Sunday, May 17, 2009

Driving Across America: Leg 1

Welcome to our travelogumentary. The plan for our first leg was to get as close to the Austin/San Antonio area as possible before we were all tuckered out and had to stop. Mission: Accomplished. Now that the suspense is gone, let's recap.

Saturday, May 16th - 10:00am
We hit the road. The Haiks were nice enough to let us stay at their place after we were finished moving out of the apartment (also nice enough to let us store a few random, heat-sensitive bins of stuff), so we left from their house (which was conveniently further down 10 East in the direction we were ultimately heading.

I immediately began making arrangements to take notes on the trip. Subsequently, our trip enjoyed its first catastrophe. Melissa was tasked with getting a pen and a pad of paper together to take notes as I dictated. She procured the pad and tried to clip the pen to it and immediately snapped the clip on the pen off. We took this as a bad omen from the start. Fortunately, we have several pens in the car, so the real crisis was averted.

Melissa's Note: "I'm really bad at this writing thing. I can't even get the tools to work properly."

Foreshadow: We switched the HUD on the dashboard to show overall mileage as opposed to range left on the gas tank.

We weathered several "Blowing Dust Areas" within about 60 miles of Tucson. Quantity of dust: minimal. Number of warning signs: slightly excessive.

Sometime between 11:00am and 12:00pm
Sam: "We only started with half a tank of gas, so we're going to need to stop soon."
Melissa: "Okay. Just wait until the gas light comes on, that means we have about twenty miles left."

Melissa's Note: "Sam is no longer in charge of gas gauge monitoring."

The gas light came on. And wouldn't you know it, I noticed we had never turned the display back to 'range left on the tank' mode. I quickly switched back to discover we had 20 miles in us. We look at the USA Road Atlas (courtesy of the Gulley's) and discover that in the particular area in which we were driving, there were no cities, and therefore probably no gas stations, for about 40 miles. We were faced with the stressful decision of pressing on and hoping for a random gas station in the mountainous deserts of southeast Arizona, or turning around and hoping that there was a gas station hidden somewhere along the way within about 10 miles of where we currently sat. Bickering, yelling, and disagreement ensued.

After going forward about 3 miles, we decided to turn back. Gas gauge: 14 miles. As we passed two exits, we both lamented that we could not see a single building, let alone a sign for a city or a gas station anywhere from the road. We kept driving until we hit Vail (not THE Vail). Somehow, we made it 10 miles back and were lucky enough to find a Qwik Stop (we think that's what it was called), gliding in to the gas station with 7 miles left on the range (thanks in no small part to the extreme efficiency of my pedal foot).

Melissa took advantage of the gas fiasco to find an excuse to buy cookies--an oatmeal raisin and a peanut butter cookie made by the Prairie City Bakery. Delicious. We also got gas for the car and ice for the cooler. The journey continues!


As we passed through the Dragoon Mountains near Cochise, AZ, we discovered that local ordinances made "Defacing Rocks Unlawful." And then we were retold again and again. Quantity of signs: again, slightly excessive. We also passed a gigantic hawk sitting in the shoulder of the highway, just car watching. He had a sort of refreshing curiosity in his eyes as we sped by.

There are orchards or vineyards or some sort of tree-growing establishments everywhere. Apparently it is an effective way to farm to bring in water to a desert that wouldn't ordinarily be able to support your basic mammal. Also a great deal of livestock.


Welcome to New Mexico! After a detailed briefing on the traditions when crossing state lines, Melissa failed to notice that I was rolling down the window with the camera in my hands traveling at 80 miles an hour (happily, that is within the legal speed limit in this stretch of the trip) to get a picture of the welcome sign. This is a tradition that dates back to college road trips with Jay, though slightly altered to avoid yelling the state names as we crossed borders.

From my now very educated experience--acquired in passing through the southern-most corner of New Mexico--I can confidently say that all that happens in NM is an occasional dust storm. We saw several mini tornadoes (Melissa was very excited by these) along the side of the road. Signs warned of the possibility of zero visibility, encouraging the use of extreme caution. Actual visibility: 90% and hazy.

For our first real stop, we found ourselves in the second largest city in New Mexico: Las Cruces. Home to the New Mexico State University Aggies, and the site of nuclear missile testing, Las Cruces was sure to have plenty to offer. We made a beeline for historic La Mesilla, where the infamous Billy the Kidd was eventually tried and hanged.

The historic plaza was pretty enough, but sort of bland. We walked around for about 10 minutes before heading back up towards the highway. We had passed a winery and bistro that promised good food, and that was our dinner destination. St. Clair Winery and Bistro. We ate around 5pm or so.

