Wednesday before last I finished my last final, for Geology 118, at about 9AM. I walked out of Greg Hall and toward the crowd and just kept thinking to myself, “Done, Done! DONE! DONE!!”
It’s one thing to be done with a final. It is another to be done with all your finals, and thus with your semester. It is another thing to be done with your last semester, about to graduate. It’s another thing to be done with the last formal education you have any immediate plans for for the rest of your life.
Saturday, 15 May
After relaxing and packing and otherwise casually enjoying myself and trying to tune the car, and visiting Chicago one last time, I woke up Saturday and remember driving over to Piccadilly and fitting two kegs of beer into the back of the Volkswagen – one Honey Brown and one Ice House. Throw in another 100 lbs of ice and you have yourself a party, if you count the propane fillup, and all the food and other stuff gathered by Scott and Chad, and the legwork done on getting the hot tub working, on the part of Scott and Oleg.
Before taking off for Piccadilly, Dad and Gwen arrived. After getting the kegs set up and Mom, Grandma, Uncle John and Jessy arrived from Chicago, we headed over to Foellinger for Humanities Convocation II. A relatively small ceremony by U of I standards, but still probably lasting at least an hour, each of us from several majors, most notably English and Rhetoric, taking our turns to strut across the stage. Everyone was in a good humor.
Upon returning home, some friends of Chad had already arrived and the grilling was beginning. Scott started out strong on the grill, making much food as he had prepared to do. As the night wore on Tunji, Goth Dan, Brijeet, Jay, Tim Skirvin and all the Allenites, ‘toly and Morris and Anne Nowinski and Rene and others showed up. Vern rode the nookie van down from Chicago and Mark Meyer and his girlfriend showed up. What started as a nice cookout got better as the hot tub opened up, and the less inhibited folks, almost exclusively my friends, tried it out. The sun went down, Beth came by, beer in a hot tub … ahhh …
Sunday, 16 May
… and we woke up the next morning … Adam had slept on our couch, and I believe he and Scott were hung over, the hot tub having a dehydrating affect which improves the punch of alcohol. About one in the afternoon we finally got up and going with Chad and Christina over to I think the place is Merry Anne’s. Good breakfast food. In the afternoon Beth came by and we took a walk together and bid some goodbyes. The day was good and slow and lazy, and included the Simpsons going to Japan, which I found hysterical and over the top. Plus a rerun of a good, classic X-Files.
Monday, 17 May
My bike rack and other car parts arrived via UPS in a pretty timely fashion. The last bits were packed in boxes, the rear seat folded down, computers in the way back, under boxes and boxes and blankets. Bike rack and two bikes, one being Erik Gilling’s, on the back. Passenger’s seat held junk food, monitor on the front seat floor, covered by a blanket. Dad and Gwen arrived from Chicago and thus did we hit the road, eventually finding our way up to 80 West and driving on through Iowa until the wee hours when I started feeling punchy and we pulled over in a small town in Nebraska. I slept across the front seat, wrapped in a sleeping bag, legs resting out the driver’s window. Dunno if Dad got a picture of that or not.
So in the wee hours did Gwen wake Dad who woke me. She hadn’t heard from Desi and wanted to get back by CO as soon as possible. It was like 0430h or somesuch, and we pulled away from the small town in the early morning dewy air. As we sped towards the highway I saw a deer kick up, its white tail flying along. A little ways down the road we had breakfast, and kept driving through the day, stopping mostly at truck stops like Sapp Bros. Gwen was shopping for an Angel to replace the loaner that was riding on my dashboard. Figured anything that helps me West, including heavenly intervention, can’t hurt.
Later down the road I checked on the monitor, and found that it and several other items had suffered heat damage. You know how Beetles don’t have heat? Mine does! Entire canisters of deodorant had vaporized, my electric shaver had melted, blowing out some battery acid for good measure. The plastic on the front of the monitor adopted a cool Salvadore Dali affect, as Dad described it … hrmmm, well, we cleared off the passenger seat floor, moving the monitor to a position under the bonnet, and the junk food rested on a clothing box which held my cup holder well. On the road again …
Come the afternoon, we stopped at a town that claims to be Buffalo Bill Cody’s home town. I remembered the gift shop from a previous trip out West. The racism tends to bother me, but then I’ve been going to University of Illinois, where the appropriation of Native American culture is a recurring topic of controversy. Not much farther down the road it was time to part company. Dad and Gwen rode their interstate into Colorado and I continued down 80.
Later that evening, I stopped in Chappell, Nebraska. After getting gas, Lucy stalled down the street, and wouldn’t start again. I walked over to a Bar and Grill that was decorated with cattle brands and had a generous taco / tortilla combo plate and a Coke. Back to Lucy, the rest did her no good. It was too late for a mechanic, and I took the sleeping bag and tent over to a nearby campground, which was unmanned.
