mention my friend Dana, there aren't too many people in ones life like Dana! How many friends can you count on one hand?

It was June 18th I sat at a gas station in San Demos filling her up. I was ready to go. I emailed my sister saying I was leaving. It was about 7PM on a Thursday. I had 19,425 miles on the odometer (That's not the real miles of the old girl, more like 319,425) and as the day turned to night I was on I15 on my way to Vagas. The I15 goes much further than Vegas. As a matter of fact it goes all the way to the Canadian boarder somewhere in Montana. But I only needed it to get to Salt Lake City. There was no radio in the Beetle, no heat, no reclining seats and no room to really stretch and sleep. But I had my new reupholstered seat!
The only other time I was in Las Vegas before was a stop over at the airport on my way to the east coast on Southwest. I am not the Las Vegas type so I was glad when I passed through there at 3am. I don't know...I kind of expected a desert strip with sixties tacky style casinos out in the middle of the desert, not bloody Los Angeles, no wait! What's that? The Empire State Building? Christ! New York?, No wait! The Eiffel Tower? Fucking Paris?
I was tired, I was driving through night desert with semi's passing me at astounding speeds. I passed over Chaujun Pass going 45 MPH.

The night drove on.

After stopping for gas outside of Vegas the night became "real country dark" to quote Burgeous. Life on the I.15 turns very deserted with nothing, nothing, nothing until you suddenly find yourself in an Indian gambling casino/fireworks sale/food and truck stop and what the fuck ever. I needed coffee...word to all you metro sex, urban flyover coast to coast, living in the middle of it all...Starbucks does end somewhere north of Vegas on the I.15.

The worst coffee I ever tasted! And it actually got worse.

I tried to get some rest on some of the primitive rest stops they have out in the desert north of Vegas but I was not in the mood to sleep so I kept taking off. As dawn painted her rosy finger upon the eastern sky I was entering Arizona which you only kitty corner for about 50 miles but it was a canyon and quite impressive with a rushing river beside the highway.

I was stoked to be out of Southern California.

Not long I was in Utah, summer eastern sun in my eyes. Salt Lake City 465miles. It's an hour later now too. I'm in Mountain time sucker! My Pappymobile may be passed by every goddamn car and truck on the road but shit! She's getting almost 40mile to the gallon up in these elevations. I'm getting 400 miles out of a 10 gallon tank? Gas has gotten cheap here too.

I like republican states! Gas is alway cheaper in republican states! 2.35 a gallon !

The interstate 15 up through the middle of the state of Utah, north towards Provo and Salt Lake City is just spectacular. It runs through high range land with ranches and mountain ranges covered with snow, rushing creeks and lakes, sheep, cows and goats, I was getting horny!

Outstanding in their fields!

I stopped at a truck stop for more coffee. It was there that I had two revelations;
1. I had so looked forward to the old truck stops that I experienced when I was a young man hitchhiking across the USA. The old counters and booths with the home cooked meals and the whole breakfast in America experience. Short stacks, hash browns , eggs biscuits and gravy and coffee, OJ, the bouffants on the waitresses chewing gum...

Gone are the days!

Now there are 3 different trucks stops. They are not truck stops, they are called 'travel centers' and they cater to car traffic as well as truckers. They are something like a mall. Some with a McDonald's or a Burger King, Pizza Hut, Quisnos and Subway. Usually some horrid excuse for a sit down restaurant with that cheap hotel junket buffet type vomit inducing fake eggs and pancake stuff sitting for hours in a steam table. As I traveled farther in the hopes that I would eventually come to some old fashion middle American food I realized that the corporate junta has spread to the highways too. I had no choice but to not really eat. Just bad coffee. Did I mention that Starbucks was not included in these travel centers?

Farmer Brothers, Scoobs! Farmer Brothers. Don't know what I'm talking about? Scoobs knows.

2. I was watching the national news some months back in the comfort of my snug Hollywood apartment and a report came on that brought my attention to. The FBI has about 500 unsolved murders on their hands. It seems body parts have been showing up along the interstate highway system in just about all 50 states.

Maybe not Hawaii, but who knows.

The FBI are assuming that there is a serial killing ring of long haul truckers that are victimizing prostitutes that solicit trucks (known as lot lizards), stranded motorists and hitchhikers. It is hard to catch them. You pick up your victim in, say, Pennsylvania, murder them in Indiana, cut them up in Missouri, and dispose of them in Kansas.

This is not urban myth!

