Roadtrip Miscellany: Westerly, 08-2009

In which various facts and postulates are displayed, regarding the author’s recent journey to the western (or “left”) edge of the North American continent, in no particular order. Special emphasis is given to the ironic and the peculiar, though not to the exclusion of the heartwarming, the pithy, the sentimental, or the banal. That said, there’s a lot more peculiar than schmaltzy. In general and with only minor exceptions, the facts and observations that follow have not appeared elsewhere, except in the author’s brain, where unless you are a telepath of the highest order, you have no access to them.

A small snack will be provided.

Date of Embarkment

7 August 2009

Date of Completion

16 August 2009


Visitation of extended family and unextended friends; evaluation and (if necessary) reorganization of elements of the brain; new experience collection; “feelings” maintenance; sight-seeing.

Birds of Prey

All along the trip, I saw hawks and eagles sailing high above me in the sky. I suppose some of them could have been vultures, but that’s not as cool, nothing against vultures. It must be a pretty good life being a raptor. I imagine two hawks (or eagles, or falcons, or any combination thereof) talking shop in a brightening morning, perched on a phone line or convenient high branch:

“Hey, Tony, how’s it going?”

“Not bad, Ralph, not bad. What have you got planned for today?”

“Ah, you know, the usual. Glide on the updrafts for a while. Swoop down and eat a mouse. Glide some more.”

“Yeah. Me too. A rich full day.”

“You bet. It’s what we’re here for. Catch you later, huh?”

“Only if I’m a tasty rodent.”

The hawks share a few moments of hearty laughter and then launch themselves into the sky with a few beats of their powerful wings.

(Of course, I’m not saying only male birds of prey would engage in this kind of banter. For all we know, Tony and Ralph are feminine hawk names. Who are you to judge?)

Wisdom Imparted By Professionally Printed Signs

“Gusty winds may exist.”
“Do not drive into smoke.”
“Do not hump.”

Wind Farms

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

Wind farms are creepy.

I swear those deceptive blades are going to fly off and cut me in half, whether or not the turbines’ crazy funhouse illusions of scale don’t warp my mind beyond repair. When two or more of the turbines start moving in unison, I just about strangle the steering wheel as I drive by. And the steering wheel doesn’t even have a neck.

Roadside Stores To Return To And Actually Visit, Should the Opportunity Arise

Ofelia’s Knife City

The St. James Flagpole Company

Statuary World (Discount for seniors!)

The Roads of Nebraska

In Nebraska, the roads are haunted. Some moan as you drive over them, some squeal or cry, but the vast majority wail. Car tires roll over the tarmac and the ghosts let loose chilling attenuated wails.The roads are constructed to do this. Each mile of blacktop contains thirty to fifty thousand ghosts, impressed into service of the Nebraska Department of Transportation with empty promises and an enchanted steamroller. The sound, much like the sight of a wind farm, is disturbing in the extreme, especially when the sound must be endured for three hundred and fifty miles.

Snack Break

Here, have some raisins. Or some almonds. Or an apple. A perky Californian girl at the border confiscated my oranges, so you can’t have those (though at the end of the trip I realized she’d missed one of the oranges, so I’m technically a citrus smuggler, both into and out of California. That’s two counts!). And the bananas went bad quicker than I thought. Chips and salsa? Not good road food. Hummus is only a mild improvement. Pretzels and peanut butter were much easier to eat while driving than I would have guessed. Candy is always good, but I have to buy it along the way, and you weren’t there so I didn’t get you any. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Delicious.

States To Which I Hope To Return (alphabetically)

New Mexico

States I Can Do Without, Basically (in ascending order of disinterest)

Nebraska (by a wide margin)


On the Arizona-California border there is a pirate-themed “oasis”, which makes me sad for a variety of reasons, the most practical of which is that the pirates must be very unhappy. The arid US Southwest is not the natural habitat of the pirate, and even these tourist-trap brigands must long for the sea and its spray and the constant roll of the ocean beneath them. Whatever simulated maritime excursions they embark on must be fakey and at least a little pathetic and a heavy burden on the local water table, three-quarters-scale galleons nudged into the middle of a turgid reservoir to fire fake cannonades at each other and brandish tin swords. Hopefully they are given generous rations of rum (though it’s probably Bacardi) and get to steal a little from the drunker tourists when their supervisors aren’t watching. Cheesy tourism and piracy should never go together.


Driving is mystical, especially driving alone, especially driving at high speed through land I don’t know. And when I say mystical, I mean mystical. Done properly, driving allows me to consciously mess with my perception of space and time and be aware of the modification I’ve made. I escape all mental ruts, at least temporarily. I disassemble preconceptions and build a fort out of the components. I see floating talking shapes that give me advice on home renovation. I am at peace. But after a few hours, my ass goes numb. And/or my back gets sweaty. These symptoms lessen the spiritual import a bit.

City Nicknames I Just Made Up

San Francisco: The City of Well-developed Calf Muscles, The City of Magnificent Rooftops, Ol’ Foggy-As-Hell, Billowytown
Stockton, CA: The City of Inexplicable Traffic
Santa Fe, NM: Adobeopolis, That Turquoise Bracelet On A Hill, Artsy-Fartsy Land
Tulsa, OK: Ol’ Nondescript
Cheyenne, WY: We Have A Taco Bell

More facts and figures as they occur to me.

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