Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
To read about the first part of my trip, which involved visiting a few Starbucks on the way to Reno for a Scrabble tournament, and the tournament itself, click here...
We pick up our hapless hero's adventures as he departs a disastrous Scrabble tournament in Reno...
I left Reno on Sunday afternoon and, after fighting heavy traffic over the mountains, finally rolled into Auburn to visit the store at Bell and Highway 49. I relayed a hello message to a partner, Chris, from another partner back in Sparks, Nina. I was able to segue easily into my speil and obtain my coffee. But almost as critical was a cup of cold ice water to slake the thirst that had built up during the drive. The water I had in the car had heated up during the day and almost hurt to drink--it certainly didn't satisfy. Weeks later I would listen to reports from soldiers in Iraq about the heat and how after only a few hours the water became too hot to drink, and I could relate.
The sound system was playing a song by Dar Williams. I heard a few of her songs at Starbucks, but none have moved me to buy an album yet. This song, though, was great, and I regretted the wretched financial state that forced me to be exceptionally choosy about the music I purchased.
Water alone wasn't cutting it. I needed something like tea or lemonade. Lemonade sounded really good, but I didn't want to spend even a buck fifty. I decided instead to buy a lemon at the Ralphs next door. But lemons were too expensive. Each one had a fixed price of almost a dollar. Limes, however, were only thirty-three cents. I figured lemons, limes, same difference, and expressed this out loud, prompting the produce man to give me a look like I was comparing apples and elephants. He claimed that lemons and limes tasted nothing alike. Yeah, fine, whatever.
At the checkout counter, by chance I paid with a dollar bill, and when retrieving my change from the dispenser I noticed a quarter wedged in a crack. I asked the cashier if I could take it, and she, with a puzzled look, replied "I guess." So the
lemon lime only ended up costing me eight cents, and counting the twenty-one cents I found at the Starbucks, I was well on my way to making up what I had lost in Nevada!
On the way out to the ATM in the parking lot, I thought up a cool joke...
Q: Why don't we ever see commercials for dental floss?
A: Because the manufacturers don't want to be accused of floss advertising!
I wondered if I could sell that joke to some trendy magazine like Reader's Digest.
I downed the entire twenty ounces of lime water on the way to the next Starbucks. The unairconditioned drive from Reno had clearly taken a lot of out me. And the mountains had taken a lot out of the car, apparently. When I gassed up it appeared that I had burned more gas that I had expected. I hoped it was the mountains and not a problem that led to reduced mileage, because that would
impact affect my budget and how much I could driving around I could do before heading back to Texas. Anyway, as I walked into the AM/PM, I chafed at the ridiculous rules that required a shirt before doing something as simple as paying for gas. I couldn't wear a shirt for more than a minute in this heat without starting to sweat.
Before leaving Reno, I had tried to check my e-mail, but Yahoo! Mail appeared to be down. Three hours later in Roseville, the e-mail was still down, preventing me from sending an e-mail to a partner at one of the Sacramento stores letting her know I was in town. She had wanted me to drop by the store to say hi. I ended up passing by the store later, while driving through Orangevale, and stopped in. But I couldn't remember her name, so I just got puzzled looks from the other baristas who had no idea what I was talking about.
I had accidentally missed a Roseville store, so I headed back north on I-80 and noticed an Amtrak train for the first time in my life. At the Galleria store, I met a partner from another store that I had already visited who had heard of my project and got a kick out of meeting me. She gave me directions to the Antelope store, but, lacking a detailed map of the area, I managed to get lost anyway and had wander around a bit before I found it.
Across from the Antelope store there was a 24 Hour Fitness. Even though I wasn't scheduled for another show yet, I took one anyway, because it would help keep my clothes cleaner to wash off the sweat.
I visited the Rancho Cordova store just before closed, and just as it was getting dark. The Kinko's was just down the street, so I didn't use my headlights much on the way there, but I had to run them some on the way to the 24 Hour Fitness down the freeway. I tried to keep them off when the street lights were bright enough to see. I imagine it must have been puzzling to the other drivers to see my lights turning on and off. They probably thought it was some type of street racing signals, or maybe even secret spy codes.
People Are Still Having Sex
This other 24 Hour Fitness in Sacramento was unusual, in an office park. I drove around to the back and backed into a space on an incline next to a tree and a fence. Some time later, I awoke as a car pulled into, of all the spaces available, the one next to mine. I heard muted voices. I peeked my head up from the back of my car where I was lying down, and I could see some type of jostling going on. I could guess at what might be happening, but the movements didn't exactly correspond to how I would have imagined it. I sort of tried to go back to sleep, knowing that I probably wouldn't. And then what was going on became all too clear as female cries of "Oh, God!" emanated from the car. I peeked out again, and sure enough, the car was a-rocking.
