The day begins much like those before it with jet lagged cursing at the is-it-morning-yet alarm clock. Jump out of bed, throw things in bag, throw bag in car, throw car at at pre-dawn San Francisco. Get my bearings as we trundle down the Embarcadero looking for the freeway. It’s Veterans Day and many people are off work but the streets are already getting busy – I guess nobody wants to be the last one at the parade.
American interstates are confusing. Nobody seems to know or care about lane discipline as soon as there are more than two to choose from. The roads are appallingly constructed and maintained, the panel gap between vast sections of prefab concrete is bigger than the panel gap on a nineties Caddy. Often there are tufts of grass between lanes while the shoulders are littered with an endless supply of tyre carcasses and general trash. Only trucks keep to the right unless overtaking and are the only vehicles to regularly use indicators, often waiting until I’ve passed before pulling out in front of another car to start an overtake of their own. Could it be that a red Mustang touches something patriotic in your average ‘murrican haulier?
Coastal fog and straight lanes eventually give way to gently sweeping bends and forests of what I take to be Joshua trees as we enter the Mojave desert, passing Edwards AFB and it’s rows upon rows of derelict aircraft slowly rusting into the earth. I’ve heard a lot about this place and badly want to grab the camera for a spot of recon, but time’s ticking away and I don’t know whether it’s the flat, boring roads or the prospect of not stopping for 600 miles unless you want to, so I just keep going.
Right into a traffic jam. Now what? There’s no way round, no other routes to take, so everybody just sits there immobile. Ten minutes turn to twenty turn to forty before we crawl forwards. More than an hour later we’ve travelled less than a mile when the reason becomes apparent. Some poor sod’s properly munked his pickup-cum-articulated-RV, flipping it and then spinning it through 180 to rest on its side, blocking both our lanes and forcing everyone to pass by squeezing onto the shoulder and into the scrub. There’s no sign of emergency services apart from the abandoned CHP station wagon with it’s lights flashing, though interestingly Old Smokey has left behind a trail of crackling, spitting flares rather than battery-operated lights to guide traffic around the wreck.
Apart from a derelict service station-cum-gift-shop there’s nothing further to draw attention away from the terminally boring road until we cross the California state border, where it’s brasher, gambling addicted Neighbour Nevada announces his presence in the form of faux-classical peach coloured block of flats topped off with twee Disney turrets. The monstrosity is called Whisky Pete’s, and features an integrated roller coaster as well as a 40 LED foot dot matrix informing all and sundry that rooms start at $39, pets are welcome, and they have fresh Krispy Kreme donuts daily. Just as I’m beginning to doubt the success potential of their marketing strategy I remember that actually, there were a number of obese frugalitarians with lapdogs in the burrito joint where I stopped for lunch, and that one such “couple” actually had matching jumpers. We live in a complex world.
Eleven hours and forty minutes after leaving San Francisco we finally roll into Las Vegas city limits, and I’m almost too tired to appreciate the sudden opulence where once was just sand. My friends’ directions were good and I only need cover two or three blocks of The Strip before abandoning The Shark in the (free) hotel car park and wandering through the casino in search of the lifts. You’ve heard of Exit Through Gift Shop? This is Entrance Through Casino – a bright, perfumed room filled with slot machines and poker tables the size of a football field. Not bad for a hotel lobby.