No sleep 'till Marfa
On the road in America

Aug
11

The angel headed hipsters are making ironic jokes about Judd.

Welcome to Marfa.

Marfa

So the journey has ended and we made it from San Francisco to Marfa and back. It was a long trip and a lot of miles to think and see some pretty outstanding natural beauty in America.

People

Along the road I met a lot of great people, some I knew only online and others we bumped into at various stops along the way. Meeting strangers and spending time with them is not to be taken lightly. I think learned a little from everyone I met. Getting into some wide open spaces is a good way to clear your mind and think about new ideas and old themes afresh.

Marfa? Well, turned out that Alpine is a lot nicer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty town, a small place and does not appear to be littered with chain food and coffee branches so that’s a blessing. There’s a lot of art, some bookstores and three hotels – all booked at the weekend and all fairly expensive. Maybe I’m getting old or maybe the small towns on the way were so filled with charming locals, but I found the self conscious and arty ways of Marfa more like the attitudes on either coast. Self-conscious, too self aware.This seemed displaced in the middle of a deserted area. If you’re headed that way, visit for sure, but stay in Alpine if you can and talk to the people there. I liked them a lot, even the half-cut cowboy in the Buffalo Rose and his friends who were so embarrassed that they continually apologised for his amusing outbursts.

Alpine

I like being on the road. I like looking around and processing things. I like a different place to the one I live in. It’s a vacation from everything familiar and not so challenging for language and culture as to make it hard work. An easy way to take your mind out for a steam clean.

Blogging on the road has been fun too. I was armed with an Acer Aspire One, a Flip – first generation and a Cannon 450 D. Shooting a place you have an affection for makes the action easier. It’s good practice and sharpened the pencil a little I guess. I had forgotten what it was like to file my own copy without having to report to someone else.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Thanks to those of you who dropped by to comment and observe, it’s much nicer to know there is some sort of audience rather than just shouting into the web!

It seems a shame to draw this one to a close but the journey is done and so are the words from the road. There’s always some place new to take my feet.

Feets

JK – “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” Matsuo Bashō

Aug
10

DSCN3406_2

Two months ago, in an unkempt motel out in Fernley, Nevada — the night before I went out to drive some of the same roads we wound up traveling on our leg from Death Valley to Yosemite —  I’d had one of my Delphic dreams about Miss K. Even so, I didn’t expect this trip to pry me out of my life so fully. I did know it was the last real commitment I’d made to an arc I’ve been on since I decided to leave Los Angeles just about two years ago. I was aware going in that it was an end, but that’s about all I was sure of.

I’ve long been a fan of singer/illustrator Rick Froberg. For those unfamiliar, he was a pivotal figure in the early ‘90s San Diego music scene, back when it was being done over with a nitcomb by A&R men with an eye fixed on finding “the Next Seattle.” But the record long-considered his magnum opus, 1994’s Yank Crime by Drive Like Jehu, never quite connected with me.  I’d known it was important; little lines from it like “Do you compute?” and “Aloha! Suit up!” had stuck with me for years. The cover art — a simple black-and-white drawing of an India ink bottle with the dropper suspended by an invisible hand, trickling a puddle down the side — had always hung somewhere in the recesses of my mind. But the whole of it was way too big for me, somehow. Finally, fifteen years after its release, about five days into the desert, it became all I wanted to hear.

DSCN3488_2

My copy was in a storage space with the rest of the detrius collected moving from town to town; job to job; woman to woman. Gathering dust in an uncertain stasis as to where it would land next as part of an actual home. In lieu of having the record to listen to, remembered snippets played themselves out, stretching and contracting with the scenery.

Six-hundred-mile days seemed about right. We both preferred the windows open, only resorting to air conditioning when the wind got too extreme or the thermometer on the dash crested 42C. Eventually, it was as if we were taking separate journeys to the same places. We’d stowed the iPods in favor of the roar of the long-distance interstates and blast-furnace air. And that’s when the expansive, rolling, abrasive patterns constructed into soaring mini-suites — topped with oblique lyrics about standing in the face of decay, accusation and misunderstanding — began to assert themselves as the internal score to my side of the journey.

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The thing about my Delphic dreams is that they never play out literally. They tell a story and assign some sort of fate. And any attempt to fuck with or subvert it or make it something else, or to play off the literal aspects of the story spun in my subconscious, just seems to make that fate more certain. When I had that dream of her in the desert, I sensed that I would come away from this trip fundamentally changed. But I’d largely discounted that premonition when I picked her up in San Francisco. Or if I didn’t exactly ignore it, I tried to half-ass my way around it like Laius of Thebes in low-top Chuck Taylors.

