There’s nothing like a 2000 mile drive to make you feel really, really small. And crazy.
I set out from Las Vegas just as the sun is coming up on a mild Thursday morning. Because my destination is Michigan, I’m trying to think strictly in eastern time here—or maybe it’s just that I want to pretend it isn’t 5:50 in the freaking morning. Hey, at least the streets are empty, allowing a quick getaway from the neon jungle that is the Vegas strip. No need to dodge Corona-toting frat boys, and there isn’t a wild, fare-hungry taxi cab in sight. I head north toward Utah with one goal: knock off 1200 of the 2000 miles that separate me from a cold 30-pack of Pabst and, more importantly, my warm, soft bed.
3019 miles: One of the Passat’s seemingly endless tanks of gas has reached its end, just as I’m approaching Green River, Utah. The name tempts to put Creedence back on the stereo, but can only think of the face I was given after doing so back in Arkansas. I know I’m lame, and don’t need to prove it to myself again.
I buy a snack of bold and spicy Chex Mix and look around, wondering where the clerk lives and how people can handle the small (and by small I mean nonexistent) town life out here. . . it must be so lonely. Just then, I’m frightened for the 1000th time on this trip. The Petula Clark song, “Downtown,” comes on as I’m walking to the door. Really, really loud, by gas station standards. There isn’t a downtown for hundreds of miles. The only real one in this state is in Salt Lake City, and it is packed full of Mormons and therefore hardly counts. This is weird or ironic or something, and a serial killer is about to hop out here singing with someone’s head in his hand. I run, clinging to my Chex Mix, and squeal the front tires all the way down the on ramp.
3222 miles: Utah is an entire continent’s worth of terrains in a few hundred miles. I crossed into the state in the middle of a desert, passed through snow-capped mountains lined with tall pines, dropped down into what I think was the Grand Canyon, and now I’m being warned of blinding dust storms for the next forty miles. And I can see the Rockies looming in the distance.
3587 miles: After days of just being there, not letting me down but not impressing me, I finally notice the Passat under me. But not in a good way here—I’m driving through Vail Pass, Colorado at an elevation of 10,600 feet, and my VW’s 2.0T is lifeless through the climb. I drop it down to third gear before coaxing some real acceleration out of the car to get back up to speed. Not what I expected out of this little turbo on an otherwise trouble-free drive.
4227 miles: Somehow, I’ve done it: 1200 miles in fifteen hours. A little voice tells me I should just go for the whole thing and not stop until Michigan. That voice quickly falls asleep, just as I plan to do at the next hotel I see. I pull into Lincoln, Nebraska’s lovely Days Inn, and the long-lost third brother from Nickelodeon’s “Pete and Pete” hands me the key to room 230, my home for the next five hours. I’ve got a schedule to keep, so I keep the rest short.
4488 miles: The drive from Denver to Chicago is the most painful highway experience one can imagine. It’s flat, straight, and boring. Iowa and Illinois are heavily patroled by state troopers. Just like that one coming toward me on the westbound side. Crap, I’ve let myself drift up to 80 (Illinois is one of those states that refuses to raise the limit above 65,) prompting the trooper to demonstrate the the proper way to spin sideways through a median without dropping below 50 mph. I almost made it all the way home. Instead, due to my red eyes (from lack of sleep) and the slight tremble in my hands (a result to the aforementioned spin maneuver) I’m being accused of smuggling drugs and spend the next 20 minutes in a police cruiser while my car is being searched. I don’t deserve this, but refusing the search will just make this a bigger ordeal, and I have nothing to hide. I slam the cop’s door hard on the way out and, as I’m walking to my car, I long to see Michigan’s “Great Lakes, Great Times” billboard like never before.
Hey, at least I learned that Illinois doesn’t use a point system. And anything under 20 mph over the limit is a simple $75.00 ticket. This could have been worse.
4772 miles: One last test. A terrible traffic jam has formed just past the Jackson, Michigan city limit sign. No. I won’t stop. I weave my way over a potholed-business loop, dodging Silverados and Tauruses as I go. I’m so close! So tired! Back on the highway, I hop the dip in the road that signifies I’m back in Washtenaw County. WOOOOOO, I scream. I’m finally home, and I’m never driving 4800 miles in a week ever again.