The complimentary bread probably made it into our Top 5 Garlic Bread list. I got a Kobe burger (mid-rare) with sweet potato fries. Pretty good, but nothing to write home about (Poetic irony? I am writing home about it). Melissa got a chicken Parmesan salad with Caesar dressing. It was phenomenal. We had decided to share the two meals from the beginning, but I was secretly jealous of her salad. She also tried a couple of their house wines (just about every wine on the list was one of their own). She sampled a cab-zin (too sweet) and a Meritage (decent, but nothing noteworthy) before finally settling on a pure Cabernet Sauvignon (which I told her to order in the beginning because I know her better than she knows herself). It was good, a little spicier than your typical Cab. The waitress was average, but she committed what I now know by its technical name (thank you Douglas Sylvester and your intellectual property class), passing off. I ordered Coke and she brought a Pepsi without bringing the difference to my attention. No big deal. Not like I noticed.

After dinner (we saved half the salad for later), we headed out of Mesilla and Las Cruces forever.

Time Unknown
I did not notice what time it was when we crossed the Texas border. What was important was that, after the snafu at the NM border, I had re-briefed Melissa on the tradition. Yet she failed to slow down so that I could get a picture once again. I was reading a book at the time and have to take half of the blame. Fortunately, as with all things Texas, they wanted to make sure we really knew we were in the state, so they had a backup sign (mind you, it was a big ol' honkin' Texas-sized welcome sign) further down the road. Tragedy avoided.

We were stopped at border patrol. I understand we passed through El Paso--all the while keeping a wary eye on Juarez--but we did not cross any border into Mexico.
Border Patrol (to be read with a strong Latino accent): "Good evening."
Melissa: "Hi."
BP: "Where are you headed?"
Melissa: "Maryland."
Me: "Home to Maryland."
BP: (looking in to the backseat) "Where are you coming from?"
Me: "Arizona."
BP: (pause) "Okay. Good evening."

Not so bad. We might as well have been trafficking narcotics!

We took an accidental detour to Balmorhea. After the mornings gas extravaganza, we were both on edge about running too low. Balmorhea was about 2 miles off the highway, and we were dangerously close to the gas light coming on again. Not many stops in this particular region of Texas. We got stuck behind a really slow truck who seemed as lost as we were. We were antsy. We eventually found ourselves on Bus 10 (we had been on 10 East, which takes us all the way from Tempe to New Orleans) to Saragosa.

All of a sudden, Melissa came to a screeching halt and tore into "Juan Carrasco Mercantilo" where gas was $2.99 for unleaded (we assume this price stood for quality or that we got pure petroleum). Of the four available pumps, only one was operational, and they only had one grade of gas to offer. We went in to use the bathrooms and were so out of place the jukebox skipped a beat. We had about eight sets of eyes on us every step we took. What initially looked like bikers turned out to be something else, but I'm not sure what. They had lots of leather, but did not appear to ride Harleys. No mishaps, and we were on our way again.

We stopped at another gas station. We were getting very anxious about long stretches with no cities.

I got a 5 hour energy so that I could drive for awhile and let Melissa sleep. I downed the whole thing while Melissa read the bottle. Turns out they recommend drinking half of it. Woooooh! Those things actually work.

Sunday, May 17th - 12:20am
Our second near-death experience (the first being the infamous Vail Gas Fiasco) involved a possum the size of a Labrador. Melissa was sleeping, and we were the only car on the road for awhile. I came over the crest of a hill going about 70 (legal speed again) and was greeted by the rear end of what must have been a close relative of the swamp rat from The Princess Bride. Rather than total the car on impact, I swerved around him. Melissa woke up with a start, our luggage and cooler went flying, and I felt the car trying to tip on me. Thanks to my nerves of steel and a unique oneness with the vehicle, I was able to right the ship immediately and get us straightened out, none the worse for wear.

And the swamp rat probably didn't even notice.

After this point, Melissa went back to sleep and I continued driving.

There is more to tell, but this will have to do for now. We have dinner reservations in an hour and I have to get showered and dressed, so the story will continue. I also will upload pictures accompanying this blog later tonight or tomorrow maybe, so be sure to check back.

Editor's Note: Please forgive any typos as this entry was slightly rushed on account of dinner reservations. The author extends his sincerest apologies for any confusion that may result.


mandie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mandie said...

Whoops guess my first attempt at this comment got deleted by accident. I need to learn how to use a computer, I'm a bad asian.

ok, comment attempt #2!

"Thanks to my nerves of steel and a unique oneness with the vehicle,"

Loved that line. Just sayin' is all.

Julie said...

sounds like you guys are having a great time.... good call to turn back and get gas.... I was nervous the whole time I was reading that that'd you'd just keep going and end up stranded without gas in the middle of nowhere!