Saturday, July 28, 2018

Into The Great Wide Open, Finale': The Bridge To Nirvana

It's time we put a bow on this stupid little travelogue. Again, all apologies to the tens of you who still read my incredibly infrequent stuff. Thanks for sticking with it though. Now, who knew I could get four posts worth of material out of an eleven day road trip? Certainly not me. Maybe I'm a little long-winded, I guess. Check out part one here, part two here, and part three here. Now that I've seen my old college roommate and seen how he's found satisfaction in life, caught up with some long-time friends, and experienced the beauty and the excesses of what California had to offer, all while getting laid emotionally low, it's time to wrap it up. In this installment, I hit up a stupid landmark from a twisted movie I saw as a kid, make my way into the Valley of the Sun to spend a couple days with my little "brother" and meet a new little buddy, end the season with some bad golf, and maybe figure out the key to life on the drive home. Let''s rock!

I didn't set an alarm the next day, and I finally found something that overpowered my Golf Professional Circadian Rhythm: three gin mules the night before. After a week and a half of managing to not sleep past 7:00 AM, regardless of whether I set an alarm or not, sleeping in was a welcome change. I rolled out of bed at 9:30 and packed up my shit. It was time to hit the road again. Thankfully, I'd slept past rush hour. Also, I think subconsciously, something in me didn't want to leave California. Outside of a protein shake, I skipped breakfast, checked out of my swanky hotel and made my way to a thinning I-10 freeway. I had one more stop on this spastic odyssey, a couple days with my "Little Brother" Pete and his little family in Phoenix, AZ.

Pete isn't really my brother, he's my first cousin, but growing up, we were as close as two guys that lived a hundred miles apart could be. Once a summer, I'd blow out of Price and spend some time with his family up in Salt Lick. Oddly enough, those trips always seemed to take place whenever Pete's dad needed a major project done in their yard. Funny how that works out. Those Summer days digging trenches in the yard, playing baseball and committing general mischief forged a hell of a bond. There still isn't a day that goes by that we don't at the very least fire off a "Wazzup" text to each other or argue about the Bears or Yankees. He's still the closest thing I've ever had to a brother, and now he lives five hundred miles away, so any chance I get to spend any time with him at all, I gotta take it.

There's things you wouldn't understand,
things you couldn't understand,
things you shouldn't understand.
But getting there is half the fun. After a stop for gas and lunch in Palm Springs, I saw a giant billboard. "The World''s Largest Dinosaurs in Cabazon!" OH SHIT! It's the statues from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure! Whoa! There they were, off in the distance, aaaaaannnnd, not nearly as large as they were in the movie. But still, you gotta check out the roadside attraction when you can, right? I wrestled Giselle off the freeway and pulled into the parking lot. There was a giant "Closed for Renovation" sign hanging from the gate. They needed to remodel the dinosaurs? They also wanted $13.00 just to walk in the door. Just as well, at least I wouldn't have to dodge Big Andy. Besides, you wouldn't want to get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner. A rebel. Wait, what? Oh yeah, road trip. Anyway, I snapped a photo from a low angle to capture their slightly underwhelming majesty and hammered the gas pedal.

I contemplated taking a detour a little south to the Salton Sea, because clearly I hadn't seen enough dead things on this trip. Or north to see Huell Howser's crazy house on top of a Volcano in Twenty-Nine Palms, or even have a vision quest in Joshua Tree, but really at this point in the trip, I no longer really had no concept of time or distance. It's weird how two weeks with little-to-no responsibility can warp any sense of schedule, but I'd told Pete I'd be getting to his hood around 4-ish. He's a family man, and on a pretty strict, regimented schedule. It wasn't on me to disturb that. And really, a part of this trip was to see how the other half lived, so to speak. So those other stops on the road, well, I'm going to have to hit them up next time. But that's the nice thing about having a little bit of that freedom. I'll always have another chance.

The Grand Canyon State
welcomes you!
The vastness of the Mojave Desert spread out before me as I tried to make up time wasted. Nothing but straight highway all the way to the horizon. If you lose it out here, you're in a world of hurt. Thank god the car was fairly new and it was November. Driving across that stretch of desert whether it be on the 15 as you would heading from Vegas to LA, or where I was on the 10 from LA to Phoenix, you just end up happy you made it with no problems. I'm pretty sure a lot of people have just vanished on this stretch of highway.

