I grow restless. I must go. I need a road trip. It is not just me.
These are frustrating times and I think the road trip is one of the last remaining fragments of the broken American dream. I cling to it like a splinter from the true cross. We may no longer be able to ride west to a land beyond fences but, for a very little while longer at least, we remain mostly a nation without permanent, police roadblocks.
I think freedom is the inalienable right to come and go as I please. I know. I know. Policemen think I’m crazy. But this old idea of freedom seemed so self-evident until only a few Presidents ago that America bragged then, when it was still then, about her citizen’s “get up and go.” I have not yet properly adjusted to the many recent improvements to my country. I do not own a car with a plug and an estimated cruising range of 40 miles and I doubt I ever will. I own a gasoline burning, carbureted, American motorcycle that makes noise. So I still dream of deserts and back roads, freeways and cornfields, hoodoos and 14,000 foot peaks. And I mumble holy place names in my sleep. St. George. St Joe. Corpus Christi and San Antonio.
The road trip has always been so essential to the old, benighted notion of America that Mark Twain transformed it into a genre of our national literature – beginning with Roughing It and continuing through, to name one in ten thousand titles, Huckleberry Finn, On The Road, The Reivers, Travels With Charley and finally, for better or worse, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
Me, Me, Me
My personal restlessness has been boiling for a year and a half. I don’t suffer from a lack of dreams, or steam, but from a lack of means. A half dozen times I have entertained the notion of shoving whatever I had at the time – six hundred or a thousand dollars – into my jeans and heading southeast and never looking back. And then….
That was always where I lost my courage. I am old enough to know that in life, as opposed to stories, there is always an “and then….” Maybe that was when I regained my sense.
So instead of going I waited and dreamed. And now, at last, I have arrived at the point in my dreams where I can actually begin to plan. The freedom to dream has always been just half the definition of America. The other half has always been the freedom to live out your dreams.
For almost a week I have been almost there. These are my calendar days. These are the days I scribble my dreams in boxes on a paper calendar. Day after day, hour after hour I sit at my computer with a book of maps and a calendar by one hand and my checkbook and a calculator by the other. My computer screen is a fish ladder of travel sites. When I started I thought this would be almost as much fun as going. A few years ago, before I became a casualty of “the recovery,” it was.
Television And Magic Wands
Now, I welcome distraction. The President is on a different screen in the next room. He is laughing that he can do “nothing.” I do not laugh along. I would very much like for him to do something. He mocks the promises by his rivals that they will do something. He explains that a President can only accomplish something if he has a “magic wand.” I change the channel. I don’t like the President or his rivals. If he needs a magic wand why doesn’t he order NASA to make him one?
On the next channel the television girl of my dreams tells me it is going to rain. “The worst storm of the season!” Her eyes grow wide. She bends over lewdly and when she does her breasts swing slightly. “Maybe the worst storm in the last couple of years!” Outside my window it is sunny and mild so I turn off the television and go to my bike. I don’t intend to really go anywhere. I am only going to blow off some of my steam,
I set out for the top of what locals call “The Hill,” which is what the working class kids have always called the Palos Verdes Peninsula – which is where the filthy rich kids have always lived. The Hill sits on the opposite side of Santa Monica Bay from Malibu. From the sand far below the name makes sense. Maybe the people who live on The Hill call it heaven. They should. On a clear day like this one, the summit reveals all of Los Angeles – downtown, the Hollywood sign, the Ferris Wheel in Santa Monica, the cars on Pacific Coast Highway and the whales spouting in the Bay.
And all of this, like you and I, is only temporary. People who hate California gloat that the state is damned to eventually fall into the sea. The Hill is the part of Los Angeles that might actually, eventually, plunge beneath the waves. A fault line runs through it. It is already falling west in slow motion. The mansions will not last forever. I do not believe in money. I believe in gravity. So I believe that too soon all this wealth will disappear and only the coyotes and the rattle snakes will remain. I like to look while all this prosperity is still there.