I thought about leaving, but the problem was that I had turned off my car, and I wouldn't be sure that it would start. I would have to get out and push it down the incline, and that might alarm the couple, and who knows how the guy might react. So I just waited for them to finish and drive off.
Sleepus interruptus, I was restless and decided to go drive around. I found myself at a traffic light in front of a new Starbucks at 3rd and Broadway. I trying to see if it was worth getting out the tripod to take a photo at night, and whether the cop across the street would hassle me. I thought I heard a voice, but it didn't register at first. Again I thought a heard a voice, maybe a bit louder. I lowered my windows a bit, and looked around, and sure enough there was a girl at a phone booth calling out to me. She asked if I could give her a ride. She didn't look too rough, and as a general rule I always give females rides because you never know when you might get lucky.
Georgia wanted to go to her room in West Sacramento, but first she wanted me to take her to go pick "something" up. I had a feeling it might be drugs, but I didn't want to get into an argument, and I really didn't have anything better to do. There was a Starbucks across the street, so I figured the neighborhood couldn't be that dangerous. I asked her to remind me not to turn the car off. We parked in front of a house, and she got out and started looking around. And then I fucked up. I turned the car off. It was a major "Oh, shit." moment.
This girl was only slightly heavy set, but she sure was strong. Between the two of use, we got the car moving pretty good, and I hopped in and popped the clutch but I couldn't get it started before it stopped rolling. We tried again, but no luck. Meanwhile, a bright red Mitsubishi had parked next to the house, and out walked clean-cut yuppie-looking guy, perhaps a computer programmer ordering up a quick high for a long night of coding. Out of nowhere appeared some girl, and I asked Georgia if they might be able to help us. She replied that no, the girl was a crack dealer and wouldn't help us. Great--my car was stalled in front of a crack house. Who would have expected a crack house just a few blocks from a neighborhood Starbucks? I mean, Magic Johnson's UCO corporation has a hand in opening Starbucks in underserved communities, like South Central L.A., but those stores are clearly labeled, and I know to watch out in those neighborhoods at night. But this wasn't a UCO store, and I had no idea that my visit to Oak Park would be so exciting.
Another car drove by slowly, and I asked the driver if he could push my car, but he just drove on. I guess I wasn't going to find any good samaritans in front of a crack house. It then occurred to me that this might be a good way to get rid of Georgia, as I really didn't want whatever it was she wanted to pick up in my car. So I suggested to her that she might want to find a ride from someone else and let me deal with my car problem. But she said she really needed a ride to her room, which was pretty far, and wanted to try pushing again. So we tried it one more time, and to my great relief it finally started. I can't remember having felt such relief, and such a desire to get the hell out of there.
For some reason she wanted to elsewhere to get her drugs. I guess she was comparison shopping or something. Since she helped me get the car started, I couldn't really turn her down, so I took her to get her dope and then made way for the freeway to West Sacramento. On the way, I saw some guy lying on the sidewalk, with some lady looking over him. There was no way in hell that I was going to stop and see if he needed help, not at that late hour, unarmed, without backup, and with a vial or rock or whatever of crack in my car. No, I got on the freeway as quickly as possible, driving carefully so as not to get pulled over, and headed to a La Quinta in West Sacramento where Georgia had a room, apparently paid for by some john. On the way, I let her have some of my pizza. I declined, however, her generous offer of a hit from her broken crack pipe and got out of there quickly, not really wanting to hang out, nor to leave my running car, locked or not, in front of a seedy motel. La Quinta or not, I wasn't filled with confidence.
I had gotten my dose of adventure for the night, and I no trouble falling back asleep when I returned to the office park, and having prophetic dreams about parts falling off my car.
At exactly 6:00 AM I got a wake up call from a security guard asking if I was okay. I told him I was fine and showed him my 24 Hour Fitness membership card. It was light out, and I could see traffic on US-50 starting to move, so I decided to get up, grab a shower, and head out.
First up was the Julliard store , where a partner at the had heard about my project and wondered when I would come by. From there, I wasn't exactly sure of the best route to take to avoid heavy traffic, but I knew that it would be light heading south on SR-99 during the rush hour. Despite having a map right in front of me, I managed to get lost while heading from the Elk Grove store to the Calvine and Power Inn store. I fielded a call from a recruiter who scheduled me for an phone interview with HP the next day, and then from another who had a position up in Dallas. By that time, traffic north on 99 had lightened.
