My story begins with an early morning in mid-July. The air was thick and humid with a temperature creeping near the 100 degree mark, not uncommon for Texas during the summer. Assiduously, my mother and sister coaxed me in to the Dodge “Dualy” that would be delivering us to our destination 1700 miles away. I packed rather lightly knowing we’d only be staying a couple of days, and in retrospect, it seemed like we spent more time driving than doing anything else. My uncle was the navigator of this journey and drove the entire trip himself. He didn’t mind the drive which may seem odd if you didn’t know that he drove a semi-trailer cross-country for a living. I remember he said to me reassuringly before the trip “I’ve been drivin’ since I was 8 years old. In fact my mama told me I came out of the womb drivin’. Drivin’ is as natural to me as breathin’, don’t worry.” My mother confirmed this reminiscence, so I trust him and his word that we would arrive in San Jose safe and sound.
It was a long haul for sure, but he had the route already planned. Most of which I’ll try to outline. First off, we got on to I-30 and then shortly after, I-35. After this there was a series of freeway exchanges that I failed to observe in my sleepy stupor. I do remember that we got onto 287 and then eventually, near Amarillo, switched to I-40. After that it was just a long span of road between us and the deserts of California. Naturally, this 20+ hour trip was split into two days of traveling. We drove roughly a third of the way there the first day, and stopped for the night in the town of Gallup, New Mexico. Gallup is a typical tourist’s town. Complete with junky souvenir shops and cheesy gas station postcards, but I remember it fondly. Having arrived just around dusk, the sun was setting slowly but surely. Orange and reddish hues underscored a picturesque panorama that can only be described as halcyon. Of course we didn’t stop there for the pictorial sights; we stopped there because of the plethora of motels present, which were relatively inexpensive.
The second day we left bright and early to catch the road by surprise. I remember this being the longest and most desolate stretch of our journey. From Flagstaff, AZ to the California border we hardly stopped, driving at least 10 miles over the speed limit. My uncle told us that there wouldn’t be many rest stops up ahead in the desert, so we took a 30 minute respite. Then from Needles to Barstow it seemed like an eternity of endless desert and sun. I felt like how Kerouac or Thompson must have felt during their long trips, wondering if I’d ever see civilization again. But eventually we reached civilization and merged on to I-15. Striving on and passing Bakersfield, I finally began to see those green landscapes my mind’s eye had envisioned beforehand. I was amazed by the sheer geographic diversity of California. It seemed to me as though we went from a despondent desert to the land of Eden. So while on Interstate-5 all the way to Pacheco Pass, I was in a state of wonder and stupefaction. By the time we arrived in San Jose I was thoroughly content with the trip, which incidentally fit that terribly trite quote: “It’s not the destination, but the journey…” or whatever. Cliché as it sounds, after our stay I found myself excited for the ride back.