For the better part of two weeks, I’d been trying to see America — and myself — through her eyes. The result was somewhat like seeing my obsessively-maintained collection of myths as a room full of stained-glass art and wincing as a hammer-wielding logician took them on. The fragile ones shattered; the ones worth keeping held under the blows. There was a lot of glass on the ground by the time we got back to San Francisco.

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After dropping off Miss K., I really just wanted to get out of the City as quickly as possible; staying in the 415 area code was only going to make me dwell unhealthily on everything I was leaving behind — something I’m already fantastically good at. So out it was, across Market, across Mission, across Folsom and Harrison, left on Bryant and onto I-80 toward my beloved East Bay.

In the middle of my favorite bridge in the world, I realized that the Northern California where I’ve spent roughly 87 percent of my life seemed totally foreign to me, other than that I knew where the roads went without the aid of an atlas. It was immensely freeing. After all, when everything becomes unfamiliar, there’s really no bias when it comes to dropping the next pin on the map. Or, to quote Froberg once again, “Take it or leave it. Do both. Do both if you choose.” -DGJ

[Thanks so much to my lovely and brilliant travel companion for inspiring this trip and for doing so much to make it the transformative experience it became for me.]

Aug
09

I love cars, the eco part of my soul is likely to be headed straight to hell – in a fast gas guzzling vehicle. However, there are some times when wheels just don’t cut it and it’s better to wear off some shoe leather to get a real sense of place.

Out in Death Valley, I took a walk on a lost river bed. Deep, cracked patterns took off in all directions. The wind was fierce and the heat was astounding. Just after filming this clip a sand storm took up on the other side of the road. It was time to get back into the car. But for those minutes while I dehydrated at speed, I managed to touch the ground and get a lot closer to a long natural event.

Another example where I prefer to be out on my feet is probably in any given city. I tend to strike out in one direction, see something that takes my fancy and head off somewhere else. The good people of San Francisco seemed horrified at the distance I would make (“But that’s like, more than Seven Blocks toward Castro!”) But I took off through more sparsely populated areas – the mission – find Al’s comic book store and purchase Ignition City issues. It was not really that far away but it did take me to an art store with some nice chaps who confirmed the way I was headed, a book store which would have broken my bank account had I stayed due to all the lovely editions in there and finally to my destination.

shopAl

That’s Al’s Comics and that’s Al. He’s really friendly. So far Al has been running his shop for more than 20 years. The radio plays good Uk and US punk and alternative music, he knows a hell of a lot about the funnies, not so funnies and decidedly adult papers. While I was browsing, an incredibly charismatic woman came in and gave him a huge bunch of roses. The rest of that is their business.

Not only did I get what I was looking for, I also picked up some nice local prints too. Check it out! Zombies vs Robots vs Amazons! I’m delighted by that combination and hope to catch up when the Mermen enter the battle!

signstash

From Al’s Comics I took my boots all the way back into town, all the way down Market to the ferry port and then along the way to Fisherman’s wharf in time for the last rocket boat ride of the day.

It’s a little bit schlocky, but kinda fun. I like fast boats in the same way I like fast cars. It’s also great to see the coastline from the water at a pace.

wharf
After all that exercise and frankly feeling a little bit crippled in the pins, I had a quick fish supper on the wharf and caught a cable car back toward the hotel.

I short walk to collect some coffee and I was back at the Bijou to jot some notes and upload some pictures. Nice change from riding shotgun, though even now I am aching from the route on foot!

JK – Who clearly needs more exercise.

Aug
08

Thank anyone for not having to eat “road food” in the states. I like a varied diet but I am not keen on processed food. Roadside food here is indescribably horrid in many ways and the service is very varied. I guess you gets what you pays for but it’s been a large part of the journey and is worthy of note.

American brand attachment astounds me. Naturally as I don’t live in the same culture at all, I find it surprisingly different and occasionally difficult to navigate the differences between one burger house and another.

Enough already!

Enough already!

Those who may know me, might realise that I can be a somewhat quiet and reclusive person for long stretches. Being out on the road in a huge and glorious landscape tends to aid that introspection so the arrival at a brightly coloured house of fast food is particularly jarring.

Pulling in to roadside selection of red, yellow and white signs that stand about 100 ft high, I am unsure of the choices and ask DGJ to take the lead. Ok – Chilis.

