San Diego, CA – afternoon

08/09/98 1:23pm PDT

San Diego, CA

Greenville SC to San Diego CA

3132 miles

14 days

11 campgrounds

4 mechanics

1 belt squeal that still won’t go away

0 air conditioners

And some other numbers that have stuck with me:

20 Tour Updates

115 degrees in the Mojave

56 degrees in the Caverns

6 rolls of film

2 cans of iced tea mix

4 bags of Double Chocolate Milanos

9 cheese enchiladas

2 pre-paid long distance calling cards

1 new song finished, 1 new song started, 2 old songs finished, 3 songs taped

3 rocks purchased

3 Denny’s meals (okay, I’m not real proud of this one.  And they were all roast turkey…)

72 emails from wonderful people

Musical references:

At some point on this trip I was:

“Goin’ to Graceland”

“Walkin’ in Memphis”

“Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona”

“Drive (ing) out to Barstow on the weekend”

Thanks to everyone who’s come with me this far, and particularly those who have been sending email.  For the next 9 days I will be homesteading here in San Diego for Comic-Con International, the single longest stop on the tour.  If you collect comics, you already know what it is, and if you don’t, I can’t explain it.  Just know that, whatever it is, it’s the biggest and best one of them there is.  I got to go a couple years ago, and it completely spoiled me for any other comic show.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back.

I’m still going to do regular updates, but they might take a decidedly geeky slant (although the Las Vegas/World of Atari ’98 updates might surpass these in that arena…).  Just another facet of my intriguing personality…

I’m going to go have a blow-out of a dinner.

Barstow, CA – evening

Tonight’s update brought to you by the numbers 145 and 115, and the letters A and C.

You’ll get it later.

Well, New Mexico and Arizona had both been nothing like what I had expected: flat, brown, and hot.  Why should California go according to plan?

The bad part is, I thought California was going to be nice.  You hear “California” and you think of the north part of the state where there are mountains and forests and nice weather, or you think of the southern coast, with the beautiful beaches and nice weather.  I should have paid more attention to what all those little black dots on the map meant…

California threw me a curveball called the Mojave.  One hundred and forty five miles (there’s one) from Needles to Barstow.  I had stopped on the outskirts of, well, we’ll call it “town” for the sake of argument after driving through Needles because Roberta Verona was getting cranky about the heat.  Actually, I was kind of glad to see that gauge actually worked, it hadn’t offered up much information until that point.  I had been hoping to find a mall to kill a couple hours in so that I could drive on in the cooler evening, but Needles is another stop on Route 66 (I’ll tell you more about this later, for now realize it means the “town” is six gas stations, four restaurants, two hotels, and eighty four “Route 66, America’s Main Street” gift shops), so I desperately grabbed at the last gas station before the interstate got cranked up again.  It had a Dairy Queen sign, so at least I could have an ice cream for awhile.  I pulled behind the station and parked the RV between a couple tractor trailers, hoping to defray as much direct sunlight as possible.  I got out and singed the back of my leg on the door frame.  It was far past hot.  I always think it’s hotter than it is, but I knew it was high 90s if not a hundred.

The Dairy Queen was just a counter inside, I guess they didn’t want you hogging up all their air conditioning by sitting down to enjoy your Dilly Bar (I wanted so bad to put a joke here, but for the sake of my mother, I refrained), so I went to the restaurant next door to see if they just had dessert or something, ’cause I was still full from breakfast (again, more later).  I just wanted to sit somewhere for awhile to let myself and the RV cool off a little (did you remember I have no air conditioning when I’m driving?  There’s that A and C I mentioned…), but in a restaurant I feel obligated to buy something.  Luckily, they had ice cream, and even more luckily (don’t read this, Suzy) an absolutely stunning waitress.  She had to be over six feet.  So I ordered my ice cream and iced tea, and, being a guy, started talking her up a bit.  Now, as an educated, well-travelled man of the world, I dusted off one of my best lines: “So, how hot do you think it is out there?”

Apparently, my scheming was too subtle, for she seemed to take this as meaning I was curious about the weather.  She went off to find out, and I was going to take another tack when she returned and said “It’s a hundred and fifteen degrees.”

115 degrees.  One hundred, then fifteen more… ELEVENTY-FIVE DEGREES.

