04 October 2007

All Across The USA: Coast To Coast In 4.5 Days

The plan was to blog my way across America, but unreliable internet access, unexpectedly long drive times, and a lack of sleep put paid to that.

The only entry I even got started on was titled The Streets Of Laramie, and recounted how I discovered that I'd never actually set foot in Laramie, Wyoming, despite having crisscrossed that state numerous times over the years.

In fact, there were a couple times that I fully planned on stopping there, and once where I even put on my blinker for the exit before changing my mind at the last minute and pushing on to the next town, but ultimately I passed the place by so many times that I forgot it was even on Interstate 80 (the semi-boring coast-to-coast freeway that passes through what has got to be one of the least picturesque sectors of what is otherwise an extremely picturesque state).

I'd somehow got it into my head that Laramie was off somewhere to the north, probably up in the vicinity of where Casper actually is. I'm fairly sure I've never visited Casper, either, but I could be wrong about that. Many of my Wyoming crossings were done in the rather bleary and drug-imbued 1970s.

But this was definitely my first time in Laramie, and it's my new favorite town in Wyoming, not that there was a profusion of contenders for that crown. I used to think it was Cheyenne, but on reflection, realized that I didn't care very much for Cheyenne after all, being infatuated mainly with the name and the fact that it was the closest thing to a genuine urban agglomeration between Salt Lake City and Omaha (okay, maybe Lincoln).

Maybe it's just that I once bought a pair of cowboy boots in Cheyenne that hurt my feet for several years afterward, and if you ask why I didn't simply stop wearing them, it's just that I figured that people from Cheyenne were sure to know more about cowboy boots than I did, that it was most likely my feet that were the problem rather than the boots, and that eventually they (my feet, that is) would adjust themselves.

Didn't happen, however, nor did my appreciation for Cheyenne ever increase, so even though I was running behind schedule on my cross-country hejira, I opted to stop in Laramie this time, mindful, too, of the time when I resisted all portents, including dire warnings from the I Ching, and pushed on past Laramie into the teeth of a winter gale and ended up nose down in a snowdrift at the bottom of a 30-foot cliff.

No snowdrifts this time (though there had been a light dusting a day or two earlier on the higher peaks), but there had been, I found the following morning, some horrendous wind gusts over the 8,640 foot pass that separates Cheyenne from Laramie, and considering how susceptible my rented 12 foot Penske truck was to wind - especially since I'd managed to ignore instructions and pack most of the heavy stuff on one side - chances are I would have ended up over another cliff only this time without the soft snow landing.

So downtown Laramie had a lot of bars, none of which I ventured near, but it also had Grounds, an excellent little cafe catering to hipsters, students, and the occasional punk rocker, offering wireless internet access and staying open till midnight, something you don't that often find in such allegedly cosmopolitan centers as London or SF/Berkeley. Not having arrived in town until after 11 pm, however, I didn't have time to finish a blog post, but I did manage to get a pretty decent meal, again something hard to find at that hour in those aforementioned faux-cities.

I'd hoped to have six days to cross America, allowing me plenty of time for sightseeing and visiting folks along the way, but the packing and - especially - the throwing out of many years' worth of accumulated junk took much longer than expected, so by the time I pulled out of Berkeley, I was a day and a half late, and a visit to my mother's house and the recycling center in El Cerrito (two separate locations, let it be noted) lopped another couple hours off my first day's travel.

So I only made it as far as Elko, Nevada when I'd been hoping for the Utah state line, and from then on it was a game of catch-up all the way. I considered skipping my visit to Hanny, my internet buddy in Lincoln, Nebraska, but fortunately I decided not to, and we had a pleasant walk through downtown and the state capitol, topped off by a pretty darn good Mexican dinner. Yeah, it put me another couple hours behind, but was well worth it.

And just what was the hurry? Well, I'd recruited a posse of van unloaders - Oliver, P Smith and JoeIII - who were expecting to meet me at 10 am Saturday morning, and if I missed that time slot, they'd all be off to the afternoon Steinways show at the mall - yes, at the mall, in Urban Outfitters, if you must know - and I'd be faced with trying to carry things that weighed considerably more than me up three flights of narrow, sagging stairs, and, face it, it wasn't going to happen. Half my furniture would have ended up on the street.