I crossed the state line early in the afternoon and stopped at a rest area in Ehrenberg, AZ to stretch my legs. The desert panorama that lay before me was quite impressive. Arizona really is quite beautiful with a a lot of vistas that reminded me of the San Rafael Swell not far from where I grew up. The colors and the cacti and buttes had me in rapt attention until out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign posted just a few feet away "Rattlesnake dens nearby, exercise caution." Well, that's as good a sign as any to get me back on the road. Giselle may have laid a patch of rubber in the parking lot as I punched it back down the highway. Eff snakes!

Milk Drunk vs. Drunk Drunk (WHO YA GOT!?)
I pulled up to Pete's house in Phoenix around 4:30 and nobody was home yet so I swung by the grocery and liquor store to pick up some supplies. I got back to find Pete opening a box with a cooler in it. "You're just in time dude," he said, "Blue Apron just showed up. Lets go change the munchkin and get dinner on." Literally my first "how do you do" to my brand spankin' new nephew, Niko The Greeko was wiping his little ass. And really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Pete and I did a faithful re-creation of that episode of "Saved By The Bell" where Zack and Slater had to change Kelly's little brother, with the "awww god" and everything. He might've been the happiest baby I'd ever seen though. We put him on the floor and watched him play with his dog, Lia the Labradoodle. She'd come a long way from her days as a puppy, and her patience with the little drool machine was both awesome and pretty beautiful in its own right.

 With everybody freshened up, I retreated to the kitchen to prep some dinner. I'd never cooked anything from one of those meal-delivery things, but after constructing a passable version of pozole, I can certainly understand their appeal. It almost made it too easy. The ingredients were quality and they actually had some peppers with some heat to them. Pete's bride Rachel made it home from work and we all sat around the table. They even let me feed the kid. And holy Moses, that little dude will hoover up anything you put in front of him! Gotta love a kid who isn't a fussy eater. Of course, I wasn't either, and look what happened to me. Anyway, we put the kid down to bed, had a couple glasses of whiskey and I called it an early night.

The next day was a nice little whirlwind of some yard work in the morning (some things never change), and a killer lunch at a nearby Mexican joint where I got my palate blown sky-high by an Adovada burrito and my liver utterly destroyed on a giant margarita. We trucked our drunk asses back to the house. Rachel left for a haircut, and Pete and I calmed down little Niko and got him ready for his afternoon nap by introducing him to some of the watershed moments of our childhood, old pro wrasslin' promo videos from an unbelievably high on coke Macho Man Randy Savage and an equally beaked-up Ultimate Warrior. What can I say, little kids will surprise you with what catches their attention!

Later that evening, Pete and I barbecued some burgers and dogs, and a couple of their friends came over for dinner and drinks. It was nice to meet some new folks. They'd worked college jobs for a long time and as y'all well know, I've kind of been around that world for a long time. So at least there was plenty to talk about. After awhile, the baby monitor flickered to life, the kid was having a tough time settling in the crib for the night. So I drunkenly volunteered to try and calm him down. "Be my guest, and good luck," Rachel waved me into the room. Crying babies tend to freak me out a little bit. Poor little kids can't communicate what is wrong, you have to guess and it usually ends up being a case of throwing a bunch of shit against a wall to see what sticks. But I was bound and determined to get him to sleep. I picked him up and rocked him a little bit, his diaper wasn't mushy, but that didn't stop him from howling in my ear. I tried to calm him down to no avail. Finally I put him back in the crib and just kinda rubbed his belly while singing "Ball and Chain" by Social Distortion, a Capella, lullaby-style. He just kinda giggled a little bit, turned his head and passed out. I'm still convinced he was just fucking with me.

One of the few I managed to pipe that day
For my last full day on this trip, Pete and I played golf at a spectacular course called Papago Park. Now, I consider it a great professional and personal failure that virtually every one of my non-golf-world friends are pretty terrible at the game. I really need to do a better job as a teacher and a friend in that regard. Pete, like me, was primarily a baseball player for the bulk of his life, and it shows. The kid handles a club like it's an axe, but he's got potential. He also has an advantage in that every time I upgrade my gear, he gets my hand-me-downs. At least I know they're going to a good home that way. Now, I hadn't picked up a club in a little over a week and it showed as I struggled to a 78. That track was long and narrow and my hungover ass had no pop left in the bat. But it was great to get out with the kid, and he hit the new driver I gave him better than any I'd seen him hit before. All in all, a great capper to this visit with my brother, despite the shitty scores we posted.

