Life on The I-80
Our team of crack journalists went insane, and made the drive from Concord, California to Concord, New Hasmpshire on Interstate 80. Read the insightful observations of our intrepid travelers made on their journey into the heartland.
To: Editor's Desk c/o Tjames Madison, Editor at Large - Pigdog Spocko Productions SMRL- Broomfield, Colorado Offices
We are now on day two of our continuing journey, similarly last taken by the likes of Neil Cassady and dear old & sadly misunderstood Jack Kerouac. I must admit that this particular trip is far more luxurious than the trips our early mentors experienced or, for that matter, anything that I myself endured while hitchhiking all over the Northwestern United States. But then, this crusade through the United States is not about self discovery through hardship. What is this about? It's about travelling through the heart of America with my wife, three cats and a carload of disposable materials (half of which will probably be destroyed in unknown but certainly ugly ways) and 52 compact disks (which may also face a horrible demise).
Then there are the observations I have made, and brother, do I have a lot of them.
First, I must say, that aside from Reno or Las Vegas, Nevada is one miserable place. I have never seen so many people with their eyes set so far apart. One has to wonder whether this is due to radiation, inbreeding, or a botched top- secret government experiment involving cross-breeding some unknown amphibious creature with the locals. I would lay my money on a combination of the aforementioned scenarios.
Nevada has put at least three of its prison's alongside the I-80. The frustration level for the prisoners must be incredibly intense.
Research Note: I've noticed that there are less than the usual amounts of Covenant Transport trucks on the road. Covenant is a fundamental Christian trucking company. I must do more research on this company. There is just something fundamentally wrong with "Trucking for the Lord."
There is also something deeply wrong with the state of Utah the way it currently can be found. In my opinion, the Mormons have really fucked it up. This is no surprise, considering we are referring to a religious group who's teachings include the beliefs that people with dark pigmentation are evil and you get your very own planet when God calls you home. If you were to give a description to a person on the street not familiar with the LDS, they certainly would think you were describing another new-age religion from Southern California. Is it any wonder that every person I've met from Salt Lake City was screwed up in one aspect or another? I blame it all on that early sci- fi/fantasy writer, Joseph "Crazy Joe" Smith.
So far, what I've seen of Wyoming has convinced me that the chief industries are selling refuge (as well as refuse) to people who are getting the hell out of Utah. This economy includes offering, in the form of commercial transaction, anything that cannot be bought in Brigham Young's hellish paradise - such as pyrotechnics, liquor (including beer with more than a 3% alcohol content), and bulk tobacco.
I wish I could have been at the motel this morning after we checked out, just to have seen the look on the face of the maid assigned to clean our room. I wonder what she thought of the bottles of Wild Turkey (750 ml), Skyy Vodka (1.75 l) and a bottle of cheap Vermouth (is there any other kind?) - all emptied. Not to mention the container of grapefruit juice, an depleted case of Mountain Dew, patches of sand (cat litter), and a dry green leafy substance spread all over the carpet (catnip looks very suspicious to the uneducated). I ran into the maids in the hallway as I was making repeated trips to the ice machine, muttering off a list of things to pack up. Dressed black jeans, a black T-shirt with the famous Man Ray/Dali skull photo and a black movie gaffer's utility vest, I must have been an exotic freak of nature to these women born in and destined to die in the small railroad town known as Evanston, Wyoming.
Before leaving Evanston, we stopped off at Jolly Jaks Fireworks and purchased as many pyrotechnics as we could fit into our already overloaded trunk. Much like the rest of the country, the fun explosives are now also illegal in Wyoming, but they still offer a startling array that you simply cannot get in other states. Some of this stuff can do serious damage! We settled for high gauge skyrockets equal to a half-stick of dynamite each (easily modified), two rows of Whistling Pete rockets, a case of roman candles two bricks of Black Cat Thunder firecrackers, and two cases of M88's, which are not M80's, but more powerful than M90's.
The words that I now write are being penned from the passenger seat of our Honda Civic, doing an average and easy speed of between 85-95 MPH. We are just outside of Rawlins, Wyoming. This is the best way to see the country. Far better than flying. Sure, an airliner will get you to your destination quicker, but a lot of unknown nuances are lost when you are stuck in a metal cylinder cruising above the cloud ceiling. They can only be discovered via ground transportation. My only real complaint is the lack of radio reception. Not even AM radio is available in this remote Wyoming wasteland. The CD player will hold six compact disks. But we are forced to keep our selections limited to Delirium's Karma, and some Underworld, which seem to have a narcotic effect on the cats. It's a fair tradeoff, rather than having them yowling (or worse) for the entire trip, but it will be a long time before we willingly listen to these CDs again.
