Editor’s note: This the final of three entries about my trip to LA. I promise.
In the past driving up Highway 1 has always coincided with a major change in my life. But I guess that is true of all great road trips. There is nothing quite like packing the car with a backpack, running shoes and plethora of good music to put some distance between you and whatever it is you are running from/towards.
Sure, I am out there for the adventure factor. I love eating in greasy roadside diners, exploring small towns I have never heard of and will likely never visit again, and learning a new place via the local running trails. But for me, road tripping has always been about the talks that happen between the stops and the thinking you do when your navigator is asleep.
The first time I completed the entire stretch of Highway 1 it was the summer after I graduated college. I had no job, an expired lease, and no excuse. So I hopped in the car for about a month, traveling from Buffalo to San Diego and up the coast to Portland with my good friend Jamey. The second time I spent three weeks driving up the coast to Seattle with a boy who was also looking for a chance to runaway before starting grad school – who wanted to camp out in Big Sur and pretend no one would find us there.
This last time was different. Instead of a month long journey, the drive was an abbreviated route from Redondo Beach to San Francisco with the one constant in my life: Emily. On the itinerary were stops at Hearst Castle and Monterey. The whole trip was designed to last exactly one day and provide Em’s mom a small taste of California. Naturally, we rented a Mustang convertible and drove with the top down. (Even though it was freezing.)
Hearst Castle was everything it was advertised to be: beautifully crafted, excessively furnished, and just a bit over the top. Maybe it was the zebras wandering the property? Or the gold plated pool? Anyhow, for me, the trip became less about the scenic overlooks and stopovers and more about remembering my past and reclaiming the road ahead.
It is strange to retrace steps you have already taken with someone else. It was odd walking through a small seaside town I thought I’d never traversed, only to suddenly remember sitting in the bar across the way –toasting to a road trip just beginning and with a person I no longer talk to. It’s amazing how different things look in the light and with a few years at your back. When we got home I revisited the two journals I kept during the previous road trips for the first time. These excerpts are from the first trip with my friend Jamey.
7/30/03 – on the way to Texas
Memphis was a little strange. Or at least Graceland was. The King was not there and the gates were closed when we arrived. We could only peek through the iron gates and stare at the house that Elvis built. People had scrawled their initials or written to Elvis on the stone wall keeping them out. One couple had written “It took us 26 years to get here. Thank God and bless you.” For some reason that affected me and I wondered if they had been at all disappointed when they finally stood in front of those big white gates. Because I was. I don’t think the fried chicken/gas station combo or cheesy souvenir shops were what Elvis had in mind when he called it ‘Graceland.’ I understand how only a ghost could live there now.
Leaving Santa Fe, NM
Oklahoma was a beautiful emptiness. Santa Fe makes you feel small with the mountains all around you. I chatted with a girl named Jenny we stayed with in Santa Fe National Park. She was smoking on a bench and leaning against the stone wall of the cabin. I sat in a rocking chair. A hummingbird flew in and out of our conversations, marking the silences with its wings. Everything about the hummingbird was immediate and urgent. It was a contradiction to the rest of Santa Fe where you can feel everything slowing down – even your blood.
Jenny said that moving on, finding yourself, is all about letting go. It sounds simple enough. But she meant letting go of everything that keeps you tied somewhere – family, friends, loves, memories. She said it’s hard to go where you don’t know anyone and have nothing to build on if you are tied to your past. But this trip has shown me how easy it is to forget the last place you’ve been. Dallas seems forever ago and I miss it. It’s amazing what a few thousand miles can do for the heart.
Somewhere in Northern California
In the past three weeks I have driven more than 5,000 miles. In Santa Fe the mountains humbled me. In Oklahoma it was the open space. In Texas, the heat. In the time that has passed I have traversed 15 states, swam in a new ocean, eaten amazing barbecue three times, bad Mexican twice, slept on four different couches, and visited Elvis once. I want the normalcy of one state – one couch – my one boy. I want to trace a red line back to Boston where he will be waiting at the door to carry my bag inside.
Road trip recap: Boston – Portland via a ’95 Honda and a Rand McNally
• Los Angeles is where everyone goes to be somebody and where an anybody can be confused with a somebody as long as their hair is messy and T-shirt is vintage.
• Vegas can make you feel small. But not in the way the mountains of Santa Fe do.
• Eating Chinese food in Oklahoma City is not smart. Eating ribs in Texas is.
• Mason Jennings is essential.
• Actually writing the address on your postcard is an integral part of the mailing process.
• X marks the spot where JFK died. It is eerie and unassuming and a weight has been hovering there since 1963.
• Always make sure Elvis is actually home before popping by. Because the gates of Graceland close at 5 and 7:30 doesn’t cut it.
• You never say what you want to say when writing postcards to boys.
• There is nothing like the feeling of seeing destination: Boston on your airplane ticket home.