The 5 Weirdest Things You Learn When Driving Across America
Hey, remember how my first column mentioned that I lived in South Dakota, and then my next column said I was living in a shitty motel, and then nobody asked anything about how I was doing after that and I cried for three weeks straight?
Well, you'll all be glad/disinterested to know that I'm no longer living in that squalid motel room. In fact, less than a week after that article was published, I relocated to New York. But don't get too used to it, I don't live there anymore, either. Because I want nothing more than to live as if I'm part of a traveling caravan of Gypsies, I moved to San Francisco a few weeks ago. I drove there. From New York.
It was fun, though! Mostly! I actually enjoy driving. I enjoy it almost as much as Marion Gladstone and Ian Fortey enjoy using my name to get attention.
Anyway, what follows are a few of the more interesting tidbits I picked up while driving through this great land, wondering what Gladstone was thinking about the entire way and hoping Ian Fortey agrees with everything I write. I share them not only to give you, the reader, a glimpse at what kind of boring shit I get into when I'm not working, but also because writing about the trip means I can count the gas and hotel rooms that I shelled out for along the way as tax write-offs.
Here are five things I learned about America while driving cross-country ...
Some Dreams Aren't Worth Pursuing
I decided ahead of time that my starting point for the cross-country jaunt would be a place I've always wanted to visit since I was a wee lad -- the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Sure, driving there was completely out of the way and actually delayed the start of the move by a day, but I'd always dreamed of visiting Cooperstown, so I figured I'd give it a shot.
I knew I was in trouble the minute I pulled up to the place. I was expecting a marvel of modern design. A building suitably impressive enough to pay to tribute to the years of rich history contained within. What I got instead was this ...
I guess I should have seen it coming. Of all the big hall-of-fame-type buildings, I know what pretty much all of them look like just by memory. But I guess all I've ever seen of the Baseball Hall of Fame is a podium. Coincidentally, I've never seen anything relating to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Just a point I'll throw out there for no particular reason.
But I figured that once I got inside, things would turn around. After all, I love baseball. There's no way this could be boring.
Why, just look at this breathtaking display!
But see, it was boring. It was painfully boring. Basically, it was a collection of various uniforms hanging behind glass. Although I did enjoy the jarring effect that turning a corner and seeing this has on one's mood:
Hey, Hall of Fame, who asked you to bring sadness to this party? For the record, I think that was somewhere near the Ty Cobb exhibit. And speaking of exhibits, this one was pretty inspiring:
I assume the Barry Bonds exhibit is still under construction?
Anyway, with one childhood dream now proven to be pointless, it was time to move on to a place where crushed dreams are the staple crop of the entire city.
Cleveland Isn't So Bad
After the massive disappointment that was Cooperstown (which is about as easy to get to as a militia compound, by the way), the next stop was Cleveland. Few cities are as maligned in popular culture as Cleveland. Surely you remember this "tourism" video that made the rounds on the Internet a few years back, right?
It's hard to see something like that and have any kind of heightened expectations. So imagine my surprise when I arrived to find that Cleveland, in fact, is not completely horrible. Granted, I confined myself to that small area of the city where Progressive Field (home of the Indians), Quicken Loans Arena (home of the Cavaliers and a thick layer of bitterness residue that remains from LeBron James' acrimonious departure) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can all be walked to with minimal fear of being knifed in the kidney.
If I'm being totally honest, I've spent a lot of days within a four-block radius of places, and out of all those days, the two I spent in Cleveland were two of them. It wasn't the most raucous good time I've ever had, but I wasn't attacked by the unemployment monster in my sleep or anything. And whenever I needed to venture outside of my hotel room to find something, it was never a problem. Sure, that's mostly because I only needed to leave once to buy beer, but hey, I totally found some!
By the way, if you do find yourself in downtown Cleveland and in need of hotel room beer sometime after every store in the area closes (5 p.m.) and camera crews show up to shoot B-roll for whenever they need stock footage of something desolate, head to the BP gas station across the street from Progressive Field.
When you see the most depressing slogan in baseball, you're almost there.
I'm not sure if the hotel that's adjacent to this gas station uses the fact that they are trip-over-and-fall distance from the only thing that passes for a liquor store after dark in downtown Cleveland as a selling point, but they most certainly should.
Driving With NY Plates Is a Great Way to Get Pulled Over
Just as a general rule, how fast do you drive as it relates to the speed limit? Everyone has their basic guideline. There's a gray area somewhere in the 4 to 8 mph over the limit range where most of us drive, secure that while what we're doing may be illegal, it's so rampant that we need not fear being penalized for it. Like jaywalking or driving through toll booths without paying when the car you're driving isn't yours. For me, it's 5 mph over the speed limit.
Unless the sign looks like this, in which case I ignore it entirely.
Some brave souls push it to 10. No matter where on that scale you fall, one thing we can all agree on is that people who always drive at the exact speed limit are either total lunatics or in the process of breaking the law and don't want to draw attention to themselves.
I've lived most of my highway life in the Midwest by the 5 mph rule and have never been questioned for it once. So imagine my surprise when I was pulled over for driving exactly 5 mph over the speed limit on the same highway I've been driving that speed on for so many years. It happened twice. In the same day. Once in South Dakota and once in Wyoming.
