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The Move West

[1]

I woke up one morning with Eva and went to Bath to get a 16-foot moving van with an attached car carrier. The idea was simple enough: pack our entire history together: Japan, the years on the Asian route, the possessions and memories and shared experience—pack all that up along with any other baggage we have been hauling around from previous lifes—then meticulously pack it all into a Penske moving truck and ball that jack clear across the entire country, three thousand one hundred and ninety miles all the way from Northampton, Pa. to Monterey, Calif. — do that while also making it there in one piece, incurring as little debt or expense as possible, and then upon arrival into the unknown, picking up from there in terms of life and experience and making it in the world—and then have a go at it, at life.

I have a general dissuasion from driving cars. My luck with the things is pretty lousy. The last time I owned a car was in 2007. I was 23 and he was my fourth, car that is—no homo or anything :: Tiger Woods; my car with so much hail damage it resembled a golf ball. ‘Hey, here he is drivin’ up now it’s Tiga Woods, y’all.’ :: I wasn’t really going for that, but maybe I’d make the joke once. Anyway, the point is that I was 23 and TW was my FOURTH car. Now, this was not by my fault but through sheer circumstance that I plowed my way through so many automobiles in the, what?, eight years since I was first legally allowed to drive a car. The first was stolen. A second recommandeered by a father stricken with circumstance as well, the third a hapless victim of a hit and run that ultimately ended its life when the engine hood flew up as we cruised down Highway 71 in Harrison, Mo. going 60 or 70 mph, smashing in the windscreen and then bending right over the roof of the car and smashing up the moonroof as well, the hood —it was a pretty horrifying thing to have happen to you whilst in control of an automobile. What’s also horrible to deal with is the fourth way in which I lost a car, which is when the car you are driving collides at high speed into the rear quarters of a deer. I saw it once in the headlights and then OH MY GOD!!! and slam on the brakes and the deer I saw lit up like Lady Gaga on some great neon crucifix and next thing you know and it’s BLAM! You can’t even think of anything else. There’s no to time to think and any other decision you could have made will matter not anymore. The air will smell acrid, like gunpowder and smoke. There will be a chokey haze of particulate that you suffer to breath through and you will think: the Car Is On Fire. This smell is because of the airbags, which each deployed. And you will be so bewildered that you just stumble out of the car and not even have the wit to put the motherfucker in park before you start to climb out and cling for your life. The doe, she’s lying there choking in a pool of her own blood, black eyes bleating for help. This is exactly the point where I see her and make good, solid eye contact, like man to beast, and witness the poor doe’s end as she gets churned round-and-round the axle of a 18-wheeler that wasn’t stoppin’ for no one – this is all absolutely true, by the way, I’m not even trying to make shit up – I had to listen to the tow truck driver’s war stories about how sometimes folks hit buck and antlers go in through the windows and impale the car’s front’s occupants so they can watch the fallen buck try to wriggle free as they all bleed out into death – I was lucky, the tow driver says.

So you can see why I have an aversion to driving.

One of the many economies at stake when moving across the United States is money. We had some of it, but not enough to make it seem affordable to hire movers and fly the vast distance from American coast to coast. But I hate airplanes too, and that’s an entirely different story. The overland journey is quintessential. The luxury of flight also disfigures the sense tremendous distance traveled.

Overland you are face to face with god and nature and man.

I was looking forward to going west, by automobile, back to my beloved Pacific Ocean. The great American road trip indeed.

The woman at the truck rental office in Bath was sweet, but she didn’t have a clue about how to operate a 16-foot moving truck or the trailing four-wheel car carrier. She just threw me the keys and said have at it. I began to call the moving truck Bessy as soon as I realized she took to Pennsylvania’s hills like a vegan to a cheesesteak. I’d have to coax her up the hills like an old wasted pioneer, like, ‘C’mon, old Bessy, you can make it, just push on a little longer.’

And this is a moving truck that when loaded with the temporal possessions of two almost thirtysometings and towing Eva’s crotchety red Pontiac Sunfire to boot, the weight of the rig is considerable. More than a few tons, easily, of weight. And this is just a Penske truck. It ain’t no semi tractor trailer.

