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New York to Los Angeles Roadtrip

 

NEW YORK TO

LOS ANGELES

ROADTRIP

 

 

 

written by

Oliver Markus Malloy

 

 

 

 

Published by Becker and Malloy LLC

www.BeckerandMalloy.com

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Oliver Markus Malloy.

All Rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Dear Reader,

 

if you read my first road trip book (Scotland Roadtrip) you already know that I grew up in Germany. After that trip through Scotland in 1991, I had to join the German army for a year, or perform alternative civilian service for a year and a half. Back then, the German army still had a draft, but as a conscientious objector you could choose civilian service instead. Since I’m a pacifist, I chose to work as a teacher’s aide in a school for mentally handicapped children. I was gonna go to college afterwards and become a special ed teacher, but in 1992 I moved to New York instead. (You can read all about that in my other book, Bad Choices Make Good Stories.)

 

Germans love to travel, so once I lived in the US, I started to explore the states along the East Coast. I had quit my newspaper job as production manager in 2000, and I was making good money publishing my cartoons on the web, so I had lots of free time. I went on dozens of smaller road trips, and after a few years I had pretty much seen all there is to see in the North East. I knew the I-95 corridor between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. like the back of my hand.

 

Two major highways intersect in the New York area. The I-95 goes from Canada to Florida. And the I-80 goes from New York to San Francisco. I had not been to the West Coast yet, and every time I was on the I-80, I had this strong urge to just keep on driving straight, to drive and drive and drive, across the whole country, and see the very end of the I-80, in San Francisco. In 2002 I finally made that dream come true. I had just bought a new SUV, a 2002 Dodge Durango, and the first thing I did with it was to go on an epic road trip from New York to Los Angeles and back again. I kept a diary of that journey. I recently found it in an old drawer, and here it is…

 

Oliver

 

 

SEPTEMBER 9th, 2002

 

I woke up extra early and left Brooklyn at 6:30 am. I got on the Belt Parkway, and crossed the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island. It’s weird, everybody always mentions the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but nobody outside of New York has ever even heard of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, even though it’s every bit as impressive. In fact the Verrazano Bridge is 60 feet longer than the Golden Gate. So there! Take that, San Francisco!

 

I got on the I-80 and drove through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. On my previous, shorter road trips along the East Coast, I never had to sleep along the way. Either I left early in the morning and made sure to be home again by night, or I stayed overnight in the city I was visiting. But I didn’t need to sleep in a motel along the way. So I wasn’t really sure how that works. Did I have to make a reservation in advance?

 

I figured it’s better to be safe than sorry, so a day or two before I left I tried to figure out how far I would drive on the first day of my road trip, and where I would need to reserve a room for that night. Not easy when you really don’t know how far you are going to drive that day. I studied a map, and saw that Chicago didn’t look all that far. On the map it was just a few inches away from New York. Piece of cake! I could probably make it there in one day of driving. Easy! So I googled some hotels in Chicago and reserved a room at a Super 8.

 

In the afternoon I decided to call the hotel and confirm my reservation. I didn’t want to get there at night, tired and exhausted, and find out there was no room for me. When the front desk lady answered the phone, she didn’t say: “Super 8 Chicago. How may I help you on this fine day, my good sir?” Nope. She said: “Whachuwan?” (In English: “What do you want?”) Seriously. That’s how the front desk answered the phone. “Whachuwan?” No pleasantries, no hello, no polite corporate bullshit. Straight to the point, in thick Ebonics: “Whachuwan?”

 

“Oh shit,” I thought. “This place sounds like it’s in the middle of the ghetto. I’m gonna get myself shot. They’re gonna steal my brand new car. Or at the very least, when I leave the hotel tomorrow morning, there won’t be any tires left on my car. It’ll be sitting on 4 concrete blocks, windows smashed, and plundered.”

 

I arrived at the Super 8 motel in Chicago by 8:45 pm. Damn, that was a long drive today. I really should have reserved a room closer to New York, not all the way in Chicago. But I didn’t want to book a room too close to home, and then get there by the early afternoon, and waste the rest of the evening, when I could still be driving.

 

But I had noticed along the way, that there were motels at every exit along the I-80. There was really no need to make a reservation when you go on a road trip in America. If you get tired at night, you just pull over at the next exit, and there will be one or more motels waiting for you, no matter where you happen to be. Good to know. So for the rest of the trip, I wasn’t going to make any more advance reservations, and just stop whenever and where ever I happen to get tired.

 

SEPTEMBER 10th, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am and had breakfast. I was a bit apprehensive when I went outside. I was afraid my car might be gone, or broken into. But no, everything was ok. The neighborhood really wasn’t that bad after all. The thick Ebonics of the black front desk lady who had answered the phone yesterday had made this place sound more ghetto than it really was.

 

I drove to downtown Chicago. I visited Chinatown and the Sears Tower. It was a strange feeling to be in that famous landmark building on the almost-anniversary of 9/11. Almost exactly one year ago, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. And now I was on the elevator of the most iconic building in Chicago, on my way to the top floor. A paranoid little voice inside my head kept telling me that there is a good chance someone is gonna blow up this building today, while I’m in it. Of course that was a silly thought. If some terrorist wanted to blow shit up on the anniversary of 9/11, why do it one day early? And why in Chicago? But that little voice inside my head wouldn’t shut up. The whole time I was in the Sears tower, I was preparing myself for the event that a plane was going to crash into the building, fire was gonna break out, the elevators were gonna stop working, and I was going to have to run down a hundred flights of stairs through black smoke. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally left the building. Nothing happened. Phewww.

 

I walked around downtown for a few hours, sightseeing. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is a cool city, but when you live in New York, you can’t help but compare every other city to New York. And although I grew up in Germany, I felt like a New Yorker at heart. It’s the greatest city in the world, so to me Chicago seemed like a not-quite-as-good copy of New York.

 

In the early afternoon I left Chicago and drove east, through Illinois and Iowa, to Council Bluffs in western Iowa, right by the Nebraska state line. I stayed at the Western Inn.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 11th, 2002

 

 

Got up at 7 am, had donuts and blue bagels for breakfast. Then I drove from Council Bluffs, Iowa through Omaha, all the way through Nebraska into Colorado.

 

In Nebraska I passed Buffalo Bill’s ranch. Lots of signs pointed to old Wild West artifacts, like a Pony Express station, an old Stage Coach station, etc. The prairie in Nebraska has been irrigated and converted into huge corn fields. Corn as far as the eye can see.

 

Colorado made a pretty impoverished impression. The highway was all torn up and patched together. It seemed like a road you would find in a Third World country, not in the richest country on Earth. The prairie in Colorado looked pretty much untouched, except for a cattle or horse farm here and there. There was nothing but sandy plains, with a little bit of grass, dried brush and occasionally a small cactus here and there. Just like in the Wild West movies. Perfect! This is what I came here for!

 

When you watch Hollywood movies, America looks very different from Germany. That’s the one thing that had always bugged me about New York: it looked so much like Germany. Densely populated, lots of concrete, and the same climate. Snow in the winter, sun in the summer, and lots of grass and green trees. Just like Germany. But New York is thousands of miles away from Germany, on a whole different continent, so is it too much to ask that it looks a little different?

 

Now, here, in Colorado, things finally started to look really different. Woohoo! There was sand as far as the eye could see. And cacti! There was virtually no traffic, so I stopped the car by the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere, to take a picture of the endless prairie. I walked up a small slope to get a better view. Suddenly I heard rattling a few feet next to me. What was that? Then I noticed that there were weird holes in the sandy ground. Finally it dawned on me that the sound might be a rattlesnake. Oh SHIT!!!