The Secret of Oak Park Revealed
I finally got back to 3rd and Broadway, and when I entered I quickly discovered why there were drugs to be find nearby. I was in the community of Oak Park, Sacramento's first suburb, which had fallen into hard times when SR-99 cut it off from downtown. This Starbucks was part of an effort by Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player, to revitalize his community. Mr. Johnson still has some work to do, as I can attest to after the previous night's adventure. Anyway, one of the partners at the was very friendly and explained to me all about Kevin Johnson and the 40 Acres Art Gallery. The assistant manager, however, didn't quite seem to "get" my project but managed to spare four ounces of coffee anyhow.
At the El Camino store, the manager was too busy to talk to me, and I was about to resign myself to having to pay for coffee when a partner transferring in from another store recognized me from my visit to Howe and Fair Oaks the previous year, where a local TV show, "Good Day Sacramento" had filmed a segment about my project. She was able to talk to the manager and get me some coffee. What luck.
At the Truxel and Natomas store I finally got the new shaken beverage promo shirt, in XL, that I needed. I had a good long chat with the manager about road-tripping, and a long trip she had recently taken, during which she too had visited a bunch of Starbucks. It was great to find a kindred spirit, but disappointed that she lived so far away.
I was getting hungry and heady across the street to the Raley's to heat up my remaining pizza, but as I got closer I discovered it was not a supermarket, but rather their corporate headquarters. So after I finished up in West Sacramento I headed to Woodland and found a microwave in an AM/PM. I also found a post office and mailed off the postcard to that lady in Wichita Falls, and wondered if she would notice that the Reno postcard bore a Woodland postmark. The partner at the Woodland store was more a stickler for the rules, so she called the few ounces of coffee a "sample".
I caught a nap under a tree in the parking lot of the Grocery Outlet, where I could not find any single bananas.
I had a choice of Starbucks in different directions, and decided to go to Walnut Creek where I had to spend 15 cents on parking, which I hate doing, because I didn't want to risk the Target parking lot, where signs were posted saying that tickets would be enforced with a lawsuit. The manager of the Starbucks wanted to take a photo, but her camera was out of film. I had stopped offering to take photos with my camera and e-mailing them because, of all the photos I took during last year's two month road trip, I only received one e-mail with an address to send the photo to. So why waste the effort.
Concord next, where the entire crew was pretty friendly and enthusiastic about my project. I need a break, so I relaxed for a moment and chatted with one of the partners while waiting for a car to move so I could take a photo. It's a good thing that I relaxed, because the remainder of the day would be nothing but stressful.
They Shoot Cars, Don't They?
As I headed out to the freeway to Antioch, I noticed that my temperatur gauge was fluttering back and forth, going all the way to hot and back. I panicked, remembering the last time my gauge was on hot, with a busted radiator, smoke emanating from the engine. I quickly pulled to a side street and checked the oil and the coolant level, and they were fine. I suspected that it might be the electrical problem, but I needed to confirm it. I wanted to rule out an oil problem, so I reversed direction and headed back to Concord, where there was an oil change place in front of the Starbucks. But they charged way too much. So I asked around in the Starbucks and a partner gave me a direction to a Mitsubushi dealership. I drove there, all the while freaked out by my fluttering temperature gauge, expecting the car to die at any moment.
At the dealership, the attendant told me that they could only change the oil on Mitsubishis, but he pointed me to the Acura dealership down the street. There, the service technician took a look at the fluttering dial and said it was probably an electrical problem. He doubted it had anything to do with oil or coolant, since both levels checked out fine. But to be sure, they would have to do a diagnostic, which could cost around $120. He said he did not understand how that other dealership in Vegas could have charged $36. And if the problem was the alternator, the best they could do was around $550 total to fix it.
I debated what to do for a while. I decided to call my mother and see what she thought about spending the money to fix it. She was willing to let me use a credit card to get it fixed rather than having me risk being stranded somewhere unsafe. But it was late in the day, and the attendant could not guarantee that the work would be done by closing. I needed the car to sleep in, so I had to hold off until the next day.
In the meanwhile, I decided to find an AutoZone and have the battery charged. I figured I could keep driving and maybe have the work done in Southern California. The attendant at AutoZone was very helpful and spent a great deal of time testing the battery, then taking it out to charge it so it could be retested. Their machine was still showing that the alternator was charging at a low voltage. While the battery was charging, I walked down the street to the Burger King. By the time I returned, the battery was charged. The car still wouldn't start. The attendant suggested checking the oil, and it was very low. I added oil, and the car started. He said the car was trying to save my engine by not starting. I didn't really understand what that was about, especially since I had checked the oil earlier in the day.