Wow.  My new record.  To be fair, there is something to that “dry heat” thing, like I said, I thought right around a hundred.  Roberta Verona didn’t like it any more than I did, after sitting in the shade for almost an hour, on start-up the temp gauge showed higher than it had all trip, up until today.  But it was a bit lower than when I had pulled over.

Three hours through the Mojave.  If I never see a more desolate, dead, altogether unappealing strech of geography, I’ll die most pleased.  _This_ is what I thought Arizona and New Mexico were going to be like: sand, scrub brush, sharp, black, forbidding-looking mountains completely bereft of vegetation… and millions and millions of little black rocks that, from the driver’s seat, anyway, looked like charcoal briquettes.  For a hundred and forty five miles.  At a hundred and fifteen degrees.  In a couple places, I saw a motor home parked, with, presumably, people living in it.  And even one house, off in the distance.  The motor homes I could almost understand (the engines explode, you push it off the highway and put out a mailbox), but I have no clue why anyone would build a house out there.  Maybe those rocks _were_ charcoal, and that was the old Kingsford place…

Just to connect with something I said an update or so ago, I wasn’t actually unhappy about all this.  I mean, it was damn hot, and I could have been miserable if I’d wanted to.  But I had to drive through it, no choices here, so turn up the CD player real loud and drive.  I’ve surprised myself with how fast three hours of driving can go by (although I must confess that this wasn’t one of the fastest, or anything…).

The day started out much better, though.    I had breakfast at this little Route 66 diner, and learned some things (things that I had begun to suspect, but now I knew for sure).  I-40, for much of its distance, parallels or simply runs right over top of the old US Route 66.  All these weird, tiny “towns” I’ve mentioned that have two exits on the interstate (the exit become the main drag which ends in the other exit) are where I-40 bypassed the busy parts of the route.  Pretty much everywhere that I’ve stayed, eaten, bought gas, or used the can for the last three days has wanted to sell me “Historic Route 66” t-shirts, mugs, and shot glasses (pretty ironic: all these “Don’t Drink And Drive” signs everywhere out here, and they’re selling Route 66 shot glasses).  So I’m sitting in this diner being waited on by a girl in a Route 66 t-shirt (mine for $17.95 [the t-shirt, not the girl]) drinking a tea in a Route 66 glass (a bargain at $5.95) and eating a composition of scrambled eggs, chilies, onions, and cheese wrapped up in a big flour tortilla with salsa, sour cream, refried beans, and hash browns.  I mooshed everything up and poured hot sauce on it and it was great, even though it had no direct correlation to Route 66.

I decided to change my plan for my morning stretch of driving, and go ahead and follow this, the longest surviving stretch of the original Route 66.  Yes, I got some kicks on Route 66.  One reason was because Grand Canyon Caverns was there.

And I really wanted to go somewhere that had “Grand Canyon” in the name, because it looks like I’m not going to make it to the real thing this time around.  I passed within 90 miles of it late last night, and there was a huge electrical storm off that way.  I could only imagine what it might have been like.  For a minute my mind wandered back to a wasted day in Salina Kansas, to five hours in a Wichita repair shop, to…

Then I mentally tipped my hat to the Canyon in a “maybe next time” gesture and drove on, realizing that sometimes, that’s all you can do.

But anyway, I found myself at the Grand Canyon Caverns, and went on a 45 minute tour about 220 feet below the ground.  I had a blast, took a lot of pictures (we’ll see how well they come out), and just generally enjoyed the 56 degree temperature (little did I know my afternoon weather would more than double that mark).  One thing I thought was kind of funny, in one of the bigger “rooms,” there were stacks of boxes and cans, Civil Defense food, water, and emergency equipment that the government “convinced” the family who owns the Caverns (I forget their name) to leave there in case of nuclear war (this was, like, in the fifties, or something).  Two thousand people could live for two weeks on this stuff.  The only problem was that the relative humidity in the Caverns is 6% (carbon-based life needs about 18% to not dehydrate and die):  In two weeks, everyone would be dead and well on their way to mummification, food and water or no.  There was a mummified bobcat that had apparently fallen in and died there.  I really hope the picture I took came out.  The cat had been found in the highest reach of the cave, which, unfortunately, turned out not to be the exit.  But in pitch black (not even cats can see without _any_ light), with a broken hip from the fall, in less than thirty-five hours (the guide says this he how long it takes for vertigo to set in when there’s no light at all), the cat found what, logically, _should_ have been the exit.  I was standing there, about to cry in public again over the (in my mind) heroic efforts of some long dead cat.