 

The paranoid little voice in the back of my head started babbling a mile a minute: “What if I’m gonna get bit by a rattlesnake in the middle of the desert? I’m never gonna make it to a hospital in time! I don’t even know where the nearest hospital is. And do they even have an antidote? I’m probably the only idiot who gets himself bit by a snake. I’m such a stupid tourist. I’m gonna die. I’m gonna DIE! How fast does snake venom work anyway? Will I even make it back to the car, or pass out right here? So this is why cowboys wear boots. Probably wasn’t my brightest idea to walk around the desert in flip flops. Stupid tourist.”

 

I carefully walked back to the car as quickly as I could. Note to self: Do not walk around rattlesnake infested deserts in flip flops by yourself.

 

I arrived in Denver a little before 4 pm. Parked the car and walked through the downtown mall area. The buildings and streets were pretty, but there were more homeless in the street than in any other city I had seen so far. About two thirds of the homeless were Native Americans. I liked to visited the annual Native American Festival at Floyd Bennett Field in New York. But I saw more Indians in Denver today than at any powwow in New York.

 

At 4 pm almost every store closed. So weird! Suddenly it was like a ghost town. I had to pee. The toilets in every fast food joint were locked – even at McDonald’s. Probably for fear of having homeless people shoot up drugs in the toilets.

 

At about 6 pm I walked back to the car and drove to Littleton, a suburb of Denver. After searching for a while, I found Columbine High School, where two students went on a killing spree a few months ago. I had seen the school on CNN. It was weird to see the place with my own eyes now and think about the tragedy that had happened here.

 

Around 8 pm I left the Denver area and headed towards Boulder. I tried to find a cheap motel on the way, but the suburbs of both cities run into each other, so I ended up staying at a Days Inn hotel in Boulder. At $66 it was about the same price as the Super 8 motel in Chicago. Not too bad. The room had cable TV, Internet, a clean bathroom and shower. What more could you ask for? Let’s see what’s for breakfast tomorrow.

 

SEPTEMBER 12th, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am. The breakfast was pretty good. Pancakes, donuts, cereal, oranges, and juice. And I had a very nice view of the mountains.

 

Then I drove north on Route 36, towards the Rocky Mountain National Park. On the way I made a left turn towards Ward, an old gold mining town that really just looks like a bunch of old sheds with run down old pick up trucks.

 

From Ward I took the peak to peak highway south to Central City. Then I turned around to go back north. Central and Black Hawk are cute little western towns with lots of small casinos. Along the way I made a right turn to Golden Gate Canyon park.

 

After I got back to Ward I made a left turn to Brainard Lake which has an elevation of 10,300 feet. It was beautiful! So pristine. Then I followed the trail further down to Mitchell lake.

 

I parked the car because I thought the parking lot was right next to the lake. But after walking along the path for 15 minutes, I realized it was a hiking trail. I walked through the wilderness for about 45 minutes. There was a sign, warning me that mountain lions roamed around in this area. Grrreat. First I almost got blown up at the Sears tower, then I almost got killed by a rattlesnake, and now I have to worry about getting eaten by a mountain lion.

 

The sign said that mountain lions are more afraid of me than I am of them. (Sure, sure. Do they know that? Did they read the sign?) The sign said that as long as you make a lot of noise, and the lions hear you coming, they will avoid you. As long as you don’t startle them, and they hear you coming from a mile away, you’re safe. The sign said it’s a good idea to talk loudly or sing, or wear a bell around your neck. Well, I was alone and didn’t want to wander around the wilderness talking to myself, and I’m too shy to sing, and I’m definitely not gonna run around like an idiot, with a bell around my neck. Seriously, who has a bell? What kind of person drives around with a bell in their car? You know, just in case you might need a bell. Anyway, I decided I’ll make noise by shaking my car keys. After a few minutes my hand was getting tired from all that key jangling. So I kept switching the keys from one hand to the other. I must have looked retarded. The lions were probably hiding behind a tree and laughing at me.

 

Mitchell lake didn’t really look any better than Brainard lake. So I could have saved myself all that walking and key jangling.

 

Then I headed further north along the the peak to peak highway. When I got to the end, I got back on Route 36 which turned into Route 34 and went into the Rocky Mountain National Park. Admission was $15. The park was full of very big deer. At least they didn’t try to eat me. The road through the park went all the way up to 12,800 feet. It was above the tree line. Amazing views, but it was pretty cold up there. This park was more interesting than the peak to peak highway. I should have just come straight here and saved myself all that driving earlier.

 

When I got out of the park, Route 34 merged into Route 40. I drove west towards Craig. It was dark by the time I got to the other side of the mountains, so I didn’t drive all the way to Craig. I stopped at Steamboat Springs instead. I stayed at a Holiday Inn. The room had cable TV, video games, a phone, internet, a clean shower, and a coffee maker. All the hotel rooms I had seen so far were pretty much the same, no matter what chain the hotel belonged to.

SEPTEMBER 13th, 2002

 

Woke up at 7 am. The Holiday Inn was the most expensive hotel I stayed at so far and they didn’t even serve breakfast. Boo! The room cost $90 and they charged me $8 for a short five minute call on the room phone. Ate breakfast at a little restaurant next door. I had pancakes with bananas, strawberries and pecans. Breakfast of champions!

 

I drove west on Route 40 to the Dinosaur National Park. From the main visitor center I drove down a 31 mile dead end street into the canyons to Harper corner, which is half a mile above the surrounding

canyon.

 

I passed a bunch of wild horses along the way. Pretty cool! And I saw my first skunk road kill. I knew from cartoons and movies that skunks stink, but I had never actually seen or smelled one in real life. I always assumed they smell like shit since the crap they spray comes out of their butt, or some gland in their behind or whatever. I was surprised to find out that they don’t really smell like shit, but like burning tires. Huh. Who knew? Not sure how old that road kill was, but it still smelled pretty intense, even though I drove by it with my windows rolled up and the AC on full blast.

 

I also saw my first prairy dog along the way. Cute. At Harper corner I parked the car. I had to walk about a mile to the very edge. It was an amazinggg view of the Steamboat River Bend. This might very well be the most impressive bit of nature I’ve ever seen. It was a deep, U-shaped river canyon. It looked like something out of a movie.

 

Then I had to drive the dead end street all the way back to Route 40, but this little sightseeing detour was totally worth it!

 

I headed west, into Utah, to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry. In the museum, there’s a wall with over 1600 dinosaur bones stuck in it. The quarry is well known for containing the densest concentration of Jurassic dinosaur fossils ever found.

 

Instead of driving west to Salt Lake City, I drove south on Route 191 towards Monument Valley in Arizona. Along the way I drove through the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Since the only thing I knew about Indians so far was what I had seen in movies and at the powwows in New York, I kind of expected some sort of tourism center, and lots of proud Native Americans with feathers in their long black hair, solemnly walking around in colorful traditional outfits. Yeah, no, not so much. It was really just another poor neighborhood with a lot of trailers.