I fully expected that posse or no posse, my ridiculously big desk was never going to make the stairway cut, but with the aid of three strong men and an inch to spare (after I took the drawers out and removed the apartment door), it practically glided into place. In fact, I'm typing on it now. Whether it will ever leave this apartment again is rather another question. The wood matches the floors quite nicely in terms of color, though not in terms of sagginess: in the entire apartment there's hardly more than a few feet of level flooring, and given the number of creaks and other strange noises I keep hearing, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this whole house collapses at some point. It shakes just like a California earthquake whenever a large truck passes by or someone slams the door downstairs. At least I'm on the top floor, so there's not quite so much of it to fall on me.

I had another pleasant rendezvous en route, with Pete Repellent and his lovely partner Simple (formerly Simple81), outside a mini-mall Starbucks in Portage, Indiana, where Pete also insisted on buying me not only a coffee, but my dinner as well. The two of them, the punk rock counterparts to George Burns and Gracie Allen or Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, then provided me with a full-on cavalcade of comic bickering as I dined. Only two people who are truly devoted to each other can be that hilariously vicious.

Then it was back in the Penske saddle for one last marathon day that took me from the Indiana-Ohio state line back home to Brooklyn in about 13 or 14 hours. Northern Ohio looked far prettier than I ever remembered it being (it's still no Michigan, however), and Pennsylvania looked to be even more spectacular, especially at the higher altitudes, where the autumn leaves were approaching their peak. Unfortunately, a rather fearsome storm - the first hint of rain or even clouds all the way across - blew in on me, followed closely by a dramatically sudden nightfall, and I spent the rest of the way - and a rather long way it is, too - across Pennsylvania trying to navigate curves and dodge speeding semis. At one point we reached "the highest point on Interstate 80 east of the Mississippi," some 2800 feet, I believe it was, and were warned of a steep descent ahead. What they didn't tell me was that we'd be going downhill for the next 280 miles, something which I suspect is a physical impossibility, but which nonetheless seemed very much like reality.

The road didn't flatten out until halfway across New Jersey, but now I could see the lights of New York City ahead, and though I'd originally planned to stay outside of town and drive in early in the morning, I thought why waste the money on a motel when I was no more than an hour or two from home?

In principle, anyway; as it turned out I took the wrong exit in Newark and spent a nervous half hour or two blundering through ghetto streets at midnight with pretty much everything I owned metaphorically strapped across my back. After bouncing over some of the worst back roads and collapsing bridges this side of the Third World, I finally made it to the Holland Tunnel - thankfully there was no three-mile-long line like the last time I used the tunnel - only to be told by less than welcoming tolltaker: "No trucks!"

I tried protesting that I'd checked on the internet and that trucks were supposed to be allowed now, though they had indeed been banned for several years after 9/11. I was told to go to the Lincoln Tunnel, without being offered an explanation about why - assuming I was a terrorist with an enormous bomb rather than a bemused middle aged man with a truckload of household goods - it would be preferable for me to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel instead of the Holland.

Oh well; at least the Lincoln Tunnel wasn't far off, and there were signs clearly delineating the route to it. Signs which promptly disappeared, leaving me driving aimlessly but ever more frustratedly through the streets of downtown Hoboken, at one point getting caught up in the proliferation of drunken 20-something car and foot traffic in what is apparently a rather happening nightlife scene, and at another point getting stuck on some long drive along the river that offered no exits and took me nearly as far north as the George Washington Bridge, which I would have crossed except that the radio was warning of one to two hour delays going into the city.

So, finally found the Lincoln Tunnel, got charged double toll even though my (relatively) small truck had been paying the equivalent of auto tolls all across the country, and quickly found myself tied up in the jampacked streets of Chelsea and then the Village. At one point, owing to some spectacularly bad luck and/or judgment, I found myself trying to navigate through what was barely one lane of traffic on Bleecker at MacDougal, which, trust me, is not the most ideal route at 1:30 in the morning when the frat boys, rappers, drunken NYUers, and every other yahoo within 50 miles of the five boroughs is staggering and/or attempting to drive, albeit to no particular destination.

Enough complaining; I eventually made it to Brooklyn, found a parking place right outside my building, and the rest is history. I haven't even unpacked half my stuff, and I still haven't found a way to stop some of my furniture from sliding into the middle of the room, but the cable TV and the internet are working, my desk is in operation and looking every bit as messy as it did in its last home, and one of these days I might even plug in the refrigerator and go grocery shopping. I'm already thinking of moving again, maybe - if necessary - out of the immediate neighborhood this time, but for now I'm home, and quite happy and content to be so.

1 comment:

Easty Aka Fraggle said...

Very nice blog. I enjoyed reading it.
I did a similar rough driving trip, but as I'd just been touring the west coast for 4 months I tried to do it as past as possible.

read here.