I cut through the traffic on Hawthorne Boulevard, daring the police to spot me. I hope a cop does spot me. This is how bad my mood is. I am trying to dare the Torrance Police. And if I succeed, this time I might just run. But the police must all be at the donut shop. The only anti-social thing I accomplish is when I glare at a rich guy in a Mercedes until he looks away. That is my big triumph for the day.
I have gone out wearing only a tee-shirt. I am trying to rush Spring. I start to shiver. It has been a long winter. I miss the heat.
I ride to the summit and down the other side just far enough to see the Pacific crashing into the endlessly eroding brown cliffs. Then I resign myself to the fact that I can’t will Spring to appear. I make a loud U-turn and return to my calendar, my checkbook, my calculator and my maps.
Even at my most insane I understand that my life is very good. I could be locked in a cage. I could have been spotted by one of those donut greedy police. I could be sleeping in a dumpster. I could be stuck in a windowless warehouse walking around and around in circles all day. I really have no right to complain. The sum of all my problems this week is that I must figure out where I want to be free and how I will spend my money.
But as soon as I sit back down at the computer I run into the same brick wall I haven’t been able to dent all week. So I surf around the internet looking for biker stories. A few words in Western Australia Today resonate. Being a biker today, the Victoria Acting Assistant Police Commissioner succinctly explains, is “a lifestyle that really requires significant wealth.” He is not the first person to notice this. A few years ago Edward Winterhalder, the former Bandido, said something to the effect that motorcycle outlaws must deal contraband because they need the money to pay for their motorcycle trips. I am sure I have made a mess of Winterhalder’s words but I know I have his sentiment right.
I begin to think about armored cars. How hard can it be to stick up an armored car? I once knew a guy who tried to stick up an armored car. We worked in the same windowless warehouse. We walked around and around in the same circle for eight or nine miles a day. He failed in his attempt to achieve financial security. He got caught. Also, he was a moron. His name was Sweet Pea. I heard he had a hard time in the penitentiary.
I can’t stop thinking about armored cars. If I robbed an armored car I might be able to buy a crappy motel on the road to Sturgis. Or a gas station in the Mojave. Then I would be rich for all the rest of my days. Not rich like the people on The Hill but rich enough to take motorcycle trips.
These are the days when I sit down to plan out where I am going to ride my motorcycle between now and Halloween and how much it is all going to cost. I guess most guys are more spontaneous than I am. Maybe everybody goes through this every Spring.
“The snow levels are going to drop to 2,000 feet,” the weather girl promised. “So expect snow in the Cajon Pass and the Grapevine.” That’s usually when I start planning my motorcycle trips. About the last time it snows in the Cajon Pass.
Last year I was too broke and busy to go anywhere. Last year I was still stealing food. I am convinced that an endless diet of stolen food and five mile long motorcycle trips took about 30 points off my IQ. Now I can afford to buy food and I intend to restore my intelligence a thousand miles at a time.
Every year, my Spring begins with the Vung Tau Spring Run in Camarillo. This year it is April 1. It is a day trip and I usually have fun. One year I got into a lousy mood and found something to write about while I was there. The price of this run goes up every year but it is still only $25 and that includes a nice lunch. Some years they set up a stand where you can buy shots for breakfast. I usually buy a tee shirt too so that’s another sawbuck. I am writing all these numbers down while I am writing this to you. I write down the amounts then add them up.
One thing different about this year is the specific problem our Commander in Chief can only fix if I send him a magic wand. That is the ever escalating price of gas. I ride fast. I live in Los Angeles. I spend a lot of time in traffic so I am happy to average about 40 miles a gallon. I am surrounded by oil wells and refineries but the last time I filled up I still paid $4.67 a gallon.
I don’t know what to do about it. I was kind of counting on Obama to have an idea. Everybody on television describes him as smart. I am beginning to think maybe he needs to take a few long motorcycle rides. I suppose I could stand there and curse at the gas pump but the last time I did that the police showed up – the Torrance Police. So, these calendar days I calculate the cost of gas into everything. It is probably 140 miles up and back from the Vung Tau Run. That amounts to $17 for gas which makes the grand total for that day including tee shirt and breakfast shot to be around $65. No problem. I will spend $65. I write some words in a little box.