Later in the night I shifted in my sleep, and found the sleeping bag zipper was broken, splitting down the seams. It started getting colder, and colder, I became uncomfortable. I took a walk back to town, stopped in a bar and inquired about a nearby hotel. Got directions, down the street about five blocks, never found it. Ended up sleeping in the car, this time curled up with the windows shut.
Wednesday, 19 May
I awoke the next morning, and there were two mechanic’s shops within a block and a half. Neither were yet open. I retrieved my tent, and they were still closed. I hunkered down with Lucy as I had the evening before, and for lack of inspiration of what I could do, did a valve job. It was, after all, morning. Well wouldn’t ya know it but she started? Back on down the road!
I puttered along, Lucy less than entirely happy and me suspecting I might have bunged something with the valves. Got out of Nebraska and stopped for gas in Wyoming, with my eye out for a mechanic. No mechanic where I stopped, so I figured I’d stop further down the road. Lucy stopped a few hundred feet from the gas station, and called a tow truck.
Got towed to one place that wouldn’t handle Volkswagens, and then we ended up, with no additional mileage, at Collins Automotive, a shop that specializes in older vehicles. We were greeted by a surly old guy with s short white beard, who said I couldn’t work on the vehicle on his property, if only because they believed that at their shop, it was their quality work. He said also that they normally did appointment work, and could maybe get to me tomorrow. I rode on up to the Holiday Inn on my bike and splurged the $75 to stay there that night. My idea was that he was the prototypical grumpy old sysadmin type of personality, and that by acting meek and staying out of his way, his curiosity would take over, and he’d get to my car a lot earlier than he’d let on.
Like I said, I splurged on the Holiday Inn. Unfortunately their pool was closed, but I got a nice thorough shower and cable TV. Between being alone on the road, the car insisting on failing ever since parting from Dad, the frustration of the night before, the crappy progress that day, and the crochety old coot of a mechanic, and the clean, air-conditioned quiet of the Cheyenne hotel room, and the lack of anything to read, I suddenly felt horribly lonely. I came near tears, read a few passages from the Bible – bless them Gideons, and then screwed myself down, my macho side reminding me that there had been those heading West before me that faced far worse obstacles, and that there was really nothing preventing me from getting to CA on time, whether my Wagen died or not. Nothing to be too upset over really.
So I watched the latter part of that movie where Richard Gere is framed for murder in China, grateful that the very ending was not the cliche I feared it would be. Some more TV, and dozed off to sleep, snug as a bug, as it were.
Thursday, 20 May
I knew those guys would tackle the car, so I headed downstairs, ate a liesurely, if expensive breakfast, and headed back to the mechanics.
Car was good. The bill was impressively modest. Timing had been way off.
Took off down the road, Lucy purring away. Slowed down for the construction that is ever-present throughout Nebraska and Wyoming, then sped up again, speed climbing and … dead.
Walked a few hundred feet back to the construction site, found a manager with a cell phone, called the shop, got some advice, walked back.
Advice no help. Walked back to the construction. The guy with the phone was gone, but another guy in a little car with a cracked windshield gave me a ride back to the repair shop. I offered him a few bucks, as he said he’d been inquiring about a badly-needed job with the road crew, he declined. The grumpy old man of the day before was far more hospitable this time, and when his coworker, Bill, another old guy with a short-cropped white beard and kindly demeanor, who reminded me an awful lot of Uncle Bill McConeghey, returned from lunch he drove out to Lucy in his pickup truck. I’d only made it a few miles down 80. He couldn’t get her started either, and so I rode in Lucy behind a tow strap back to the shop. Not an easy thing, but by riding the brakes I got the hang of it.
Where yesterday I’d gotten a single grouchy old man, today I got a pit crew swarming around Lucy. The two older guys and another in his forties named Bob, they puzzled over why she didn’t start – she had gas and spark. A little exploratory surgery, and the coil was found questionable, and the points and condenser were bad. A coil from an old BMW parts car, and other quick replacements later, tightening down the distributor, and Lucy was happy. After extensive test-driving, I managed to finally get her to start dying again. A little adjust to the carb idle on Bill’s part and she was golden. More test driving and we took off down the road.
And things were good.
And I drove.
And I drove.
Near midnite, I was nearing Utah. Not long later I suddenly lost power, as if I had lost a cylinder. DAMMIT! I got into a truck stop and decided to nap until the morning when I’d do a valve adjustment.
