On The Road (Day Six)

A guy, a gal and a dog set off to see a large chunk of this great nation.

Follow the rest of Noah and Grace's travels here.

The trip back to Hollywood from Austin started relatively luxuriously. We didn’t get going until about 10am, when we dropped by a large gourmet grocery for smoothies, artisanal soaps and some kale. The shopping list was like a depressurization chamber to recalibrate for Los Angeles. Grace took the first leg driving, starting the long trip across almost all of Texas. Austin-to-L.A. is about 24 hours total, including a couple of stops. The plan was to stay in Lordsburg, New Mexico, a sleepy little “town” that’s mostly just a few motels and a couple rusty pieces of farm equipment. It’s like a Wim Wenders movie with a little Straight Story thrown in for good measure. Much like the drive between Cincinnati and Texas, we were only a few hours in before we started talking about going all the way through.

It wasn’t that we were itching to get home so much as we didn’t want to get itchy staying in a questionable motel. There was something bittersweet about the end of the trip, and perhaps staying out on the road for another day would’ve just felt like delaying the inevitable, a snooze button for our journey. We both had work obligations that would start within only hours of our planned return, so avoiding an extra eight hours at a motel would actually give us a little wiggle room to relax, even if it meant being extra exhausted by the straight drive. Since Grace had handled the long North-South journey in one swoop, Noah took it upon himself to handle going West, the young man. At the very start of Noah’s turn at driving, he got the feeling that we might be in Fort Stockton so he immediately exited to find a shack he once ate at that he though might be called Gloria’s. It may or may not have had burritos. We were about 130 miles from Fort Stockton but did end up listening to “Canned Heat” while inching our way down a one lane rock top. We’d gone from freeway to two-lane to unincorporated county roads, feeling like it was good we took a Jeep and as if we’d covered all our terrestrial bases.

The final jerky.

Driving through Texas and most of the Southwest is pretty fucking boring, especially along Interstate 10. All the majesty of the Utah and Colorado mountains is gone, replaced by a distinct sense of methamphetamine and dust. It’s meditative, sure, but not in a magical way, more with an Alien-stasis vibe. You just sort of zone out, knowing that people very genuinely don’t belong in that place. It’s too hot, too windy, too salty and too Republican to get anything done. The car, the air-conditioning, the podcast, they’re all artificial, protecting us from the triple-digit degrees and the eyes in the hills. Veteran road-trippers Tim and Karrie League had suggested that we jam on Interstate 40, which toys with famous Route 66 and is a little further North. That I-40 includes the famous Turquoise Trail and the Grand Canyon. We must’ve felt froggy whether we knew it or not, because we had committed to the straight-shot of the 10 even before we said we’d drive through without stopping.

Grace had some work to do so Noah took over in the late afternoon, somewhere just outside of El Paso, that part of Texas where your phone starts roaming on a Mexican cellular network. It was just after midnight when we made our only major stop of the trip, Tucson, Arizona. Starved and on the brink of exhaustion, we made the happy mistake of asking the Internet for a hamburger after-hours on a weekend. The next thing we knew, we were braving the 4th Avenue corridor, Tucson’s main artery for nightlife, looking for any number of joints that would give us a quick bite. We ended up at “Bumstead’s” a surprisingly quiet bar/restaurant on that main drag. Grace ordered a martini and was promptly told they “don’t have the other thing, not the gin, but the…” They didn’t have vermouth. It was a brown-liquor kind of joint. The menu is a long list of  junk food, rife with puns. Noah had a “Bat Out of Hell” meatloaf sandwich on marble rye and Grace had a “Mullatino” burger. They came with bags of chips (Funyuns for Noah) and were deliciously unhealthy. Galvanized by beef-fat and close to the halfway mark, we drove on.

Marble rye is basically heroin to a New York Jew. 

Starting at about two in the morning, Noah decided to get all Leo (Da Vinci, not DiCaprio) with his sleep schedule. Every hour or so, we’d pull over to the side of the road, a rest stop or gas station, often just the wide shoulder of a quiet part of the highway, and snooze for fifteen or twenty minutes. It turned out that this polyphasic stuff really works, along with copious amounts of coffee, cigarettes and episodes of Snap Judgement. It was somewhere outside of Phoenix that we realized that Snap Judgement is the new This American Life, which may be the most Bourgeois thing we’ll ever come to terms with. At some point we agreed on a Radiolab, but Grace said something about Moth that was unsavory. We thought we knew ourselves through our podcasts, but the trip has obviously changed us. We just don’t know who we are anymore after all this rambling, dear reader. Grace did manage to sneak out an airplane bottle of Booker’s bourbon somewhere in Arizona, so at least our Thelma and Louise dream was solidified.

Next time we take Grace's car.

We got back to Hollywood around 8:30 in the morning, crashing on the California King. It wasn’t the drive that had spent Noah, it was the quick acclimation to the cat-naps. We slept for four or five hours and got up, happy to have a little bit of a day to get reacquainted with Tinseltown. In another couple days we’ll post our epilogue, the reflection on the trip, how we handled it and each other, which is really just how Grace managed to not kill Noah.