Greetings from Ogallala, Nebraska, home of lots and lots of nothing, and just as much to do. No wonder half of the Cornhuskers are busted on various charges ranging from date rape to aggravated assault. Myself, I would risk violating the strict anti-hitchhiking law, or hopping the first freight train out of this place. There is only the usual crap beers made mostly with inexpensive rice & corn sugars. There are liquors such as Schnapps, but no whiskeys. The people here are afraid of it. I don't blame them, considering the reaction their Collegiate football players have when drunk on Budweiser or Coors. The lack of stronger drink is probably a good thing. This city was once known as the "Gomorrah of the Plains." We could find no current evidence to support that claim, much to our disappointment? Unless we're talking about Gomorrah after God destroyed it. We wonder where Sodom is.
A new business has sprung up along this major freighting truck route, called TA Travel Center, which claims to offer everything a trucker may need in one convenient stop. From past experience working a summer on my uncle's seafood truck, I know the preferred taste in women the drivers of these rigs have on the road - fast, cheap, and easy. Looks aren't important. And from the looks and outfits of the waitresses in the diner, I wouldn't doubt for a minute the validity to the "one-stop" claim. This was confirmed when a perky female voice came over the intercom to announce, "Joe, your 'shower' is ready."
Welcome to Iowa, first city, Council Bluffs. A city which woke up one morning to find most of it's population gone, when they decided to follow Brigham Young into the unexplored wilderness.
Research note: We have seen several signs advertising and promoting skiing in Nebraska and Iowa. Where?!?!?!?
Based on the commercials and announcements heard on the over-abundance of "proper" Christian radio stations, death and dying seems to hold some sort of unhealthy infatuation for these people. Announcements of the deaths of residents of the area, and special "deals" being offered by the local mortuaries being the norm every 15 minutes or so during broadcast hours. It was morbid listening, but kind of amusing too. Anyway, we lost the signal fairly quickly. It just kind of "died" off.
Our stop in Iowa was in a small town called Grinnell, founded by J.B. Grinnell. This was the gentleman who was told by one Horace Greeley to "Go west, young man". Ironic that we would find ourselves in the community he founded, heading in the opposite direction. The motel we are staying in is of a strange Dutch-American architectural hybrid. All the doors are hung incorrectly, in doorways of slightly trapezoidal shape. The big festivals in this area are The Tulip Festival, and Ridiculous Days. The first is a festival of flowers and pseudo-Dutch culture, in which people dress up in horrifying stereotypical Dutch outfits, do clock dances in wooden shoes, and race large wheels of cheese up and down the main street before eating them. The other festivity, Ridiculous Days, is when the good people of Grinnell dress up in clothes that even St. Vincent De Paul's would reject, and behave in public in a manner that they normally wouldn't consider even in the safety of a windowless basement on a moonless night. There should be a law to institute this behavior year round simply for the amusement of travelling Pigdogs. Fun at your expense, and all that.
Our departure from Iowa and arrival into Ohio was greeted with a combination of tornadoes, staggeringly humid thunderstorms, and flash floods. We decided to get the hell out of there as soon as possible, hitting the road around 8:30, with tornado warnings and generally nerve-wracking conditions everywhere. Even the State Troopers were allowing travelers to speed along without hassles, just to get everyone out of there in case the "big blow" decided to hit.
Did I mention the dead animals? The I-80 in Ohio has more carcasses than I've ever seen on the road anywhere. Ranging from raccoons to deer, the average count is one animal corpse per quarter mile. Some parts of the freeway are permanently stained with mind-boggling large spots of a sickening, reddish black matter with chunks of rotting meat interspersed in the grotesque carnage. These aren't your typical instant road pizzas either. If the tire marks on the cement are to be trusted, it appears that some vehicle drivers intentionally go out of their way to run down any creature that happens onto the concrete borders of the Interstate. After viewing several freshly killed and mutilated carrion that once were deer, I concluded that this is the work of nocturnal truck drivers with heads full of speed, which is the drug of choice in these parts.
The popularity of this substance with people other than truckers trying to make a fat delivery bonus will not make much sense to an outsider. But this is farm country. Farmers and their hired hands, contrary to popular belief, do not work from sunrise till sunset. The average day usually begins around 3:30 AM and ends around 9:30 PM. This is to insure that their crops receive the maximum amount of water with the minimum evaporation possible. The faster you can move, the more fields you can cover. The more fields you cover, the better the crop will be come harvest time. The better your crops are, the more money you can make. And if snorting a cheap nazi-invented substance helps you accomplish this, so be it.
Manufacturing amphetamine is not too much of a problem here either. The wide- open spaces, and surplus of abandoned buildings means that there will never be a shortage of labs being set up. Remember this if you happen read about some mysterious fire on the outskirts of some flyspeck place like Walcott, Iowa.
