OVER MIDDLE AMERICA, MAYBE NEBRASKA — A stuffy Airbus A319. Two kids to the right. A last-row seat that won’t recline. No matter.
I’m on the road — or in the air — again. Trip is obligatory; duration is not.
Good friend getting married in Vegas: a must see. The subsequent sights of the Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City and Yellowstone: wanna sees.
MILE HIGH CITY — Layover. Airport as static as the rest. Gray concrete concourses set apart by some letter near the beginning of the alphabet and some number. … A-something? … Rows of thinly padded blue chairs. A Starbucks every 30 feet.
Scene starkly opposite of my mood. After two month’s in mom’s basement, I’m en route and feeling at home. Injected w/ wonderlust. CRAZY DRUG.
Sprawled out on those thinly padded “chairs.” My travel partner Mr. Keith Stone sitting upright.
Clock ticks. Next flight still ways out. …
Stone pitches a new TV programme: “See America First.”
Brilliant. He’s put me in a box. (Sort of.) Been tramping south of the equator, looking for wonders of the world. But never laid eyes on the grandest of canyons.
Hence the trip, and the show. See what’s in your backyard. Hence why Keith Stone and a quarter-Asian kid named Mr. Calvin N. Droves and I will drive through the formerly Wild West back to ‘Sota in a couple 8, 9 days.
VEGAS, BABY — Keith Stone second-guesses my grocery-store grab of 30 Keystones. What? Too many? Like they won’t get drunk…?
Mr. Stone only recently realized Keystone exists. Since it’s like Coors Light, he loves it.
Mr. Droves and Mr. Cher share a two-room apartment in the ‘burbs. Tan leather couch: my current seat and future bed.
A few Keystones in and Keith Stone says somewhat sternly, “I’m going to need to do some laundry at some point.”
Droves — certainly sternly — replies, “You can do laundry or you can study for the LSAT. I don’t care.”
Stone and Droves go back to the day, or so they say. No “please, thank you, or may I have another” with these two “gentlemen.” They will tell each other to go fuck themselves and remain hanging out for the remainder of the day, since back in the day. That’s the deal.
OLD VEGAS — Cher has difficulty standing at Mr. Thompson’s bachelor party.
Perturbed casino sees inebriated Cher. Hails cab for man holding a flammable liquid football.
On road, Cher sobers a bit, asks cabbie if casino paid for cab.
Blocks from his girlfriend’s house, Cher deftly says, “This is it.”
Cabbie stops car, expects cash. Cher opens door, runs between houses. Cabbie shouts; no avail.
THE STRIP — Amiable Cher is drunk again. Spouting off about a birthday present for, er, me.
Dozen year friendship. Nothing from Cher on my July anniversary. Indeed: Cher = bibulous.
Grubby white hats worn by Latinos handing out hooker cards has, um, caught his eye.
First attempt: Cloud of dust. Second effort: Across the pylon.
$20 clams later:
It reads: GIRLS DIRECT TO YOU IN 20 MINUTES. Grease on bill and brim. Don’t want to be rude. Put it on.
Cher shouts to next bunch of card peddlers.
“He’s got a hat just like you!” proud giver touts.
Startled woman peddler, asks haltingly, “What! Why?”
CHURCH ON THE STRIP — Traditional wedding. White. Gospel Readings. Reserved congregation.
Shifting weight from one ass cheek to next as priest begins sermon. Checking phone for time.
Clergyman clears his throat. Begins with rhetorical question.
“Raise your hand if you have never received a gift?”
In the same pew is Mr. Puck. Confused.
“Did he say ‘gift?’ ” Puck said loudly. He slowly raised his palm.
Priest hesitates, stares at Puck. Condemns him to Hell as if he pissed in the baptismal font.
30TH FLOOR OF MANDALAY BAY — Mrs. Lucky Thompson wants four more dudes in the honeymoon suite. It’s 2 a.m.
The Philippino bride wants her new husband Tott Thompson to have hang out with Puck, Stone, Droves and me.
Found out friendship as strong as in seventh grade. Grateful. Great wedding.
^%$*&^…10/25/10…mile: 0 …*&)($%
SUBURBAN VEGAS — Trunk packed. Odometer reset. 2000 Ford Taurus in drive. It’s 6:42 a.m. Next locale: Dam named after Herbert Hoover.
GRAND CANYON — Western rim of world wonder. Gaggle of Asian tourists mouths agape. Just like us.
“Encula,” I surmise from one Asian woman twirling a finger near her temple. Guess that means loco.
“It’s crazy what I’m looking at,” Stone says. “I want to stare at that [he points], but my periphery is catching that [points in other direction].”
