Forty Hours

–The following was written mostly Friday evening but finished tonight (Sunday)

At 6:00 this morning, after driving more or less nonstop from western Utah (C, on the map below) without sleeping, I was welcomed back to Chicago by the endless precession of bluetooth-chattering, egg and sausage mc muffin-smacking residents of western Illinois, who, instead of taking the train, choose to endure 2+ hour traffic jams at such early hours of the morning that only farmers and Williamsburg cocaine enthusiasts should be awake.

Nonetheless, I was back in the city and snuggled up in bed in my frosty apartment by 8:30 this morning. That is of course, until around 3:00 this afternoon, when I was rudely awaken by Brendan (whose Long Beach apartment had been my home for the past two weeks), who was calling to inform me that he was feeding himself grapes while sitting in a hot tube on a San Diego rooftop outside of ASR. Instead of throwing my phone, I simply ordered myself pad khee mao and a cucumber salad from my favorite local Thai establishment and perused expedia until its arrival, at which time the delivery man called me out on my two week hiatus. I suppose I’ll have to call the tamale man tonight, as I’m sure he’s been wondering as well.

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After a departure lunch with the homies at TK Burger on the dark side of the Orange Curtain, we were on our way back to Chicago around 2:00 Wednesday afternoon. As usual, the drive back from LA was one customs. I personally cannot fathom driving through Las Vegas and not stopping, at least for a few minutes to take in the absurdity of the place, and will immediately write off as soulless anyone who can simply “pass through” such a place on the way to another destination. This of course, is why I have never not exited Interstate 15 at Tropicana Avenue and proceeded to make a left turn onto the strip. Be it a dip in the pool at the MGM, a beer on the Brooklyn Bridge at the NYNY, a three foot margarita at the Westward Ho, or a spin of the roulette wheel at the Belagio and a buffet at the Flamingo, you don’t just pass through Las Vegas.

In this case, it was a three dollar beer and hot dog at some no-name dive casino next to the Flamingo. The hot dog was surprisingly above average, and I drank half of the beer before passing it off to Dan, because I, above all things, had to be in proper shape to drive us to Chicago.

On the way back to the car, which we had parked for free on the third floor of the garage at the Flamingo, I discovered the coveted roulette machine which had ruined an otherwise wonderful day at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe one evening in the Summer of 2007. This day, however, the gods were on my side, as I struggled, pineapple-mango smoothie in hand, through the ups and downs of the wheel to come out four dollars ahead. Free parking, three dollar hot dog and beer, and a smoothie purchased on a gift card, combined with four dollars winning at the Flamingo means we were headed north on Interstate 15 towards Utah one dollar ahead.

Another tradition that used to take place specifically in Vegas, now takes place in St. George, Utah. This is of course, a final hamburger and strawberry shake at the last In-N-Out Burger as one heads eastwards towards the vast expanse of flavorlessness known as the great plains. Now that In-N-Out has expanded to the great state of Utah, one is left with more stomach space for hot dogs and buffet food in Nevada.

The climb up into the highlands of central Utah brought with it increasing amounts of snow, as well as uncertainty as to the logistics of the rest of our journey. As we left Vegas around 8:00 PM, and had already finished our meal in St. George by 11:00 (hello mountain time), we were on pace to be in Denver way too early for our scheduled intermission of bike riding and burrito eating at Illegal Pete’s. It was decided that although we were not exceptionally tired, a nap was in order, as to align our schedule with that of the sun.

We found our sleeping quarters, a view area on the side of Interstate 70 just east of Salina, Utah, in the middle of a stretch of 110 miles of zero civilization. I felt at ease with the situation, because, as a man of tradition, I had slept at the very same rest area almost exactly a year prior. In fact, it was upon waking there last year that I took the following photo.

Before sleeping in the car, I experimented with some long exposures with the Leica, as it was surprisingly not too cold outside. I lacked a tripod, but did have a one dollar chip that I kept from the Flamingo, which I used to prop up the lens and attempt to frame up these shots in the dark.

We slept through the alarm on my phone, finally awakening around 8:30 once the greenhouse effect took hold and made it unbearably hot in the car. 70 miles east we found ourselves in Green River, where tooth brushing and contact lens cleaning takes place in these parts.

10:35 AM found us in Grand Junction, Colorado, the first real civilization since St. George. As most late-morning breakfast aficionados are well aware, 10:30 is the time at which most fast food establishments feel it is appropriate to replace hashbrowns and cinnamon rolls with ground beef and onion rings. Grand Junction makes no exception, so we found ourselves working with a chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and Dr. Pepper at 10:35 on a Thursday morning after a long night of gambling and sleeping in parking lots.

A stop for gas and water in Glenwood Springs had us ready for the climb through the two snowy 11,000 foot mountain passes between Vail and Denver. The mild altitude sickness induced headache that I acquired while passing through the Eisenhower Tunnel quickly passed as we unstrapped the bikes from the back of the car at a park just outside of downtown Denver. A cruise around downtown on the bikes during at the peak of a warm and sunny Denver afternoon was followed up by an early dinner at Illegal Pete’s on 16th Street. A wise man once said, “when in Queens, you eat at the Sizzler.” The same can be said regarding Denver and Illegal Pete’s. A re-up on Burritos, bike ride back to the car, and quick jaunt down East Colfax and back up Colorado Blvd found us on eastbound Interstate 76, barreling towards Nebraska at 90 mph.