Stepping in through dark glass into the cold air con from about 35 deg heat, it takes a moment for eyes and senses to adjust.  This might not be an option. As we walk in I am blown sideways by loud cocaine waitress who screams wide eyed, “HI!! YOU WANNA SIT DOWWWN?” She grins maniacally at me and I start to fluster and back away. Thank goodness for an US native guide. DGJ negotiates and we walk through to find a booth. Various and assorted pretty girls on probably crappy wages wish me well, ask how I am today and grin as though they might be executed for “lack of flair”. It’s deeply unsettling and I have a feeling that I now know what it is like to be an elderly Chinese traveller having directions screamed at them in London. Lesson learned to be gentle on that one.

At the table we order vegetarian, so far I have a mildly suspicious take on road food. Even though I’ve been known to buy the last lonely stick of luke-warm catfish in a gas station and eat it. A young man that by rights at his age should be sultry and mumbling adds his voice to the over-friendly chorus. He plies us with bottomless glasses of fizzy sugar and provides five minute updates on how things are on our table. It’s sort of tricky to chat and DGJ is much amused and very helpful in calming my skittish reaction to the shouting. People are like this, they are often working for tips and well, friendly and attentive is FTW here. Mostly I would like to have some peace, but it seems terrible to tell these kids to naff off when they are trying so hard.

Brand wise we kept a bit of a table on the road. Chilis became a no – I couldn’t handle being shouted at over my food. Dairy Queen, truly unappetising and bless the staff at the till who are not so bright when it comes to putting together simple orders. They must have something else to do. KFC – nope, no thanks. McDonald’s didn’t even come into the equation. The damn golden arches are in almost every small hamlet all over the Union. Even in Alpine, gorgeous rural town, yeah – right there, dominating the landscape. Irritant.

momscropIn trying to participate and not reject the whole experience – and face it, UK roadside cuisine is somewhat risky too – I tried Sonic Burger as my weapon of choice, but you know, I sort of wish we had tried more in the way of independents. Cruising into town at midnight doesn’t really make this an available option, but if you are ever in Salina, Utah, pleasego to Mom’s cafe. The fries are spectacular for what they are and the service is friendly and firm without being over zealous. The also sell the local salt.

It’s not surprising that a few days into the journey I was suffering with mild gut-rot. So many additives that I think I might have some sort of cold turkey experience on the plane home. Shivering and shaking with sugar and processed chemical overload is part of a road journey, unless you have time to source nicer places. But this trip was a little more speed and sights than special food requirements. Also things are cheaper this way. I can see why there is a lot of obesity here – this food is very cheap and simple to eat (think soft textures and not much flavour) but for a few dollars, the portions are almost ridiculous. Taking in that much sugar and fat is like slowly poisoning yourself over years.

wharfBack in SF, I took a walk all the way down to the Wharf and found a restaurant off the main drag on a boat. The fresh crab cakes were spectacular, the cod – tasty and wonderful. There was texture and flavour and freshness!
I don’t mind compromising food on a road trip – it’s worth it to get by. Also, I appreciate good food and home cookery all the more when I get to a place where it’s available!

JK – Can you hear my arteries screaming?

Aug
08

Investigating miles visually is great but there are other ways to enjoy new places. Getting out on the road in good weather with the windows open is a delight. It also leads to new experiences for the senses, specifically a sense of smell.
fields
On the way to Salton Sea early in the journey, the lack of artificial lighting on the road made a sense of smell more acute. The night looked spectacular in it’s unpolluted starlit glory. We could see the milky way and it’s nice to be able to identify the galaxy address of the planet you live on. The darkness also offered, passing smells of cow shit, hay and rain that never seemed to arrive. It was an interesting experience to indulge a sense in this way.

Further along toward the cities, I smelled a Skunk for the first time. (I guess this still fits into the WB Looney Tunes theme of the whole run). I can now see why people call their drug of choice by the same name. I really didn’t believe that the two would actually have the same scent notes but they do. Also, skunks don’t smell half as bad as I was expecting. Though naturally I’d rather not be wearing that particular perfume.

One of the really cloying smells of the road arrived as we passed through oil fields. Lonely pastures were dotted with small pumps, perpetually nodding with only a tank for company. The smell is powerful and acrid and seems to describe all of the monetary and political associations with the product.

A sense of smell has the power to immediately transport me to another place in time. The pine trees of Yosemite took me home to my grandmother’s house. With that sweet pine in the air I could remember so clearly the soft pine needles under my shoes at the back of her garden.

eucpine
An even stronger evocation of home arrived on the road between Salinas and San Francisco; end of the new world along the Pacific. Sweetest pine and ocean salt air mixed with Eucalyptus – any Australian can be homesick on those two alone. Hot air to accompany a gum tree on the breeze, well you might as well be in the hills of Melbourne. It’s one of my favourite smells and so delicious, I’m a little disappointed there’s not many things to eat with that combination.
pacific
It’s obvious to point out that the United States has a lot to offer when it comes to landscapes and climates, but sometimes it’s fun to remember that you have more than one way of “seeing” it all.