The FBI have a special task force just to solve these murders. I was thinking of this at the first stop I made in Utah. I spied a trucker buying tobacco and gum, He was young with curly blond hair and I just couldn't imagine this guy a serial killer but I did read half of American Psycho and you never know, does one?
When I got to Provo I took a short cut to skirt around Salt Lake City to meet up with I.80 which would take me all the way to Ohio so I took a tourist mountain route that was very enjoyable and my beetle kept puring along at 6000 , 7,000 ft above the old sea that I used to greet every morning at sunrise for a surf.

I entered Wyoming and started to fall asleep at the wheel but the shoulder was grated so it woke me up. I decided to get a motel. I slept all the rest of the afternoon and then woke up in the night and watched TV and fell back out. But woke refreshed and ready for another day of travel.

There actually was a Starbucks in this town but they were not opened.

If I move back west I would like to get a place in Wyoming but Wyoming, Dick Chaney's home state too, being the least populated state in the country has room in all it's natural beauty for only two kinds of people.

Ranchers and movie stars.

Maybe psycho truckers too. I think it's kind of a well kept secret kind of thing. Very conservative, cheep gas and all. I went over 8,000 ft passes with the beetle going 25 MPH with a 40 MPH headwind. I pulled into a gas station and there were these two kids, both about 19. One had a cowboy hat on and as they totally ignored me and chattered on about girls and this and that the one without then cowboy hat asked the one with the cowboy hat if he was going to Casper to ride the rodeo.

They got to be kidding!

Now I was getting a little crazy. You know, with a car I didn't know would make it, I was tired, leaving my home, so I say; "Excuse me, but I couldn't help overhearing...you ride the rodeo?"
The kid with the cowboy hat looked at me with suspicion and not a little indignity. The other spoke up. "He rides the bulls."

A real fucking cowboy!

'I'm impressed!' I said to the young guy with the cowboy hat. He gave me a smile and I got back into the Pappymobile and headed east. That made my day!

I was very near Nebraska when I stopped for more gas. I noticed a bar right behind the gas station.

I needed a drink.

There are no bars anywhere in Los Angeles like the bar I went into. There used to be, but LA has become way too fabulous for a redneck joint like this one. It was great. Big titted girl bartenders , snooker tables, pool, no import but plenty of Coors and Bud and Gold which I had a shot of. Truckers and sod busters, shit haulers and oil field workers. I would say the whole bar made up a full mouth of teeth. But who am I to observe such a mean thing,

Mean but true.

I got to talking to a guy who'd spent a long time in the military and saw duty in Viet Nam, Granada and the first Gulf War. He was very smart, knew American history really well. Just got back from Texas to get some kind of license to haul hazardous material. A real redneck but I have noticed that rednecks are a friendly lot just as long as you don't start shooting off your mouth on all those yuppie things yuppies talk about in LA, New York or Vermont for that matter.

Sure as hell wasn't going to give a dissertation about the 40 year anniversary of the Stone Wall Riots.

The closet is a necessary tool for for a bar like this. I could have stayed longer but I saw myself getting drunk and perhaps if I had stayed longer I could have gotten to know everybody but that just did not happen. I had to move on, across into the plains of Nebraska with rain falling as the night fell. I was tired and my mind was swirling with visions of gruesome crimes committed my psycho trucker killers and as the rain increased I found a very pleasant rest area away off the interstate, quiet with cars with sleeping people in them and some trucks too.
I forgot my fear of the psycho trucker killers and fell asleep in my front seat for a few hours .

I awoke to meadow birds in the dawn. I took off and hauled ass across Nebraska, stopped for more gas and bad coffee and kept going. As the late morning pushed it cleared up and got really hot and humid. I knew that I was leaving the west. That old familiar sticky humidity that is so prevalent in the east was beginning to take hold. I road and road, got to Omaha in the early afternoon, I crossed another time zone. I was hungry and had a horrible all you can eat fathers day special (it was indeed fathers day). I hardly ate anything. I had the shits and I was just not having any of it. I longed for In and Out, I longed for Pochito Mas, I longed for Trader Joes! But only this lousy road food, it really sucked.

And still no Starbucks!

Across the Missouri River! I was getting there, the beetle just purred, I talked to her, told her how much I loved her. I remember her down at San Onofre and up at Malibu, I still had some sand in the car. And here she was getting me to the east coast. Across the Missouri, the mighty river where Merriwether Lewis and Clark passed over 200 years before.
I stopped at a small motel in Iowa not far east of Omaha, took a chance with it. The owner had a cheap room and a Harley Davidson. He was from California originally and moved to this picturesque hilly corn growing region with his wife 20 years ago. Even said he surfed at one time.
I would have stayed an extra day there if I had the time and money. It was a nice place, Air conditioned with cable TV and wi-fi and a fridge to put beer in. I was watching Da Vinci Code (what a piece of shit!) when the locals at the station came in and said that there were tornado warnings up on the north 40 and folks up there had best get into their cellers.

