• Subway Ex. 196 I-40 ½ hour outside Albuquerque
Connected to a Pilot’s. More of a truck stop. Clean. Fresh. Fast. Turkey sandwich foot long. Lettuce, tomato, mayo. Didn’t ask me if I wanted it toasted. Thought this was something required. May not have had toaster. Was not offended. Do not like toasted sandwiches.
Eat in car once on cruise control. Feel this is the ultimate purpose of buying food at a truck stop restaurant.
Driving into Albuquerque, I had a strange memory that I couldn’t say I hadn’t made up. As many of the more juicy moments in my life mythology, it is out of the time just after my folks split up. I was no more than 7 or 8 years old, and my mother, an eccentric given to bouts of wanderlust and impulsiveness, had yet again trapped me with her dreaming. I listened as she said, “Layth, the southwest is so beautiful. I know someone in Albuquerque where we could stay until I found a job …” I was totally enthralled by the prospect, and I let it germinate in my imagination for months, waiting for the day when we would leave everyone in my school behind and become new people in Albuquerque–a hopeful place, a lily in the desert type sitch. In any event, it never happened. We never moved here. But crossing 40, as I take in the town with my eyes, I find myself paying a little more attention to the psycho-logic of the drivers than I normally would because in another life I would be one of them. Although, in no way was Albuquerque familiar to me, it could have been, and because of this estranged possibility I felt close to Albuquerque. It was a strange feeling … as though up here on the interstate, I was crossing paths with an alternate version of myself and for a moment even occupied the same time and space.
• Comfort Inn Gallup, NM
The room is fairly affordable at about $120.00 with tax despite jacked up prices due to the Native American cultural heritage festival going on this weekend.
Room is clean, but smells like Irish Spring soap. This is somebody’s standard of clean so that’s reassuring if not necessarily to my tastes. Pillows are soft. Abundant electrical plugs. Comfort without challenge. I like this. I want this … but I feel handfed and disconnected from a deeper understanding of both myself and the world I inhabit. For some reason, these are issues that concern me. I am not totally sure why that is and so that bothers me and it really just never stops. At the moment, I am tired, and I don’t know if I care that much, actually. It’s a passing anxiety, but every so often it surfaces, and when it does, I have a tendency to pack my car and drive 2,000 miles. The anxiety that I am not really living life but contenting myself with easy solutions and boring surroundings is a real struggle for me. The view from my window is 18 wheelers and an expansive parking lot … and an inexplicably amusing Cracker Barrel. The sunset is full of deep lavender, orange, red and yellow reflecting in every direction for miles—or every roadside painting of the Southwestern sky ever made. (There is no point reimagining a Southwest sunset from the window of a Comfort Inn.) Across a tall hurricane fence at the edge of the parking lot, there is a mall and two other motels. I reassure myself there is something interesting in all of this, something deeper than its appearance would suggest. I am not sure I believe myself … And why are Cracker Barrels so funny?
My car is at the Pep Boys across the highway. The A/C compressor broke down outside of Dallas and by now the engine was losing compression elsewhere. I am rearing to go, but the car is fucked. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak, so to speak.
Gallup is small, but this weekend is the ceremonial weekend for descendants of Native Americans to meet and share culture and heritage.
My car broke down just after I crossed the New Mexico state line into Arizona. I had to be towed into Gallup by a Navajo tow truck driver. I had only a $100 bill on me, and he wasn’t able to give me change so I didn’t leave him a tip. I felt bad about this, and the feeling stayed with me. It became clear to me the next day, however, when I went to check on my car at the Pep Boys that this sense of shame, of guilt even, that I had failed my fellow man was not unique to me. I soon recognized a similar sense of having failed one’s fellow man in pretty much everyone I encountered. It’s a small town—people rely on each other—and where there is reliance (even self-reliance) there has to be failure. This was my thinking anyway.
• Salsa’s Gallup, NM
Once my car was repaired—it set me back about a $1,000–I decided to celebrate having basically no money with an inexpensive lunch in town somewhere. I eat at Salsa’s.
When I walk in, I am greeted with air conditioning which is fucking lovely. The dining area is huge. The ceilings are tall, and there are basically two separate dining areas separated by a partition with plants. The décor is basically those plants. I seat myself. I am given a menu and introduced to a server. Obviously, this is a turn and burn situation which is fine with me. I think the staff are gearing up for a big Friday night as the place is mostly dead save for a few low key tables here and there. The clientele thank the management when they leave.
I pay 11 something for a plate of chiles rellenos. These are basically tamales stuffed with chiles and cheese and then it is all covered in beans. The chiles have a nice slow burn and the dish is very filling.
The best part of the whole meal are the complimentary chips and salsa. The chips are homemade—thick, crunchy and fresh. The salsa is not good. Nevertheless, there is some talent at work in the back with these fucking chips.
I don’t thank anyone when I leave. I am left with a feeling of mild dissonance. I go back to the motel and bemoan my surroundings. I leave Gallup the next morning with the same feeling.
Here I’d like to make a note about the Grand Canyon which I paid $20 to visit. It was massively underwhelming because I couldn’t get over the impression that I was looking at a painting of the Grand Canyon even as I stood before the real thing. As I left behind the hole in the ground that made Henry Miller weep but which I found a massively confounding experience that asked me to call into question my mental state. In the midst of my disillusion that the Grand Canyon was in fact an illusion, I heard a song on the radio, and it inspired me to outrage, which grounded me a bit more firmly in reality, and for this I am always thankful.
