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.

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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.

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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.

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert
"Better yet, don't even look at the side of the road for a while."

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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.

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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.

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert
That's what all the pink dots on the T-Mobile coverage map represent.

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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.

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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.

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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.

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the DesertWikipedia
The greatest generation, ladies and gentlemen.

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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.

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the DesertArt Wager/iStock/Getty Images
That's a callback to you, Arizona!

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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?

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert
I was way too high to drive.

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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.

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Probably not, though.

2
You'll Buy Something With a Scorpion in It

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert

OK, I accept that maybe this won't happen for everyone, but the minute I found out I was driving through the Southwest, I knew I was going to buy some shit with a scorpion in it. For the record, you're looking at that purchase in the above photo. It's a sucker. With a scorpion in it. Here's a close-up, because why not?

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert
Because why?

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I'm a huge advocate of irrational fear of things that probably won't kill you but maybe could if everything lined up the right (or wrong) way. Sharks, for example. Be afraid, I say. Very afraid. They don't kill a lot of people, but you need them to kill you only once for it to hold. Why fuck around? Sharing the water with sea creatures isn't that fun anyway, even when sharks don't show up.

I've always felt the same way about living in the desert. Sure, it's great that it's hot every single day of the year, but it doesn't excuse the fact that I've heard that sometimes scorpions can get inside your shoe, and when you put it on they sting you, and just like that you're unwittingly fucked up on scorpion venom. I mean, that probably never happens. But it does happen, right? Well, that's exactly how sharks work. They rely on your apathy for their plans to succeed. Scorpions are the sharks of the desert. And now I have one encased in strawberry candy, like the tastiest fossil ever.

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Scorpions may be the desert's most soulless killing machines (or barely a factor in everyday life at all), but for right now, I'm dominating the shit out of the one scorpion in my life. That makes me feel good.

1
You'll Wonder if You're About to Die at a Truck Stop

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Realistically speaking, if you're at a truck stop at all, you should just instinctively know that it comes with at least some threat of imminent death. Aside from the occasional gallon of gas priced well below the national average, nothing good ever happens at a truck stop. It's the place where hot serial killers in your area go to meet vulnerable victims like you, and it's also a decent place to buy a fountain soda, but nothing more.

That said, crazed lunatics are the sharks of truck stops. Sure, encountering one is going to be a total "buy a lottery ticket, it's your lucky day" kind of situation as far as the odds go, but that shit does happen. We were able to steer clear of this phenomenon for the majority of the trip. It wasn't until someone insisted that we stop at any Arby's (attached to a truck stop, naturally) on the way back to Los Angeles.

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the Desert
I don't remember who it was, but if I did, I bet they'd tell you they sincerely miss the Big Montana.

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The problem started in the bathroom, just like so many of life's calamities do. I wasn't privy to all the details, so I'll stick to what I know, which is that my aforementioned friend Jeff walked into the bathroom of an Arby's and emerged with a new friend in tow. This friend was apparently cleaning the bathroom (not an employee) and somehow flipped that conversation starter into somehow learning that everyone in our group was a comic. So, as one does in that situation if you're lonely and insane, he proceeded to stand over our table peppering us with "jokes" ("I'd forget my head if I didn't have a neck" is an actual example) that sometimes dovetailed nicely into rants about Jesus and full-on racism. Then he'd say, "OK," and start walking away, only to come back with more material. Maria secretly recorded audio, which you can hear on that podcast I mentioned at the beginning of this column. We were also lucky enough to capture video of us being pursued all the way out of the parking lot.

5 Things No One Tells You About Driving Through the DesertFacebook
You'll have to be Facebook friends with Cat to see it, though.

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He didn't just want to tell us jokes, he also wanted a ride, presumably to his murder shed and/or compound.

Thankfully, we escaped without losing a single member of the group to a grisly murder. So far. And that's about as good as a trip can conceivably get these days. I can't wait to do it again.


For more from Adam, follow him on Twitter, listen to him talk about grisly crime scene photos on the Dead Things Podcast (you're the best, Albuquerque!), or come see him tell jokes in Santa Monica this Tuesday. Or do all of those things maybe! Go nuts!

And then be sure to check out 5 Examples of Irresponsible Drinking Gone Terribly Awry and 15 Secret Business Plans of Famous Companies Revealed.

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