Imagine how it must have been for settlers moving west overland, in wagons and carriages.

Even with Bessy’s hardworking gasoline engine, it was an ordeal to make it up’round about DuBois, where we reached the highest point on I-80 east of the Mississippi. For nearly a week I would wonder about the equivalent on some towering peak somewhere west of the iconic river that divides the east from the heartland of America, the midwest.

I gave Eva The Fear one day when we were in the car back in Kansas and we were driving down the same stretch of road where I ended that doe, Highway 71. I told her the deer story back when we were on the road in Asia, and now after speeding through the American midsouth in a great arc of travel, stopping there only to collect some belongings and pay visit to old friends from before the years I was away, we were on the way to Springfield, Mo. where my brother was in residence at university. She drove through the night scared shitless, Eva. And I was out of my mind as well, for I had smoked a Du Bois myself and was caught up in horrible flashbacks of the entire smashup. This went on into the night until we made it to my brother’s place and crashed for the night upon a bed of garbage.

That old Fear was conjured up again at the sight of all the mangled deer corpse that litter Pennsylvania’s Interstate 80. You can’t hold it against the deer, really. There is a direct reference in the state’s name to its general woodsyness. Like it says, Penn’s Woods is a real life forest. And plenty of deer live in the forest. And plenty of them meet their end along the interstate. We drove slowly and prayed for good things to happen.

It was only a few hundred miles out, but as soon as we made it out of Pennsylvania and into Youngtown on the Ohio boarder we pulled into a Motel 6 and tucked in until sunrise.  

[2]

I had a birthday yesterday and everything seemed good with life. It’s been nearly a week now since we’ve moved into our new apartment in Pacific Grove, Calif. And nearly two weeks ago we first set out on the road west.

The entire way across the country I kept marveling at its sheer immensity and drastic, encompassing landscapes, America’s. And I kept on going back to pioneer images and thoughts of homesteaders and settlers and natives all heading west in a grand Kerouacian journey across this land.

Eli mentioned once about how once you get going out in the west, the population becomes inversely proportional to land – the density of people is low and the abundance of land is prolific. As we drove through the forests and hills of the American east, we saw a lot of life. Humans have etched out little cities for themselves between hillsides and riverbanks all along great swaths of eastern America. Once you get out west, in places like Nebraska or Wyoming you’ll travel great distances to reach the next encampment of humans along the road – and when you do, you think, What the hell are people doing living out here? Like, what do they DO to get by?

Then I think about Australia the continent and how it’s roughly the same size as the contiguous United States. But the interior of Australia, the outback they may call it, is inhospitable and desolate – a testament to the country’s population as well; for the United States is the third most inhabited place on Earth and there is evidence of the nation’s great populace visible even in our most unforgiving of lands.

The date of our move was peculiar too, the twenty first of May, two aught eleven. This day was highly advertised to be something called The Rapture. Some man in California, a preacher or similar religious authority, claimed he pinpointed the exact date of the rapture to this very day, at precisely 6:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

I feel with certainty that any sort of divine armageddon will not consider the man-made concept of time zones when deciding to let all hell reign upon us. So when I read a message from a girl I know in Malaysia saying it was seven in the morning the next day and she hadn’t seen no rapture… I thought, Ahhh, right. God is totally waiting until 6 p.m. American PST to let the shit start hitting the fan.

It makes total sense – all those Christians in Malaysia will just have to sit through a day and a half of purgatorial waking life until the Americans catch up with the rest of time. And then when you think how the state Alaska is about the farthest behind the times when you consider the International Dateline. When you think about it that way, Sarah Palin starts to make more sense in terms of where she’s coming from, contextually.

And like I said before, we were up’round about DuBois when it was 6 p.m. in the east, in Pennsylvania. And all these dead deer on the road could have been an omen that the rapture was to come. Also around that time there were scattered reports of 13-year locusts coming out of their epic hibernation and swarming the land in biblical proportions. That might also have been like a warning sign. But 6 p.m. American EST is three hours ahead of the man preaching of a rapture in California. We had to wait until 9:01 p.m. EST before we knew shit was gonna be all right.