Well, I couldn’t sleep. Part of it was the generator in the truck I had parked next to to avoid the flashing lights of the truck stop, and part of it was restlessness from a sound sleep from the lazy night before. Around 0200h I got out, set up the flashlight, and did a valve adjustment. She was a little warm and the valves were mostly pretty happy. Well, putting things back together the flashlight suddenly went out. Weird. Walked to the store and the bulb looked okay, bought some batteries. No go. Returned and picked out a nice-looking maglite. The lady at he counter suggested that the Coleman four-pack of flashlights was a better deal. Okay. I hadn’t been doing so hot lately so I got the four flashlights, hoping they might start breeding, maybe.
Had enough light to get the bikes back on and secured to the rack with bungee cords. And I was off.
Still, she wasn’t the happiest bug in the world, and it wasn’t the valves, and it couldn’t be the timing, I didn’t think. Could it be the altitude?
While I had time to think, slowing to 45 and shifting in to third up them mountains, crossing the Utah border, I thought about heat, and altitude, and thin air, and burning fuel, and warming up and eventually hypothesised that between the thinner air and the cold night air and the middle-grade fuel I had been treating her too, she just wasn’t firing on her cylinders with the power she wanted. Next fill up it was cheap gas, 85 octane if I remember correctly. She started perking up.
Drove through Salt Lake city about 0400h, getting a little lost because of their shutting down I-80 and having a poorly-marked detour route. The sun was coming up as I crossed the salt flats. I pulled in to one of the few fueling stations along the way, a makeshift truck stop which had a gas station, a small store, and a restaurant around back built from two trailer homes. I wanted to keep going, but my body didn’t. Two hours of sleep at the gas station, sitting upright in the driver’s seat, head leaning on a pillow.
Saturday, 22 May
Around 0800h and 0900h I had some eggs over easy and toast and orange juice and coffee in the restaurant. My bill came to less than five dollars. I think I left six or seven, because it was more pleasant than the overpriced meal I’d had in Cheyenne two mornings ago, and I hadn’t eaten breakfast the day before, just a cup of coffee at the truck stop.
On the road again. Wondering if that white stuff on the ground was snow or white sand or salt. Farther west, there was water, but it was still, probably because of its brackishness and probably because the desert is not a very windy place. It shined like a mirror, and was a very nice picture, reflecting the sand and the sky. Surreal. I wanted to stop and explore, but I wanted even more to finish my journey.
Stopping for gas, I encountered a large group of folks my own age travelling in a caravan of vehicles. As I added another quart and hypothesised that maybe they were a church group, one of the ladies asked had I come all the way from Illinois, and that she had a squareback that she didn’t trust very far at all.
I had indeed, I told her, breaking down only a few times, and that it was kinda boring without a radio.
That’s right, no radio. I tried to score one off of Andrew Ho, who it turns out is also coming out this way in the future, but I couldn’t get in touch with him fast enough before leaving town. Besides, the early Wagons had no radios. Heh …
I asked what her group was, and it was from some college tracking some bird … If memory serves the college was Carleton and the bird was the Peregrine Falcon, but I could just be making this up.
And on we drove, leaving Utah, spending much time in Nevada. Boring armpit of a state.
Reluctantly crouched at the starting line
Engines pumping and thumping in time
The green light flashes, the flags go up
Churning and burning they yearn for the cup
They deftly maneuver, and muscle for rank
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank
Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns
Their prowess is potent, and secretly stern
As they speed through the finish, the flags go down
The fans get up and they go out of town
The arena is empty, except for one man
Still striving and driving as fast as he can
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s striving and driving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns HE’S GOING THE DISTANCE! HE’S GOING FOR SPEED!
She’s all alone, in a time of need
Because he’s racing and chasing and plotting a course
He’s striving and driving and riding on his horse
He’s going the distance
He’s going for speed
He’s going the distance …
That song was on auto-play in my head for a long time. Cake, The Distance. Good song. Ask me for the mp3 some time.
At first I was afraid I was petrified
Kept thinkin’ I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights just thinkin’ how you done me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along …
Ahhh, yes Gloria Gaynor did it well, but then again it’s Cake’s performance that just sort of haunts me.
You know, Nevada is like four hundred or so miles across. I crossed it in one blur, noting the gas getting progressively more expensive as I approached California.
Slowly did I approach Reno. And drove through Reno, and crossed the border, and was asked if I had any fresh fruit or vegetables on me. Nope, just junk food, and you know it was downhill straight through the Sierra Nevadas, or whatever the heck they are. I got 30 MPG. It seemed fitting that my mileage should increase nearly 50% upon crossing the California border.
Around Davis the odometer flipped. I managed to pull over and get pictures with the digits halfway across the line.