After that, Route 66 headed down the mountain, hit I-40, and we had a desert.

Seligman, AZ – late night

My computer thinks it’s two thirty in the morning.

I can’t say I blame it, that’s about what it feels like to me, too.  That’s what it would be if I was at home.

Turns out it’s still eleven thirty last night here.  Arizona doesn’t believe in Daylight Savings Time.  Except on the Navajo reservation.  Makes you wonder if they celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day on the reservation…

It has been brought to my attention that some of my updates rather imply that I’m not having a good time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve seen things that make me think of myself differently, things that have inspired me and humbled me, things that have fascinated me and terrified me.  I’ve met wonderful people that make me think about others differently, people who have impressed me and helped me, people who have angered me and entertained me.  I now better understand my life as a journey to some destination I’m constantly defining, and better understand the role I play in the journeys of others, and they in mine.

I don’t think anybody really know exactly what we mean by “finding” ourselves, but I’m willing to bet I’m on the right track.

Those parts don’t always come across in the updates.  For instance, this morning.  I was sitting at a picnic table, in the shade, beside the pool with a cool breeze behind me.  I was eating breakfast that they cooked right there beside the pool and talking to a couple who I camped beside in Santa Rosa, who ended up having breakfast next to me in Gallup.  We just talked about all kinds of crap, laughed and joked, then wished each other luck on whatever came next.

What a fantastic way to start a day.  But it’s not the kind of thing that would normally make it into an update.

I’ve thought of several kinda flip reasons for this: I like writing funny updates and it’s easier to be funny when there’s something or someone outrageous going on, I can’t (and you wouldn’t want me to) talk about every little thing that happens, it really wasn’t that big a deal.

But I also thought of a real reason.  That breakfast is a part of me now.  I want to hold onto it and see it, smell it, twist it around in my hands and rub my face it in sometimes.

Then there are some other, oh, let’s call them situations, which I’m not so interested in ever taking out again to play with.  There are some situations I want to get rid of, to push out there away from me.

I want to get them, literally, out of my system.

I’m out here surrounded by people who’ve known me for nine minutes.  And that’s assuming we have a particularly intimate relationship, say, server/patron.  The normal outlets people have for blowing off steam are denied me.  So I sometimes do it in these updates.

I don’t mean to harp on bad stuff, but sometimes when I’ve driven for four hours at thirty-seven miles an hour not knowing if I was going to be walking before I got to the next exit and wondering if I was going to be letting down friends who were counting on me to be somewhere at a certain time or if I was destroying something that belongs to someone else and being thousands of miles away from everything and everyone I’ve ever turned to when I needed help…

Well, sometimes when I feel like that I write an update.

I don’t mean to overlook the good stuff, but sometimes when I’ve stood on top of blues mesas and looked out to where the world ends and picked up something that has made it through millions of years just to be here with me right now and I can see details of color and light that go smaller and smaller and then look around at those same colors spilling out in every direction for as far as I can see and everything is magic and wonder and possible…

Well, sometimes when I feel like that, writing an update doesn’t seem so urgent.

Don’t worry about me.  I’m having the time of my life, in every sense of the phrase.

Winslow, AZ – afternoon

Although I did, in fact, stand on the corner for a moment, just to be able to say I’d done it, right now I’m sittin’ in a Denny’s in Winslow, Arizona. Let Glenn Frey write about _that_…

Embarrassingly enough, this is not the first time Denny’s has come to my culinary salvation.  I suppose it’s not so odd, they’re always within spitting distance of the interstate, and they always have parking lots designed to accomodate semis, so I can wheel the RV around pretty good.  I think I’m going to stray away from my safe, secure, roast turkey dinner, though, and try the pork chops.  If this ever gets posted, I survived the experience.

My lips are chapped and my neck is sunburned, because I spent the sunny part of the day wandering around Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  Once again, I fear I’m about to be humbled and frustrated at the limited extent of my ability to describe the day.