JK – Smells like the sound of a piano falling 5000 feet

Aug
06

I love the desert, I love the mountains, you can keep the beach.

gate

Morning in Death Valley and it’s about 54 deg C. I’m happiest with the windows open and the air con off.
Hard winds rush over the dead river beds, dust devils are whipping up sand and spiralling across the super-heated open space. It’s possibly my favourite place on earth.

Permission to rock - granted.

Permission to rock - granted.

The history of a more wet and fertile time is all around us but for now, bone dry and restless, this place is not an area for survival but for a few hardy critters.  There’s nothing much here but heat and cracked ground. Nothing much to hear but the wind whipping around my ears. It’s hard to take for long, but it’s incredible while I can.

We head up to slightly cooler air in the hills around the valley. At midday we stop to look back at the tiny winding road we took, so small from this distance. Whilst marvelling at the perspective we get a surprise visit from the US Air force. A pair of fighter jets is buzzing the canyon we are standing next to. They are giant and loud, elegant precision fliers and frightening killing machines all rolled into one. They move so fast, beating the speed of sound through the heat and withing seconds appear to play across the mountains in the distance.

In a day of contrasts we cover the miles to Yosemite National Park. By this time and place the air is much cooler. The tall trees create dim corridors.

As the sun sets a Morse code of light flashes through the odd gaps in the trees leaving marks in my vision.

trees

It’s an altogether different natural beauty. Between the two, dead heated spaces and cool wooded oasis, America does provide some of the most breath taking places to see, without seeing anything man made.

JK – Sandblasted

Aug
05

nts_marker

 

The dirty west of Nevada is as much where I’m from as Ulster is. Oddly enough, I’ve spent more time in the latter. My dad’s side was ranchers and electricians and immigrants and rapscallions and silver-seekers and famine-fleers. Post-Civil War Kentuckyans and folks who downed a few too many with Sam Clemens. You can read a bit more about that (and gay rodeo and a Maserati GranTurismo and a cute shrink who stuck me with an emotional shiv) here.

 

But this summer, I’ve found myself up and down and across the Silver State with rather alarming regularity. Miss K. and I were both hoping to avoid Las Vegas, and we mostly did, skirting across the northern part of town on Clark County Route 215 and up US 95, a road we’d taken the Arizona portion of on our sojourn from the Salton Sea to the Grand Canyon.

 

galileogalileo 

What struck me was how blasé I was about seeing the Nevada Test Site. Bear in mind that the spot has been on my list of places to visit since I was a teenager. I had a poster of the inner workings of the Nova Laser at Livermore over my bed during my prime dating years. Yet I was not all, “Holy shit! Operation Plumbbob!” or “Jumpin’ Jehosephat! The site of the Sedan shot!” I was not fearful. I was not enraged. I was not in awe. And my traveling companion knows a bit too well that I cycle through those emotions with fluid regularity. It was more like, “Oh, there was a marker? No. I’m not sure if there will be another marker. Sure, I’m more than willing to turn around and go back.” As Miss K. noted at the time, it did seem a shame to come all this way and then just miss it.

 

So we stopped and took a few pictures. It had none of the charge of our evening at the White Sands National Monument. It had none of the grandiose “Wha?” of the must-be-a-matte-painting Grand Canyon. Yet the phrase “Sunset over the Nevada Test Site” seems like a wonderfully loaded line from one of those atonal, yowling love songs I’m such a sucker for.

 

Still, there was none of that. Just a marker on the side of 95. And out there, somewhere, craters. And glass. Lots of glass fused from desert sand.

 

I must be getting old. Who says “Oh, hey.” to Death, Destroyer of Worlds?
-DGJ

Aug
05

test siteIn searching for atomic zones and skirting around Area 51, we found ourselves a short stroll away from Death Valley.

In the cloying heat and shocking pink sunset we draw up to a marker, “Nevada Test Site”. It tells us about the ancient dwellings, the flora and fauna and how it was all blown up for the greater good. It’s a small sign and doesn’t seem to sum up the feelings I have about the anonymous highway along side and the fences bearing warnings to keep out.

We move on. The road is desolate and the traffic moves fast. People do not seem to want to stick around. The sun is setting in an almost preposterously friendly array of colours, the feeling of this place is not good. Naturally, the motor is running low on gas.

We pull in under one of America’s incredibly tall ad boards. Above my head on one side it warns us that this is the last rest stop before Area 51, on the other is a reclining lady, promoting the “gentleman’s club” attached to the service station. She looks alluring enough, but the whole presentation looks as though it was designed to fill a double page spread in Hustler, 1971.