And as it was getting on in the evening, and it was on the way, I got off I-80 at San Pablo and tried in vain to find MikeyA’s place, maybe a suprise and a meal.
You know … there be hills in San Pablo. The biggest difference, I thought to myself, was that California has hills. And since they mark not only with traffic signs but with copious pavement markings, driving takes on a three-dimensional aspect. Nothing like pulling away from a stop sign in second gear. There were a few awful scraping sounds as Lucy’s loaded rear end found pavement to scratch against.
Anyway, I found a pay phone and Dana gave me instructions on how to find the liqour store Mikey was workin’ at that night. Found the place no problem and gave Mike a good suprise. He and Dana proved again to be gracious hosts and I communed with their couch another night.
I was behind on packing and slow to get out the door, and just as I was ready to go I checked my mail and got the news that I had an obligation to be back in San Francisco on Monday, April 23! So much for a trip of liesure . . .
Anyway, I had recently gotten in touch with an old friend, who is now living in Long Beach, CA. She said I could stay on her couch, and I inquired if there was any gift I could bring her from San Francisco. She suggested that a Hobee’s coffeecake would be swell. Hobee’s is a breakfast chain in the south bay, and they tend to close at 3pm. I crossed the Bay Bridge and rode down 880, to drop by their East San Jose location, but the traffic turned nasty, and time was running short, so rather than delay I headed East on 580 when the chance came.
It was a breezy ride, as ever, down I-5, up over the hills, and into Long Beach. I tried to get in touch with my friend along the way, but her mobile kept answering “out of range” with no voicemail. Weird. I sent an e-mail . . . finally I arrived in Long Beach and found her place, embarrassed that I couldn’t get in touch beforehand. But, nobody was home.
Ah! What to do? I turned to Yelp Mobile and found a local bar, Joe Jost’s, where I was able to consider my options over a beer and a polish sausage. I had picked up some “discount hotel” booklets at a rest stop along the way, and found a place to crash near the beach. I then visited the rest room and got a call from my friend inquiring as to whether I was planning to visit . . .
. . . it turns out that the mobile number I had for her was an old old old mobile number from the last time she had lived in Long Beach. (She, like me, being one of those folks who has had several phones and area codes since the boom.) At any rate, I got the tour of her new place and spent a comfortable night on the couch.
I woke up early to move the car for street cleaning, then I joined my friend for breakfast at a local favorite restaurant of hers. I had no particular agenda for sight-seeing in Long Beach, though Lorah had said nice things about the Queen Mary. It just so happened that my friend has a shop on board the Queen Mary, so we spent the morning poking around the ship, and I discovered that my old-camera-that-had-been-lent-back-to-me-after-I-lost-my-newer-camera was just about completely dead. (Oh darn.)
Next, we visited the Korean Friendship Bell, a bronze bell in a beautifully-painted pagoda overlooking the Pacific, which Korea gave us for the Bicentennial. There is a youth hostel next door, which I would check out next time I may decide to visit Long Beach, if I did not already have accommodation. We drove further along the coast, visiting the Wayfarer’s Chapel, which is a beautiful glass church on the coast, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We arrived during a wedding, as this is a very popular venue for weddings, so we couldn’t enter the chapel, and the lady at the visitor’s center advised that visits are best planned for odd hours–11am, 1pm, 3pm–since weddings are scheduled on even hours.
My original plan had been to take off in the evening and drive about four hours to Las Vegas, and crash at either of two youth hostels I had found online, or perhaps a hotel room, since accommodations are cheaper in Vegas during the week. But I changed my plans to join my friend for a late night of clubbing in Hollywood. Having no particular agenda and an evening to kill, we moseyed further along the coast, and my friend decided to give Santa Monica a shot. We found a parking spot near the beach, and noticed a movie theater. We were just in time to catch “The Namesake” which is a movie we had both wanted to see, and which we both enjoyed.
Afterwards we strolled along the beach, catching the sunset. We then embarked upon several hours of groovy carousing in the Southern California style.
Despite a mild hangover I managed to pull out of Long Beach fairly early, fortified by bananas, Odwalla, and later a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich and coffee along the way. I arrived in Vegas with the intention of at least having a late lunch on the strip. But I had absolutely no plan, and the place was crowded and confusing and hard to navigate. Nevertheless, I pressed on, found a parking spot at the MGM Grand, and after some fruitless wandering, found a buffet that might have been a good deal had my agenda not been merely to eat quick and hit the road.
