May 30, 2008

May 27, 2008

If My Life Were A PowerPoint Show

So, Road Trip ’08 is all wrapped up; I’m writing this on the plane back to Boston. And while I know my travelogue’s most recent instalment left off with still five days left to cover, I thought I’d just give you the talking points for the remainder, as writing about the desert, much like the desert itself, only stays interesting for so long. So:

Wednesday: Flagstaff to New Mexico. Like the ass of a supermodel with indigestion, it was flat and windy. I stopped off in Albuquerque for an hour or two (it is nice but bewilderingly devoid of people), and spent the night in Santa Fe. Historic US Route 66 is an enormous waste of time.

Thursday: The freakish heatwave that had plagued the first half of my drive had been replaced by a freakish low-pressure trough, and I drove from Santa Fe to Denver through drizzle and the occasional thunderstorm. US Route 64 is at least as gorgeous a drive as US Route 101, but the Rio Grande is the ugliest river I have ever seen, and that is saying something: I’ve been to Paris.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday: I spent the weekend with my uncle, aunt, and cousin Danny, split between their house in Denver and holiday home in the Rockies. I drank a lot of beer and did a lot of high-altitude hiking, thus discovering first hand why Colorado has both the highest beer production per capita and lowest rate of obesity in the country.

Things I can cross off my list of things to see before I die:
•Buffalo
•Wigwams
•The Grand Canyon
•The Vegas Strip
•Tumbleweed

Things I CANNOT cross off my list of things to see before I die:
•Buzzards
•Tepees (there is, apparently, a difference)
•Death Valley
•A Vegas Stripper
•Cacti shaped like the ones in cartoons

Concluding remarks: Those early American place-namers were pretty on the money. Death Valley really is deadly, the Grand Canyon really is grand, and the Dustbowl really is dusty. Needless to say, I am now really curious to see America’s Bread Basket.

My last pictures from the trip have been added to Facebook.

Fin.

May 25, 2008

Nominative Determinism

Tuesday I took a slowish start, stocking up on food and CDs in Page (where I'd spend the previous night), and then making the two-hour drive southwest to the Grand Canyon.

I had always had this image in my head of the Grand Canyon as this big hole in the middle of the desert. And, to be sure, it is a big freaking hole. It is hole-drenched. Words cannot sufficiently describe what an enormous, gargantuan hole the Grand Canyon is.

However, it is conspicuously not in the middle of the desert. In fact, most of its southern rim is pretty heavily forested, and if you drive even forty-five minutes south you find yourself in an alpine landscape called "the Snowbowl", complete with white-capped mountains and swarms of pine trees. Who knew?

The canyon itself is its own micro-economy. I entered the park from its eastern entrance on state route 64 (for the princely sum of $25 — no nosebleed with which to haggle, this time), and was immediately presented with an enormous welcome complex. There were restrooms, two snack bars, a gift shop, and enough parking to accommodate the crowd for an entire Montreal Alouettes season. Only another hour or so down the road you reach Grand Canyon, Arizona, a village set inside the national park boundaries. It has a restaurant, hotel, bank, post office, supermarket, public transport system, railroad station, and about 1,500 permanent residents as of the 2000 census. It also has a big freaking hole in the ground, which I think I may have already mentioned.

I spent the afternoon strolling around the woods around the village, and then, once the heat had let up a little, I hiked about two miles into the canyon itself. It's like being in a Jules Verne novel. The atmosphere instantly begins to get darker, damper, and hotter, as soon as you start to drop. I only got about a thousand feet down (out of six thousand or so), but that was enough to be thoroughly wowed.

At the end of day, I took a motel room in Flagstaff, which is a delightful little town just off the old US Route 66. A lot of it is motel sprawl to accommodate canyonistas like me, but it also houses Northern Arizona University and a historic downtown district full of bars and sushi (a lot of fresh fish in the middle of Arizona, evidently). I bought myself a burger and fell peacefully asleep.

Next: The rundown!

May 23, 2008

Self-Promotion

As you may have noticed from my updated sidebar, I am now a certified blogger at the newly launched blog of Emerson's Writing, Literature and Publishing graduate program. It's about writing, literature, and publishing (natch), with a particular focus (at times) on the Bostonian/Emersonian perspective.

Our fascist boss (hi, Kim!) has been hounding us to promote the site and build up a reader base — so I implore you, go read my latest post, On Dampness, and then the elegant and intellectual diatribes by my like-minded peers.

Conversations With Greatness CLXXXII

May 22, 2008

A Series of Eventful Misfortunes (Pt. 2)

The bizarre heatwave that had nixed my trip to Death Valley was still thoroughly settled on Monday; when I left my hotel around ten in the morning, it was already 98F outside. Nevertheless, after a quick stop at the (overpriced but impressive) Hoover Dam, I charged east into the Nevada desert. (Potential t-shirt slogan: “There’s nada in Nevada!”)