View comes from railing-less sheer rock cliff. Too dangerous for Droves, a bit of a worrier.
On ledge for minutes without Droves.
“We got to rescue [Droves] or he will be pissed,” Stone says. “If we say he is pissed, he will be real pissed.”
But no. Droves content. Safer — apparently — behind garbage cans.
$86.81 later. We stand over the wonder of world on “skywalk.”
But no cameras allowed, says Indian tribe running tourist trap.
“Here’s an amazing sight,” Stone mocks, “you can’t bring your camera!”
On skywalk, Stone says, “When I saw it online, I said I don’t do things like that. That’s not me. Yet here I am.”
Beauty is in Stone pushing his limits on trip.
Guano Point up next.
Droves gives the crane on the pinnacle. Mr. Gray Shirt and his buddy Mr. Brown Shirt soon giggled and applauded the undeniable humor here.
Stone inside abandoned bat shit mine. No joke.
SOUTHERN UTAH — A Brian McKnight track gets a rise in our driver, Mr. Droves.
“Yes!” he screams.
Next is Blackstreet’s “No Digity.”
Droves bobs his dome.
Completing the trio is Boys to Men’s “I’ll Make Love.”
During ballad, Droves takes hand off wheel to make fist to sing into.
SPRINGVILLE, UTAH — Night spent in some motel. Back in gold-colored ride.
Snoop on iPod. “Doggystyle” bumps as we head to epicenter of Mormon faith.
TEMPLE SQUARE IN SALT LAKE CITY — Flurries in air. Nice church.
Pairs of young female missionaries smiling at us, saying hi. We respond.
Chat with Sister Saunders and Sister Kennedy of Arizona. They give us a tour.
Learn few things. Skeptical of more. polygamy part of church from 1830s to 1890s. They — curiously — drop acceptance of many wives to gain statehood. Hmm. Joseph Smith prayed in N.Y., saw God, dug up Book of Mormon in upstate. Hmm. Book of Mormon has stories of resurrection of Jesus in U.S. Hmm. Smith fled persecution until mob killed him in Ill. Hmm. Brigham Young, like Smith could also talk directly with God, led followers to Utah. Hmm. Now dude named Thomas Monson is now “living prophet.” He also can speak directly to God. Hmm. 12 other dudes “or apostles” put Monson in top spot. Hmm.
Saunders and Kennedy want to give us Book of Mormon at end of tour. I accept. They want to deliver it to my home.
[They beat me home. My “questioning” father, Dod, invites them in. They say they have no where else to be. Starts out polite. Dod then asks them for evidence. The missionaries share testimony. Dod says there have been at least five documented virgin births before Jesus, etc. … Missionaries say they have somewhere to be.]
Back to Saunders, Kennedy and the other pairs swarming Temple Square.
Maybe lamenting a lost move, Droves recaps: “There were so many ladies around. It’s ‘Hey, how you doin’? Hey, how you doin’? Yeah! Yeah!’ ”
ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK — Long road connects city to an island park in the lake.
“You can fucking land a fucking 747 fucking here,” Droves said, both excited and slightly explicit.
“Let’s stop and take a photo with the buffalo,” I said.
“Think they’ll charge?” said a slightly paranoid Droves.
“No, I think it’s free!” Stone quips with a sinister — and undeniably dorky — laugh.
At visitor center, Droves gets fellatio from plastic buffalo.
“I think they will charge for that,” Stone fires again.
Vista from Buffalo Point. (No jokes from Stone here.)
If we ever start a band, Droves suggested this as our album cover.
PARK CITY, UTAH — Home of Sundance Film Fest. Not this day. No one home. See about 14 people during pit stop.
Bartender says it’s a “crazy party” during fest. The whole street is madness. Again, not this day.
Art gallery has Rembrandts, Picassos, Renoirs. Heeeerrreeeee’s Pablo:
During Sundance, bartender says gallery was emptied for a show from The Fray. Again, not this day.
EVANSTON, WYOMING — Four deer spotted in ’bout quarder mile.
“The deer around here are like the women in Temple Square,” Stone said.
SOUTHWEST WYOMING — Mileage milestone uncelebrated by Droves, who has logged every mile behind the wheel.
A failure to head north instead of east cost us 40 miles. Point a finger inside your noisemaker.
STILL IN SOUTHWEST WYOMING — Middle of nowhere. Snow swarms road. Visibility at 10 feet.
Semi rips past. Whiteout for 5 secs.
“All the snow is tripping me out,” Droves said. “I can’t see the road.”
Neither can we.