I figured Friday the 13th must be a good time to at least say I gambled in Las Vegas. On my way out of the buffet I counted to 31 as I walked, and stopped at the slot machine nearest me. I puzzled over the thing a bit, inserted $20, pressed the button just over 100 times, ejected a receipt, and cashed that at the teller for $25.50. This made the buffet a better deal, in my mind, but the truth is that what I mostly lost in Vegas was driving time. Oh well.
I pushed North into Utah, making good time. Just after dark I stopped for gas in Elsimore, UT and inquired about local accommodations. The lady suggested a likely-cheap place the next town up the road. I was feeling pretty tired as I hadn’t slept much the night before, and the car has this disquieting habit where the AMP light will come on and the headlights start to flicker while driving downhill a long ways. I figured that if the car was to break down, I’d rather not deal with that in the mountains of Utah at night.
But, after a bit of relaxation at the gas station in Elsimore, a bit of coffee, a bit of chocolate . . . I took off down the road, feeling better. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but when the exit for the motel came up I kept on the highway, past the sign that promised no services for 100 miles, and into a few fairly uneventful hours of mountain driving. I missed out on what is probably some gorgeous scenery, but I managed to keep the car running safely through the night through the mountains, despite the flaky electrics. At one point I had to pee really bad so I pulled over and stepped off the highway, and was struck at the vast array of stars in the sky. That made the whole adventure worthwhile.
I pulled into the Lazy Lizard Hostel at Moab around 12:30. I felt bad about waking the guy up for a $9 dorm bed. He was way out of it and told me to just take any top bunk in a particular dorm room and we would figure things out in the morning. That I gladly did.
It was a rough night at the Lazy Lizard on a thin mattress with a thin pillow. I tossed and turned and just as I was getting my sleep on right my roommates began to stir in noisy ways so that they could get a start on the day’s rock climbing. Americans are not accustomed to the ways of youth hostels, and these guys loved to rifle through their luggage and tromp in and out, leaving the door open. I got up several times throughout the morning to shut the door. At one point I sat up awake waiting for one of the last guys to finish his noisy morning rituals and make his way out of the room. He greeted me and asked if I was a climber. When I told him no he expressed a sentiment that I was probably a nice person anyway, and he was gone, and I rested well a bit longer.
Probably around 0800 or 0900 I made my way out of bed, downstairs, apologized for waking the guy up in the middle of the night, and gave him $9.80 (tax, you see) and bathed. I packed up the car, looking forward to a breakfast in town, some hiking, and some scenic driving. I turned the key in the ignition and where the car usually makes a confident rumbling sound to get the engine purring I heard a click.
The battery wasn’t dead, but perhaps it was weak. I got the cables out and bummed a jump off a fellow traveler. Nada. A bit longer? No.
Could be a bad battery. The hostel guy suggested the auto parts store was a twenty minute walk into town, and the maintenance guy might be going that way in a while and could give me a lift. I said I wanted a hike anyway, so I walked down the highway for not more than five minutes and bought a new battery. The battery was much larger than the one I purchased last year, but I figured bigger is better. The folks at the store lent me a crescent wrench to get the new battery swapped in.
I had thought to stow the battery in my backpack, but the battery was too large, and needed to be carried level, and besides it was heavy enough to possibly damage or destroy the backpack that has been my long-time companion around the world. I carried that sucker, taking breaks every hundred feet or so to switch arms . . . a guy was packing something in his pickup truck along the way and he offered a ride, which I politely declined . . . it is not that far. A bit farther and another guy offered another ride in his pickup truck. I accepted, and was dropped off in front of my car.
I extracted the old battery, stowing it on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat, and installed the new battery, all charged and ready and–click.
“Well, I took an auto shop class twenty years ago . . .” offered the hostel guy. He took a listen to the click. The starter solenoid goes click. Well, you could try replacing that . . .
I walked back down to the parts store and easily carried back a starter solenoid. More work with the wrench and nada. Dang.
So, I asked a couple from Oregon about the mechanic they were waiting to hear back from. They said the guy had been really busy and might not be able to figure out there car today and the woman had figured out Greyhound tickets so she wouldn’t have to miss work on Monday. Gee. I wandered down the road a bit to what looked like a service station where the guys were working on Jeeps. I explained my plight. The guys said they did Jeep rentals and only knew how to service their own fleet. The more mechanically-inclined fellow affirmed that yes, start with the battery, then the solenoid . . . he recalled that with Fords often if the current from the battery is too low then the solenoid wont send any current to the starter . . . anyway, there’s a really good mechanic a little ways down in a big yellow building, and in front of him is another mechanic who is also pretty good.