[3]

States like Ohio are a testament to my theory that America is just one big farm with a few cities plopped in between. It seemed to never end, the vast swaths of farmland. By the end of the day it is possible we saw the majority of all the corn being grown in America. This country has a lot of cars and nearly four million people. But definitely more corn than anything else.

There is a film called Food Inc. that says as much, that in fact we grow so much corn in the US that people are actually paid to come up with new ways to use the corn. Corn can be found in everything from ketchup to toothpaste (in a compound called Maltodextrin, i think).

Ohio is only one of four US states where more than 50 percent of the land is considered “prime farmland.”

You’d think with all the corn around, they’d make more of an concerted effort to turn it into fuel. The technology exists, and most gasoline stands sell a product that is at least 10 percent ethanol.

I’ve gone off the deep end and I’m lost in the Wikipedia abyss. Right now, this seems interesting and also sort of relevant:

Ethanol fuel is widely used in Brazil and in the United States, and together both countries were responsible for 88 percent of the world’s ethanol fuel production in 2010.[2] Most cars on the road today in the U.S. can run on blends of up to 10% ethanol,[3] and the use of 10% ethanol gasoline is mandated in some U.S. states and cities. Since 1976 the Brazilian government has made it mandatory to blend ethanol with gasoline, and since 2007 the legal blend is around 25% ethanol and 75% gasoline (E25).[4] In addition, by December 2010 Brazil had a fleet of 12 million flex-fuel automobiles and light trucks and over 500 thousand flex-fuel motorcycles regularly using neat ethanol fuel (known as E100).[5][6][7][8]

High ethanol blends present a problem to achieve enough vapor pressure for the fuel to evaporate and spark the ignition during cold weather (since ethanol tends to increase fuel enthalpy of vaporization[33]). When vapor pressure is below 45 kPa starting a cold engine becomes difficult.[34] In order to avoid this problem at temperatures below 11 ° Celsius (59 °F), and to reduce ethanol higher emissions during cold weather, both the US and the European markets adopted E85 as the maximum blend to be used in their flexible fuel vehicles, and they are optimized to run at such a blend. At places with harsh cold weather, the ethanol blend in the US has a seasonal reduction to E70 for these very cold regions, though it is still sold as E85.[35][36] At places where temperatures fall below -12 °C (10 °F) during the winter, it is recommended to install an engine heater system, both for gasoline and E85 vehicles. Sweden has a similar seasonal reduction, but the ethanol content in the blend is reduced to E75 during the winter months.[36][37]

So that’s why you don’t see more than 10 percent ethanol most places — colds starts. That’s a shame. Because if more engines could run on higher ethanol saturated fuels, the cost of filling up the tank would drop, and since we’re only in Ohio and we’ve seen more corn than people four about two hundred miles now you’d think there would be a strong case to push biofuels. (Though an argument against biofuels is that you’re taking food away from people’s mouths. I can see the point, but I don’t think the US is hurting for corn, I wager that we export the grain in insane quantities.) There are a surplus of autos on the road with us though, and we’re all burning through gasoline like it’s cold beer on a hot day.

Filling up the truck’s 35 gallon (132.489 L) tank grew to be akin to walking into a malodorous living room, or like when someone farts and it really smells – it’s a shock at first, the unpleasant sensation, but eventually you just get used to it and carry on with things.

The first time we spent $100 USD on a single trip to the gas station I may have threw up in my mouth a little, what with the shock of being ass raped for a hundred dollars and all. And that didn’t even fill up the tank. There is evidently some kind of governor on the fuel pump that caps the output at a maximum of one-double-zero. So be nearly on E and then lose a C-note on gas and not even have the small gratifier of seeing that little orange needle rise all the way up to F – that sucks. But like what sucks even more is that we just got used to it. We had to get out west, there was no turning back. We simply has to stop considering the money, for the sake of our mental health.  

[4]

And the weather grew strange and hostile. Which is a shitty way to open a piece of writing, talking about the weather, but I actually do think it’s worth discussing. For the United States of America plays host to climactic events that inspire both incredible shock and awe.