I got up pretty early the next day, I was going to try to make it all the way back to Salt Lick by nightfall. Got one more chance to hang out and feed my little nephew. I found that the "airplane" method was, tried and true as it is, the single most effective way of getting mushed-up apples and carrots ferried from the bowl to his mouth. I was genuinely envious of him as at least that looked like it had some flavor. My daily breakfast of Greek yogurt, or as we call it, "yogurt," and a protein shake was kind of starting to get a little stale. The kid just stared at me with a "what's with you old man?" look on his face, and believe me, I get it. This old, crazy ogre blew into town in his red death-mobile, and shook up his highly structured 7-month-old world for three days, leaving goofy punk rock songs and about a million razzberries to the belly in his wake. And I couldn't wait to do it again, but sadly, real life back home beckoned and once again, I had to take to the highway.

Unfortunately, the Waze app on my phone decided to send me on the "road-rage" route out of town. It sent me down surface streets, nowhere near a freeway, resulting in it taking roughly 90 minutes to finally hit city limits, but soon I was crossing the desert on a two-lane highway through Wickenburg, Wikiup and I probably passed through Wikipedia as well. I soon made my way up to Highway 93, streaking toward Boulder City. I needed to see for myself the greatest public works project in our country's history, Hoover Dam.

The 93 soon came into view of the Colorado River, so I knew I had to have been getting close. The scenery was spectacular, with an almost bottomless canyon to the left of the highway and some crazy cliffs on the right. I passed a sign, "Hoover Dam and Lake Mead Recreational Area 1 mile" I figured, I'd better stop soon. As I neared the turnoff, I noticed that there were hundreds of people lining the right side of the road, probably looking at the dam. Sadly I couldn't see it from the road and there was nowhere to pull over, so I just kept going until the turnoff to the dam itself. I drove down a little windy road and over the top of the dam to an overlook. Unfortunately, it was getting a little late in the day for a damn dam tour, but I had to stop and admire that incredible engineering marvel.

The metaphor I've been looking for
It was then that I looked up and saw where all of those people that I drove past were standing. They were along the top of the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge. As impressed as I was with the structure of the dam, the bridge was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, just completely massive and artificial, yet somehow looked like it'd been there forever. It was then that I realized the lesson I'd been searching for since I departed on this whole stupid odyssey. Everything we experience in life is your bridge. Just like when I was in Big Sur and I drove across that massive span and didn't even realize I was on the damn thing. I'd taken so much in life for granted. Always looking dead ahead, rarely stopping to appreciate the moments I was in, and the beauty that surrounded me. I always looked at the things that happened to me over the years with a certain detachment, reveling in the story without living in the experience itself. I think about where that had gotten me and how empty I often felt because of it. I'd look back on things and think, "wow, that really happened" and never really realized the gravity or the flat-out, batshit-crazy nature of those experiences while in the moment itself. That's no good way to go through life. We need to appreciate all of it, the good and the bad while it's happening.

It's like I said in the last entry, absolutely nothing is forever. Everything ends. It's the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, "that to live is to suffer." Suffering is inevitable for all of us as long as we labor under the delusion that things can be permanent. When in fact, nothing is permanent. We''re all composed of a series of systems. Our culture, our relationships, our physical bodies, they're all systems and all systems have a few things in common. They all begin, grow, flourish, decay and die. Everything. Without exception. you can be a good Christian, a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Mormon or Scientologist. You can make all the right moves and do all the right things. But your dog is still gonna die. your parents are still gonna die You're gonna fuck up your marriage. Your boyfriend or girlfriend is still gonna cheat on you. Your kids are gonna grow up and not call you as much. And you can, y'know, sit in your nice house and not sleep for three days and cry to the cats and jack off until you're raw. Or you can buck up, put on your boots and work towards achieving Zen.

Zen is when abandon the concept of the past and the future and embrace only the moment. If you can free yourself from the events of the past, which is dead, and your expectations of the future, which is fantasy and embrace only the moment in which you are alive by freeing yourself from the tyranny of all of those wants that you have, then, dammit, can you finally have a taste of that state of Zen. But of course, by its very nature, it won't last.

Final Stats, but some things are immeasurable
Sadly that trip couldn't last forever. I pulled Giselle into my driveway around 9:30 that night and after getting all my bags out of her, I closed the trunk and just leaned against the bumper for a minute, looking up at the starry sky and how those stars looked the same whether I was in Monterey, SLO, Los Angeles (not really, wayyyyy too much light pollution but stay with me here), the Arizona desert or even in my driveway. In the big scheme of the universe, we're not even a blip. But in our own lives, and for the people around us, well, we're all we've got. We need to take care of each other and make each other's lives the best blip we can.

Thanks for sharing this dumb odyssey with me. Now I can finally write about something else! More material coming soon! I swear!

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