So, I wandered down the road. Both mechanics were closed. I sighed and wandered back towards the hostel, figuring that worst-case, Moab isn’t such a bad place and the hostel should be cozy for a few days. I badly needed coffee and so stopped by the roadside espresso stand just a little ways down from the hostel. The guy working in the stand was friendly and asked how everything was. I replied that things were good overall, but I had to figure out my car problem. He suggested another guy that might be helpful just a few doors the other side of the hostel, and explained what he called “an old redneck trick” of climbing under the car and shorting the terminals on the starter to get a car started. That sounded worth a try, maybe. He didn’t know if his friend would be open, but he might be. He gave the guy a call and left a message, “but that doesn’t mean he’s closed.” My coffee was on the house.
I walked over there and the guy looked pretty closed, which was easy for me to accept, the kindness of the guy at the espresso stand had buoyed my spirits. I wandered back to the car, and poked around a bit. The wires coming off the negative terminal have always been a bit gnarly, so I cleaned them up a bit and gave the ignition another try and the beast started!
So, I rolled down to the auto parts store and waited a decent while to return the old battery. (I figured the big new battery a worthwhile investment, anyway.) While I was waiting I ended up talking to this other guy about the various symptoms–for example, the alternator light was on as I left the car idling. He suggested I hit it with a piece of wood and see if it started to whine. I banged the alternator with something and yes, it started to whine and the light went out. “That doesn’t mean its bad,” something about setting it to a known state because the indicator light needed a baseline or something. After we had concluded our respective business he had me follow him over to his shop, where he hooked the alternator up to a load tester, which verified that things looked good.
Well . . . I had missed my opportunity for a hike, but I could still have a meal and a scenic drive to Silverton. I popped into the Moab Diner with my maps to consider my itinerary options over a meal. The hostess assured me that a waitress would be right with me. I pored through maps and double-checked calculations, pondering some alternates . . . everything looked good and nobody had yet taken my order. I put my maps away, looked around. I tried making eye-contact with a few waitresses but they all seemed harried and uninterested. I calculated how much time I would need to order and eat and get out of there in order to make it to Silverton before sunset. I figured 3:45 would be my “drop dead” time and five minutes of being ignored later, I finished my ice water and headed out of town, stopping at the espresso stand, where a lady was now working, left a generous tip, and drove off into some beautiful beautiful breathtaking wonderful beautiful scenery. With my failing camera. That’s okay: some things are for my own eyes.
It was a good trip down UT-46, which became CO-90, but no gas along the way until I stopped at Naturita. There I found a green dinosaur logo and stopped at an old-school pump at a Sinclair station. The station was with the convenience store, and I asked the lady at the cash register is $3.05 per gallon was expensive by Colorado standards, and she explained that she hadn’t been beyond the neighboring town since Christmas, so she had no idea. Cool!
I pushed on and down US-550 South from Ouray, where I calculated I had enough time to make Silverton before dark . . . and I drove up, past signs advising of curvy roads, avalanche zones, and speed limits between 10 and 30 MPH much of the way. Up and up twists and turns and curves and well-plowed snow and ice, and freezing water streaming across the road way. Occasional wild animals and oncoming cars, nobody passed me and I passed nobody. Much of the time it was me, the car, and a blue-gray sky going on twilight. Where the scenery of the afternoon had been beautiful, the scenery of early evening was transcendent. It felt very much as if I had drove clear up into some special realm where we mortals are allowed to tread only in times of fair weather, and with great caution. My experience of the road between Ouray and Silverton was this: sublime.
I pulled in to Silverton, which looks every bit an old west mining town with very broad streets. There was snow piled along the streets, and it was nice to be visiting with a proper Winter. I couldn’t figure out the street signs but managed to find the Silverton Inn and Hostel without much trouble. I parked in front, walked right in, studied the notes left to would-be visitors explaining guest cards and rates, toured the available rooms, picked a bed, filled out a card, and took a key. I stopped down the corner where the guy admitted he would have been closed an hour ago, but that he would “make hay” and although he was out of most of his toppings he managed to make for me a delicious pizza, which I enjoyed in the company of his other customers, whose primary interest was skiing. There was further discussion of the guy’s need to sell the property we were on, which included not only the cafe we were enjoying but the energy-efficient house he had built behind it, because he was moving to New Mexico. I then dropped by the bar one block over, and for two or three dollars enjoyed good beer in the presence of a colorful cast of relaxing locals.
I turned in early and slept a good, solid, comfortable Winter sleep on a firm $20 bunk.
I wanted to get down to Durango, about an hour away, in enough time to catch the day’s scenic excursion ride to Silverton and back on the Durango and Silverton Railroad, before pushing on to arrive in Pueblo. I took a nice hot shower, then packed and loaded up the car. I was concerned at the ice on the windshield, and I without a scraper, but that concern was backburnered because the car didn’t start.