Ads

The light is dimming and my spidey-sense is going nuts about not liking the air around here. The store is named Nevada Joe’s, open 24 hours for gas, groceries and apparently “gentleman’s requirements”. Extraordinarily, the entire wooden building has been painted bright pink and appears to have a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon daubed in giant proportions. I wonder if that is the cause it is meant to represent.  DGJ adds gas to the car. I head into the shop to see about getting more water.

Inside, the store is much too large for it’s contents and appears to be understocked. A large dog wanders about, the girl at the till greets me unsmilingly and a large old cowboy mutters curses as he sits at a bank of slot machines. There’s no music and not enough light.

At the back I see a sign marked “Restrooms” that is right next to an open door, through which I can see the dark and neon of a back room strip bar. I scuttle past the cowboy to the refrigerators and snatch up bottles of water, hoping that the dog will leave me alone.

Paying at the desk, I fumble with American dollars, oddly nervous, mixing things up and sounding very British in the hope that this might encourage sympathy. The young woman behind the till looks on unsmiling and simply repeats the price. DGJ wanders in and off to the back to use the rest rooms.

pink porchTo pass time away from the girl at the till, I read a list of distances, hand written in large letters on a sheet of paper about three feet long. So, 35 miles to the next town, 107 to Baker if required. I note that the cowboy has stopped paying attention to the slot machines and is now looking in my direction. I step out onto the pink porch outside.

Sweating, I take a few photos and wait for DGJ to return. What looks like a small bird is flying circles in the pink and purple dusk. Squinting at it’s odd way of flying, I realise, it’s not a bird, it’s a small bat.

In the distance a large full moon is hanging low and the little bat shoots off around toward the club at the back. I start to shift from foot to foot when mercifully DGJ appears, chipper as ever.

Driving away from the spooky Nevada Joe’s, it comes to me what this place reminds me of. You know that bar in “Dusk ’till Dawn”? Yeah.

joes2

I’m sure it was probably the light, or the bat or the heat that got my senses running about this place. I would even bet in the light of day that it all looks real friendly. Apparently it even serves a mean steak diablo.

sunsetdoor

JK – Possibly working as a zombie stripper in Nevada, please let my boss know I won’t be back in the office. Braaiinnnnzzzz

Aug
04

rocketry

 

The Missile Park at White Sands looks as if Bob’s Big Boy came to play and forgot to take his toys with him when he left. At the gate, the man in the hi-viz vest informed Miss K. that we could take as many pictures of the park’s hardware as we wanted — as long as we shot toward the mountains. Apparently, the barren expanse of the rocket range holds secrets that we can’t have the Russkies getting their hands on via flickr and/or Wikipedia.

 

cross

 

The day before, we’d started the day by shooting down Texas State Highway 118 from Alpine to Terlingua. And while the ghost town seemed to have been retaken by residents and businesses, the one fantastic find was the old graveyard. It was like no cemetery I’d ever been in — and was possibly more affecting to me than any of them. Simple mounds of rock covered the graves. Rough-hewn wooden crosses marked the sites. Some of the more ornate resting places featured stones with beautiful, uncomplicated typography. The whole place was messy and final and alive, despite the fact that the latest burial I noticed took place in 1945.

 

Yet people still pay tribute. Faded Virgin of Guadalupe candles long since burned down and filled with stagnant rainwater litter the place. Stars made of soda cans hang from the crosses. 

 

bros

 

On the flipside, die-cut tribal bro-ham iconography now passes muster with the United States Air Force. Given the fact that they built a Challenger with Lambo doors to attract new recruits, this comes as no surprise. 

 

Wait ‘til the rubout, wait ‘til the purge, indeed. If anyone’s left, please bury me in a place like Terlingua. -DGJ

Aug
04

marfaI thought we might have missed this along the road somewhere. Not that you can miss it on the 90, but that it might be on a different road. You see, Prada Marfa, is not in Marfa. It should be, it feels as though it could be.

It’s a couple of towns out and up there on the roadside. It has its own power source and it looks pretty neat. The installation went up in 2005. I’ve been intrigued by it ever since but never really thought I would get to see it. I love the desolation of the area and I love that it is placed just there.

Apparently vandals have at it all the time, but it was fairly tidy when we got there. I like it. I’d definitely come and not shop here all the time if I lived a little closer.

Go Google it or something, I’m on vacation – JK

Aug
03
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft...

Calling occupants of interplanetary craft...