The song was “American Girl” by Bonnie McKee, which is an overproduced shit storm about being young and free and female in America. In a post-ironic time, the summer of 2013 being such a time, the lyric “’Cause It’s a free country so baby we can do anything” just sounds like the singer really believes that. But hey, she’s entitled to her opinion. It is a free country, after all. And yet, this all too familiar simple-mindedness, this failure in tone, is actually kind of a shame in “American Girl.” Yes, you’re right, I am sort of paying a compliment here. The intention of the song is to be ironic, after all, and for that I give it credit. So why does it fail so miserably? Harmony Korine’s Springbreakers has the same problem. Why does art like this, despite the best intentions of its makers, come off as bullshit? It’s a question of perception, I think … By that I mean, no one except for bottom line obsessed record labels and film studios, are buying the irony when the very things the artists mean to be ironic about, they’re really just emulating.
The idea of emulation as critique is straight out of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Thusly, the time when that style could actually be a useful critical tool is over. This doesn’t mean those ideas aren’t still around and when packaged correctly can’t be put to good use. See Funny Games by Haneke—a truly ironic film that does everything a good Hollywood slasher film should do. No, the point is that films such as Springbreakers and songs like “American Girl,” with its stupid video depicting women dressed as transsexual prostitutes behaving like total fucking assholes because its cute, just reek of Hollywood duplicity. When the very ideas and images we are sort of, kind of, maybe meant to see critically (crime, “freedom,” sex, drugs, violence, narcissism, etc.) are being presented to us in a way that fails to critique at all that the only people buying this shit are the people who can afford it, and those people are rich as fuck, and they’re not actually people, they’re corporations, but that’s for another day. Also, I might add that I know pretty much fuck all about the music or film industry and that Julien Donkeyboy is one of my favorite films of all time.
Barstow, McDonald’s, Somewhere off I-40
As I near my end, so I have returned to the beginning …. or something like that.
Overall, this is not a bad experience. I order a #9 from the drive thru. The #9 is a high calorie chicken wrap but sans all the fat and salt of a typical McDonald’s meal so I don’t feel like shit after I eat it. That Americans do not wish to feel like shit after a meal, as far as I can tell, must be a new fad because when I was a kid this kind of shit was not included in the McDonald’s menu, which is a pity as its pretty damn good. In the wrap, there are cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, ranch dressing, and it is all wrapped up in a folded cardboard box, which you rip in half and then have a convenient way to hold your wrap as you eat it. This is good for driving. I am happy with this.
I pay about $10 for 2 wraps (no fries) and a bottle of water. This seems expensive but 2 wraps is a lot of food.
What really surprised me about this experience, however, wasn’t the food but how welcoming the employees are. This seems impossible, but they take my order with patience and, in a way, are kind to me. When I pick up my order from the second window, the employee waits for me to drive off before pulling her head back inside. It told me she cared. I am baffled and suddenly life is more complicated and fuller than it had been in Gallup and certainly much fuller than it was for me in my car criticizing music and movies—things that in the end are just meant to be fun. McDonald’s, I now realize, is kind of meant to be fun, too.
Holiday Inn, Somewhere in Oregon, off I-5
The room is very clean. The rate was $130.00. Nearby was the Seven Feathers Resort. This means nothing to me. Maybe it means something to you?
The Wi-Fi password didn’t work. I didn’t bother to ask for a new one. I buy Wasabi coated peanuts from a vending machine and a bottle of water and call that dinner. I don’t have the patience for anything else. I just want to be comfortable and left alone. The best part about this room is that the bed has 4 pillows. You honestly don’t need more than 4–ever.
I got the impression with everyone I spoke to—the front desk girl, the guy who pumped my gas, a few kids at the vending machine, a guy and his son in the breakfast room the next morning—that despite their politeness they were judging me in a sort of quiet, categorical Scandinavian way which means they weren’t put off by my beard or tattoos … this was Oregon after all … but that I didn’t seem like someone who should have a beard or tattoos–because admittedly I am a bit of a sweetheart–kind of threw them off. You could be yourself in Oregon as long as you knew who you were. I have a hard time with that. Too much responsibility … I suppose I could blame this on someone —my mom, for example— but that would mean I’d have to give her credit for all the good stuff about me too, and the truth is, while she does deserve some credit, I think I deserve more and likewise I deserve the responsibility of my shortcomings. I am a weird guy. The End.
For some reason, I don’t sleep well.
I make it to Seattle the next day. I’m reunited with friends and my family is far, far away from me… a blessing and a curse. I’m stable again. I’m in a place I plan to be for a while. While this too is a novelty for me, just as the crap food and crap motels, I know after a while this feeling will replace itself with other feelings—I can almost predict what they will be, but I don’t want to sound cynical so I won’t. I realize this piece has failed miserably to present the places included in it in a decontextualized way. The truth is I failed to see these places without context. It was impossible for me. I am not Philip. Sweetheart or not, I am old before my time, and my thoughts are dated, as are my clothes and tattoos, and the reason for this is that I belong to this dimension of time. Despite the infinite possibilities for who I could have been, I am only one person. I am a neurotic and a hypochondriac on top of this fact–and I’m swept up pretty easily in the latest fads, as well. If you are reading this much, much later from when it was written, the truth is you’re probably a really weird person, too. Go outside. Relate to your own world, creep.