Monday, February 28, 2011

Traveling tales of the I-40

I've been on Interstate 40 for about 350 miles now and it has brought me to Albuquerque, NM, the land of my youth. I lived in Albuquerque through many of my teenage years, which were filled with desperation, poverty, drug addiction and eventually some success. That is a story that could be a blog all on its own though, so today I will focus on the time I said goodbye to Albuquerque as my residence for good. 
I was 18 years old and (finally) finished with high school after a long struggle. I was newly out of the closet and ready to see the world. I had my sights set on a coast, either one as long as it was attached to a giant city with bright lights where I could find my fame and fortune. After a late-night coffee shop discussion with my bff it was decided that the two of us would take on San Francisco.
We had a grand total of roughly $700, an old, red Pontiac, Sunfire with about three million miles already clocked, some clothes and other personal items, and great hopes. We didn't know anyone in San Francisco, but I have always been pretty good at making friends and we were sure that we would be fine. So, we hit the road. 
The first day was totally uneventful, we cruised through Arizona, stopping once to take pictures with the world's largest jackrabbit. The stereo was broken and only played tapes, of which we had exactly two, Madonna (the best of) and The Beastie Boys (Ill Communication).We drove until it was impossible to keep going, and then we slept at a rest stop. 
Day two was when the real adventure began. We drove through the seemingly endless desert-scape of Nevada. That night as we were crossing over the Sierra Nevada mountain rage it started to snow. The roads are very narrow, curvy and  dark. The snow felt magical, and since San Francisco doesn't get snow we felt like it was one last taste. All the way up the road we were alone on the highway, and we speculated about whether the highway was secretly closed and we were about to plow into a snowbank around the next blind curve. On the way back down we were very tired and in need of a place to pull over to sleep for the night. Suddenly a semi-truck pulled up behind us and started speeding up. It felt like he was about four centimeters away from the bumper of the Sunfire, so, naturally, we sped up. Then the truck sped up more, and we had no choice but to speed up again. The truck didn't back off a millimeter, but continued to gain speed. There were plenty of pull-outs that we could utilize to pull over and let the truck pass but they weren't marked by signs, and it was snowing, and we were going 85mph around mountain curves with no guardrail on the side that immediately plummeted into what we were sure was about to be our rocky grave. We continued in that terrifying fashion for about twenty minutes, which felt more like seven hours since my life was flashing before my eyes with every slippery turn. Finally, we sped up to 95mph and took the first turn off we saw and the truck screamed past picking up even more speed. With all the adrenaline coursing through our veins we were no longer sleepy and decided to push on. 
According to the map we figured we would be in San Francisco on day three. On the morning of day three we were overwhelmed with joy. We were almost there! We followed the map carefully, and crossed the border of California where we exuberantly honked the horn. We were entering the promised land. Then we crossed the Nevada border, confused. Then back to California, YAY! Back to Nevada? California! Nevada? Why wasn't this on the map? We should have been going southwest towards San Francisco, but we couldn't seem to get out of Nevada for longer than a few miles. The map said we were crossing through the right towns. Suddenly the highway veered off and left us on a narrow road that led us to a small town. The houses were all very cute and obviously intentionally built, but there were no people, anywhere. There were giant stalks, the size of sunflowers in August, covered with purple flowers as far as the eye could see and a delicious, delicate smell wafting through the car unlike any smell I had ever experienced. The bird song was deafeningly loud and unlike any song I had ever heard from birds, pleasant, but strange. A three legged dog darted in front of the car and we swerved to avoid it. After that narrow miss, the highway suddenly reappeared and the smell drifted away, the birds returned to normal and the highway picked back up again. All told, the unexplainable detour took about 9 hours, but used very little gasoline. 