 

Come to think of it, I had seen a lot of these dirt poor trailer park towns along the way on my road trip so far. It’s not at all what you would expect to see when you drive through the richest country in the world. A lot of the small towns I had passed so far looked like something you’d find in a Third World country. There is so much abject poverty in America that is virtually invisible on TV. When you watch American movies or sitcoms like Friends or Beverly Hills 90210, you think everyone in America lives in beautiful mansions by the beach or in expensive Manhattan apartments. But the reality seems to be that most Americans are a lot poorer than middle class Europeans, and the vast wealth of America is concentrated in the hands of a select few. You just don’t see that kind of extreme poverty in Europe. In Germany nobody has to live in a trailer.

 

After the Indian Reservation, I drove through the Ashley National Forest. I stopped in Moab, Utah

and tried to get a room at a Motel 6 but they had no vacancies. So I got a room at the Super 8 motel down the street. It was $55. Not too bad. But no breakfast. Moab is located between tree national parks… Canyon Land, Dead Horse, and Arch. My cell phone didn’t work all day in Utah.

SEPTEMBER 14th, 2002

 

Woke up at 7 am. Went next door to Denny’s to have breakfast. Ate pancakes, sausage, eggs, and hash browns. Then I drove south on Route 191 towards Monument Valley. Then I headed west on Route 163, towards the Navajo Indian Reservation. More dirt poor towns. How is it possible that there are so many poor people in such a rich country? I just don’t get it.

 

I crossed into Arizona and finally go to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. In front of the park was an Indian trading post, where I bought two vases. I met a German couple from Frankfurt. They were on a road trip with a rented RV.

 

The views in the park were amazing. Especially the huge rock formations. Good thing my Durango had all wheel drive, because the roads in the park were just sand. I think if I had driven a regular sedan, I’d have gotten stuck along the way.

 

Growing up, I knew this American kid, Brian. His dad was a US Air Force pilot stationed in Germany. Brian and I were best friends, until his dad had to go back to the States. Nowadays Brian was all grown up, and lived in North Carolina, but his parents lived in Kayenta, Arizona, where they worked as teachers at the local middle school.

 

I didn’t have their number, so I had no way to get in touch with them, but I was close to Kayenta, so I decided to go look at the town. The whole town was basically a big, dusty trailer park. Unreal. And yet typically American somehow, because you just don’t find towns like this in Europe.

 

I continued to drive through the desert on Route 160, to Tuba city. Then I headed south on Route 89, then west on Route 64, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

 

I entered the Grand Canyon National Park at Desert View, which is just a little stone tower. I continued through the park along the south rim and stopped at a few scenic view points to look down into the canyon. It’s huge. Almost too big. It was hard for my brain to register this as a canyon. It was so big, it looked more like a valley. To me, Steamboat River Bend was a more impressive canyon. Sure, it’s a lot smaller, but it just looked more like an actual canyon to me.

 

Then I got to Grand Canyon village, which was full of hotels. By now it was getting dark so I left the park, and drove south on Route 64, towards the I-40. I tried to get to Las Vegas, but it was already too late, so I stopped in Kingman and got a room at the Motel 6. It was only $29, but just as good as the more expensive rooms I had stayed at. The Motel 6 had cable TV and Internet access, and I could park the car right in front of my room. My cell phone finally started working again in Kingman, after not having any signal for two days or so.

 

I got a burger at the Jack in the Box next door and watched some Mad TV while eating in bed.

 

SEPTEMBER 15th, 2002

 

Woke up at 7 am again. Headed north on Route 93 towards Las Vegas. I wanted to go check out the Joshua Tree Parkway and the west rim of the Grand Canyon, but I missed the exit and I didn’t really feel like turning around. Meh. Maybe some other time.

 

About 20 miles south-east of Las Vegas, I stopped at Hoover Dam. It was 8:45 am. The visitor center didn’t open til 9 am. So I parked the car and just walked around for a while. The water in the Colorado River reservoir was very low. When you look down the other, dry side, it’s quite a ways down, and steep. Pretty impressive!

 

When the visitor center finally opened, they showed an old video from the 1930s, about the construction of the dam. Then a tour guide took us down to the power generators at the base of the dam.

 

Then I headed to Vegas. It was still fairly early in the day, so I figured I’d come back to Vegas at night, when the casinos are all lit up and colorful. I decided to use the daylight to go explore the surrounding area. I took Route 95 north, past Indian Springs, the Nellis Air Force bombing and gunnery range and the military test site. This is where the famous Area 51 is located. There were some tourist signs pointing to Area 51 related attractions, but all I saw was a sandy hill along the highway.

 

In Beatty I turned left, onto Route 374, towards Death Valley. I crossed into California. Finally! I had reached the West Coast! In Death Valley, I drove down a beautiful little unpaved road through Titus Canyon. It’s a super narrow little canyon. In some spots it’s not much wider than my car. Really amazing!

 

I passed a tiny ghost town along the way. Once I got out of the canyon, I drove south-east along a paved road and made a right turn towards Stovepipe Wells. I saw a sand storm! Wow!!! Luckily I didn’t get caught in the sand funnel. I stopped the car and watched it from afar. What happens when you get stuck in a sand storm? Does the engine get filled with sand and break down? Does the sand clog up the AC? I didn’t want to find out. I stopped the car and shut the engine and the AC off and rolled down the windows to try to catch a little breeze. I just sat there, watching the sand storm slowly wander away in the distance.

 

It was really rrreally hot. I read somewhere that Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth. The valley is much bigger than I expected it to be. About 100 miles long. It’s below sea level and surrounded by mountains. The hot air gets trapped in there somehow, so it’s a bit like a cooking pot.

 

Although it was crazy hot, my body was totally dry. The wind outside was so hot, it felt like someone was blowing in my face with a giant hair dryer. My sweat was evaporating instantly. I’ve never seen anything like it. When I finally felt like the sand storm was far enough away, and it was safe to turn the car back on and continue my journey, I rolled up the windows. I noticed that it was actually cooler in the car with the windows rolled up, even though the sun was beating down on the car and the AC was off, so it wouldn’t suck in any sand. At least now, without the hot wind blowing at me and drying me off instantly, I was able to sweat normally and the moisture on my skin cooled me off a little.

 

I continued on towards Stovepipe Wells. Along the way I passed some sand dunes. “Wow! That would make a perfect photo,” I thought. I liked taking pictures, but my brand new digital camera only had a fairly small memory card, so I was trying not to waste it on a bunch of mediocre pictures. I tried to focus on quality over quantity, and rather than taking a hundred ho-humm pictures in Death Valley, I’d rather take one picture that perfectly captures the environment. And those sand dunes over there were just perfect. They looked like something you’d find in the Sahara.

 

They didn’t look too far away. Maybe a few hundred feet from the road. So I pulled over, got out of the car and started walking towards the dunes. This would be one of the best pictures of the trip. Well, one of my favorite ones anyway.

 

After walking for a few minutes, I noticed that I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the sand dunes. I walked and walked, but the dunes were stuck on the horizon. They were farther than it appeared. No worries, I’m almost there. Just a few more minutes, then I’ll take an awesome picture, and head back to the car. Easy peasy.

 

I walked for about 45 minutes through the hot desert. Totally unprepared. No water. Not even a damn hat. The giant hair dryer was still blowing crazy hot wind at me, and my body was completely dry.

 

By the time I got to the top of first sand dune, my lips were cracked and I had a headache from the heat. I fidgeted around with my camera for a bit and walked around the dunes for a few minutes, trying to get the right angle. Finally I took the perfect shot. When I finally turned around to head back to the car… there was no car. Where the hell did the car go? Had I become disoriented while wandering around the dunes? Was I even looking in the right direction? Where the FUCK was my car?!?