Serving And Protecting
I drove on to Antioch and finally checked that store, which had been open for around five years, off my list. I had not managed to visit on previous trips through the area because it was out of the way. But now there were a couple of other stores along that route, SR-4, Brentwood and Discovery Bay. This area was undergoing construction, my map was unclear, and couldn't quite figure out where the Brentwood store was without calling for directions. The highway was closed because of an accident, but it turned out I needed to go back to Antioch anyway because I had forgotten to take the photo. The sun had sunk lower into the sky in that time, so I didn't get the photo I hoped. I then raced to Discovery Bay so that I could avoid running my lights and not get pulled over. I barely made it, and I pulled around to the back of the shopping center to sleep, leaving the store until morning.
A bit after midnight I was awakened by a knocking on my window. A sherrif's deputy, keeping the citizens of Discover Bay safe from transients like me. I showed them my articles and they let me get back to sleep.
It Gets Worse
According to the deputies, the Starbucks opened at 4:30, but that was a bit to early for me, and too dark to drive without lights, and too dark to take a decent photo of this neat-looking store. Even at 5:00 AM it was a little too dark, and I wasn't satisfied with the photos. I killed some time in the grocery store and tried again, and by that time I felt comfortable driving without lights. I cut across some hills and undeveloped land (imagine that, in California!) on the windy Vasco road down to Livermore.
As I pulled into the first of two new Livermore stores, I thought I heard a metallic scraping sound. I looked under my car, and sure enough there was some type of pipe coming lose. This was just what I needed, on top of the electrical problems. I found a Kinko's and looked up the nearest compatible dealership. There was a Honda dealership down the road, but it would not open 'til 7:30. I went ahead and visited the other new Livermore store, then I returned to the dealership and asked a technician about the loose pipe-like thing. He said it was just a heat shield, and that I would be fine without it. He said it was used to protect things like dry grass from catching fire if the car was parked in a field. I left quite relieved.
I headed to Tracy, where I struck a pose for a photograph with some partners. I also met the manager of the Sonora store, and he asked me to let him know in advanced when I finally made it out that way. At the next Tracy store I stuck around for over an hour during my phone interview with HP, which started a little late. At least it gave me a chance to charge up my phone, which had been a persistent problem since I could no longer use the adaptor.
It's Gotta Be a Bad Sign When...
As I headed east on the I-205 I heard a noise. I looked in the rearview mirror, and, sure enough, my heat shield bounced away, never to be seen again. I couldn't think of a clear indication that a car was hurting that when parts start to fall off.
I decided not to detour to Oakdale, but instead went straight to a new store in Modesto. On the way I spotted a Firestone and remembered that I had a Firestone credit card. So I pulled in and inquired about an alternator. I waited almost thirty minutes for the attendant to make calls and inform me that he could not find the correct alternator anywhere in town. At least I was able to charge my phone during that time.
I visited the Starbucks, and just as I was about to get back on the freeway I noticed I had a voice mail, from a recruiter, so I pulled into a jewelry store and asked if I could plug in my phone so I could return his call, about a job in Florida. Not being able to charge my phone in the car was really slowing me down.
At the Turlock store I received a call back from a recruiter who reported that I was one of three finalists for the HP job.
In Fresno I had to stop at Kinko's first and leave my phone charging while I went to the new Starbucks, and then pick up the phone on the way back.
The exits were not clear and I passed up the Kingsburg store and had to double back and ask from directions from some guy that looked big and mean, but turned out to be rather nice and helpful. Another example of why one should not judge a book by its cover, unless it's written by a neo-conservative or a member of the Bush administration.
The Best Goddamn Tea in the World!
In Visalia I found a 24 Hour Fitness for a much needed shower, and I received instructions on a quicker way to get to the Tulare store. From there, I cut across the valley to Buttonwillow. The staff at that store alerted me to a store I had missed on my list, in Lebec. The manager at Lebec had heard about me and was very cool. But the coolest thing was what I discovered at the Chevron station. A brand of tea I had heard of, but never tried, TradeWinds. I usually like my tea with lemon, but there regular sweeted tea was soooo good. I had to pick up the bottle, look and it, and proclaim to myself "This is the shit!" I thought about that sweet tasting TradeWinds tea all the way back to Texas. When I arrived in Texas, I looked up a local distrubutor on their website, but could not find one in Texas. I was rather disappointed. I sent an e-mail to a representative company asking about a local distributor, but she never replied. I cursed her bones as I jonesed.
As I raced over the mountains towards Santa Clarita, hoping to arrive before nightfall so I would not have to use my headlights, my temperature gauge started fluttering again, indicative of the electrical problem, and I worried about the engine stopping while heading uphill. But I made it, just after nightfall, and headed straight to the 24 Hour Fitness parking lot, where I found the closest thing I could to an incline and then asked the attendant to let me charge up my phone behind the counter for a few hours.