We began to catch the rains as we roared around the southern edge of Chicago, on I-80, a far reaching swath of road that almost spans American coast to coast. I think it was a Sunday. We couldn’t shake the rain. It grew heavy as we entered Iowa. It was my turn to drive. I used to live in Kansas, which in terms of contiguity is not far from the slow rolling hills of Iowa. Kansas and its neighboring states are geographically located in what colloquially is known as Tornado Alley.

So when the late afternoon sky changed from a rainy shade of gray to an ominous yellow green, I told Eva to use the Internet on the phone to see where the storm would hit. I know a tornadic weather system when I see it.

The wind picked up and rain fell down in volumes that would fill Olympic swimming pools. The Internet said the storm was moving north and east. We travelled due west.

Because the afternoon sun was up there somewhere beyond the clouds, visibility was not an issue. Our greatest enemy was the wind. The truck, Ole Bessy, was due for a realignment. Keeping her on a straight path was an operation even during normal conditions. She is also the most unaerodynamic and graceless beast on the road, Bess. So to keep her driving in between the lines on the road while north-blowing winds pummeled our broadside so hard we could hear, from inside the cab with the windows up, the metallic phwack of thin metal siding being raped by the violent wind — it was difficult, the driving. The clobbering wind sounded like if you took a giant handsaw by one end and phwacked it with every ounce of your strength in front of a microphone at unpredictable intervals, like if you were trying to scare young children with a cruel and menacing noise.

At some point our speed was reduced to a mere 40 mph. Other cars and trucks zoomed past us, racing into the storm and fate unknown.

Like all things, the storm came to and end. We were treated with a spectacular midwestern sunset. I’ve traveled around in my twenty seven years. I’ve sat on perfect beaches at the end of the world and watched the sun melt out of the sky in slow, pyroclastic dramas of fiery orange and crimson known only to the eyes of a lucky few. And the sunsets of America’s midwest are still, undoubtedly, the most beautiful on earth.

But while we avoided disaster, others were not so lucky. We ended up driving right in between two major tornado systems, one of which spawned in the state of Minnesota, the other, to the south, decimated the town of Joplin, Missouri with the deadliest tornado America has seen in more than six decades.

[5]

And then we were in Omaha.

On the news reports of carnage and destruction from Joplin dominated headlines. We sat at Cracker Barrel, an institution of the American road if there ever was one – a traveler’s restaurant serving country-style USA fare: things like meatloaf, macaroni & cheese, grits & biscuits, fried okra, chicken & dumplings; it’s all very bad food, both in terms of heath and deliciousness – we read newspapers and smoked cigarettes on rocking chairs.

I told Eva what I knew about Omaha. It’s the hometown of two old girlfriends of mine, so I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time in the city, which rests on the precipice between central USA’s rolling hills and the Great Plains to the west.

Omaha has a a lovely historic downtown made of lots of old bricks. From there the city extends west into the far extremities of American exurban grandeur. You can drive in a straight line west in Omaha and watch the numbered streets grow at preposterously exponential rates. You can be on like 158th street and still have not arrived at your destination, having driven all the way from 3rd.

And it’s amusing because as you travel through urban, suburban and on into exurban Omaha you’ll see the city start to literally repeat itself. You will see McDonald’s and Chili’s and Applebee’s and Home Depot and Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond and every conceivable institution of American mass capitalism :: and then you drive twenty blocks and you’ll see a fresh round of McDonald’s and Chili’s and Applebee’s and Home Depot and Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond :: and then you drive twenty more blocks and …

… It will take you a while to escape it all.

But once you’re out. There won’t be much of anything for the next 11 or 12 hours.

There will be farms so huge entire cities could fit within their vast acreage. You will see cattle grazing the pastures. You will see feed lots. The air will smell at times like fresh, pungent fertilizer. The signs on the road will indicate huge distances between you and the next settlement of people. Some highway exits will mystify: Ex. 234A – Bougainville. NO SERVICES. Population: two. Plus cows.

Suddenly agri-business will start to make more sense. They might as well do something with all this land. Farming on a mass scale seems like the only real option.

Eva was at the wheel, making good time. We marveled at the lonely golden plains set beneath perfect blue sky. The clouds were cumulous, like celestial pillows for the heaven’s seraphs.