I figured I’d revisit the problem after I had grabbed a cup of mind-enhancing coffee.
I grabbed my travel mug and headed toward the cafe where I had dined on pizza last night, and encountered a lady who explained that that guy usually opens around noon. I walked over to the main street and up a couple blocks and grabbed some coffee and a muffin at a bustling shop full of snowboarder duuudes.
I hustled back to the car, and the same lady from earlier passed by, and I asked about mechanics. There were a couple in town, but they were closed today. You could knock at their house, and they might help, but it is probably better to let them alone. I agreed that I like to have my weekends off, too, and as much as I’d like to spend the evening with the family in Pueblo, I figured that I could get a lot of reading done and rest easily another night in this quiet little mountain town. Maybe I could track down the train station and welcome the steam train as it arrived in this old snowy mountain town, which could be a lot of fun even if I didn’t get to ride.
All the same, I fiddled with the wires some more, but I couldn’t do much without even the most basic tools, so I wandered toward the highway were there looked to be gas stations, where I might find a brief diversion, and possibly even something useful.
I found someone useful. The guy at the Citgo admitted that this was the first weekend of the season that they were open for weekend service, but that he wasn’t a real mechanic, just the weekend warrior. (The owner / mechanic’s son, it turns out.) He said he had a few ideas that might help, but that he’d have to close the shop for a few minutes . . . I wandered back to the car and a bit later he pulled up to the hostel, cleaned up my ugly battery wires, noting that the one terminal had been overtightened and cracked, so let’s put on a new one . . . explaining that you only have to tighten the terminal to the point where it doesn’t move on the post . . . doesn’t start? Okay, so, you did the right by the battery, and the solenoid, so yeah, its looking like a bad starter.
Sure, he could order a new starter and get it replaced during the week, but in this situation, sometimes you could tap the starter a few times with a hammer, and then he crawled under the car on the muddy street, found the starter motor, tapped, got out of the way, and I successfully started the car. He explained where the starter is, and that it looks like a cylinder, and in my case, a very rusty cylinder, and that I could tap it myself if I had to, but that at this point, the starter is likely about to fail completely . . . it might work fine, the tapping trick might work a few more times, but most likely I’ve got just a few more starts, if any, before the thing fails completely and leaves me stranded somewhere. We figured that I might as well keep the engine running and get to Pueblo as soon as possible, where the starter could be replaced under favorable conditions. He reminded me that you don’t actually have to stop the engine to fill the tank . . .
I beamed as he modestly basked for just the briefest moment in heroic glory. I got the sense that he might be most content to account the incident as a good deed, and waited just a moment more before I inquired as to whether and how much cash he should charge for his time. He figured about fifteen or twenty dollars. He then, as I figure it, very quickly considered my circumstances versus my poverty . . . computer guy from San Francisco . . . not working . . . going to see Dad . . . nice old clunker . . . is going to need a starter . . . stayed at the youth hostel . . . and set the charge at $15.
I headed down the road, and there was still a chance I could make Durango in time to catch the train, maybe, and I thought over whether it would be worth the risk if I could, and concluding that yes, if I made Durango in good time I would risk stopping the car if I got to ride the train, because even if I got stuck, I would have had a good time for my trouble.
At any rate, I was still on the highway at 10:00, when the train was set to leave. Several minutes later I noticed some smoke on the horizon . . . I slowed down and listened out the window . . . yes, that was the train coming toward me, parallel to the highway!
My last camera, a Canon S100, died at around the same time as Grandma Howard, so I gifted the-camera-I’d-taken-round-the-world to my Grandma to take with her in her coffin to her next life, which makes me inclined to see changing-cameras as epochal. It had been a weird twist of fate to have been in the Midwest at that time, which allowed me to visit her in the hospital just before she entered hospice, and which allowed me to drive back up to Michigan for her funeral not long after. I was pretty broke that summer, working in the cafe in Champaign, and it wasn’t until I was back at Mom’s house and living on Unemployment Insurance that I dared to buy my Canon S400, which I badly wanted for a trip that Yayoi arranged for us: we drove together in my car to Boston so she could check out a job fair. That was the first road trip that I took with a woman who, when I returned to professional work, I invited to live with me. Later, we would marry, move to California, and become separated. I took a third professional job in San Francisco during the divorce process, and shortly after the divorce concluded, so did my most recent job.