 

I remembered seeing a mountain top in the distance on the left side of the road when I pulled over to the right. I had wandered into the desert on the right side of the road. So now I scanned the horizon in all directions and found the mountain top. At least I hoped it was the right mountain top. There were lots of mountains all around me, and who the hell knew if this was the right one? It looked like the right one, but then again, they all pretty much looked the same, and I didn’t really pay attention to the mountains when I got out of the car. “Well, let’s hope this is the right one,” I thought and climbed down from the dune, in the direction of the mountain top. I still couldn’t see my car. Did I really walk that far that I could no longer see my car? There were no trees. Just desert with some brush and some rocks here and there. Was the car that far away that it was no so small it was hidden behind one of the rocks?

 

I started to realize the severity of the situation. I tried to pick up the pace to get back to the car before my body overheated in the blistering sun. I began panting. I was breathing through my mouth and my throat was totally dry. I had some sand in my mouth. I could seriously fucking die here. I had no water, it was insanely hot, my sweat evaporated instantly and I was bone dry, my lips were cracked, my head hurt, and I had no idea where the fuck my car was. And then suddenly the wind picked up and blew so hard, sand started flying around. “Oh my fucking God. If this turns into a sand storm, I’m gonna get sand in my eyes, I’ll be blinded and never find the car. Is this really fucking necessary?!”

 

My heart was starting to pound and I was seriously afraid I might pass out. The wind kept blowing so hard, sand was flying in gusts around my ankles. Luckily the wind stayed so close to the ground that the sand never flew higher than my knees.

 

I saw something glisten in the sun, off in the distance. It was the same direction as the mountain top. After walking for a while I realized it was the sun reflecting off my car. It was still tiny, but at least I could see it. Thank God!!! I can make it! I can make it!

 

When I finally got back to the car I was hotter than I had ever been in my life. And still bone dry. Not a drop of sweat on me. My heart was pounding like crazy. I remembered my old high school gym teacher had once told us that when you run a lot, you shouldn’t just stop abruptly. It’s really bad for your body and you might pass out or something. He said it’s better to keep walking around for a few minutes until your heart rate goes back down. So that’s what I did. First I opened the car and rummaged through it, trying to find something to drink. I found a little water bottle. It was as hot as tea. I didn’t care. At least it was liquid. I could feel that my face was beet red. I slowly drank the water, while pacing around the car in circles until my heart rate came down.

 

So let’s recap: So far I almost got blown up in the Sears Tower, almost got bitten by a rattlesnake, almost got eaten by a mountain lion, and almost died in a sand storm. This road trip was a God damn suicide mission.

 

I finally got in the car and headed to Stovepipe Wells. Along the way I noticed that there was a much shorter trail from the road to the sand dunes. The road practically passed right by the dunes, and I almost didn’t even have to get out of the car to take the perfect picture. Of course. Motherfucker.

 

The town, if you can call it that, only consisted of a gas station and a little store. I ran into the store and grabbed four big bottles of Gatorade off the shelves. The cashier was an old redneck. He looked at me and grinned: “Walked around the desert without water?”

 

“Yupp,” is all I replied. He was probably gonna tell his buddies about me tonight and they were gonna have a good laugh about another stupid tourist who almost died wandering around the desert.

 

The next town along my route was Bad Water. Lovely name. The sun began to set, so the mountains were casting long shadows. I drove through Artists Palette, where the different rock layers have all sorts of different colors… brown, grey, white, yellow, pink and purple. Really cool. I was lucky that I still had enough day light, before the colors vanished in the shadows.

 

I was still in Death Valley. I had to drive another 80 miles to get to the other end and exit by Shoshone. Then I took Route 178 back to Nevada, where it turned into Route 372. I saw city lights in the distance and I thought it was Las Vegas, but it turned out to be a town called Pahrump. It was another 60 miles along Route 160 until I finally reached Vegas. Route 160 led right to Las Vegas Boulevard and the famous Strip. I passed the Luxor and MGM Grand, the Ecalibur and Treasure Island. The night was lit up thousands of blinking lights and colorful neon signs. It looked amazing. I was glad I had decided earlier to look at Vegas at night.

 

I drove north. Circus Circus was pretty much the end of the Strip. Beyond that, the city looked pretty ghetto and run down. Lots of motels with hourly rates, if you know what I mean. Wink wink, nudge nudge. After another two or three miles I got to Fremont Street Mall. I parked nearby and walked along Fremont. There was a big commotion going on. A couple of hundred Mexicans wearing big round straw hats were wavin the Mexican flag and tooting little trumpets. They were watching a small military veterans parade and a mariachi band. Fremont is covered by a huge long glass roof. Well, it’s not really a glass roof, it’s actually the largest video screen in the world. They show it on TV all the time. There were lots of older casinos and liquor stores. It was past midnight, but every store was open and there were hundreds of people having a good time. It felt like the whole city was a giant party.

 

It was getting late, so I walked back to the car, drove back south to Circus Circus, parked the car in their free parking garage and walked down the strip. All the way down to Mandalay Bay. Along the way I checked out some of the huge casinos. There were two pirate ships in front of Treasure Island. So cool! And the trees made out of lights in the Aladdin Casino were really pretty. By now it was about 2:30 am and I took a cab back up north to Circus Circus.

 

It was really late, and I was dead tired. It was a long, exhausting day. A normal person would have gotten a room at the Circus Circus. But no, not me. My wife Donna didn’t like going on road trips. In fact she didn’t like to travel at all. That really bummed me out. Anyway, I usually ended up going alone, and talked to her on my cell phone along the way. When I told her earlier that I was going to spend the night in Vegas, she totally flipped out. She was very insecure and jealous, and thought if I stayed in Sin City, God knows what I’d be doing all night. She told me I was just there to look at naked girls and that I’d cheat on her if I stayed in Vegas over night. What a load of crap. But ok, to keep the peace I agreed to leave Vegas, in the middle of the night, and find a motel outside of town. But even that wasn’t good enough for her. The entire time I was in Vegas, she insisted on being on the phone with me while I went sightseeing, so she could monitor what I was doing. And the entire time she was bitching, cursing me out, trying to ruin it for me. That really sucked.

 

I left Vegas and headed south on the I-15 towards Los Angeles. I passed two little towns in Nevada that were all lit up, like miniature versions of Vegas. Then I crossed into California and drove through the Mojave desert. I finally got to a town called Baker at 3:30 am. I pulled over at a motel, but they were sold out, so I went to the next motel, called Bun Boy. The girl behind the front desk was sleeping. I had to ring the door bell a few times before she finally opened the door.

 

The room smelled funny and everything looked shabby and run down. But I didn’t care. I was so tired, I just passed out.

SEPTEMBER 16th, 2002

 

I woke up at 9 am. What the hell?! I wanted to get some more sleep, but no luck. Once I’m up, I’m up.

 

Baker is in the middle of the Mojave Desert and their main attraction is the world’s largest thermometer. Seriously. It’s 134 feet tall, and can display a maximum temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Why 134? It commemorates the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth. On July 10th, 1913, it was 134 degrees in nearby Death Valley.

 

I had breakfast at Burger King and started driving through the desert towards Los Angeles. So far my cell phone had been working fine along the way in California. Even in the desert. I took the I-15 through the San Bernadino Mountains, then took the I-10 west. It didn’t look that far on the map, but it was a surprisingly long ride through Los Angeles. LA is very different from New York. NY is a huge, dense city. LA is more of a bunch of small towns all running into each other.