First things first.  If you enter the park (it’s two, two national parks in one) from the 40, you’ll go through Painted Desert first.  Now, I had an idea what to expect, the name pretty much says it all.  And besides, I had already been through some incredible scenery all the way through New Mexico.  So I expected the same, but on a grander scale.  I expected reds and pinks and browns of every description, towering, tumbling, and stretching all over the landscape.  What I didn’t expect was blue and purple.  There was white, too, but that was less shocking.  After all, you leave just about anything out in the Arizona sun for long enough and it’ll turn white (except, of course, my face and neck, which opted for red).

A quick interjection: Don’t bother with the Mozzarella Sticks at Denny’s.

Back to blues and whites.  I shot more than three rolls of film today, and was kicking myself for not bringing more.  Yes, yes, there’s more in the RV, but I parked that at the entrance and unhooked little Geo (’cause little Geo is a friend of mine… we get some money and we buy a cheap wi-ine…) to navigate the park.  I’m glad I did, too, although there were a lot of motor homes going through, I felt more comfortable in the Geo.  So anyway, I grabbed my camera bag, which had the film in the camera and three more rolls, and, like I said, I shot all of it.  At first I was cranky I hadn’t brough more, but then I realized that any finite amount of film would not have been enough.  It’s the kind of place where everything you see is the most incredible thing you’ve seen.  Whatever I just took a picture, just let me turn one more corner, and bam, there was something bigger deeper wider clearer, and with more colors, to boot.

If you’re ever out this way, the park is basically a 28 or so mile long road, between I-40 and some state highway (180, maybe?).  Going east to west, you can go through the park one way, then get on the state highway going west which comes back around to the 40.  Not knowing about this little feature (and, besides, I really did prefer driving the Geo in the park), I had parked, unhooked, loaded the Geo and paid to get in when they handed me a map.  Not wanting to have the long drive back through the park to the parking lot without any stops on the way, I did something I do when I killing time in a mall… I only turned right.  With the scenic overlooks and trails pretty evenly spread out left to right, I’d have to drive less than eight minutes at any one time without stopping to see something cool.

NOTE: my turkey dinner is here.  Yes, yes, I know what I said, but I changed my mind right as the server was standing over me.  So sue me.

Biggest disappointment in the park:  Agate bridge.  A petrified tree fell across a sandstone plain that became a wash.  The soft sandstone eroded far more quickly than the hard agatized tree, leaving what apparently was once (according to the plaque there) a one-hundred and ten foot span.  These days, the span looks more like forty feet (they might have built up around one end of the span to provide the walkway and railing), and, even worse, it’s now supported by a concrete construct about twice as bulky as the tree itself.

This kind of “preservation” really sorta pisses me off.  I mean, from a preservation standpoint, what precisely is it they’re preserving at this point?  It’s not a natural wonder anymore, the natural wonder would be whatever beautiful things nature would show us as she tore the tree down.  From a conservation standpoint, there are signs everywhere warning you not to stray from the path because we’ve got a fragile ecosystem, here, and the damage you might do will be multiplied over the eons.  Well, what the hell effect will a fifty foot slab of concrete have?  For that matter, what effect does _paving_ the trails have?  There were several places where the trails were eroding away, tumbling down the inclines to rest beside million year old fossil trees.  Let future archeologists puzzle _that_ one out.

You get the feeling that the only thing they’re really “preserving” here is their ability to sell “Agate Bridge” t-shirts for $19.95 plus applicable sales taxes.

The highlight of the park was the area called Tepees.  Apparently, I was more impressed with them than most people, because there was no where to pull over and park and marvel or take pictures.  (Note: my mother and Bill [who owns the Geo] are not permitted to read the next sentence)  I ended up taking pictures out the window as I drove past.  Hopefully, they’ll turn out okay.

As you might expect, the Tepees are conical rock formations.  But it was the colors.  Brick red at the top, fading to white in the middle, which darkened to an incredible slate blue at the bottom.  Fantastically beautiful, and patriotic to boot.

The Tepees weren’t the most impressive thing at the park, but I absolutely wasn’t expecting anything like them.  The Crystal Forest and the Badlands were the most eye-popping and awe-inspiring, which is precisely waht I expected.

Badlands is a generic terms for areas where erosion behaved more like a vandal than a force of nature.  You can imagine what the Painted Desert Badlands looked like, and you’d be right, but you still can’t prepare yourself for the sight of them.

The Crystal Forest is the area where most of the petrified trees were agatized in such a way that the quartz is very pure, almost a milky translucent.  I tried to get a couple pictures of this effect; I’m afraid they won’t come close to capturing the essence.