The Maze of Madness and the Hill of Despair
I had to push the car down that incline and back up about three times before I was able to get it started. Though the gym was next to the 14, I was sure I could save time by cutting across Santa Clarita to I-5. However, I got myself lost in a maze of streets and hills several times before I found the correct path, and to add to my haven't-had-my-coffee yet morning frustration, I got myself stuck up a dead-end hill when my engine cut out as I was trying to turn around. The car ended up angled against the curb, and so I had to push it up the hill to get it turned around. Clearly I had not been working out enough, because I couldn't manage to push it far enough by myself and had to wait for a morning commuter to stop and help me out. I could feel him sneering at my weakness as I left. Not a good start to my morning, and I started thinking about cutting my trip even shorter and heading straight back to Texas.
I spotted some cheap gas (1.63) and took the opportunity to ask the cashier and a customer how to get to Soledad Canyon Road. I was given good directions for once, and I found the McBean and Valencia store only to discover it was still under construction. Next was the Rye Canyon road store, where the manager recognized me from an earlier visit to an another store.
All the delays had cost me too much time--the rush hour was in full effect, and I saw heavy traffic on I-5. A Scrabble player named Gretchen Cowan, who had sent me an e-mail inviting me to attending her club meeting, calls about the club meeting that night. She offers me dinner if I will attend. I could hardly pass up free food on my tight budget, and so I planned on attending.
The Mishaps Continue
I headed south, reshot Porter Ranch, then headed down into the Valley (is that correct?) to visit some new stores. Down the block from the Nordhoff & Woodley store was an AutoZone, and I decided to get a second opinion on the battery and have it charged again. In the meanwhile, I walked over to the Starbucks and killed time there. When I went back to AutoZone to retrieve my car the attendant suggested I check the battery's water levels. I was using my spare key to undo the covers, and somehow I managed to drop my key in the engine. It didn't fall all the way to the ground, but rather got stuck somewhere, and I lost a good bit of time trying to retrieve it.
Meanwhile, I received a call about the HP contract--they'd picked another candidate. Between the disappointing news and the lost key distraction, I forgot to take a photo of the Starbucks before I left. I wouldn't realize it until I returned from my trip and labeled the photographs. A few weeks after that, I received a photo of the store from somebody, but I only use photos I have taken on the main portion of my web site.
At the Tampa and Victory store I took the initiative and cleaned up some coffee spilled by a customer while I was waiting for the manager to return, and I earned a free coffee for my efforts and was able to move on. Also, while I was waiting, a girl dropped a piece of her cake. As she went to throw it away, I came this close to asking her if I could have it. Outside, I spotted some dude next to my car and instantly became suspicious that he had been testing out the door on my running car to see if he could steal it. That's exactly why the spare key was necessary. Then he asks me for money--the nerve! But then, as I take a photo from across the street, I notice him tapping on something that looked like a PalmPilot. That made me suspect that he was doing some type of research on how people treated the homeless. I had run into a similar study back in college involving a shabbily dressed lady who dropped a box of stuff to see who would help her or something like that.
At Galpin Motors I got the impression that the Starbucks was not corporate-owned, but the manager was not around to confirm. I decided to skip it and move on. After a new store in Sherman Oaks, I got on the freeway and headed to Glendale. But I took the wrong exit and had to take lesser surface streets the rest of the way. This was frustrating not because of the delay, but because my car's engine had been threatening to stall whenever I slowed down, and I was trying to keep it on the freeway or on primary arterials as much as possible.
At the Glenoaks and Western store in Glendale, after I introduce my project, one of the baristas asked me if I traveled alone, and if I ever got lonely, which caused the other barista to gasp in amazement. I wouldn't have minded the question if she had been offering to accompany me, but I never received an e-mail from her, so I conclude she was just being condescending. Outside, I spotted on older lady in her car fanning herself and made the cliched, "It's hot, huh?" comment. She gave me a puzzled look. Perhaps she didn't speak English. Perhaps she was from one of those countries where you don't speak to strangers out of the blue.
I remembered to obtain the number for the regional director, and when I left the store I called left a message explaining my project and asking if Galpin Motors was a licensed store.
The Final Straw
Not a minute after leaving the store, the engine died again while at a red light. I had to hurriedly push it across the intersection while cars behind me honked. I managed to get it started, and then I decided that was it--I had to head home.
I stopped at one more store, Los Feliz and Seneca in Atwater because it was on the way, and then I started the trip home. Well, not exactly. After my horrible experience in Reno, I needed some comfort, and I could think of no better solace than to bury my face in the roundest most perfect breasts I could find--for about ten dollars. Not far off my route home was City of Industry, where the clubs seem to be more liberal, and I headed to the Hawaii Theater because I had found a coupon for free cover in the local free weekly. Any cover over, say, $2, would have been a deal-breaker, so great is my cheaptitude.