Though it’s beautiful and bucolic, Nebraska is a bitch of a state. It just never ends. The long, non-curving stretches of Interstate 80 make it possible to accel to great speeds, and yet hours become meaningless. Time starts to revolve around measurements of one hundred miles. I looked at the Nebraska map after Eva asked how far we have come. My answer: About a thumb. On the map. A hundred miles. Enough time to listen to Adele’s 21 and Mumford & Son’s Sigh No More all the way through, bonus tracks included, and at least one half of another record of my choosing.

If I never hear those records again it will be okay because Eva had me listen to them about a hundred times as we journeyed west. If I hear them any more I may grow to dislike them.

After about two and a half thumbs, Eva gave me the wheel. We were entering the nub, the little bit of Nebraska that sticks out above northeastern Colorado. It began to rain when we stopped for ice cream. After a day of unbeatable weather, the skies one again grew dark, ominous. Rain. Heavy rain. Darker still the sky. The lightning came with blackening heavens. It was like the sun was extinguished. The middle of the afternoon and it looked as if it were midnight. It was a perfect canvas upon which to paint a lightning storm. Never have I seen such incredible lightning. Like fireworks, it crackled in the air. Chain lightning. A plasmatic string of electricity in the sky, lightening it in places for a fleeting moment. Then from somewhere nearby, another flash. If I were epileptic it may have induced a seizure, the lightning. Rain pummeled us in heavy bursts, like violent waves breaking on a shore. We slowed to a crawl. I could barely see anything before me. Even the highest speed of the windshield wipers was not fast enough to keep the rain at bay. More lightning. Eva said she was scared. I tried to comfort her, told her the system was not tornadic. While this looks scarier, we were in more danger the day before when we drove underneath a wall cloud in Iowa.

Our goal to hit Cheyenne, Wyoming by the end of the day was shot. We were beaten by mother earth and her tremendous nature. We stopped in an unremarkable nub town close to the state border to wait out the storm and the coming night.  

[6]

And where are we now, after the storm?

Roll the ball up hill, each day get a little closer to the top. And then finally you can’t get any higher, the days can get no longer, and we now just coast on & on & on into life, love, death, rebirth, chilly, hot, winter, spring … 

:: days ::

We hit the solstice and now days will grow shorter and shorter and we can sit back and reflect on the journey and all.

I live in a place called Pacific Grove, California. The apartment I’ve rented at a reasonable sum. Like I think I can work minimally and still make rent. Which is nice, because I haven’t worked in about a year, in terms of selling time to a place/man/institution in exchange for legal tender currency. My rent is more than I’ve ever had to pay before, but still several hundred dollars less than what I imagined it would be before getting into a 16-foot Penske moving van and driving the 3,000 miles out here to the Monterey Bay. This drive was nerve wracking in a number of ways, but especially because the entire time we drove west, we were without a residence, as in, like, we had no place to move into.

But we found one, a place, without too much ado. It’s a little one-bed-room on the top of a hill overlooking the water. We get a lot of windy days and sometimes the sky is grey but usually blue and sunny.

The other day we had come off a spell of a couple grey ones and the weather beckoned. Do you ever feel like that? Like you go outside to do something and you realize: Yes. This is where I need to stay. Being inside would be silly. I must soak in this all.

 I feel that way sometimes.

Eva’s dad gave me a mid-1970s’ road bike that hung in his garage unused for some time. Its 27 inch tires are hard to come by these days, said the guy at the bike shop on the corner who gave it a once-over for me after I purchased from him a helmet and cable lock for $70 USD. ‘The wheels are true. And the breaks aren’t worn yet.’ is what he said. Though he did offer to tune it up for me for $60. I told him I’d come back another time, probably when I’ve broken something. The bike is maroon and says SHOGUN on the frame. It’s Japanese. It has handlebars that drop out, and to effectively break you definitely have to ride over the handlebars in that way you ride when you’re going for aerodynamics and speed. Otherwise you won’t be able to break and will fall victim to vehicular manslaughter because the drivers in California don’t fuck around.

But even the cyclists too, are suspect to road rage.

