5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert

You know what sucks about doing comedy in Los Angeles? Doing comedy in Los Angeles. Really just kind of a nightmare all around. So when the opportunity to get the hell out of town and tell jokes in a new place presents itself, I usually go for it. And that's the abridged story of how I found myself taking a 24-hour round-trip car ride (in a Ford Focus, the Cadillac of Fords named after something I don't have) to Albuquerque, New Mexico, last week.

My comedy friends Jeff May, Cat Rhinehart, and Maria Shehata came along, and we talk all about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast. Listen to it right damn here.

That drive is also the subject of this column. Specifically, the part that involved driving through miles and miles of barren desert.

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So all of it except Los Angeles.

I made a similar drive once before when I told cold weather to kiss my ass forever (or so I thought) and moved from New York to San Francisco a few years ago. That trip took me through the desert in Northern Nevada, which was a special kind of terrifying.

"Better yet, don't even look at the side of the road for a while."

As luck would have it, parts of this trip were too, and that wasn't where the similarities between the two drives ended. Based on previous experience, here are a few things that will definitely happen the next time you decide to drive through the desert.

#5. Technology Will Fail You

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Do you have a smartphone? So does everyone who isn't a character on a low-budget TV show, and goddamn do we love using them. I knew doing that was going to be a problem in spots during the drive to Albuquerque. For one, I switched to T-Mobile recently, which might as well be slang for "I don't leave the city much," because that shit barely works anywhere that isn't within earshot of a homeless person singing at a bus stop.

That's what all the pink dots on the T-Mobile coverage map represent.

Also, as I mentioned in my last article, there was an entire section of Wyoming where basically nothing worked, and that section of Wyoming was all of Wyoming. That's Wyoming, though. I was driving through Arizona for a good stretch of this trip. You'd expect they'd have a bit more connectivity, what with all the communication an effective racial-profiling campaign requires.

You'd be expecting wrong, though. For the most part, phones worked, provided we were in the parking lot of a truck stop (more on that later), and usually only one that was in an actual "city" or town. I probably don't need to tell you, but both are frustratingly hard to find on the road that leads to New Mexico. Surprisingly, it doesn't improve much there, either.

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Except for the part where at least you're not in Arizona anymore.

Again, things were just fine once we reached Albuquerque, but the road between here and there was basically that movie The Mist, where society collapses because everyone's phones stop working for six hours, except everyone wants to blow their own head off anyway so the ending is way less sad and awesome.

#4. You'll Forget It's Cold There

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We hear this all the time, right? Every single damn one of us. "The desert is cold at night." People tell us that. We learn it in school. We don't give a shit. We forget. The desert is hot! I wish I could say I put two and two together ahead of time and realized that November in New Mexico was probably going to mean something resembling winter, but I really didn't. It wasn't until a guy working on a story for a college newspaper just offhandedly mentioned how cold it had been that I realized it was going to be cold there.

In my defense, I wasn't alone. I was on the trip with three other people and not a single one of them was bold enough to claim the Nostradamus-like prognostication skills needed to accurately predict that it was going to be cold where we were going. Sure enough, the temperature hovered around the 30s and 40s the majority of our time there, which made smoking a total hassle, if nothing else.

I mean, again, I get that we're told all about the various climates of the world and how they work when we're in school, but you're lying to yourself if you claim New Mexico ever looks any way except scorching hot. For one thing, half the pictures of that state have a nuclear blast happening in the background, usually with a crowd of spectators on hand to watch, just like we've all been taught to do in the case of a nuclear explosion.

The greatest generation, ladies and gentlemen.

Is this not a thing New Mexico can start doing again when weary travelers from warm climates roll into town? Also, why don't I remember all those cold weather episodes of Breaking Bad? Well, for one, because I don't have the necessary free time required to memorize every detail of every show I watch. Maybe there were tons of them, but I personally don't recall mittens and scarves ever being a major facet of that particular universe. They should be, though.

#3. Your License Plates Will Make You a Target

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This is another one I remembered all too well from my drive across the country, where I was pulled over twice in the same day in two separate states, both times for going 5 mph above the speed limit. Also, New York license plates didn't help. The nation's highways are a fantastic way to transport drugs from one state to another by car. The only way, in fact! So it's not particularly shocking that police take even the most minor of infractions as just cause to pull you over and find out what you're up to. I didn't say it's a good thing, mind you, but I get it. There are worse things to be profiled over.

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That's a callback to you, Arizona!

We made it almost the entire way to Albuquerque without police interaction of any sort, but with 30 miles to go, we passed a highwayman or whatever they're called, who, in turn, followed us long enough to make his excuse about pulling us over for crossing the center line seem reasonable. I mean, I'm sure we did, but we were also in New Mexico. It's not like there was a gaggle of other cars on hand to be jettisoned from the road on account of our reckless abandon. And when I say "we," I just mean my friend Jeff. I wasn't driving, you know?

I was way too high to drive.

It all worked out fine, though, on account of us not being up to any shenanigans and all being white except Maria, who's too little to see when she's tucked away in the backseat.

The police should always be something you keep in mind when traveling through the desert states. Jeff brought up a great point during the drive when he mentioned that the elaborately colored license plates in New Mexico and Arizona make visitors from out of town super easy to spot. Unfortunately, he mentioned it literally moments before we were pulled over. It was like when the commentary guy mentions that a field-goal kicker has made 38 consecutive extra points in a row right before that kicker misses his first extra point that season, except the ramifications of missing that kick are that someone might plant meth on you and wrongly imprison you in New Mexico for years.

Probably not, though.

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Adam Tod Brown

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