Just outside of Fort Morgan, Colorado, we encountered the first of two run-ins with the enforcement wing. Moments after I cautiously and courteously passed a state trooper, I noticed he was pulling me over. After a private questioning of both Dan and I, he failed to catch us up in some sort of scheme, which apparently involved the bicycles on the back of my car, as the fact that one of them lacked wheels really seemed to rack his brain. We left the scene with a “good day” and the first of two written warnings. Dan snapped this photo in the mirror while I was out of the car being questioned.

Shortly after a quick stop for gas and drinks in Fort Morgan (which is quite possibly the most foul smelling town east of the Rockies), we found ourselves passed by a small caravan of three vehicles with zero regard for the law. For some this could be an unnerving experience, but for those in a hurry it is a blessing. We quickly caught up with the pack of renegades, which consisted of an Audi wagon with Colorado plates, a Ford Pickup with Iowa plates, and a red VW sedan with plates that remain a mystery. By assimilating oneself into a such a caravan, the chances of being picked out by the police in the event of a speed trap is reduced dramatically. A sustained three hours of speeds between 100 and 110 miles per hour landed landed us in central Nebraska before the entourage split up for gas stops.

Just west of Lincoln, not long after returning to the road, we were pulled over yet again, this time the result of an elaborate speed trap featuring three of Nebraska’s finest. As I saw the lights from miles back, I was actually following the speed limit, if not going a mile or two below. Still it was claimed that I was going “well over eighty.” Either my boyish charm prevailed or the officer knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on, but we were let off with our second written warning of the evening. This is not to say that the spirit of our 100+ mile per hour rampage through the Great Plains was not damaged, as from this point on cruise control was set at a few miles per hour over the limit.

After what seemed like hours, we finally crossed through Omaha and over the river into Iowa. With 1 AM swiftly approaching, the prospects of finding an exit with both an open Wendy’s as well as a gas station seemed grim. We settled for gas and a snack, and embarked on a 280 mile stretch to the town of Wolcott and the highly regarded Iowa 80 truckstop, which claims to be the world’s largest. Regardless of their claims, Iowa 80 is the world’s premiere dealer of fine wolf shirts, Christian bumper stickers, and cutlery, as well as the location of an infuriatingly understaffed 24 hour Wendy’s.

With all of our humanly needs fulfilled at one truckstop, we were on the last leg of our journey back to Chicago. Less than 30 miles east on Interstate 80, we crossed the Mississippi River, signaling our triumphant return to the kingdom of Blagojevich. Shortly after, we merged onto Interstate 88, which could only in a state with the political tradition of ours, be named after the disaster that was Ronald Reagan.

At this point, it’s about 4:00 AM central time on Friday. It’s 2:00 AM Friday in LA. Exactly 36 hours earlier I was sitting outside in the sun, eating a hamburger in Costa Mesa. Trying to pinpoint the moment at which time jumped the shark, I find myself reflecting upon the roulette wheel at the Flamingo, the deserted rest stop in Utah, 16th street mall in Denver, 350 miles of Nebraska while listening to late 80’s shoegaze, and then what?

Only a day prior I took this photo of the sun setting in the California desert as we drove towards Las Vegas.

I’d been driving without sleep since Salina, Utah. Now I’m sitting in Friday morning rush hour traffic fifty miles west of Chicago on a tollway named after an asshole. I’m tired and delusional and there’s a shit ton of snow on the ground and the sun is just starting to rise. We could stop for lattes, but as a brilliant man would say, “there’s no time for handjobs.” We merge onto 290, bumper to bumper through Maywood and Oak Park. Finally after Harlem it opens up, we switch from Belle and Sebastian on the now defunct iPod to Bone Thugs N Harmony on the CD Player, exit at Damen, and drive the final two and a half miles north to Wicker Park, arriving just before 8:00 AM.

We quickly unload the car in the alley before I circle the neighborhood looking for parking. Of course Wicker Park being in it’s own timezone, no one is actually awake at 8:00 on a Friday morning, so parking is actually more difficult than it would be at noon when everyone heads to brunch. After locating an unplowed and icy spot two blocks from my apartment, I lodge my car into a mess that I assume I’ll have to dig myself out of next time I leave, that is if my car even starts after the zero degree cold spell that is predicted for the following days.

I’m in Chicago, trick.

This entry was written by brett, posted on January 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm, filed under Chicago, Long Beach, Travel and tagged , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

Colorado Roadtrip

The 10th annual Colorado Roadtrip took place the 10th-12th of this month. I didn’t shoot a whole lot, but in going through the photos earlier today, I noticed this image from the Carbondale skatepark, which was unfortunately shot at 1600 ISO because I forgot to reset my sensor speed from the night before.

Despite the sensor noise, I really like it.

Luke Bender documented the trip extensively. The following are his photos. Check his Photobucket.
imageThe campsite in the desert outside of Palisade.

imageCampfire at Palisade.

imageYours truly.

This entry was written by brett, posted on August 30, 2008 at 7:25 pm, filed under Travel and tagged , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.