So, you will pardon me if I read extra significance into these last photographs and bust into personal metaphor; As the day began, the trip to Durango looked unlikely, but with some outside help, I was pleasantly surprised to be on the way. I was warned that stopping to catch this train was risky, but I decided to take the chance and try for the ride. It proved to be a long shot, and I ultimately missed the full experience, but I am glad I made the effort, because I got close enough to be reminded of my own love for what I had pursued. I don’t regret the near miss, and I know better than to blame anyone. What I do know is that I really dig trains, and that at the next appropriate opportunity, it will be my privilege to buy a ticket, hop into the cab, and work to keep the fire stoked for a prolonged ride through beautiful country. (And until then, I will work for a better understanding of the whole darn thing, to avoid or at least tackle nasty surprises on the next trip.)
So, I rolled through Durango without stopping, and turned East onto US-160. Since I hadn’t stopped to ride the train, I was ahead of time, and perhaps the natural beauty of the mountains on my final leg was further enhanced by mid-day light, as well as my own hunger from not stopping for food, and my eagerness to pull into Pueblo sooner-than-expected, to see Dad and Gwen. That was a good ride, and a homecoming that did us all some good.
This time I am in a moving truck toting possessions of me and my lady to our new place in New York city, where we intend to live for one year for her work. She’s already out there, so it is just me, a 16′ Budget truck rental, and some $3 wifi access at a Motel 6. Hot diggity!
I have made this trek before, with and without my worldly possessions. This time through I own a crazy smart phone which is recording the trip via GPS, and I can upload progress to Google Maps, for all my friends and evil stalkers to see. I can send you a link: just shoot me an e-mail.
I am very happy with the Budget truck. It is a no-frills affair: the radio is just a radio. It has two power ports. I could gripe that it doesn’t have cruise control, but that might actually be a “feature” to keep the fool at the wheel alert. Best of all, it is a Ford, so I already know the dashboard!
This Motel 6 isn’t shabby either. I inquired at a casino just down the road, figuring room rates would be subsidized by gambling, but no. The Motel 6 is less than half the price and has all I need: a decent bed, toilet, shower, air conditioning, a desk and Internet access! (Oh and a TV.) They claim the lowest rates of any national chain, so I’ll have to research what they have down the road.
Ah yes, and as for work: I have received permission to work remote for my San Jose-based employer. As for my old apartment, which I love, a friend fell in love with the place and signed a lease. I left some furniture behind and some e-waste which I have to sweet-talk her into toting downstairs on a weekday, where San Francisco will collect it for free. Another blessing was the help of a trio of college friends who helped load the truck. I treated them to pizza and beers afterwards and we reveled in the pending home ownership of two of our friends. While this recession is hurting many folks, others who have been priced out of the housing market are finding their prudent patience rewarded.
Time to settle in for the evening so I can get on the road good and early tomorrow. The Motel 6 charges $3 for the wifi access, which is just the perfect price for a guy who’d like to kill an hour before bed!
I don’t narrate my life any more, whether for good or for ill. Well, maybe . . . I should try a weekly update. This has been working well at work, anyway.
Saturday, 21 November
On Friday I took Mei out to dinner, since we were going to not see each other for most of a week. We went to an Indian place up near the Kips Bay theater, where we then saw “Where the Wild Things Are”. I think the first time I saw that book I was impressed with its style, and so my Mom thought I liked the story and read it to me a bunch, but I always thought Max was kind of a spoiled brat. At the end of the movie I mumbled to Mei, “if my son pulls that crap he is not getting any chocolate cake.” When asked if he’d get any dinner, I responded that I wasn’t so sure. I wonder if the kid might have some blood sugar issues such that missing dinner may be a bad move.
Saturday morning, Mei was up early to go to work. I slept in a bit, and treated myself to brunch at Teddy’s, which served me two eggs, fried potatoes, Canadian bacon, rye toast, fruit salad, orange juice and coffee for $8.25. Now, Cheryl’s has some tastier food, so I’ll take Mei over there, but if it is just me, I stick with the cheaper, hearty meal.
I went home, washed the dishes and relaxed a bit, until around 1400 when I rode up to Penn Station to catch the 3:45 to Chicago. Now, a plane would have been faster and cheaper, but now that I live in New York, I can “afford” the relative luxury of a train ride home. The train was pretty full, and a guy named Don sat next to me. I got the modem working on my laptop and caught up somewhat on Internet reading. At Albany they took our engine off the train and shunted a series of cars from Boston onto the front. This was exciting to me, so I shot some dark, blurry video from the passenger area.
I treated myself to dinner in the dining car. Lamb shank, half a bottle of wine, dessert, coffee, and conversation with a cute college couple who were switching to the California Zephyr in Chicago, arriving in Emeryville on Tuesday to enjoy Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz. Robin the Film major and Miru the Art History major. They’re both minoring in Making a Living.
Despite ample legroom and a glass of Scotch from the Cafe car, I tossed and turned a great deal. (more…)