But I’m okay with that, and I’m becoming more comfortable with my inability to adequately describe in words what at first seems to be a viewing experience, but, on closer inspection, turns out to be a spiritual one.  No one could have described Painted Desert, or Petrified Forest, to me in a way that captured the effect of seeing them, of being in that place.  And, ultimately, that’s as it should be.  The wonder in not in the spectacle, but in the spectator.

I guess the best way for me to describe the experience is to say this:

You really should go.

Gallup, NM – late night

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now, wouldn’t you?

Heading out the 40 I am, feeling pretty good about life (Santa Rosa provided me with two of the best meals I’ve had on this trip.  A spanish omelette for breakfast, cheese enchiladas for dinner, both in family-type restaurants where the staff knew just enough English to take your order, as long as you didn’t get too fancy ab-libbing off the menu.  Both buried in green chilies, not the canned stuff, but brightly colored and crisp like they might have been attached to stems as recently as that morning.  Green chilies are _so_ much better than the harsh, sharp tasting bell peppers you get at home.  But I digress…), when I notice a billboard for a Chevy Truck dealership and service center in the next little town (by the way, remind me to tell you about the billboards out here).  Now, I’d already come to terms with the idea that I was going to be driving all the way to San Diego while alternating between 45 and 60 miles an hour, depending on whether or not the engine fans were running.  But it crossed my mind that a small town place like this might have a quick opening for me, and I had already discovered that no one uses I-40 except to get their RVs and semis to the West Coast, so I could safely bet someone there had seen these things before…

By the time I’d decided that the billboard was a sign, in the higher sense, I realized that this upcoming town must be at least three times bigger than any New Mexican town I’d yet come across… because it had three exits leading to it.  Being used to one exit per town, I hadn’t paid enough attention to the billboard to know where to turn.

Well, apparently that particular shop wasn’t my destiny.  Because if I was truly meant to turn off, surely I would have noticed where…  Have you ever heard the voice in your head actually trail off? As I was thinking this, there was the Chevy place, big as life just off the next exit.  So what the hell.

The service manager did someting that no one else had yet taken the time to do: actually come out to the RV and listen to it.  A good sign.  He said he had someone who knew these things (another good sign), but they had started their lunch breaks.  I said fine, where should I go eat, and he told me.

I had my third excellent Mexican meal in a row.  Freshly rolled blue corn enchiladas with cheese (the taco may be more popular, but the enchilada is the true Mona Lisa of Mexican cooking).  And the one woman there, who appeared to be hostess, waitress, cook, busser, and cashier, didn’t seem to mind that I kept asking for more iced tea while I read my magazine until time to head back to the service shop.

Everything sounded plausible.  His best RV guy worked on it a while, it was a bitch to figure out what it was (which fit with the fact that the problem had stumped the best mechanical minds in the Mid-West, who for some reason now appear in my head looking like the “See No Evil…” monkeys), but it seemed to be the air compressor (which fit with a known problem that Sue and Bill tried to get fixed before the RV ever left North Carolina).  Parts couldn’t be had for a couple to several days, which we both knew meant I was just going to head to San Diego with it the way it was.  Cool, he’d have them close it up.  I asked if I was doing the right thing by backing off the gas when I heard the squeal.  He said actually, let it squeal, it’s not going to hurt anything any more.  A minute later he was back, with the suggestion that they just cut that one belt off.  I wouldn’t be able to use the air conditioner (which I haven’t been, out of sheer fear, anyway), but the squeal would go away.  I reiterated what he told me, to make sure I heard right: no AC, and no squealing, and I can make it to San Diego.  Bingo bango bongo, seventy bucks later it’s a done deal.

Hopefully, by now you’ve all made your side bets on how many miles up the interstate I got before it started again.  Well, you all lose.

I was still on the on-ramp.

I made those noises that sound fakey in movies, where someone is doing something that’s not quite a guffaw-type laugh, but not quite an out-and-out sobbing cry.  I got myself under some kind of control by the next exit (hell, I had almost 30 miles to do it.  I had to use 1 and the area code to call the place from one exit up the interstate), and called and asked for Freddy, the nice service manager who’d been so helpful.  I politely told him “It’s doing it again,” and even more politely refrained from adding “YOU FUCKING JERKOFF FROM HELL.”  I mean, that wouldn’t have helped anything, right?