WOW! Todo! Are we in .....?

The next day was a Monday and a hot and sticky affair. I drove to De Moines and went for more bad food and motor oil for the beetle. De Moines seems OK. A lot of people liked my car there and a couple of midwest guys asked if I wanted to sell the car.

I didn't.

And across the Mississippi I went. So goddamn hot I thought I would die. And I was in Illinois now and I was warned that the I.80 was under construction and that I had maybe to think about an alternative to Chicago but I thought the girl at the store daft and wrote it off.

I was sorry I didn't listen to her!

I won't go into the details of what I went through but imagine the 405 closed at Sunset and all traffic being diverted into a detour at 8am in the morning and having it 95 degrees.

I had maps, I got around it.

With the Chicago skyscrapers in the distant I got into Indiana and now it was shakedown time. After living in the big, big west for all those years I almost forgot about the eastern turnpike system.
Indiana is nothing special except for South Bend and Notre Dame where the great Joe Montana went to college and sharpened his skills to become the greatest quarterback of all times.
I passed South Bend and saluted the Fighting Irish and all the other greats from that school that have graced our national winter TV sport.

Same shit across Indiana and then on to Ohio, another turnpike, More psycho truckers, not bad looking though, another 10.00 dollars and then the unthinkable....

My generator light goes on!

In an old Volkswagen this is a serious sign. I pull over on the Ohio Turnpike and grab a flashlight and open the rear engine to examine.
Nothing serious but serious enough. One of my brushes is going out. That means that the generator is not regenerating, that means my battery will be dead in a while. It is the middle of the night. I am using my headlights and turn signals, the battery will be dead in an hour. I jiggle around and press and I find a paper clip from Book Soup in my glove compartment and
go back to my engine and jerry rig the sucker and the generator light goes out. I am somewhere near Cleavland, the light goes back on, on the side of the road. Jerry rigging some more, get it jerry rigged fixed.
Cleavland Ohio, home of rock and roll hall of fame. Why Cleavland? Why not Sunset Strip? I think it might have to do with the fact that, after all the hype and money, rock and roll will be nothing but a garage thing from anytown USA, anytown UK. Seattle, Philadelphia, Liverpool, Leeds, Bad side of any free world town or village. So why not Cleavland, I believe it was there the first rock concert in the 1050's happened.
Dawn in Cleavland, I think of all the steel workers, the shipping and industry that have abandoned The City of Lights for China and Mexico. What is there to do in Cleavland?

Go the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dummy!

No time for that, got to keep trucking, what with a jerry rigged generator?

The hardest part of the trip was the ride across the State of New York (another turnpike). At last there was Starbucks at the stops, I needed it. I was back in civilization. I was in Hillery country and the State went on for hundreds of miles, hours and hours and it might have been Texas, it seemed to never end. Expensive place, the state of New York. I was born in the next state south, Pennsylvania. It all looked familiar. My childhood in the eastern woods, the elm and the maple, the poplar and mulberry, the creeks that westerners call rivers. I used to run off to woods like that and play and smoke cigarettes. I was coming home.

Vermont just about 60 miles.

I cross the mighty Mohawk River in the Catskill Mountains. The towns all familiar names. My reading of the revolution in 1778 brings these towns to light. I see signs for Ticonderoga, a great American Victory, the one that brought the French into the war for without them Washington would have been defeated.

Albany at rush hour!

Rush hour is just about the same in any city.

I cross the Hudson River, not as big as it is in the City of New York. I am off the interstate and traveling a two lane now. West Point is not very far. I travel along gentle farm land and suddenly I see a sign...


I drive to Bennington and see a pub. I park the bug and go in for a beer. The bartender is the owner. He saw my car and my plates.
"You drove that car all the way from California?"
"Yes I did." Says I .
"How long you here for?" He askes.
"Rest of my life as far as I know."
He smiles, nods his head;
"You'll like it here....winters are rough though"
That's all I hear!

So here it is Scoobs.

Thank you patient readers.

RIP M.J. I drove past Gary on my way out of Chicago. You see? It always has humble beginnings - Pappy


Tosh said...

Best travel diary ever!

Manny said...

Pappy, you are one thoroughly interesting writer. Some people claim a life creatively lived... you've actually got one. Bravo.

Miss you, buddy.

Scoobs said...

Farmer Brothers!
Served that shit to truckers for years.

Great trip my friend!

Thanks for bringing us along with you.