Pulling into Roswell is a pretty exciting way to spend an otherwise unremarkable birthday. It’s home to some of my favourite sci-fi tales and conspiracy theories. I was hoping that it could sate my pulp fiction appetite with more kitsch than I could shake three green fingers at. Not so Mulder…

There’s a main drag in Roswell where the cheap toys of little green men and the alien landing museum are kept and there’s not much to it. The rest is a dry and dusty place in need of a stimulus package. The people are very nice.

Some things lit my fire, hand beaten flying saucers had “crashed” into a couple of buildings and the local giganta-Walmart had alien faces painted on the front. A lot of places were closed. I think the down turn my also be affecting the intergalactic economy.

Don't drink and drive kids

Don't drink and drive kids

Roswell is also hotter than hell, so we took a break in a “spacey” cafe. The coffee was good and the owner is very nice (he had tales of actually getting a video camera back after he left it on the Tube in London – miracles never cease…). Taking a seat in the air con, I noticed a shelf of literature and went for a nose around to see if there might be a map of the area (OK, a map of the crash site – duh). The pamphlets were entitled “Does the Devil really exist?”  and the magazines were promoting Christian lifestyle choices and activities.

A bit disappointed to find info about other things in the sky than spaceships, we set off to the local Chamber of Commerce for a map. The crash site is not listed – that said, it happened on private land a long time ago, so I guess it would be intrusive to go traipsing all over it to see an old scar on the ground. There was only one paragraph in the Roswell local leaflet about the crash that made the town famous. It briefly said – happened a long time ago, it was a weather balloon.

Although there were people in 1950’s space suits on the front of the map, I was a little disappointed that the them is not pushed. I guess people in town don’t really need to live in Disneyland.

Give up now, repent later.

Give up now, repent later.

The main themes that do stand proud above the heads of little green men are pro-life, guns and god. Though I might not want to join that club, I have respect for people’s beliefs if they leave me alone and it’s no real surprise in that state that God’s in the top ten.

    Have you seen a sign? Or do you see something else when you look up?

Have you seen a sign? Or do you see something else when you look up?

“I want to believe”, has a different tone in Roswell to the one I was expecting. I guess when you look up to the stars at night, you can pick and choose what it is you are looking for.

JK – Rebel Alliance – Help me Obi-Wan…

Aug
02

marfa_road

Today I am hoping to listen to “Radio Free Europe” while pounding it at 11/10ths down to Terlingua, Texas in honor of motor racing driver (and noted Ford enhancer) Carroll Shelby — one of the founding fathers of the area’s famed Chili Cook-Off. 

Oddly enough, we’ve decided that Marfa is overrated and both harbor fantasies of setting up some kind of long-term camp here in Alpine, 20-odd miles east. It’s more of a real town and in fact, has more of the organic weirdness we were expecting to find in Marfa, a burg that seems to have been totally overrun by hipsters who try way too hard. It’s the sort of place that was probably fantastic about twenty years ago, but has since buckled under the weight of its own meager hype. 

It’s a bit like getting to El Dorado and realizing the place is built of pyrite. -DGJ

Aug
01

wheelchairs_missing

 

There is a perfect place in the Fiesta. It’s somewhere between head and chest level, just above the handbrake. It’s where my lopsided Californian romanticism merges with Miss K’s British-filtered Australian hothead pragmatism. To the left or right of that point, sometimes things get a little torqued.

 

It’s funny, too, because she inspires me to spill my guts in a very profound sort of way. It’s not that the words themselves are necessarily put together in any erudite manner at all. In fact, they tend to come out in some sort of roundabout ramble; snippets of songs I like, dissected; musings on places; vignettes from much longer stories that don’t necessarily stand on their own. And right as I’m hitting some sort of ADD crux, she’ll say, “The universe is a really big place, maaan.”

 

In other words, “Cool it with your fractured, lazy English, Johnson. I’m on holiday here.”

 

Still, I was a bit of a whirlwind driving into Austin last night. I lived here for a year. Took a chance on a new place, but in a lot of ways, never really left California in my mind. Still read the San Francisco paper more often than the Austin paper. I couldn’t help wondering what my life would be like had I not taken living here more seriously. Because I do love it in this town.

 

That said, I’ll be happy to leave the familiar behind today. Touchstones are grand — if only because they remind you of who you used to be — even if the twitches and twinges aren’t always exactly comfortable. Today we’re off through the Hill Country, one of my favorite places in the world, and then back out into the desert to hang a left at Fort Stockton, a town where I’m pretty sure I almost got carjacked in a ridiculous Plymouth Prowler.