Guess what he said.

“Son of a bitch.”

I haven’t laughed that hard in quite a while.  He, apparently having missed my last update, probably thought I was nuts.  Boy, is he gonna laugh when he reads it…  After talking with his RV guy again, he concluded that it was those belts (and here he went into some gobbledegook that could have been a valid point concerning belts and air compressors or might possibly have been the original recipe for my enchilada lunch, for all I knew) and that I could just not worry about the squealing.  Again, I reiterated to ensure I heard correctly (because this process had served me so well, only minutes before, no?), “I can just drive as fast as I want, even with the squealing, and it’ll be okay… I’ll make it to San Diego?”  “No problem,” sez he.

So, here’s where I’m at.  I have done everything I could find a way to do.  I have left a trail of credit card vouchers winding through the heartland (you know why they call it the “heartland?”  Because the brain isn’t there…) as I did my best to buy Susie and Bill a new RV, piece by greasy, icky piece.  I’ve hit the wall.

At this point, I’m just driving.  If I explode in a huge fireball that scatters debris for miles and miles, well, Susie and Bill, you’ll just have to get reimbursed from my estate.  If my ashes end up randomly scattered across the desert states, well, Jonathan and Suzy, I hope you find vacation pastimes aplenty in the fine international airports of San Diego and Reno, respectively.

Sigh.  You would have thought I would have learned by now.

What’s that?  Oh, yeah, the billboards.  I’ve already alluded to the fact that the majority of square mileage in this time zone serves no other purpose than to keep RVs and tractor trailers away from the West Coast for another several days, although I’m not at all sure that the West Coast is using this extra time wisely.  Back home, I’m used to seeing the same kind of billboards over and over, because every couple miles there’s another exit that has a BP station, a Cracker Barrel, a fireworks stand, and a Tanger Factory Outlet Stores mall.  Out here you get similar billboards, for hundreds of miles, advertising the ONE McDonalds in the state, located at some remote exit number that looks more like it might be a zip code (the exceptions to this are the fireworks stands, which seem to occur every fourteen feet on every interstate everywhere except North Carolina.  And, oddly, each one is the largest one in the world).  I’ve seen stuff advertised as far as two hundred and ninety-five miles away (it was a campground in Arizona, lest you think I’m making this stuff up).  Groups of hotels and restaurants have banded together to sell you on Exit 236, the Greatest Exit Anywhere!  And as far as I can tell, the exits only exist so they’d have a place to build their hotels and restaurants.

Okay.  I can tell when it’s time to go to bed when my paragraphs start looking like, well, like that last one there…

Santa Rosa, NM – afternoon

First of all, two apologies.

The first goes to everyone looking for an update when there wasn’t one here.  I made two abortive attempts to write one yesterday, but hated them.  We’ll talk more about this later.

Secondly, I’d like to publicly apologize to New Mexico for callously clumping it with Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas as “those big useless square states” (although to be honest, Texas had some good points and Oklahoma wasn’t _too_ bad; I guess it’s really just Kansas I’m pissed off at).  New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Now, I’d seen pictures of mesas and buttes in National Geographic and stuff; big old two page fold-out pictures of some natural wonder caliber butte.  Somehow I ended up with the idea that there’s, like, six of these things holed up in national parks throughout the southwest.  Not so.  Turns out they’re all over the place: you can’t swing a dead armadillo without hitting mesas and buttes (yes, I’m now acquainted with roadkill on the half shell).  And they’re just… really pretty.

See, this is why I keep throwing away updates.  I cannot communicate.  I have several fantastic things I want to tell you about (I watched a lightning storm for more than a hundred miles, I looked down into the “Blue Hole,” a natural spring so clear you can see the bottom, 81 feet below, I saw jagged sandstone rock faces with more reds, browns, and pinks than I knew existed, and I have an SVGA graphics adapter…), things that will stick with me forever, and what do I come up with for the update?  How do I express the awe and wonder, the feeling of being larger than life in the face of graphic evidence of just how insignificant I really am?

“Really pretty.”

A girlfriend or two ago, I was asked why I tended only to write songs just after I’d broken up with someone.  I answered that it was because the language of happiness and joy was so under-developed when compared to the language of misery and loathing.  I wondered at the time, and still do, if I really meant _the_ language or just _my_ language.