Don't get me wrong, I don't hold a grudge. In fact, I totally understand what happened. Sure, I've driven those highways at slightly over the speed limit before, but I've always done it as a resident with South Dakota license plates. This time, I wasn't comfortably speeding close to home, I was speeding on a major drug route with New York plates. I was basically a victim of bored cops playing major-drug-bust lottery. What's the harm in taking five minutes to see if maybe I'm transporting 750 pounds of weed in the side panels of my vehicle if you have nothing better to do? There's probably an instant promotion in store for a cop who makes the right guess in that instance.
Your tax dollars hard at work.
I'd totally do that shit, too.
Hey, speaking of Wyoming ...
Nothing Works in Wyoming
I guess I'm not sure why I found this surprising, but holy shit, if you're traveling through Wyoming, you might as well be traveling in a Third World country. And by that, of course, I mean you won't have cellphone reception. At all. These days, that's all it takes to make Americans feel like they're stranded on a desert island. Just cut off their smartphone access.
Because I'm nothing if not a supremely dedicated employee, I decided I would work throughout the entire trip across the country, as opposed to taking paid time off. At the end of the day, I do this because I love it, not because of the money. Also, Cracked doesn't give me paid time off. But the uniforms are free!
I'm not thrilled with the "progressive" office layout, though.
Unfortunately for my work-from-the-road plans, though, most of western Wyoming is land that time forgot. Granted, it's unspeakably beautiful, striking a blow against my statements about national monuments from that article that made Ian Fortey cry. Mountains are a lot damn cooler when you're driving through them. But I refuse to rescind my previous comments about national monuments out of pure stubbornness and nothing more. And besides, pretty is meaningless if I can't check my email. Then I just spend the entire time frustrated that celebs are dying and memes are being created without me knowing about any of it.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy myself in Wyoming. For one thing, drinks at the hotel (who am I kidding, motel) bar were like 38 cents each, and they had Rocky Mountain oysters on the menu. I didn't eat any, as that wasn't an adventure I felt comfortable embarking upon. But at least I can say I know where to find them in case someone ever asks. That's the kind of question you want to have an answer to, if only to discourage people from asking you any further questions.
Also, the room had Wi-Fi access, so I was able to compensate for the lack of technological advancement in most of the state by staying up until 4 a.m. working in my room before getting back on the road at 8 a.m. If not for the constant reminders about the dangers of drowsy driving that littered the highway between Cheyenne and my next stop, I surely would have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Sorry for not taking a picture of my own, I was too sleepy to grab a camera and drive at the same time.
It added a nice element of danger and excitement to what was an otherwise uneventful drive through the kind of terrain where most slasher films take place.
Northern Nevada Is Creepy as Hell
If Wyoming is the land that time forgot, northern Nevada is the land that Satan realized everyone else forgot and took over for his own. Upon crossing the state line, everything seems to turn red and unsettling. It takes about four feet before you see your first casino, and the stench of misguided souls blowing their kid's lunch money on slot machines hits you like, well, like the wind that's creepily roaring at all times, unimpeded by anything resembling landscape. Otherwise perfect road conditions become an adventure in white-knuckle driving when you're struggling to keep a top heavy vehicle from just blowing off the road like whatever scene in Twister you care to use for reference here. I've never seen the movie.
No matter how sunny it may be, you're never quite sure if you're going to be able to keep your vehicle under control. But you are certain that if you fail, the accident will occur somewhere near this sign.
Those signs are everywhere. Combined with cellphone reception that's every bit as sketchy as what you find in Wyoming, those signs make the prospect of blowing a tire or running out of gas downright terrifying. It didn't help that before departing I did some lighthearted Googling about the city in Nevada where we'd be stopping and stumbled across this headline:
Oh man, let's hope there is! How awesome would that column be? "5 Things I Learned About Horror Movies by Getting Attacked by a Serial Killer in Nevada." That's the kind of journalism that wins awards, even if the work is only discovered because I scrawled it in my own blood on the walls of the trunk in which I spent my final days.
Things didn't improve much when I touched down at the motel in Nevada that would be my last stop before pulling into San Francisco. For one thing, picking Elko as a stopping point is apparently an idea that nearly every big haul trucker on the road also has. So, while it was comforting to know that I was off the road and outside that mysterious serial killer's wheelhouse, the feeling didn't survive my realization that truck drivers make great serial killers and even they need to stop and rest somewhere. Oh, and my room had a camera in it.
OK, fine, there was a sticker on that contraption that clearly stated it had something to do with the heating and cooling or the lights or some shit, and there's probably been one of those in every motel room I've ever stayed in. But you know what? That's exactly the kind of label I'd affix to my nationwide network of motel room torture porn surveillance cameras, too. So it did little to ease my concerns.
Thankfully, I made it out of Nevada the next morning without once having to escape from the cabin of some methed-up trucker's rolling murder studio and was in California mere hours later.
Now, someone point me to all that medical marijuana I've been hearing so much about. My nerves are shot!
For more from Adam, check out 7 Hilariously Failed Attempts at Politically Correct Toys and What Is a McRib Anyway? (Flowchart).