Friday, January 23, 2004

Burning Man 4: On the Road (Texas - Wyoming)

By now you should have a pretty good idea of all the people and equipment we were going to need out there in the desert [quick note: I keep calling it a desert, but it's really a dry lakebed]. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. The plan was for Pugh to leave Houston Friday around 5pm and arrive here that night. I automatically shifted that back about five hours, not because Dan's not punctual, but because I know how rarely things take off on time. Plus, I was ready, so it was really no skin off my nose if he showed up early.

John and Levi appeared to see us off, as did a couple of other people, and everyone but me had a great time drinking. They had such a good time, in fact, that they kept me awake, until someone had the grand idea of hitting a bar closeby. Thankfully, that gave me a smidgen of shuteye, which I clutched greedily, since we weren't really sure how long it would take to get out there. As it happened, the guys were so out of sync that the first person to leave for the bar came home about an hour after the last person had left. Consequently, I got an hour of sleep. The guy who woke me (who will remain nameless) promptly took my spot on my bed and began snoring. The rest of my time at home was spent directing drunks to soft spots and checking/rechecking my gear. And looking out the front door.

Finally at 5am Dan Pugh arrived. This was Saturday morning, mind you, and we were tentatively supposed to arrive on site on Sunday afternoon/evening. Dan and I did our normal capering dance, then he whipped out a great big bottle of Jack Daniels with which to toast our departure. We couldn't get anyone to wake up and drink any (in fact, we couldn't get anyone to wake up), so back into the gear it went. An anticlimax I would have been pissed about had I not been so ready to get on the road. I took the wheel, after we loaded my stuff. Dan is a very effective packer, even once he's been on the road for six or eight hours and working with one hand holding a flashlight.

We were in Wichita before I realized I'd forgotten all the directions at home. We had an atlas, and some pretty good memories (as you can imagine, we'd pored over maps and directions hundreds of times waiting for it to happen), but nothing on paper. This wouldn't really have been an issue, except for a whole chapter later on I'll title "Jungoed." Watch for it.

The first leg of the trip was good--we had the CD player out, Dan has some very cool music I hadn't heard (and vice-versa, I think), and we hadn't seen each other in a long time. He was whipped, but stayed conscious long enough to get us through the FUCKED UP interchange in Wichita. I hope they fired the goddamn civil engineer that's responsible for THAT thing. The only thing going for it is that once you pass where you should have gotten off, there's a relatively simple cutback you can take a few miles to the north.

I drove almost all the way to Salina KS before Dan conked out. Salina is where we turned west, towards Denver. Two observations about Kansas:

1) Kansas is a dull, dull place to drive. On the whole, the roads are good, and there's not a damn thing to see except for minivans and semis, so the six hours from here to KC feels like about 10. It's so bad we actually prefer to take the longer route through Missouri, because it's somewhat interesting. But we weren't going to KC.

2) Up until we hit Nevada, the only thing worse than the Oklahoma-Kansas City drive was the Salinas KS to the Colorado Line drive. The roads are drawn with a straight edge, all the towns look exactly the same, and for all I know are placed at definite intervals along the interstate. I found myself wondering about what sort of rocks lined the shoulder of the road. Of course, Dan slept through this part.

Sometime after lunch, Dan woke up and we parked for a bite to eat. I forget the name of the town, but it had a really nice Family Restaurant, complete with white checkered curtains and chicken fried steak (and meatloaf!). The waitress there was cute, in the way only a Kansas goth girl working in a Family Restaurant can be, and had that "I want to get out of Kansas" look in her eye that I see so often (in slightly varied form) in the eyes of young people here. She was disappointed, though--we didn't pick her up. We didn't have room!

I'm bringing up the first stop for several reasons:

1) To remind Dan of the poignancy of that sweet girl's desire to get the hell out of Dodge (although it wasn't Dodge). And the curtains.

2) To point out that this is the last actual meal we'll eat for the next two weeks. The next best thing we had before I got back home was a meal from Burger King in Tonopah NV. The rest of the journey was beef jerky and Sun Chips.

3) To introduce another element into the story, the stops at various Wal Mart (boo! hiss!) and hardware stores to pick up stuff we'd forgotten.

So we went into Wal-Mart, in this case. I don't remember what all we got, but somehow it got added to the load. The truck was starting to squat under the weight, and we hadn't even gotten to the mountains yet. I was a little apprehensive about this, because I'd never actually driven in the Rockies before, but Dan didn't seem too worried, so I let it go.

On the road we went, and off to sleep Pugh went again. I began to ruminate on how arbitrary state lines are in so many cases. What's the difference between western Kansas and eastern Colorado? There is none. There's more difference between western and eastern Oklahoma than there is those two states. Until we hit the mountains, anyway.

The only thing I could remember about Denver is that we had to change highways, and a huge interchange called The Mousetrap. Dan had lived in Denver (or around Denver) much more recently than I had, which isn't saying much, but he seemed very confident we wouldn't die or get lost. And we didn't--even in rush hour. Despite the shortcomings of their highway planners, their sign-coordinators are stellar.

Dan conked out again just north of Denver, leaving me to drive to Wyoming (yee haw!). By the time I hit the Wyoming Line, I'd been driving for 13 hours, and hadn't slept (except for that hour the night before) in 36. I was good, though-and Dan needed the rest.

Next: On the Road (Wyoming - Nevada)


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