Whichever, looking over my updates, it appears little has gotten better.  I seem able to describe the things I hated so much more vividly than the things that changed me for the better.

For eample, the thunderstorm.  I first saw it shortly after I left Amarillo.  Now, this might sound strange, but I’d never seen a thunderstorm before.  Obviously, I’d been _in_ them, but you can’t see them from underneath, it’s like looking at the back of the Mona Lisa.  And even if you could, it’s all wet and noisy out there, so you’d just go indoors, anyway.  But this time, I saw the whole thing in the distance; thunderhead, lightning bolts, hazy, foggy sheets of rain.  It’s kinda flat out here, and I figured that it must have been ten or twenty miles away.

Turns out I was off by, oh, an order of magnitude. I drove for almost one hundred miles watching this storm take up more and more of the sky in front of me.  Lightning changed from tiny flashbulbs to incredible pillars than looked tangible enough to actually support the thunderhead.  And if you’ve never seen a thunderhead, I’m not going to be able to describe it.  A huge black anvil that goes all the way up to God.

And as I kept driving, and it kept consuming more and more of the world that existed for me at that point, it became obvious that I was heading directly through the middle of it.  From Texas, it was just this little thing, you could hold it in your hand, a perfectly formed, tiny little model of weather that a particularly ingenious earth science teacher might have whipped up in a beaker somewhere.  Almost two hours later, it was on me, over me, around me… blotting out the sky and collapsing all my horizons on top of me.

Part way there, I had pulled over in a rest area and wasted some film trying to get pictures of lightning (clearly, this Ansel Adams fellow is a charlatan using whiteout in the developing room, but that’s not important right now).  The storm now looked about the size of a large painting, as viewed from the middle of an average room.  It was approaching sunset, and the thunderhead had already thrown us into shadow, from fifty or more miles away.  It had gotten noticeably colder, and the wind had picked up.  The only sounds were engines going by on the Interstate, but even those seemed eerily swallowed up by the air.

Presented with this spectacle, offered the chance to gain some kind of perspective on a larger level than I ever had before, what words of wonder, awe, appreciation, and terror came to my mind?

“Son of a bitch.”

That was it, the sum total of my feeble brain’s reaction to this living natural wonder.  I got back in the RV and continued helplessly towards the thing, and my brain repeated, at intervals, “Son… of a _bitch_.”

Fast forward, the next day (today, as it turns out) and I’m standing on a rock that juts out over the face of the Blue Hole, an artesian spring sixty feet across and eighty one feet deep, with water so clear you can make out details all the way down.  Scuba divers come from all over to be certified here.

So I’m staring down, through who knows how many ages of geological time in the rock walls, into a deep blue pool that looks like it could be the body of either life or death, take your pick, and what am I thinking?

“Son of a bitch.”

It was a slightly different “son of a bitch,” a lighter, more matter-of-fact one than the confronting-mortal-insignificance “son of a bitch” from the night before.  But still, there it was.  I’m reminded of at least two different comedians who had routines about the multiple uses of the word “dude,” depending on inflection. Matter of fact, there’s a scene in the movie _BaseketBall_ where the entire conversation (except the punchline) consists of various phrasings of the word “dude.”

But I’m disappointed in myself.  I expect better than that from me.  Of course, this is the United States in the ’90s, so I could probably just blame my parents and the public school system.  Too bad I didn’t go to private school, I could probably get pretty litigious about the whole affair.

Ah, well, trying to move forward I realize, that, however it started, I _did_ tell you about the Blue Hole and the storm, didn’t I?

Well, son of a bitch.

El Reno, OK – late night

In what seems to be shaping up as a trend, I gave a mechanic a fistful of money today and he failed to actually fix the problem.

I mean, it’s nominally better than it was.  Now the roaring and being limited to 45mph is interspersed with short stretches where I can go as fast as I want (for instance, the first several miles out of the service center’s parking lot).  But it’s still not right.

I don’t know what the deal is.  Maybe I’ve got “dickweed” written all over me, and they know I haven’t clue one about things automotive (or maybe they read the last couple updates, and were just waiting for me to come through town while eyeing expensive catalog merchandise).  Maybe they see the NC license plates, and know I’m on a trip and will therefore be miles away before I discover their treachery.