There is a bike path that runs much further than I’ve ever had the time to explore. It winds along the Monterey Bay’s coast, taking you at least from Carmel-by-the-Sea up to Marina. Maybe even to Santa Cruz. It’s a very scenic bike path. The bay in sections is a marine life sanctuary and in places you can spot sea lions sunning themselves on the beach’s sand. So naturally you’d want to have a look and mayhaps take a photo. And you might use the bike path to get there. Or maybe you’d like to go jogging for good health. The bike path seems good for this too. But some cyclists see it as theirs alone and will berate the pedestrian with profanities as they zoom by in cushioned lycra pants.

Sometime I get confused because our apartment in Pacific Grove is situated on a peninsula that juts out into the bay. But when you look at the water from the end out our street, you are looking north. This is spatially disrupting because being in California, you’re apt to assume that water lies west.

To get to many places of importance, you must ride down the hill and turn right, or east once you hit the water. Going this way will take you to Cannery Row, old Monterey, The Monterey Institute of International Studies, a fisherman’s wharf, bars & restaurants, a taqueria perhaps…

My freelance projects at a lull for the week and my first day serving tables for The Big Shrimp in Texas yet to come — The weather beckoned me.

I got on the cycle and took to the road. I decided to ride only down paths I’d never traversed before, taking a circumambulating route through the small city of Pacific Grove until I came out by Lover’s Point, a nice public space where people make barbecues and girls in bikinis play volleyball in the sand. I stopped for a time and took it all in. The idea of saying here, amongst people and lounging in the sunshine had its appeal. But I was determined to see what lay beyond the park. I cycled onward, the sea to my right crashing upon the rocks in great waves. The wind picked up and the population of cars and people shrank as I ventured out into territory unknown. I thought perhaps it would blow me off my cycle, the wind. I dropped into a lower gear ratio and pedaled uphill and into fierce wind at my broadside.

It reminded me of our journey west in the Penske. After Nebraska the state of Wyoming rose like mountains above an ever-nearing horizon. Off in the golden pastures where herds of cows chomped away, little hillsides were frosted with snow. The scene was picturesque. Wyoming, the desolate frontier of the country’s interior. Utah was just as beautiful. The mountains grew taller and the sky seemed everblue. We saw the Great Salt Lake for a hot twenty minutes or so as we zoomed by. And then we were in the desert. The salt flats. The road was so bleak, so straight and unyielding that there were official signs that warned sleepy motorists to pull over, lest they drift asleep and careen off into the flats. At high speeds we could briefly make out spots where those going slower must have paused to form rocks into words and symbols upon the flats. Things like JAKE + SALLY or E=MC2 or.

At one point the air must have had a particularly high salinity because my eyes grew watery, stingy, like when you cut onions and all you can think to do to calm the intense irritability of your peepers is to stick the old head into the freezer and let cold moist air do its work. This could not happen and I had to pull the van over on the side of the road and regain control of my tear ducts.

I suspected foul play by the military institution situated not far off in the forsaken distance. Who knows what kind of ill some surreptitious weapons tests may have caused.

Once the salt flats are over and you’re some 2100 miles west of Pennsylvania on Interstate 80, you enter Nevada. Nevada is a rugged desert state, one of only two that legally allow gambling in all its forms. There is large casino directly west of the state border line, much like you’ll see with liquor stores amongst the dry/wet counties of USA’s Bible Belt.

I discussed with Eva the merits of pulling over and using our dinner money to win at blackjack. She would have nothing of it. We drove on into Nevada and into the next day. And it was about here where my uphill-against-the-wind bicycle ride mentally coincided with the drive west. For the winds of Nevada are fierce, so fierce in fact that there are digitized signs along the highway warning drivers of highspeed wind gusts. They may as well say Don’t Forget Your Diapers, because shitting one’s pants is absolutely a possibility when balling a truck with ZERO aerodynamic grace broadside into winds gusting at some 40-50 mph.

This was Nevada. And it got worse before it got better, the drive west. But that’s for a different time.

Back in Pacific Grove the wind had blown me off course and into a residential area that reminded me vaguely of the somewhat wooded & low-rent sections of Little Rock, Ark. where my father and sister reside.

I thought maybe I could find a street name of use by riding uphill some more. I didn’t know where I was or what I was looking for. I was literally along for the ride. A street sign caught my eye, Asliomar Boulevard. The name sounded familiar, Asliomar, and I recalled photographically from memory a map of the peninsula and a large section colored with that shade of green ink used to designate parks or public space.