 

I got on highway 101, then got off the Melrose and Normandy exit. I headed west on Melrose Avenue and passed the Paramount studio lot. I made a left on La Brea and headed south. I found a Dodge service center on the corner of West 4th Street. I got there at 1 pm, and they told me I’d have to leave the car there until 5 pm for it’s scheduled service inspection. Or I could bring it in tomorrow morning at 7:30 am, and then they could service it in an hour. I decided to do that instead.

 

I drove north on La Brea into Hollywood. I wanted to find the famous Hollywood sign and take another perfect picture. Hopefully without killing myself. I drove east on Sunset Blvd. I found a Circuit City along the way and stopped to buy another memory card for my camera. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?!

 

Then I headed west again, drove through Hollywood a second time and headed into Beverly Hills. I drove around for a while and looked at the spectacular mansions. Everything was surrounded by lush green trees, bushes, green grass and those famous super tall skinny palm trees you always see on TV.

 

The mansions were so huge and opulent, I was suddenly overcome by intense envy. I had never felt anything like it before. I’m not really an envious person. Sure, when we’re kids, we all get envious when some other kid has ice cream and you don’t. And as an adult you get envious if someone else gets a raise and you don’t. It’s annoying and aggravating to see someone else have something you would like to have too. It makes you feel left out. But the things you’re envious of on a day to day basis are usually still within your reach. Tomorrow you might be the one with the ice cream. Or next month you might be the one getting a raise. There’s always that possibility. There’s always hope.

 

But this was different. The wealth on display in Beverly Hills was so ostentatious, so over the top, it was completely out of reach for mere mortals. I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever reaching that level of wealth. It was unfair. It was offensive. That’s really the best way I can describe how I felt. I was offended by the wealth. I was fuming. I felt like screaming: “FUCK YOU in your big fucking mansion! And FUCK your fucking red Lamborghini!” It was really strange.

 

What made it even stranger was the fact that I really had no reason to complain, because I was earning really good money with my cartoons online. I guess you could say I was rich. Well, not diamond-encrusted-toilet-bowl-on-a-golden-yacht rich, but rich enough where I didn’t have to worry about bills, and didn’t even have to work a 9-5 job anymore. I had enough money to do what I want when I want, and I could just blow money on whatever I want, like buying a brand new car and go on a road trip. Compared to most other people, I was doing pretty well. But compared to the insane wealth in Beverly Hills, I was a pauper. And I realized that no matter how hard I work, I will never ever be as rich as these people. Why the fuck were they so lucky and I’m not? Why not me?! I hated them!

 

I was overcome by the strongest sense of envy I had ever felt in my life. I was so angry, I felt like throwing rocks at their fucking mansions.

 

I had to leave. I headed west on Santa Monica Boulevard. As soon as I got out of Beverly Hills, everything was dry and dusty again. No more lush green landscaping.

 

I drove through West LA, all the way to the end of the Boulevard in Santa Monica. I parked the car and strolled through the park. It’s right next to a cliff that drops down about a hundred feet or so. You have a great view of the beach and the Santa Monica Pier from up there. The pier is an old amusement park with a famous Ferris wheel. I had seen it in a few movies before.

 

Santa Monica Park and the view were amazing, but the park was full of homeless people. They were sitting under palm trees, on park benches or just lying in the grass with sleeping bags. Some of them had shopping cards, filled with their last few belongings. Some were slowly walking around aimlessly, dragging big plastic bags with their things. It was a bizarre contrast. First the insanely wealthy neighborhood of Beverly Hills, with all its super fancy mansions and priceless luxury cars. And now this. How could those super rich people sleep at night, knowing that there was such incredible poverty just a few minutes down the street? That just seemed so wrong. Why weren’t they sharing some of their wealth and helping these homeless people? I really needed to stop thinking about this stuff and calm down.

 

I walked down to the beach, took my shoes off and walked through the sand, into the water. I was in the Pacific! I made it to the other side of the country!

 

I had lived in Europe and then in Brooklyn. I had been in the Atlantic a hundred times. And now I was standing in the Pacific, on the other side of the world! Somehow that felt significant.

 

I got back to the car and drove south for a few miles, to Venice Beach. I parked in one of those parking lots that has spikes in the ground at the exit. The spikes blow out your tires if you try to enter the parking lot the wrong way. I had seen those spikes in movies before, but never in real life. I was a little scared to drive over them. What if the mechanism is jammed and spikes are stuck somehow and don’t retract when the car rolls over them and they blow out my tires? Does that ever happen? With my luck, it’ll happen to me. Everything was fine though.

 

I strolled along Venice Beach. It reminded me of Coney Island in New York. The colorful little stores looked a little run down. They sold the usual tourist crap… t-shirts, baseball caps, food, etc. But there was more.Venice Beach had this cool counter-culture vibe. There were lots of hippies, punks and homeless people selling all sorts of handmade arts and crafts. And street performers. Some of them really talented.

 

There were two black dancers that did some 80’s style break dancing. One of them worse a typical 80’s outfit with square shoulders like MC hammer used to wear. He had a mic and was telling jokes while they were dancing. They put on a pretty good show. When it started to get dark I turned around and headed back to my car.

 

Drove back on Santa Monica Blvd, into Hollywood, and parked the car in the garage underneath the Kodak theater. That’s where the Oscar ceremony takes place. It’s right next door to the famous Grauman’s Chinese theater, with all the celebrity hand prints in the sidewalk.

 

I walked around inside the Kodak theater, which is kind of like a mall with many little stores. Picked up some souvenirs. Then I strolled up and down Hollywood Blvd, looking at the stars along both sides of the sidewalk. I found the stars for Jerry Lewis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse, and many others.

 

But most of the stars were pretty old and I had never even heard of the names. Kinda makes you think. These people were super famous back in the day. They were adored by millions at one point. But nowadays nobody remembers who they were or what they did. Pretty sad. If even these past superstars don’t leave much of an impression on history, what chance do we regular folks have of being remembered after we die? None. While we’re alive, we live in this illusion that our life matters. We live in a bubble, where we are the star of our own movie. We feel important in our own subjective little bubble world. But when we die, it’s as if we never even existed. Sure, if you have kids, they’ll remember you. For a while. And then that’s it. The world keeps on turning without you.

 

I stopped at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. They had lots of cool exhibits, like freaky accident survivors, a life-size statute of a man made out of buttons, a furry fish, and all sorts of other interesting stuff.

 

I also checked out the Guinness World Records Museum, which featured statues of the tallest man in the world, and the smallest, the fattest, and so on. The Wax Museum across the street was pretty interesting too. But the statues weren’t as good as the ones at Madame Tussaud’s. Actually some of the wax figures were so bad, they made me laugh. The statues of Seinfeld and Michael Jackson didn’t look like them at all. But the horror section was excellent. It had a lot of was figure monsters and scary things popping out at you out of nowhere. They startled me three times. Twice with pop-up ends, and once with cold air blowing at your from the side.

 

Then I went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and looked at the slabs of cement with the signatures and hand prints of some old movie stars. Again, didn’t know most of the names. Makes you realize how fleeting fame is. Well, I did recognize Jack Nicholson, Gregory Peck and Harrison Ford. And there were cement footprints of C3P0, R2D2, and Darth Vader.

 

I went back to the Kodak Theater next door and followed the signs up to the roof, trying to get a nice view of the Hollywood sign. But the top floor was closed so I still didn’t get a good look at the sign, except from far away, while driving.