Or maybe everything went to hell all at once and each of these guys is fixing the next most obviously busted item going down the line (or, he just realized in horror, maybe something still broken is _causing_ all this other stuff, meaning I might have to replace some of them _again_…).

So the beautiful sights I saw today?  I-135, the inside of a Wichita RV repair shop (amazingly, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’ve made it sound…), I-35, and I-40.

On I-40, about 10 miles before the exit just off of which I’m camped, there was a sign that said: “HITCHHIKERS MAY BE ESCAPING INMATES.”  I got worried only after I stopped being curious whether they meant the hitchhikers may be inmates who are escaping, or that hitchhikers may be escaping from inmates attempting to take them hostage.  Either way, there was now good reason to believe that there were inmates about, and, whether they were escaping or taking hostages at the moment, I wanted no part of them.

There was a young kid at the desk when I checked in at the campground, he asked for the typical name and address.  When I told him the town he said “Simpsonville?  That sounds scary.  Lots of crime there?”  I’m thinking, right, in South Carolina we taxi our criminals to the suburbs, rather than forcing them to thumb a ride.  I managed to complete the check-in procedure without issuing him the beating he so richly deserved, that should count for something.

And by the way, where’s all my email?  Oh, sure, everybody’s my pal when it’s all laughy-pants time, I hit a few rough spots and all of a sudden all I’m getting is notes from my mom and pornography advertisements (not in the same letter, typically, mercifully).

Tomorrow looks like today, only perhaps hotter and with more humidity.  Seeing as how the overworked engine has me frightened of what what might happen if I do something foolish like turn on the air conditioner, my joy at this outlook is no doubt clear to you all.  I hope to make it to the Albuquerque area, hitting Arizona they day after.

And another by the way, do we really need all these big square states out here?  Did you know there’s almost four hundred miles of Kansas?  And I’d had my fill after about seven of them, thank you very much.  Now I look at maps of New Mexico and Arizona, and my mind cries “why?”  If you discount such chilling road signs as “Next Services 183 Miles,” the only thing these states have shown me that I can’t get at home is roadkill the size of my sofa.  That’s why you only drive west in an RV or a semi: buffalo just shrug off Toyotas.

Okay, I think I’m babbling at this point (although there _are_ buffalo here.  The same sign that proudly proclaims it as the state animal also advertises the restaurant where you can eat some of it on a bun with fries.  Rather a carnivorous lot, here in the Plains states).

Salina, KS – afternoon

Roberta Verona’s (RV, get it?  Hey, don’t blame me, Susie and Bill did it.  Susie mostly, I’m betting) health status is still unknown, and that has caused some serious changes in my plans.

First of all, my main goal is now to get to San Diego on time, because I’m meeting Jonathan’s plane out there and I’m his hotel for the Comic-Con International.  Also, the San Diego show was one of the big reasons I took this trip when I did, it’s a place I want to be and it’s something I’ve already paid for.

From where I am, there’s really nothing on the map until Denver, which is a solid eight hour drive under the best of circumstances.  Getting help between here and there is not something I want to have to count on.  The situation west of Denver is equally bleak until you get to Las Vegas.

So I’m throwing away the itinerary and heading South to Wichita, about two hours away, then south to Oklahoma City, another three hours beyond.  Then west on 40 where I’ll have Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, then down to the 10 at Phoenix.  Every one of those places should have some resources for me, should I need them.  I’m no longer going to even try to estimate where I’m going to be on a particular night.  I actually wish I hadn’t paid in advance for tonight here in Salina, I’d rather be on my way to Wichita right now.

Hell with it, spilled milk.  I’m not in a real great mood right now, either.  The frustration has pretty much given way to anger, and I don’t have a good place to direct it.  Susie and Bill had the RV checked out before I ever picked it up, it’s not their fault.  And the backward-assed yokels around here, have, to a person, been extraordinarily kind and have at least appeared to do everything they could to help, it’s not their fault.  It’s damn sure not _my_ fault.

Some of you know I’ve been trying to grow my spiritual side here recently, and have heard me say things like “everything happens for a reason,” and “we can’t control situations, but we can control our response to them.”

Yeah, well, the reason this happened is that life sucks, Mother Nature’s a bitch, and American engines aren’t worth a crap.  And I would be controlling my response to this much better if I had tequila and firearms, big-assed, high-caliber firearms.

I’ll be okay.

I guess.