I approached Asliomar State Beach in an odd manner, by making my way through the campus of the Asliomar Conference Grounds – which seem like a lovely place to come together and, you know, confer.

And finally I was back with the ocean. The Pacific winds made for a chilly day at the beach, and huge blobs of alien seaweed lay washed up on the sand like dead bodies. But people made due.

I found a nice little patch of sand upon which to meditate life and earth and kite boarding.

[7]

Nearly six weeks to the day, we arrived in Monterey. The most urgent of pieces of our puzzled new life fell into place easily. We found a good apartment in the town of Pacific Grove, which is nicer than Monterey, but has markedly less of just about everything, comparatively. The 16-foot truck suffered no noticeable damage and we returned it in one piece. Life, it seemed, was getting on nicely.

It was a long journey to the coast and the hardest and most stressful of the days was the last. We were in Reno, a place full of casinos and people glued in front of slot machines at surprisingly early hours of the day.

The idea was to finish our lunch and make a mad dash towards Monterey, driving the final 316 miles in one last great burst of life on the road. The only obstacle between us was a section of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a 7,600 foot pass called Donner’s Pass, right around Lake Tahoe. We had wondered about it with foreboding anticipation, the pass, because of the truck’s great weight and wanting engine.

The sky was heavy and grey as we made the ascent. The fierce wind of the desert planes now gone, replaced with rain. Rain turned into faint snow as we gained altitude. At first it did not lay on the ground, merely melting upon contact. We crossed into the state of California and it was nothing like we imagined, high up on a mountain peak with great rocks and evergreens. We drove through the snow at an incline, the peak no where in sight, the snow falling heavier with each minute of ascent. We made a mandatory stop at the California Agricultural Inspection Station, where our bag of delicious organic apples was confiscated by the authorities because their origin was considered dubious, the apples, which were bought back in Pennsylvania.

The woman who confiscated our apples gave us no indication of what we would find ahead. But merely minutes beyond the Inspection Station our journey came to a halt. A line of cars snaked around a bend, obscured by almost white-out snow, all with their brake lights shining red though the wintery haze. We sat. And waited. The snow fell heavier. I turned off the truck to conserve fuel. I climbed outside to look around. There was a large 18-wheeled shipping truck stopped behind me so I walked towards the driver to see if I could learn something. She said that her radio said that there were multiple accidents due to the snow and that when the road re-opened they would only allow vehicles with snow chains to proceed. This will be hours from now, she said, through long drags off a Marlboro 100.

It was hard to believe we were stopped in traffic in the middle of a snowstorm in California at the end of May, but it was true. The beach could not have seemed any further away.

I sat in the cab and worked a crossword puzzle form yesterday’s paper. Eva smoked cigarettes and tried to use the radio to gain some useful information, to no avail.

All we could do was wait. Our dreams of golden California hills and crisp blue beaches would wait with us upon the mountain with the snow.

Tow trucks came and went, hauling wrecked corpses of automobile down the mountain, like some awful harbinger of the death we would surely meet ahead. 

After about four dull dragging hours, signs of movement from ahead gave us a renewed energy. I put the keys in the ignition and gave them a turn. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. Dead. The truck was powerless. In my effort to save fuel by shutting off the engine, I neglected to turn off the headlights. Since it was still daylight up there above the storm, there was enough visibility to not be able to tell I had left the lights on. It was one of those moments of being shit at life. Eva was pissed. I had to fix the situation immediately. Luckily all I needed was a set of jumper cables and a working engine. These were not hard to come by and what would have been a catastrophe was averted with haste.

However, not long after we began crawling up the mountain again, we were turned around, told that we could not pass unless we had snow chains on the truck. I called the 1-800 number to speak with a road side assistance agent about some chains. He said I was on my own. We headed back down, slowly, to a small mountain town called Truckee where I learned that four sets of chains for the rig would cost about as much as three nights in a hotel.

Defeated by nature, we drove sullenly back down to Reno and found a room with the rest of the folks beaten by the mountain.

We would try again the next day. And we would make it. At last.  

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