 

I got back in my car and drove towards Santa Monica again. I had seen three motels there earlier, on my way back from Venice Beach. I stopped at the Stars Inn Motel, between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. The room was small but clean.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 17th, 2002

 

 

Woke up at 6 am. I drove back east, towards Hollywood. Made a right turn on Le Brea Ave. South. I got to the Dodge Dealer at 7:15 am. I left the car there so they could take care of the warranty

service while I walked to the Warner Bros. studio lot. I didn’t really know what I expected, but there wasn’t much to see from the outside because the lot was surrounded by a tall wall.

 

I walked back to the Dodge dealer to pick up the car around 9:30 am. Then I drove east on Melrose Ave, to the Paramount studio lot. Took a picture of the front gate. Then I parked the car and walked along the wall of the lot up to Santa Monica Blvd, to the Hollywood Forever cemetery. A lot of famous people are buried there. I found the graves of Mel Blanc, Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin Jr. Those were pretty much the only famous names I recognized.

 

Later I drove north on Route 101 to Universal City. It’s a studio lot with a big amusement park. I watched the Water World show, which had a lot of special effect with water and pyrotechnics. Afterwards I took the studio tour. The trolley drove around the actual studio lot. We got to see a western city that was used in a lot of old movies, and the town square they used for Back To The Future. They were currently shooting a new Jim Carrey movie called Bruce Almighty. We also saw the set where they’re filming a new Hulk movie.

 

I went on the Back To The Future ride. It’s a virtual flight simulator that really makes you feel like you’re flying in a car. At 5:30 pm I went to a taping of a new sitcom called Less Than Perfect with Andy Dick.

 

A bus took us from Universal City to the CBS Studios where they were also taping That 70s Show. Cool! It was the same studio where they filmed The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Gilligan’s Island.

 

I couldn’t believe how long it took to tape a 22 minute sitcom episode. Over six hours! Arrgghhh! Kill me!!! They told the audience that we had to stay for the entire filming, before the bus would bring us back to Universal, where my car was parked. So I was stuck. The actors kept replaying the same scenes over and over, and we were told to laugh each time as if it was the funniest thing we had ever heard. No matter how many times they re-shot the same scene, and no matter how many times they told the same jokes, we were instructed to laugh like we heard it for the very first time, each and every time. It was actually really exhausting. And mind-numbing. There was a comedian who was supposed to entertain the audience in between the scenes. Most of the time he was funnier than the sitcom. But after a while we all just wanted it to be over already. I had no desire to ever go see another sitcom taping.

 

There were some young up-and-coming actors sitting in the audience. The comedian pointed them out a few times. I had no idea who they were, but it was undeniable that they had charisma. You couldn’t help but keep looking in their direction. I always used to think that any idiot can be an actor. If kids and dogs can act, anyone can do it. But I guess some people are more cut out for it than others. These guys in the audience had that certain something that drew eyeballs.

 

The bus finally took us back to Universal at midnight. At MIDNIGHT! When I got back in my car, I drove north on Route 101, towards San Francisco. At 1:15 am I stopped at a Motel 6 in Camerillo, just outside of Ventura.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 18th, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am and had pancakes and french toast for breakfast at the IHOP next door. Then I continued to head north on Route 101. I made a left turn in Santa Maria, heading west to Guadalupe, and drove north on Route 1.

 

Near San Simeon I stopped at Hearst Castle. All tickets were sold out. Crap. Maybe next time.

 

Just a few minutes up the road on Route 1, there was a vista point where you can see a herd of elephant seals, laying in the sun, about two hundred feet away from the outlook.

 

The fence around the outlook was trampled down in one spot, and I could see a few people down by the elephant seals. They were walking among the seals, snapping pictures and posing in the middle of the herd. I stepped over the broken fence and walked down to where the other people were.

 

It was a weird feeling to walk among the sea elephants. They were huge, most of them bigger than me. But they seemed friendly and mellow. I took a few snapshots. The perfect pictures for my collection Most of them were lying on their backs with their bellies in the sun. Their eyes were closed and they were just relaxing. Every now and then one of them opened their eyes and watched me walk by, just inches away from them. Some grunted here and there. But it was all pretty mellow. I felt safe. I didn’t even notice that the other people had left and I was now all alone in the middle of the herd of sea elephants.

 

Suddenly I heard someone yelling in the distance. I looked around. Nobody there. Then I looked up to the vista point. There was someone in uniform, waving his arms and shouting at me. I couldn’t understand him. He was too far away. But I could tell he wanted me to walk over to him.

 

The animals had shuffled around a little and there was no direct path through the herd anymore, so I walked around the herd, up a little hill that was overgrown with some lush green moss or ivy, towards the man in uniform. The green stuff felt a little crunchy a squishy under my feet. He looked like a Park Ranger or something along those lines. As I got closer, I could tell he was angry. Was I in trouble? Did I do something wrong?

 

“What the HELL do you think you’re DOING?!?” he yelled.

 

“I was just gonna take a picture,” I replied.

 

“Get the FUCK of the plants!!” he shouted with a red head.

 

Oops! So first this guy was mad at me for crossing the fence and walking around among the seals. He said they are wild animals and I could have gotten killed. And then he got even more pissed when I walked across that little hill, because those green plants on it were apparently some sort of rare, protected flowers and I trampled all over them.

 

I apologized several times and told him I was just a tourist from New York, trying to take a nice picture of the seals, and that there were other people there first, and I thought it was ok. The Ranger was livid! He kept screaming at me that he could arrest me for trespassing, and for harassing wild life and destroying plants and so on and so forth. I could already see myself in handcuffs… but after a few minutes he finally calmed down and let me go with a warning.

 

I drove north and stopped in a few more places to take photos. I think Route 1 is the most beautiful road in America. The views of the meadows, the mountains, the cliffs and the ocean are spectacular.

 

In Santa Cruz I took Route 17 north to San Jose, and then got back on Route 101 to San Francisco. I drove through the city and over the Golden Gate Bridge. I turned around, drove back over the bridge a second time and parked near Fisherman’s Wharf. I walked around for a while, looking at the stores and trying some of the local foods. I’m not into seafood, so all the crabs and stuff didn’t really do it for me.

 

It was getting late, so I should have been looking for a motel. But instead I decided to sleep in the car at the Golden Gate Bridge. I drove over the bridge for a third time and pulled over on the other side. I had an amazing view overlooking the bay and the city skyline. I watched the sunset and then slept in the back of the Durango. I had bought this SUV specifically to go car camping, because it was big enough so I could make a bed and lie flat in the back and sleep comfortably. And now I was finally able to try it out for the first time. What better place than at the Golden Gate Bridge?

SEPTEMBER 19th, 2002

 

I woke up in the car at 7 am, saw the sun rise over the Golden Gate Bridge. I admired the view of the bay and the skyline again, before heading over the bridge for a fourth time. Apart from being red instead of light blue, it did feel a lot like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York.

 

I parked near Fisherman’s Wharf again and bought a ticket for the Alcatraz tour at 9:30 am. While waiting for the boat, I saw a herd of harbor seals sitting in the sun at the pier. They were cute, but not nearly as big as the sea elephants I had seen yesterday.

 

When the ferry arrived on Alcatraz, a ranger explained that there’s some guided tours. I watched a short film about the history of the island, from military base to military prison to high security prison, the 19 month Native American occupation in 1969, to today’s Alcatraz museum.