First though, I stopped at a nearby 24 Hour Fitness. Because while Parliament may "want the funk", exotic dancers most certainly do not. And if you don't want the dancer to stay ten feet away, you'd better clean up.
The club was close to empty, which boded well for my chances of haggling (dancers really love that). But I never got the chance, because not five minutes after I entered the waitress pounced on me for the drink she claimed was obligatory. I tried to talk to the manager into waiving the requirement as I would only be there for a short time before hitting road for Texas. But he claimed the owners kept records and compared how many patrons entered with drinks sold. So I moseyed on outta there.
I went back to the LA Weekly (or perhaps the New Times--whatever), and I found an ad for another club that advertised free cover with a coupon and that was on my route westward. The club, Deja Vu (where the sign advertises "hundreds of beautiful girls and three ugly ones"), was on Mission Blvd in Ontario, and as I drove there, either at the speed limit or just a mile or two over, I noticed a cruiser behind me. And I had recently been thinking about how I was close to finishing a trip without getting pulled over, too.
"What's the problem officer?"--my standard greeting. I didn't have "tabs" on my license plate, he said. I didn't know what he was talking about, and he explained they were proof of registration. I pointed to the sticker on my windshield and pulled the registration from my glove compartment to show him. I explained that I had been driving around California for years and had never been told anything about any "tabs", and that in Texas we had these stickers. All the while, I didn't believe for a second that he was really interested in the registration--I was sure he was had just made up a reason to pull me over because I wasn't white (and just look like a criminal regardless). In the end, he wasted about 20-30 minutes of my time for no good reason, the fucker. And as I pulled out of the driveway I had to worry that he would pull me over again, because the car had been idling long enough that some white smoke billowed out of the exhaust.
I wasn't really in the mood, but I was just a few blocks from the club, so I went in anyway. There I learned that whoever had spoken to me over the phone had given me erroneous information, and that a $10 drink coupon was required for entry. "To hell with that, " I though, and left in disgust. Just great--I had wasted an hour and receive no comfort for my trouble. And now my time was up--I had to get on the freeway if I hoped to get clear before the rush hour.
Fun On I-10
But I guess I had already run out of time, because after grabbing a quick burger and getting on I-10, I soon ran into a slowdown. This worried me because the engine had been threatening to stall all morning whenever I slowed down. And further down the freeway, it did stall. But in my deftest maneuver ever, I was able to pop the clutch while the car was still moving and get the engine started again. I breathed a sign of relief, because I-10 as rush hour approached was no place to get stuck. Further down, a poor bastard in a stopped VW van was trying to start it up again--I genuinely felt for him and was at the same time grateful it wasn't me. So much for VW's much-vaunted reliability.
Yet further down, I discovered a collision was responsible for the slowdown, and I cursed the drivers responsible. I resumed a normal (but not necessarily legal) speed, but only for a couple of miles as far as Fontana, and then it stopped again!!!
Finally I started moving again just in time to pull off the freeway to slake the mighty thirst caused by the heat combined with my unairconditioned car. Since I didn't spend any money at the club, I decided to treat myself to some snacks--chocolate, SweetTarts and Sobe lemonade (McLizard's Special Recipe!).
I did a good job of measuring my gas, and only need to add a dollars worth in Blythe to get me across the state line and to cheaper gas in Arizona. But the pump didn't want to stop, and I ended up wasting a few extra pennies. Rats! And while I was gassing up, I was really hoping that technician back at the Acura shop in Livermore was overstating the possibility of igniting something like grass (or gas) because of the missing heat shield.
As I drove on towards Phoenix, every car I saw stalled on the side of the road made me think--"That could be me out there."
I had wasted too much time back California, and the sun was fast setting as I approached Phoenix. I had hoped to arrive before nightfall so I wouldn't have to use my headlights. I held off turning them on as long as I could, hoping I wouldn't get pulled over as the other drivers flash their lights at me. Finally I had to turn them on, and they lasted long enough to get me to Kinko's and parked in back on a slight incline. I let the engine run 'til midnight, then I decided to risk turning it off.
There's Discomfort, and Then There's Discomfort
The heat was oppressive and made sleep difficult as I quickly became drenched in sweat. When I stepped out a few hours later to go into the Kinko's bathroom, I briefly thought the air had cooled dramatically. But in fact it was just that I was soaking wet, and when I stepped back outside from the Kinko's I realized it was just as hot--maybe a few degrees cooler for the darkness, but not much.
A few hours later my throat was parched, and the water wouldn't quench my thirst. I didn't want to try starting the car, so I took a walk down a couple of blocks to the AM/PM. On the way, I spotted one of my brethren sleeping on a bench. I was glad for the comfort of the soft padding in the back of my car. I hoped that I would always have a car at least, which would make my inevitable homelessness easier to bear.