 

Bring on the new. We’ll see how long it takes me to call out, “Nurse!” -DGJ

Aug
01

road1When it comes to taking a break, the desert draws me. It’s the miles and miles of nothing that appeals. This is not some nihilistic expression of angst, it’s more a recognition of a different pace and a much bigger space.

I love living in cities and I do like to go exploring in another metropolis when time allows but the amount of visual stimulus in these places does nothing but stoke my daily thirst for new things. The complex languages of buildings and people in new cities is exciting, but it exhausts me in a similar way to the city in which I live.
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The rhythm of the road is a different time. It takes some stillness of mind and allows thought in a similar way to dreaming. As the miles pass my mind sheds the little circles it turns in and broader themes appear and settle. It’s comforting. The wider skies calm my mind in ways that rich areas cannot and seeing further across the miles makes considering the future somewhat more literal. This doesn’t mean I have the answers, just that I have been able to clear the clutter and make some space.
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Patience is required when the desert is your friend. There’s not much around to look at so you spot things somewhere in the heat haze on the tarmac horizon and you wait for it to come into view. It’s rarely anything too lively, but its something different enough to focus on. Patterns repeat like a beat to a soaring soundtrack, white lines reel under and power lines divide the sky at regular intervals.

Through the night hypnotic visions appear as they do during the day. As if by magic, cats eyes appear, just when you need them and describe just enough to sketch out a simple environment, your vehicle, your thoughts and the road.

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JK

Jul
30

Most trips have a theme or three that come up in rotation while you are on the road. They’re on going jokes that keep the conversation alive and bring you together as a team on the road. One of my favourites on this trip so far is the odd connections in what we have seen and where we have been to the Looney Tunes cartoons.

Of course we’re not using an anvil to beat each other to death and then spring back, but there have been a few moments.

Take a look at this picture for me –
canyon-coyote
Now have a think. Can you imagine Wile E Coyote just there, rolling a boulder ten times the size of himself, just to the edge? He might add a twig and a bit of string and stand just under it, waiting for the “Meep! Meep!” of that Roadrunner. The Grand Canyon is an incredible natural creation of great beauty and astounding proportion, but of course I look at it like the cartoon bimbo that I am, and that’s what I see, a cartoon coyote.

Further on the road we are pulling through Albuquerque. If you watched those ‘toons as a kid, you’ll know where I’m headed with this one….

For the third example, we saw a sign for the Old Pecos Trail in Santa Fe, DGJ, much amused quotes our old friend Yosamite Sam who is of course a cowboy with an 11-gallon hat and the largest ego “north, south, east, aaaaand west of the Pecos”.

Who said that cartoons teach us nothing?

Meep-meep! – JK

Jul
29

MirrorStraight in at the deep end on a long drive that brought us to Salton Sea at about three in the morning. We found a place to stay that was a great combination of kitsch and oddly empty.  The only other guest I saw apart from DJG was the spider I shared my room with. I drove him off in the end too – he’d created a people sized web-trap which made me realise that not many people seem to have stayed there recently.

Driving through the sunset and into the night time I got to know my travelling companion a little better. He’s like online but 3D, it’s funny how people look the same but different to their photographs. We had a lot of coffee and touched down on the sand of Salton Sea to look up into the Milky Way, complete with shooting stars. I could hear the tide on the shore and smell the salt in the air. Unfortunately being a city-mouse, it seemed that I was also a bit more skittish in the dark. As we drive on, rabbits freeze by the side of the road, their eyes lit red, reflecting the headlights. This will take a little adjustment for me not to find it so spooky.

The next morning, by ten the air outside was hair dryer hot. I swam in a pool with no one else around, the water was almost bath warm and full of bees and wasps, it wasn’t a long dip. The sky was wide open and the barren lands around the hotel were pale gold. I still love the desert.

Upon setting off, DGJ notes that it’s about 48deg C out and it gets warmer.  We coast along, sort of headed maybe for Santa Fe – but that’s miles away. For two petrol head kids on an open highway, i’m not so surprised about what happened next, but I am surprised at the numbers.

We’re chatting about music and the heat’s hitting about 52 deg C when Smokey appears in the rear views and the lights come on. CA highway patrol arrive and they’re not so pleased to see us. I think DGJ has the patter on this one better than me, safe to say the cop was pretty pissy and it took work not to annoy him more. He was not lenient.

SunsetBack on the trail and Santa Fe seems even further away. The cool thing about a road trip with only a vague sketch in hand is that you can change your mind. It was worth it. We motored toward the Grand Canyon just as an electrical storm started to make shapes, darting forked lightning split dark clouds on the horizon. It was still warm and we were diving into one of nature’s more incredible light shows.

pylonBetween the wonderful heat, the wide open night skies, sunsets that seem like treasure and the light show, it’s been a journey so far to be awed by the US landscape and natural beauty. Natural beauty and electrical pylons…now that I will definitely leave DGJ to explain.