Then, I have no idea how I will afford the ride to Phoenix for the Sonny Barger run a week later. That is the next ride on my list. I like to ride to Phoenix before the summer sets in. In summer the temperature is higher than my current IQ and the monsoon rolls in every afternoon by three. Sometimes the rain comes with dust storms called haboobs that appear only in Phoenix and the Sahara. I would like to do the Barger run. I think it is his 85th year in the club or something like that. I have the brochure somewhere under all these lists and scribbled calculations.
Some guys in Phoenix have asked me to stop by their clubhouse when I get to town and I want to do that. I also want to arrive with beer because I appreciate it when any club invites me into their home. I have also been thinking that before one of us dies I should probably get my picture taken with Barger. I usually avoid photos. But Barger is always gracious about posing with anybody who asks and for all I know a photo of me and Sonny will be the most valuable thing I leave behind after the Palos Verdes Peninsula and I are both gone.
I don’t want to ride over Saturday night and do the run and ride back the same day. I have become one of those old guys. So, if I go I will leave Saturday and come back Monday morning. I make a list about all that.
I find a motel for $60 a night. But the real price with taxes and something called a “resort fee” is $75. Twenty bucks for the run. Another $40 for some food and beer and whatever else. I calculate gas to be about $96 which means a quick run to Phoenix will set me back $300. I don’t think I can do it. I sure hope Barger lives at least another 12 months. I would like to get that picture sometime.
Back to the calendar.
In my happiest years, those years when I am least likely to be judged a threat to myself or others, I try to hit some of the big runs. I am starved for rides this year so I am aiming for Laughlin, Sturgis and Reno. I guess it is a good thing they cancelled Hollister and the old Four Corners Run or else I would be trying to fit them in, too.
I don’t need to worry about Reno, yet. Although, when I look, I see all the local hotels have already raised their rates for those dates. I am still pretty sure that Reno will not sell out before June. But I have to deal with Sturgis and Laughlin right now.
Sturgis is the pig in the python. Everything I want to do this summer will be distorted by the Black Hills run. I check out campgrounds. A 400 square foot plot at the first place I look costs $60 a night for a minimum of four nights.
I am not so big on camping at Sturgis, anyway. The one phrase I would choose to best describe the Black Hills run is “baseball-sized hail.” So I sort through my little fish ladder of Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline to determine what a motel in Rapid City is going to cost. Soon I feel antisocial again.
“Warning,” the Expedia robot alerts me in red type. “Only five rooms left!” “Warning,” Expedia continues. “One hundred five people have looked at this motel in the last day!”
Naturally, I panic. The best I can do is three nights in the Rapid City Howard Johnson for $893.23. I have to remind myself to breathe. Eventually I stop gagging.
I did alright. I don’t need to spend more than three nights in Sturgis. I will arrive on Wednesday when the tee shirt prices always start to go down. I can leave on Saturday instead of Sunday. I never go to the concert anyway. And, I can get a refund on this room if I change my mind. I will either go to Sturgis or I wont. In the meantime, if I am to go, even if I eventually decide not to go, I must give the Howard Johnson corporation an interest free, $890 loan. Now I have until the end of July to decide.
But just in case, I calculate the cost of getting there. I really don’t expect Sturgis 2012 to be the monster-party of my life anyway. The part I really like is going there and coming back.
I want to take Interstate 40 east to the 25 north. I have been playing with that idea for at least 15 years. But the only way I have ever been able to afford Sturgis is to get there in three days and come back at the same speed. That means I should average about 450 miles a day and from Los Angeles there are two logical ways to accomplish that. The only difference between the two routes is how far north I go before I turn east. When I do turn I can go east on the 70 through Utah and Colorado or I can take the 80 across Wyoming.
I tear another two pieces of paper off a legal pad. Then I look at rooms in a dozen towns in all three states. Then I turn back to the computer to see what I will have to pay. Which is how I discover, again, that the good citizens in all those towns can already see me coming. And, apparently all these freeway entrepreneurs have decided I must be leaking money. They expect me to make it rain.