Why's That Pesky Sun Always Pickin' on Me?
Daylight approached, and while I could have used more sleep, I wanted to beat the rush hour and get to a store in Scottsdale that I had forgotten to photograph when I visited in April. The incline wasn't steep or long enough for me to get enough speed to bump start the car, but I tried to start it with the key and it actually worked. What a relief it was!
I went up to Scottsdale, took my photo, and then headed back down towards Mesa to visit another store. I needed more sleep though, so I pulled next to a dumpster by another Kinko's to nap for a while. As the sun rose, I had to move the car around the parking lot trying to get shade, otherwise the car would head up too much.
Finally it was too difficult to sleep, so I headed to a store in far east Mesa, where the manager was too busy to see me, so I had to use a drink coupon. In the meanwhile I had been calling around to try and find a really cheap massage--they tend to be cheaper in Phoenix. I found a couple of ladies who had rates, perhaps specials, between $30-40. As I approached Phoenix I realized I had forgotten to photograph the Starbucks! Not again! So I had to go all the way back to Mesa, and by the time I arrived at the salon, I had missed my appointment. So I went to plan B, the other lady, who hadn't sounded like she spoke very good English. Not that I have anything against foreigners, but I do like to chat, so I prefer people comfortable with the language. Sometimes you get great service at a bargain price, and sometimes you get what you pay for. This time was the latter, as the massage was strictly mediocre. She did speak English better than I had expected, however, as I found out while she was recounting her tale of how her son had lost the progress of the computer game he was playing when the hard drive crashed and had to be replaced. I was so moved by her story of how the poor boy would cry his eyes out every day because he had to start the game over from the beginning. With the other hard drive gone, I knew there was nothing that could be done, but I agreed to take a look anyway. But after the massage, she forgot to remind me to take a look, and I was soon on my way down towards Tucson.
While I was in the Phoenix metroplex, I was wondering if I would receive a call from a DJ at the Edge, who kept wanting to interview me while I was in the city. I couldn't understand why he insisted I be in Phoenix, as ever other radio station had just called me whereever I was.
On the way down to Tucson I spotted a couple of state troopers helping a lady change a tire--I didn't think they did that. Further down, I spotted a trooper pulling a u-turn and I thought I was busted. I was really sweating it until I became convinced he wasn't coming after me, or maybe it was just the heat.
I reached Tucson and visited the new Starbucks at Speedway and Country Club. The manager there recognized me from the previous store I had visited in the Tucson area, and I hit her up for an iced coffee because of the heat. Then I continued down Speedway to Tens, a club that I can never pass up when in Tucson because they offer dances for only six dollars! Granted, they are not as liberal as in California, but still, six dollars is mighty cheap. And it's not a dive. It's not like it featured Tucson's most ugliest girls. No, this place was just different. It appeared to be laid out to for volume, with dancers constantly hitting up the patrons. And for six bucks, it's hard to say no. I spent my alloted amount on a girl that was nice enough and scooted on outta there.
As I left, an older lady with bath teeth hit me up for some gas money, claiming she and her boyfriend were stranded. I never fall for that scam. It didn't matter I'd just spent $30 in the club--I generally don't give away money unless I see dire necessity or a higher purpose, and I'm wise to all sorts of scams, the stranded driver being one of them. Later, as I drove away, I imagined I saw the lady and her man in their car smiling and laughing. Maybe it wasn't them, but I tend to be suspicious of these things.
Can't Pass Up a Chance at Scabble!
I remembered that the a local Scrabble club was meeting that night, and money left for a decent meal, so I decided to kill time downtown at Irene's, a Peruvian restaurant I had discovered years earlier. But the door was locked, and though I saw some kid running up a set of stairs, no one answered when I knocked on the door. I inquired at the bookstore next door and was told that the restaurant tended to keep irregular hours. Strange. The bookstore cashier suggested some Mexican restaurant, and I thought about it, but I decided just to head to the Denny's for Scrabble where I played a couple of games before moving on.
Just before moving on, I received a call from someone in the Starbucks regional office for southern California. She had thought my message was a joke at first, but I convinced her I was for real. She was able to confirm that Galpin Motors was indeed a licensed store so I could cross it off my list.
I made a note about "Amy", but I can't remember why.
I drove to the rest area just before the New Mexico border parked in the opposite direction so I could roll car down the incline to get it started. I hoped whatever trooper was patrolling the rest area wouldn't give me a hard time about that.
