See the USA in your… Dodge Pickup

Ahhh… the open road. Seeing the country the way it was meant to be seen. Experience the sights and sounds of this great land one mile at a time.

You buying any of this nonsense?  I just spent ten hours a day for four straight days driving across country and let me assure you the interstate in Ohio is not any different from the one in Pennsylvania which, coincidentally looks a whole lot like the Mass Pike.  There is nothing restful about roadside rest stops, nothing edible in roadside eateries, and nothing comfortable in most Comfort style Inns.

Tell me again what you hate about flying. Please. I can defend the airlines after this.

I was riding shotgun with my stepson who was headed to Nellis AFB in Nevada to start a military career. The Air Force offered a free flight out and no carry on baggage fees, but he wanted a vehicle while on base, so I found him a friend’s used Dodge pickup that he quickly decided he had to have. Driving anywhere usually seems like a cheap way to go, but when you factor in a vehicle that gets at best 18 miles a gallon and  you are driving 2700 miles, it is safe to assume the bulk of the money spent will be for gasoline.

I am living proof you can live for four days  on one Subway foot long turkey sub per day  if you eat half for lunch, half for dinner, and fill up on a Continental breakfast every morning. Subway seems to have cornered the market on highway roadside locations the way Dunkin Donuts is on every other street corner in Massachusetts; for perhaps 1500 miles there was a Subway at every exit off the interstate.

The overnight accommodations varied. The magic number appears to be $89.00.  Pay under that amount and your old college dorm room sofa seems luxurious in comparison.

The first place in Heritage PA passed the $89.00 qualifier, but just barely. Closing the drapes brought a drying pair of used underwear down on my head from the last guests to be in the room. When I asked where I could buy beer I was directed to a little bar down the street  that sold beer to go. Picture a dark underpass, a quonset hut building with honky tonk music and cigarette smoke pouring out from under the door, and that special moment when you walk in and everyone stops talking and watches your every step to the bar. I made the mistake of asking for Sam Adams, then bought the local product (Yuengling) and hightailed it out of there.

The second night in Newton, Iowa brought us America’s Best Value Inn. We stopped at a gas station (again) and I asked the two local gals working there (both in their 50s) where this inn was, and gave them the street address. They both said we were on that street, but had no idea where the inn was. When I asked them what number their own street address was neither one knew it. A wiser person would have stopped asking them questions and listening to their answers at this point.

The business card for the inn manager on the hotel counter was for a Mr Patel. Was it that good old Indian hospitality we had been missing so far? The smell of the chlorine from the indoor pool was the room fragrance in all corners of the complex. The outside walls were cinderblock, with the aisles and rooms inside this cement fortress, which was good, because the room door looked like someone had tried to break through it with a car.

Somewhere in Nebraska we came into what can only be explained as “very close proximity” to a tornado. We never saw the funnel, but it was raining so hard and so fast that every car and truck on the highway stopped and parked at the first level area off the road… except for my stepson, who decided that driving even faster might improve the limited visibility. At 75 MPH in a virtual monsoon I screamed like a fifth grader seeing Justin Beiber walk out of the local Burger King to pull off the road. We waited with nearly a hundred other cars nearly 35 minutes for the storm to pass before any ventured back onto the road. Luckily he did not seem to notice the hail was leaving some small dents in his newly prized vehicle.

After an uneventful evening on the west side of Denver we drove through the Rockies to Utah. I had been boasting how these mountain pass roads I had last traveled in 1980 would lead us through small towns so isolated that the newspaper was always a day behind. The kid was convinced I was prematurely senile as we cruised on a divided highway through town after town with it’s own Target, Starbucks, and Subway at every exit.

The trip changed after we reached Utah. The first few hours fooled us as for 200 miles it is a trip through desert scrub, much like a moonscape. One road, one gas station, and lots of nothing for miles and miles. Somewhere towards the Fishlake National Forest the terrain turned hilly, then picturesque, and then just downright gorgeous. The gas, store, and motel help had now all turned into 19 year old blond Mormon girls who smiled at everything, gave accurate directions and advice, and were as enjoyable as the topography. The drive from Cedar City through St George to Mesquite Arizona took us thorough winding canyons on route 15 that were breathtaking. Perhaps driving was the way to go…

We came back to reality when we entered Nevada and finished the trip with a desert run to the eventual destination of Las Vegas. The truck began to overheat, the traffic was stop and go at 11:00 AM, and there was not a blond, blue eyed Mormon girl in sight. In broad daylight the glamor of the neon city is somewhat diminished; it is nothing more than a big, hot, dirty, traffic congested tourist trap. A destination point for every loser in a leisure suit to spend the kid’s college fund while thinking they are suddenly Daniel Craig in a tux and tails.

The driving portion was now thankfully over. I flew home. The terminal in Vegas is actually a small casino that schedules aircraft take off and landings. I could not leave fast enough.


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