“Warning,” Expedia nags. “Sixteen people have booked this motel in the last 24 hours.” The motel is a dump in Grand Junction. Trust me. I have stayed there. It is a $120 a night dump. And the staff is rude. If I am stupid enough to stay there why should they respect me?
Dozens of people are also booking a nicer looking place in Evanston, Wyoming. Unfortunately, I am not rich enough for a fancy, big town like Evanston. The Evanston non-dump is $152 a night. Eventually I work it out. I find that if I am willing to spend my nights in places like Nephi I can find lodging for six nights for $670. The cheapest night will be in a really nice room in Vegas that has a view of the strip. So the total for going to Sturgis and not sleeping under the stars in the mud (or in the sand with the rattlesnakes and scorpions, depending on the exact location of my campground) amounts to $1563.23. More or less. Probably more.
Then I don’t even want to start adding in the cost of the “World Famous Sirloin Tips” and a Budweiser at the Loud American Roadhouse on Main Street. And, God knows I must return from these things with tee shirts, conversation inspiring knives and other crap I don’t need. Once I get there I can’t help myself. And then there is the additional $400 I estimate the trip will cost me because my motorcycle runs on gasoline. I don’t even bother to add all the numbers up.
Instead I immediately turn to the Laughlin River Run.
This run has been pissing me off since whatever year it was that the Mojave County Sheriffs started that motorcycle road block in and out of Oatman. I think that was 1995. Why I can remember when Laughlin was better than Mardi Gras. Women would flash you right on Casino Drive. There were patches everywhere from everywhere. Now those good, old days are long gone. And, I still think I should probably go. I don’t know why. Probably because I have already gone so many times.
I always stay at the Flamingo, even though it is now the Aquarius. This January, a room there for the Run was $300. When I saw that I was thrilled to see that the prices were finally coming down. I should have booked then but my curiosity got the best of me. I wondered how low the room rates would eventually go.
Now a slightly worse room at the Aquarius is up to $533 including the taxes and fees. I write the number down and start to make a list. What are the odds that while I am there I will spend some time in a bar? Will I buy a meal or try to live off beef jerky and M&Ms again. I wonder if that beef jerky stand is still in the same spot. Maybe I will play a hand or two of cards. It is 600 miles round trip to Laughlin and I always put at least 100 miles on the bike while I am there. At least. And, at the moment the price for a gallon of high test at the same Chevron in Needles where I always stop is $5.29. As I remember it, all the stations raise their prices by a buck a gallon when the bikes start to roll through. So, by my calculations, for this run I will pay at least another $95 for gas. Maybe as much as $120. Depending on whether the entrepreneurs take mercy on me and whether Obama finds a magic wand.
Ninety-five bucks. To ride to Laughlin and back. On a motorcycle. $533 for a room. Well, I’m not going to put up with this. There has to be a cheaper place to stay.
I check out the motels in Needles. Obviously I am not alone. “Seventy-three people,” Expedia informs me, “”have looked at this motel in the last day.” I have stayed in this motel. I once spent two weeks in this motel one night in July. The air conditioning did not work. If I stay there now, instead of the Aquarius, I can save maybe $70.
Maybe. But then I am going to spend more money on gas.
The best rides I take are never the trips to any of the big rallies anyway. For years I have wanted to follow the footsteps of Billy the Kid. Over the course of two or three years I went to Dodge City, Tombstone, Bisbee and Ryolite because I wanted to see what Wyatt Earp saw. I have been to both Tonopahs. I have seen wild horses, Tule Elk and petrified forests.
This summer I want to find some time to poke around West Texas. I want to follow the Rio Grande as closely as I can from Las Cruces down to Brownsville. I hear some of that ride is pretty. I haven’t started to plan that until now.
I close all the computer windows except this one. I want to blow up Expedia. I want to rendition whoever the hell calls himself Travelocity. I make a neat stack of all the sheets of paper, push the calculator away and begin to reconsider that armored car.
This might take another few days.