I started driving at 5:30 to try and reach El Paso before the rush hour. As I get back to the car from the restroom, a lady approaches me and asks if I can give her and her boyfriend a ride to El Paso. I have to decline, as it's too dangerous for me being by myself. 5:30 was too early, and my eyes immediately want to close. Too early. I try eye drops, but they barely help. Then I remember the time zone change and realize I won't make it. D'oh! But I kept driving and shake off the feeling.
In Las Cruces I ask at the Kinko's about a bagel shop and am given directions to Durango Bagel. I pass it up a couple of time before I finally find it--I would have given up, but I was craving a bagel sandwich. After ordering, I notice a bag of day-old bagels for only $1.50. I make a mental note of this as a cheaper way to feed myself when on a tigher budget.
I stop just briefly in El Paso to visit the new store at Cielo Vista mall. I briefly chat with the manager, who had heard of me from the manager at the other store, and then I push on.
Just past Van Horn, I finally have to pull over and get some more rest. But it's too sunny, and too hot. I try to escape from it by moving to the front seat, where the direct sunlight is blocked, and I manage to drift off enough to feel better when I start driving again.
I stuck behind a truck for a while, and somehow a piece of rock hits my lip. I put my window up, and the heat becomes unbearable. Around Sonora I feel the temperature cool somewhat, and we get some light rain--I'm very grateful.
Despite the car's electrical issues, I risk turning on the radion, because the 600 miles from El Paso to Austin would just be unbearable otherwise.
Old Times and Old Timers
Finally I pull off I-10 onto US-290 and the drive becomes more interesting. Passing through Harper and looking around for cheap gas, I spot the Longhorn Restaurant. Being a UT alum and having a few bucks to spare yet, I can't resist popping in. I can't help noticing that I'm the only non-white face in the place, nor any patrons between the ages of 10 and 30, but I stick around anyway. I can't find anything on the dinner menu that I'm the mood for, so I go for a late, late breakfast--minus the OJ, what they ran out of. Bastards!
While waiting for my food, I step outside to take a photo of the place. When I reenter, one of the local musicians playing up front thanks me for taking an interest in them. Okay, if he wants to believe that--fine with me.
The place is crowded, perhaps becuae of the music, or perhaps it's Friday night, or perhaps it's that there aren't that many options for dinner out here in the country. Anyhow, I'm seated next to an old timer in a cowboy hat, straight out of a scene in The Big Lebowski, if I remember correctly. The one with the cowboy at the counter in the bowling alley. This guy is from Doss, TX, which makes Harper look like a big town. He's recently divorced, and apparently in need of company, because he starts talking to me right away. After I explain that I'd been in Reno for a Scrabble tournament, he expresses an interest in the game, and I tell him about the Austin club and the web site.
Passing through Harper always reminds me of an old college girlfriend who grew up in the town. As I sit there, it occurs to me to ask for a phone book and look up the name. Its an unusual name, and there are only two entries--her parents and her grandparents. I decide to give a call just in case she happens to be around, but then I think better of it. If she wanted to hear from me she would have contacted me long ago--I'm an easy person to find.
I continue don to Austin, and to the Alamo Drafthouse to see what was playing. Velvet Goldmine, with Ewan McGregor, but at midnight. I wasn't sure if I could wait that long, unless I managed to nap somewhere. I also spotted the marquee at the Paramount advertising a screening of The Philadelphia Story, perhaps in honor of Kathryn Heppurns recent death. It had just started, and I made a quick decision. It was tough to find parking, because I needded to position myself pointing down a hill, and such that no one parked in front. I couldn't find a spot at the bottom of the hill, so instead I parked behind a car at the top, with the back of my car almost blocking the sidewalk. I doubted I would be ticketed, but regardless it was more to insure I could maneuver around the car in front.
The movie is very entertaining--I can see why it's a classic. I'm disppointed that I just can't keep my eyes open and have to leave not long after 80 minutes have passed. But at least I got the gist of it, and a chance to see Hepburn when she was younger. I couldn't remember having seen her in anything other than On Golden Pond.
I experienced a scary moment when I returned to the car and couldn't seem to get it rolling downhill. Then I realized it was still in gear. I got it moving and went to return my ticket for the other movie before continuing on out of the city. I tried to gas up at the HEB in Bastrop, but the credit card reader wasn't working, and the pumps are otherwise unmanned. So I had to find the closest thing to an incline in the mostly flat parking lot and stay the night.
I was up bright and early for one final bump start before gassing up and starting on the final 130 miles home. As I approached a light further down in Bastrop, I had another major "oh shit" moment as all the indicator lights light up and I heard a grinding sound. I thought that was the end of it, and that after thousands of miles it was going to give out a couple of hours from home. But the engine kept running, and a couple of hours later I pulled into my driveway for the final time. The wonder car had finished its final journey.