JK

Jul
29

Shortly before heading off on the road, I paid a visit to the gates of hell. I had a feeling that if I could face it in a nice pink cardigan and a cheery grin that a road trip with an online friend would be a piece of cake. So far indeed it is.

Gates of Hell - quite nice actually.

Gates of Hell - quite nice actually.

The nice thing about many of the friends I have is that they are talkers and I often prefer to listen. I ask questions and then sit back and enjoy the ride. Davey has managed a pretty good commentary about the places we have seen and general  life stories that people swap and trade when they are on long journeys.

It’s interesting to hang out with people you have known online for years. It’s like a picture with some things missing, some colour here or a sense of scale there. But putting those pieces in place is kind of cool. In fact, on this trip I have only hung out with people I know online and had not met before, each one was been as brilliant in the flesh. My only regret is that they will become online friends again when I return home. A global community indeed, but sometimes that’s not enough when you’ve made really good friends on a different journey.

Jul
25

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She’s in Silicon Valley right now, which I find to be one of the most irritating places in California. People there go to the mall to party. And you know what? Fuck that. But she’s a big girl. I’m not particularly worried that she’ll wither in the presence of the unfortunate light and stucco bullshit of Santa Clara County.

Sometimes, when the drums kick in under the guitars and I grab another gear, things come to me. The mesquite stick of the Texas heat on my skin blowing in through the open window as the sun sinks lower and there’s still 200 miles to get wherever we’re going. A pretty passenger griping about the seat adjustment knob in the Fiesta and smiling behind her sunglasses when she finds the chair’s sweet spot as the roar of the wind whips her hair from her ears at 80 mph.

I’ve done 14,000 miles since I picked up the car in April and I’ve had too few co-pilots. Just my friend Bob from LA to Vegas and a couple of punk girls who hitched a ride with me from Binghamton to New York City. I don’t have many premonitions or preconceptions about this trip; one dream about a desert motel and that little twitch that prompted me to write this post. That’s pretty much it. But I’m pretty sure there will be a few moments of long-distance, at-speed serenity. It’ll be a distinct pleasure to have somebody to share those with. -DGJ

Jul
20

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I have decided that with the general collapse of everything, those of us blessed enough to remember what made our generation famous — namely, the slacker aesthetic — should once again be taken seriously. If I had money, I would pare my essentials down to a Porsche 914, a Telecaster and a Xerox machine. The Tele would fit in the Porsche’s surprisingly commodious rear trunk. The photocopier could be lashed to the trunk-mouted rack with bungee cords. Amplifiers? They can be found along the way! Macintoshes and cellular telecommunications? One needs such contrivances not! But since I am poor and have a free Ford Fiesta and an iPod, I have instead compiled this playlist with which to torment The Girl as I regale her with stories from my zinester days in the East Bay. – DGJ

Jul
19
As promised - a playlist on the pod for the road

As promised - a playlist on the pod for the road

After all of your wonderful suggestions – I was up creating a play list to include some of your suggestions – the list is longer but here’s part of the list. Doesn’t sound so hot on the tube in London but I am sure it will keep us amused a little while on the road – until Davey turns it off and ups the pace with Husker Du and Minutemen at least. Thanks to everyone who jumped in with great ideas!

Jul
18

So, it’s about 1170 miles from San Francisco to Marfa TX. That’s a long way and a lot of time in the car. So, as we both like music, I think there are some play lists to be compiled for the journey. I’m expecting DGJohnson to bring the noise – metal and punk ahoy – which is good, I like loud music. However, my old bones also need a little respite from Motorhead and so I am sourcing some desert music – hopefully with a little help from my friends.

I have already dropped files for the Pixies, Philip Glass,Spoon, Cake (carbon dating myself there I know), some Motown to sing to, some disco to try and annoy Davey (maybe I can add a the odd Kylie/Britney track to that – but no use spiting myself). Driving in the desert is great but a nice shared playlist would be great – what would you want to listen to on the road?

So far the twitter hive mind has produced a couple of suggestions –

vaughan@jemimah_knight surely some doors – keep your eyes on the road your hands upon the wheel, failing that killers – first album

stealingsandRT @jemimah_knight: Suggestions for play lists driving in the desert? Please RT – all welcome! #roadmusic (Cranberries -Dreams)

Throw your two cents in – some new sounds welcome but something familiar and comfortable is always good for a long journey. I plan to sing myself hoarse and appreciate some wide open spaces. (Mansun?)