 

Then I walked up the hill to the main prison building and opted for the self-guided audio tour. I got to see the cell of Al Capone and the famous Bird Man. I recognized the prison yard from the old Clint Eastwood movie. The cells were run down and dirty. Some of the old dark hallways looked pretty creepy, like they were haunted. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but hey, you never know. I took some pictures in the dark halls, hoping I might catch a ghost. If not here, then where? But, nope, no ghost sighting.

 

I took the ferry back to the city at 12:15 pm and bought some souvenirs at Fisherman’s Wharf. Tried some crab meat. Still didn’t like it. I’ll take a nice steak over seafood any day.

 

I left the city on the I-80 east and drove over the Bay Bridge to Oakland. Route 120 took me to Yosemite National Park. I entered the park at 5 pm and drove south to Yosemite canyon. Beautiful views. The canyon was a dead end, so I turned around and drove back north to Route 120 and exited the park going east. It was a long, lonely drive through mountains and over a pass. There were no other cars. It was getting dark.

 

At 7:45 pm I saw a bright light in the sky. First I thought it was a full moon, but when I looked at it, I realized it wasn’t the moon. It looked a little bit like a huge comet. It was a bright ball of light, surrounded by a much bigger, slightly less bright halo of light, followed by a long, winding, spiralling, zig-zaggy tail of light. It looked so strange that I slammed on the breaks in the middle of the road.

 

There were still no other cars. It was just me, in the darkness, in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, with this big bright ball of light up in the sky above. I grabbed my video camera and tried to film it. I wasn’t sure if the camera would be able to pick it up or if it would be all blurry, so I alternated between filming it and taking some photos with my digital camera. Sadly the pictures didn’t come out because the automatic flash kept going off. While I tried to turn the auto flash off, the ball of light suddenly collapsed into itself. It looked like the bright light was quickly flying away from me and getting smaller and smaller until it disappeared.

 

Even though the ball of light was suddenly gone, the zig-zag trail it had left behind was still there, still visible, still illuminated in the black night sky. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen! My heart was pounding! Was that a UFO? Did I just witness a UFO sighting?!? I didn’t know what else it could be. I kept staring at the illuminated zig-zag trail in the night sky, waiting to see if maybe the ball of light would come back.

 

After a few minutes I noticed that 2 or 3 military jets were circling where the ball of light had been. It looked like they came from the south-east, from the direction of Area 51. The ball of light and its trail came from the west. Were those jets investigating the ball of light?

 

Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of The X-Files, but suddenly I worried about those jets seeing my car. I was all alone on a dark mountain road, with my car still standing in the middle of the street with the headlights on. My lights must have been clearly visible from the sky.

 

What if the jets saw me? What if the military decided to come looking for me and confiscate my video camera to hide all evidence of alien life? My heart was still pounding! I had to go! Quickly!

 

I got back in the car and started driving through the woods, down the winding road. I wasn’t sure if I should turn the lights off so the jets couldn’t see me, and risk a crash in the pitch black night. I decided to keep the lights on and just get out of the woods as quickly as possible, and find other cars so I could blend in. The whole time I was driving I was trying to figure out what to do next. Should I call CNN and tell them I just saw a UFO and I even have evidence on video? Or is the government gonna make me disappear if I come forward? What can I say, I was pretty startled!

 

When I reached Route 395 I headed north, past Lake Tahoe, through Carson City, to Reno. I got a room at the Capri Motel. The room was cheap, only 28 dollars, but it was kinda shabby. The old TV had no remote, there was no ceiling light, no AC, no phone. Just plenty of grime. I decided not to call CNN and just get something to eat and then go to sleep. I was exhausted.

 

I found a nearby gas station and looked at their junk food. A blonde girl in a skimpy outfit was standing next to me and watched me grab some candy bars.

 

“Are those good?” she asked.

 

“Don’t know. Never had them before. I like to try new things when I’m traveling,” I replied.

 

“Oh, you’re from out of town? Are you traveling alone?”

 

“Yeah,” I said.

 

“Want some company? Wanna party?” she asked with a smirk.

 

Apparently the girl was a hooker, trying to make a quick buck. I politely declined and went back to my room. What a day.

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 20th, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am. I tried to take a shower, but the shower didn’t work. The TV didn’t work either. What a shithole.

 

I headed east on the I-80, towards Salt Lake City. I drove 550 miles through Nevada… for hours! So boring! When I got to Wendover I crossed the Utah state line and started driving through the Salt Lake Desert.

 

The desert is very flat and white. It almost looks like it’s covered in snow. My cell phone finally started working again in Wendover, and all the way through the Salt Desert.

 

In Salt Lake City I visited the Olympic Park. There were some really pretty red and green mountains.I looked at the ski ramps but I didn’t drive further into the park, because they charged a fee and it wasn’t really worth it to me because I’m not a big fan of the Olympics. Maybe if it was free. But paying for it? Meh.

 

I head back west, into downtown Salt Lake City. I parked the car and wandered around town a bit. My mom always says that you haven’t really been somewhere, unless you walk around a bit. Just driving through town doesn’t count.

 

The city looked nice. Surprisingly clean, considering most towns in America look pretty run down and dirty. And I didn’t see any homeless people. That’s a first.

 

I took the I-15 north towards Ogden. It was 5:45 pm and I got stuck in rush hour traffic. North of Ogden I took Route 89 towards Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Route 89 North is a scenic

bypass and leads through canyons, national forest, and over mountain passes. I got to see a little bit of all that natural beauty before it got dark.

 

The winding road was narrow and there were no street lights, so driving through all the curves was very slow. I had hoped to reach Yellostone by the end of the night, but the drive was so slow, it took too long. I barely managed to get out of Utah and into Idaho. I passed Bear Lake and at 9:30 pm I stopped at a Super 8 in Montpelier. This was the nicest motel where I stayed so far. The large room was very clean, had cable TV, phone, AC, and a clean bath.

 

There’s three things I learned about motels in America on this trip:

 

#
p<{color:#000;}. Don’t bother booking a room in advance. When you get tired, just pull over somewhere. There’s at least one motel at virtually every highway exit.

#
p<{color:#000;}. It doesn’t matter what chain or brand the motel is. Just look at the outside of the building. If the building looks new and clean from the outside, the inside looks new and clean too. If the outside looks old and dirty, the rooms will be old and dirty too. I’ve stayed at nice, new “low budget” motels with nice, new rooms, and I’ve stayed at “fancy” old motels with shitty old rooms. The condition of the outside of the building tells you a lot more about the quality of the motel rooms than the brand name. (It’s not like in Europe, where old, historic buildings are well maintained and modern on the inside.)

#
p<{color:#000;}. Only stay in chain motels. Privately owned no-name motels are usually not part of a chain because they don’t meet the minimum quality requirements of even the shittiest chains. All the worst motels I stayed in were not part of any chain.

SEPTEMBER 21st, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am and I continued north on Route 89 north, out of Idaho and into Wyoming. It was a scenic drive, but very slow because of a lot of road work. Before getting to Yellowstone National Park, I stopped at Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton means big tit in French. Really. One of the mountains looks like a big boobie, and it seems like whoever discovered and named it, didn’t get laid in a while.

 

I arrived at the south gate of Yellowstone by noon. I got to see Old Faithful and a few other active geysers. Really amazing. I liked this park the best out of all the national parks I saw so far. It has everything… canyons, rivers, lakes, geysers, and animals. There were warning signs for bears everywhere, but I didn’t see any bears. Maybe that’s good, because with my luck I probably would have only narrowly escaped getting eaten by one. But I did see several herds of buffalo, large deer, wolves and a bald eagle.