I-15 going east from Vegas is an interesting drive. It starts off scattered with mesas in a vivid Trivial Pursuit palette: History, Literature, and Sports all glow in rich strata across the landscape, one on top of the other. Then things pretty quickly flatten out, and all of a sudden you’re in Arizona, driving across this huge stretch of flatness on a suicidal collision course with a full-on mountain range. If I hadn’t already been sweating buckets from the 107F heat outside, I would have been sweating nervously — because the way the road is angled against the mountain, it literally looks like it just ends, and there you are, stuck in the middle of the freaking desert with nowhere to go.

As it happens, there’s a narrow pass through which the road winds, emerging on the other side in Utah. (Potential t-shirt slogans: “Utah man!”; “Whatch Utah-lking About, Foo?”) From there I-15 continues north, but I exited and got onto a smaller road towards Zion National Park. (Actual t-shirt slogan: “Our ‘rock’ stars never get old!”)

Zion is pretty heavenly, as you might imagine. Other than the fact that I got a giant nosebleed (yeah, I’m that kid), it has easily been the highlight of the trip so far, and even the nosebleed had its upside — the park ranger felt so sorry for me that he only charged me half admission. Zion Canyon (the main attraction) is pretty spectacular on its own, but the road, at one point, goes into a tiny tunnel blown into the mountain, so small that it can only accommodate one, single-file RV (of which I have seen many this week). It’s pitch black and you make your way through with only the glow of your headlights and the hum of your A/C for company, and it's marvellous.

Unfortunately I had completely misjudged how long the driving for the day would take, and wound up on the other side of Zion at five-thirty with two hundred miles between me and my planned stop for the evening. Except, actually, it was sort of only four-thirty, because my planned stop was in Arizona, which doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time (thank you very much 1968 state legislature) — but I didn’t realise that until much later. Anyway, the upside was that I arrived at Glen Canyon exactly at sunset, then ditched the idea of going all the way to my planned stop, and took a room in a small town just over the border, in the Arizona desert. (Potential t-shirt slogan: “Ari-zone out!”)

And that’s where I’ll stop for now. Yet more photos added on Facebook.

Next: The Grand Canyon!

May 21, 2008

Alas! Vegas!

I pulled into Vegas around six o’clock in the evening. My hotel had been on the cheap side and was on the old strip (which Adrienne had described to me as “ghetto”), so I was pleasantly surprised by how nice my room was. Oh, sure, there were miserable alcoholics smoking and pissing away their money just a hundred feet or so below me — but I had a page right out of an Ikea catalogue.

After showering the desert off and having a quick dinner, I headed down to the new strip. My hotel had claimed to have a shuttle bus, but in fact this was a lie; the concierge looked positively terrified when I asked about it. And because Mallory (or “her mom”, to whom all of her fussing is ultimately attributed) had spent weeks telling me scare stories about the dangers of walking about Vegas on one’s own, I shelled out for a cab.

I will say this about Vegas cab drivers: they are a chatty bunch. At least my guy on the way to the strip talked to me; my guy on the way back to the hotel talked mainly to himself (I think one comment — “I’ll tell you, if there’s one goddamn thing these people can do, it’s fuck up a road” — was directed at me, but as a conversation starter I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it).

On the strip I strolled around a couple of the big casinos — the Bellagio, Caesar’s, Planet Hollywood, Paris — casually depositing my money in strategic slot machines, and eventually ending up at a blackjack table at the Flamingo, where I chatted with my Ethiopian dealer and walked away with $35. It didn’t quite cover the cab rides.

The strip is a pretty surreal place. I guess you don’t need me to tell you this. I think my favourite part was Frank Sinatra’s voice echoing down the street — it was coming from the fountain show at the Bellagio, though I prefer to imagine Ol’ Blue Eyes’s ghost hovering above the strip, getting tanked on martinis and trying to stare down women’s shirts. Though I guess if you want to see boobs in Vegas there are easier ways to go about it — I was offered escorts by approximately eighty-seven thousand people.

After a day of driving, I was tired and stiff, but I still capped off my night in the most Vegaseque way possible: I went back to my hotel room and fell asleep in front of the Weather Channel. Just like in that movie.

(A few more pictures added to the Facebook album.)

Next: Just Deserts!

May 20, 2008

A Series of Eventful Misfortunes (Pt. 1)

So, Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed at eight, so that I could get a jump on my long, meandering drive from LA to Vegas. The plan was to head north to Death Valley, then cross over into Nevada and loop back towards the south and Sin City.

Then, about ten, Mallory (who will evidently make a good mother one day) called me in a bit of a panic — turns out a heat wave had rolled in over night, and there was a severe temperature warning for the entire Death Valley region. It was to reach a record high (for May) of 117F, or 47.2C. This, if you are unaware, is about the temperature at which titanium spontaneously bursts into flames, and meant that (assuming my car didn’t overheat in the middle of the desert), I wouldn’t actually be able to stand outside of it for longer than about five minutes without, um, dying.

So I pulled over and we worked out a plan B.