We abort plan to push through to Jackson Hole. Doubleback to Kemmerer Point of Entry.
Woman at truck weigh station says Jackson has a snow chain laws in effect. “It only gets worse from there.”
We settle into any hotel with a vacancy. Takes three stops to find one.
Old Hawaiian dude runs this motel. Wearing a Hawaiian Punch hat and a green Hawaiian Rainbow Warriors sweatshirt. Wants to talk your ear off about how he supported Obama and his unity message in ’08. Now, he criticizes Barry O’Bama for knocking down Tea Party. Hawaiian doesn’t mention that Tea Baggers are crazy.
KEMMERER, WYOMING — Hawaiian wants to talk politics, God and the environmental movement over coffee from his homeland. I think he tied the leadership of Greenpeace to Halliburton. Not quite sure. Wasn’t really listening.
Back on the road. Stumbled on this as we found highway north to Yellowstone.
BRIDGER-TETON NATIONAL FOREST, WYOMING — “Show us your tetons,” Stone said.
HOBACK, WYOMING — Droves asks gas station shelf stocker if Yellowstone is open.
“No, and I’m not joking,” she said. “There is snow on the ground and it’s 10,ooo feet up there. They are going to have feet of snow there.”
We head up Highway 191 thinking if we’ve come all this way to be turned away on the park’s doorstep.
JACKSON, WYOMING — Jackson city worker (another authoritative source) gives us some hope.
“Oh yeah, you can get there,” he said. “The roads are probably pretty good now. It hasn’t snowed in a few days. It’s usually open until November first.”
We call the Yellowstone Park office to get the nail-in-the-coffin recorded message.
“Yellowstone is open, but snow tires are required from the south entrance and north to Old Faithful.”
No go. Plug yanked out. Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon were No. 1 and No. 1A on my list. Depression sets in.
But if travels have taught me anything, you have to expect and adapt to change.
Adventurous founder of North Face, Doug Tompkins, believes the journey doesn’t even begin until everything goes wrong.
Guess I’ll go with that.
TURNOFF TO YELLOWSTONE, WYOMING — Exactly 1,263 miles into trip, and we will not get closer than 28 miles from the first national park and home of a “supervolcano.”
SOME ROAD, WYOMING —
SaME ROAD, WYOMING — An attempt to lighten the soured mood in the Taurus.
“We could hit up Devil’s Tower,” Droves said.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” I said.
“No, let’s just drive close to it,” Stone said.
DEVIL’S TOWER, WYOMING —
A Yoga warrior pose, and again, the crane.
Droves wants to bring home a prairie dog.
“That one wants to come home with me,” Droves said.
“That’s what you said about the Mormon girls,” Stone replied.
Droves feigned effort to bring one of ’em with us.
BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST, S.D. — Roadside sign: “BE PREPARED TO STOP” with a picture of a ram.
Once we slowed, this guy sprinted toward us.
He kept comin’.
Target: rear passenger door.
“Don’t bang my car!” Droves screamed.
Ram slowed, went behind car.
“He was coming,” Droves said. “He was thinking about it.”
MOUNT RUSHMORE, S.D. — Obligatory pic.
After visiting stone-faced dudes, we wanted to spelunk. Punked when spelunkin’ place closed. (At least I got to use Stone’s favorite new word.)
APPROACHING A WELL-KNOWN PHARMACY IN S.D. — Tally of 14 Wall Drug billboards in 11 miles on the eastbound highway before the tiny town.
Game for Stone and Droves: Person to correctly guess the number of billboards gets a free dinner from me.
Droves: 27. Stone: 347.
Stone balks at my total. I mean really balks at it. This despite the scratched tally in notebook.
“They were every 20 feet,” Stone presses.
With my blood sugar low, my irritation level goes higher. With any travels, you are bound to get tired of your companion(s). We HIT the wall in Wall.
I was about as prickly as this here tumbleweed.
BADLANDS, S.D. —
When this lamb approached, Droves was ready to pop the sucker back in his mouth and hit the gas.
NOWHERE, S.D. — Only excitement here was Droves whooping as he pushed Taurus north of 110 mph.
STILL NOWHERE, S.D. — Seeing things are thy secondary purposes of road trips.
Droves and I haven’t seen each other much in two years. He in Vegas. Me in Duluth and elsewhere. Time on road is opportunity to catch up.
Unvarnished, we discuss marriage, best current rapper, unemployment, growing older.
Bonding is purpose.
MINNEAP, Minn. — Culture shock hits Droves as skyline comes into purview.
“I can’t believe I moved home,” he says.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Once we reach my destination, we had totaled two thousand, five hundred and sixty-four miles.