We finally crossed into California, and this time we stayed there. YAY! We were about an hour away from San Francisco, but it was very late and we had been driving for what felt like days without sleep. We couldn't stand Madonna for one more second and we were at each others throats. It was clearly time to stop. There was an exit that only led back onto the on-ramp but had a small pull-out where a trucker was parked for the night. We stopped there, put the seats down and draped a blanket over the windshield to block out the light. We said our goodnights, and were just settling in when we heard a pickup truck pull in and stop behind us. My bff sat bolt upright and pulled the windshield cover off. There were three guys who are best described as back-woods creeps, carrying crow bars and sneaking up to the car. When they saw that there were people in the car they jumped back into the truck and peeled out.
All exhaustion that we had been feeling was immediately extinguished and we also peeled out of there and returned to the freeway. It was mutually decided that we would just go to San Francisco. 
Before we left Albuquerque we got some advice about San Francisco from people that we (at the time) thought were very worldly, and therefore should be trusted. Here are some of the highlights. 
*You can sleep on the beach, so try to find the beach first thing.
         -North Beach is a good one to camp in.
*If you find yourself in the "Mission District" RUN!
*Parking is easy, as long as you stay in the residential areas
*There are glitter, sparkle, fairy queens everywhere you look. 
There was more, but those were the pieces that were immediately disappointing. 
So, we drove into San Francisco and followed the signs to North Beach. Inexplicably, the signs stopped and we didn't seem to be at the ocean. I asked a guy on the sidewalk where North Beach was and he pointed the way. Again, we followed his directions and still, no ocean. The strip clubs and Italian restaurants were plentiful, but the Pacific Ocean was elusive. We felt like it was a big enough body of water that we wouldn't have missed it, but there was no sign of it. Somehow we figured out that maybe North Beach was the name of a neighborhood rather than the name of an actual beach. There was a pretty blonde girl standing in a doorway, and I decided we should confirm our suspicions with her. She told us that North Beach was in fact the name of a neighborhood and that we couldn't actually camp on any beaches within San Francisco city limits, but that we could camp at Stinson Beach and she would gladly show us the way in exchange for a ride. We put her in the backseat and drove across Golden Gate Bridge. 
At this point we had been actively driving for approximately twenty-two hours since the last time we slept. There was a great amount of delirium, mixed with adrenaline, frustration and deep seated joy. The blonde girl was from Sweden and immediately started flirting with my bff, aka, the flamingly gay boy in the passenger seat. She was running her fingers through his hair and tickling his ears with her fingertips, but on the window side as to hide it form my view. About an hour passed before we finally got to the turn-off. The blonde got dropped off and gave us directions the rest of the way to Stinson Beach, saying it was just over the hill. 
We started up the hill, hoping it was close because we were almost out of gas, and the exhaustion was returning with great conviction. Two miles or so up the road we slowed down because something was in the road. Turns out it was a raccoon that had recently been hit by a car and was desperately trying to peel its mid-section off of the road surface. Another raccoon was standing on the shoulder seemingly trying to offer encouragement to his very injured friend. We watched this scene, unable to look away, for far too long. I finally swerved around it and continued up the road. We both started crying, giant, tears laced with exhaustion and grief for the poor raccoon. After driving ten or fifteen miles we started to worry about the dwindling gas supply, and wanted to turn around, but having just recovered from the raccoon situation we were not in a hurry to turn around and risk seeing that the raccoon didn't make it after all. At some point we realized that we had no choice, and turned around. We drove all the way back down with no further raccoon sightings. We were almost to the gas station when a deer wandered into the road. I stopped as fast a possible and ended up gently tapping it, it looked at me with giant, angry, eyes and then trotted off. When I pulled into the gas station I drove past the pumps, put the car in park and we cried ourselves to sleep. 
Eventually everything worked out, and I found great happiness and success in San Francisco, though I still can't listen to that Madonna album.

That was the last time I was on Interstate 40, and now I find myself once again, In Albuquerque en route to San Francisco. I hope for better luck this time!


  1. I'd really like to hear the other going to SF story -- the one involving the guy in Silver City with the school bus and the plastic gas can or was it a coffee can in lieu of gas tank.

  2. I was just thinking of that story... one second ago. Coming right up!