Instead I cut east along winding state roads, watching the desert flap into mountains around me. A little past Barstow, California, I stopped at a ghost town called Calico. Ghost towns had been on my to do list for Death Valley (it’s full of them, shockingly), so I was happy to find one along my new route. That said, Calico was definitely a consolation prize: it’s more of a tourist trap than anything else, with only five original buildings among the two dozen or so Disneyfied ones. It boasts such authentic attractions as a Popcorn Wagon and Icee Drink Stand, the Calico Photo Studio, the Sweet Shop (serving old Western espresso drinks), and the Maggie Mine Shack. The last one particularly intrigued me as it boasted an infamous “Glory Hole”, but I decided not to pay the admission — doubtless it wouldn’t have lived up to expectations, either.

From there I hooked into I-15 and drove northeast, between the northern edge of the Mojave and the southern edge of Death Valley. You can actually see Death Valley from the freeway, and it’s pretty striking; you’re just driving along, flat across the desert — and thinking things couldn’t get much flatter — and then suddenly, on your left, the desert drops away in the distance and a wavy fog hangs in the gap.

The Mojave, in the meantime, is beautiful. I ducked on to a county road for a while, a two lane strip of bumpy asphalt that changed colour as it flew by — brick red in front of the car, slate grey in the rearview — and scraggled, pistachio brush stretching away for silent miles on either side.

Then I crossed the state line into Nevada, and was immediately greeted by two casinos, an outlet mall, a rollercoaster, and billboards advertising for porn auditions.

Some preliminary photos on Facebook, if you're interested.

Next: Vegas, baby!

May 19, 2008

Who Says Stereotypes Are Inaccurate?

A list of predictable things about my experience in LA:

• Gay tattoo artists at Venice Beach
• Dinner at a sushi place proudly displaying pictures of celebrity clients (they were Justin Long, aka “Mac”, and Jean-Claude van Damme)
• Driving one block between destinations
• Drinking, going to bed, waking up hungover, drinking again
• Wedding dress shopping at a Beverly Hills boutique
• Seeing a movie on the FOX lot
• Radio ads for boob jobs (“Make your body happy!”)*

(*My other favourite radio quote from the trip: “There are a lot of technical differences between Jimmy Carter’s ‘Malaise’ and what our economy is doing right now: back then it was a full-fledged depression; now things are just pretty crappy.”)

Next: the drive to Vegas.

May 16, 2008

May 15, 2008

Sure, Baby, Whatever You Want

From BBC NEWS | Americas: Obama sorry for 'sweetie' comment

You really do have to visit the BBC page for this story and listen to the audio from Obama's voicemail apology. It honestly sounds like what I imagine an SNL (or maybe Family Guy) sketch about Obama leaving a voicemail apology would sound like; right down to the ponderous pauses, exaggerated verbal tics, and fuzzy logic. It's rather hilarious.

Also, not that I — ahem — like to blow relatively insignificant Obama gaffes out of proportion, but is anyone else just a little irritated by the content of his apology? "It's a bad habit"? That's the best you can do? It's tantamount to saying: "I'm sorry I did kind of a douchebaggy thing, Peggy, but the thing is, I'm kind of a douchebag."

And yet, because Soundbite McGraw says it in that booming voice of his, suddenly all is forgiven? Doesn't anyone else wonder about the underlying implications of a presidential candidate who habitually dismisses women with a blithe "sweetie", and then "fixes" things by a thirty second phone message? Do we really want Joey Tribbiani in the White House?

Oh, sure, at least he apologised, but only after the fact, and I think habits (even admittedly bad ones) say more about a person than what that person does when he realises that he just potentially alienated the one voting bloc that is still most loyal to his opponent.

So, in conclusion: I am still skeptical about Obama, no matter what John Edwards says.

May 14, 2008

And So...

Road Trip The Second begins today. I'm flying to LA this evening, then kicking around there until Sunday morning — and then I'm off.

Although I will, in some sense, be on my own for a good part of the trip, in another, slightly more childish sense, I will be accompanied at all times by my faithful companion Moxy (seen here raring to go):

Wish me luck, and check back for updates!

May 09, 2008

May 06, 2008

Full Nelson

From AOL Black Voices: Mistake Lands Mandela On Terrorist List
(May 1) - Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the situation "embarrassing," and some members of Congress vow to fix it.
The other members vow to find out who this Mandela fellow is.
The requirement applies to former South African leader Mandela and other members of South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC), the once-banned anti-Apartheid organization. In the 1970s and '80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by the country's ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.

Because of this, Rice told a Senate committee recently, her department has to issue waivers for ANC members to travel to the USA. . . .

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says . . . the issue "raises a troubling and difficult debate about what groups are considered terrorists and which are not."
Wait, wait, wait, hold on. You mean it's not just a matter of good versus evil? To be blunt, this is not the sort of wishy-washy flip-flopping that I have come to expect from the Department of Homeland Security. Next you're going to tell me that arbitrary visa denials are not in the country's best interest!
". . . [I]t's frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela," Rice said.
When reached for comment, President Bush remarked, "What's the big deal? I like waving. It's real friendly-like."

May 02, 2008