 

I wanted to drive all the way up to Mammoth Springs but there was so much traffic in the park that it

took me hours just to get half way. Around 6 pm I took a shortcut to the east gate and headed towards South Dakota on Route 14. I drove past a town called Cody, to Graybull, then took Route 16/20 south towards Worland. In Worland I turned east on Route 16, towards Buffalo, on the I-90. At 11 pm I stopped at a Super 8 just outside of Worland.

SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am and had a toasted bagel for breakfast. I drove east until I hit the I-90 in Buffalo. Then I continued east on the I-90, til I got to the off-ramp for Routh 14 north. I visited Devils Tower. It’s a really cool looking mountain that I had seen in the movie Close Encounters of The Third Kind.

 

Then I got back on the I-90 and drove to Rapid City, where I headed south on Route 16, towards Mount Rushmore. Along the way, I passed a bear park, a reptile garden, a petting zoo, and a go-kart race track.

 

Just outside of Mount Rushmore, there’s a little tourist trap town called Keystone. I visited a museum about the artist who created the faces on Mount Rushmore.

 

Keystone also offers a helicopter tour. On my road trip through Scotland I flew in a plane for the very first time. So I figured, why not use this opportunity to fly in a helicopter for the first time?

 

The little old helicopter was a tiny two-seater. It seemed to consist of nothing more than a little glass bubble with a rotor on top. I had an unobstructed view in every direction. The little chopper didn’t fly as smoothly as a plane. The ride was pretty herky-jerky and loud. The pilot and I were wearing headphones and mics so we could talk to each other. He was an old guy with white hair.

 

As we were flying over some trees, towards the mountain, I had a perfect view of the faces. Then he steered the helicopter around in a big circle, so I could see the mountain from all sides. So cool!

 

“How do you like your first time in a helicopter?” the pilot asked.

 

“I love it!” I replied with a big smile.

 

“Wanna see something cool?” he asked.

 

“Sure!” I said.

 

“You scare easy?”

 

“Nope!” I replied confidently. I almost got blown up by terrorists in the Sears Tower. I almost got bitten by a rattlesnake. I almost got eaten by a mountain lion. Almost got killed by a sand storm in Death Valley. I almost got crushed by a sea elephant. Almost got arrested by a Park Ranger. Almost got abducted by aliens. Almost got disappeared by the US military. And I almost caught Chlamydia from a hooker in Reno. What could this old guy possibly do to scare me?

 

The pilot pulled the stick back and the helicopter flew up in a steep curve, until the front of the helicopter pointed straight up into the air, and the tail was pointing towards the ground. The rotor, that was supposed to be above the glass bubble, was now essentially behind the bubble. A helicopter is not supposed to fly like that. A helicopter CAN’T fly like that, because the rotor can’t create any lift if it’s not pointing up.

 

We still had some forward momentum when he pointed the helicopter up. But the more the chopper pointed up, the less forward momentum we had. At some point there was no more momentum, and we just hung in the air for a second, before the helicopter started to fall backwards towards the ground.

 

“AAAAHHH!!” I screamed.

 

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” the old man said with a big grin.

 

Then he pushed the helicopter forward, so that the nose pointed down and the tail pointed up in the air, and we flew straight down towards the ground. I felt like I was gonna fall forward out of my seat if the seat belt didn’t keep me in place.

 

“STOP ITTTT!!!” I yelled.

 

He just laughed, as he pulled the helicopter up into a level flight path again.

 

What a lunatic! He almost crashed the chopper, just for shits and giggles. I was speechless. I was seriously terrified. I thought we were gonna crash. I couldn’t even muster a “You’re nuts!” because who knows what other aerial acrobatics this madman would have performed if I had provoked him. Better keep my mouth shut til we’re back on solid ground.

 

Once we landed he shook my hand with a big grin and said: “Tell your friends!”

 

You bet I will, shithead.

 

I finally felt safe again when I was behind the steering wheel of my car. I headed over to the Crazy Horse Monument. The Mount Rushmore faces are 69 feet tall. But the Crazy Horse monument is supposed to be much larger when it’s finished. The statue shows the Native American Chief on a horse. His head alone is already 87 feet tall. The whole monument will be over 550 feet tall when it’s finished, and over 600 feet long. It’s gonna be the largest monument in the world. If it ever gets finished. The artists started working on it over 50 years ago.

 

Then I drove to Custer and through the Custer State Park. I saw a couple of small deer, goats and a few wild turkeys.

 

I took Route 79 back to Rapid City, got on the I-90 and drove east through South Dakota. I reached Mitchell at 11 pm and got a nice, clean room at a Motel 6.

SEPTEMBER 23rd, 2002

 

I woke up at 7 am. I headed east, all the way trough South Dakota and crossed into Minnesota. I found a Dodge dealer by the side of the highway and brought the car in for the second service inspection and got an oil change at 8,200 miles. In the meantime I got a ham bagel at the McDonald’s next door.

 

I drove all the way through Minnesota and crossed the Mississippi. I stopped in Wisconsin and walked along the river for a while. All that driving was making me tired. I put my feet in the Mississippi. So if the water in Wisconsin tastes like cheese, you know why.

 

While driving through Wisconsin, I almost fell asleep behind the wheel, so I needed to take another break. I stopped at a McDonald’s. It was a huge log cabin with an open fireplace and a giant moose head hanging on the wall. It was the biggest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen.

 

After getting some rest I continued east on the I-90 into Illinois. I reached Chicago by 7 pm and got stuck in rush hour traffic for about an hour. I gassed up the car at a large truck stop where about a hundred 18-wheeler trucks were parked for the night.

 

I headed east on the I-80, through Indiana towards Ohio. I got off the highway in Sturgus, Indiana to find a motel. The highway runs along the state line between Indiana and Michigan, and the hotel, a Hampton Inn, was actually on the Michigan side.

 

The room was nice and clean, but at 84 dollars it was more expensive than the rooms I usually got at the Super 8 or Motel 6, and didn’t really look any different.

SEPTEMBER 24th, 2002

 

The last day! I drove through Ohio and Pennsylvania for hours. Tried to make good time, but I got really tired in Pennsylvania, and couldn’t keep my eyes open. So I pulled over somewhere and slept in the back of the car for a few hours.

 

I arrived back home in Brooklyn around 11 pm. What a trip!

If you enjoyed this book, check out:

 

Bad Choices Make Good Stories

by Oliver Markus Malloy

 

Available from

Becker and Malloy LLC

www.beckerandmalloy.com

 

 

 


New York to Los Angeles Roadtrip

Join Oliver on his epic road trip across America, from New York to California, as he almost gets blown up in the Sears Tower in Chicago, almost gets bitten by a rattlesnake in Colorado, almost gets eaten by a mountain lion in the Rocky Mountains, almost dies in a sand storm in Death Valley, almost gets killed by a sea elephant in California, almost gets arrested by a Park Ranger on Route 1, almost gets abducted by aliens in Yosemite National Park, almost gets disappeared by the US military, almost has sex with a hooker in Reno, and almost crashes in a helicopter.

  • ISBN: 9781370024896
  • Author: Becker and Malloy LLC
  • Published: 2017-08-02 19:35:11
  • Words: 13228
New York to Los Angeles Roadtrip New York to Los Angeles Roadtrip