Welcome to Illinois, home state of Chicago Blues, Joliet Prison, and the site where Ronald Wilson Reagan emerged into our world from the womb of an imported Egyptian Wild Dog. The morning was spent listening to a typical lackluster FM morning show team as they interview an 86 year old male stripper named Disco Ernie. Later, we stopped for a brief breakfast at a truck-stop, called Gramma's Kitchen. As I ate my morning meal, I quietly listened to the two men in the booth behind me talk. The subject of their discussion was cell phones, and how more and more truckers are using them rather than pay phones on their route, or even CBs in some cases. A curious fact arose in their conversation - professional truck drivers never check their cell phone bills. They just pay them. This is partly due to the various roaming charges and not having the time to verify the calls placed along the routes driven during a billing period, and partly because some trucking companies will reimburse cell phone charges. A phone jacker with good scanning and capturing equipment could make a king's ransom spending a week at any of the major truck stops along this ongoing highway project given to us by Eisenhower.
Research note: We are in Cheap Trick country. Why in the hell do all the radio stations around here play such bad music? Are there still enough people purchasing White Lion to warrant their radio play?
We have now entered Indiana, current home of Bob 'Chokehold' Knight. We need more people like him in sports. Years ago, I predicted that professional sports would slowly begin imitating the antics of professional wrestling. Now, as fans begin hurling snowballs with batteries concealed in them at players, and the players themselves sporting bizarre outfits, makeup, and tattoos; it was only a matter of time before the coaches would want a piece of the action. I'm rather disappointed though. I was expecting to see tactics last used by the legendary wrestling manager, Jim Cornette. A university coach beating a player with a tennis racket, or throwing powder in the opposing team's eyes would have a harder time explaining those actions to a Board than grabbing a player by the throat or threatening a spinster secretary over a cup of cold coffee. Especially when he's a winning coach. They'll keep him, but only if he attends anger management classes or some nonsense such as that. This is basketball country, and they aren't about to let someone who wins hit the road over some minor infractions. Bob would probably have to sodomize near-death co-eds in front of the hearing board before they'll terminate his contract.
Some of my favorite performers come from Ohio, specifically the Cleveland/Akron area. I also know why so many of them got the hell out of this state. What we've seen of Ohio is pretty, scenery wise. Because the roadways are lacking any kind of accurate signs indicating where cities are located (including billboards), we weren't able to stop anywhere for fear of losing our way out. We theorized that they do this on purpose to keep the tourists out. This is, in retrospect, is a good thing. Ohio charges a thirty cents per exit fee to drive on the interstate. The toll is much higher for trucks. It can cost as much as eighty dollars for a semi to drive through this state. Abby suggested that we stop in Cleveland and visit The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The only contact I want with that overpriced (admission price - fifteen dollars) tourist trap, is to get monstrously drunk on cheap beer, and piss all over the various exhibits. John Lydon put it best, "it's not what the artists wore or the paper they wrote on that matters, it's what they did that's important." I tend to agree. Seeing Joe Walsh's football jersey or a piece of the plane Otis Redding died in means very near to nothing to me.
We made the doomed decision to cross into Pennsylvania from Ohio in hopes of putting ourselves closer to our final destination and possibly in a cheaper zone of accommodations. We had been warned not to stop in Ohio, because of the hotel price gouging along the Interstate due to the aforementioned exit tolls. There will be more on this, later.
The first thing that struck me about this region, are the remnants of a once thriving industrial-based economy, which now lies in literal scrap heaps of ruin. The leaders of Silicon Valley and the surrounding areas would be well advised to tour this area to see what the future has in store for them. This kind of local economic collapse has happened many times, and will happen many times again. All parties have to end sometime, as the saying goes.
The other item of note in this area is that this is the beginning of the area inhabited by Mountain People - know as hillbillies to the outside world. You really get a feeling for the songs recorded by Sixteen Horsepower up here. The downside is this: we just passed by a local driving a car displaying the Klan logo in the rear window. Simplicity runs deep, but ignorance runs deeper here.
As I said, our entrance into this state was predestined for disaster. As the sun set, we figured that all other Interstate travelers would be stopping in Youngstown, Ohio for the night. We thought that we would probably have better luck down the road in one of the small Pennsylvania towns just over the border. What we did not know was that most of the signs pointing to Motels were advertisements for inns that no longer existed. We drove for hours down way too many back-roads in search of these voided accommodations. To make matters worse, all motels and hotels that actually were available were filled to capacity with people attending a bowling convention. The hotels had jacked up their rates for people coming in without reservations beyond even a reasonable gouge. The only benefit to our wanderings is finding an open liquor store. All we wanted were a couple of six packs of beer, which were not available anywhere - including the state-controlled liquor store. There was, however, plenty of bottles of bourbon in handy 'who-want's-to-be-the-first-in- jail-on-Friday-night?' (as Abby called it) 350 ml size bottles, Jack Daniel's Kool-Aid flavored coolers, and plenty of moonshine - some made locally in the area.
Eventually, in exhausted frustration, we made our way 50 miles further down the road, where we found a motel that had rooms, and was charging a third of the rate the other places we had stopped at had wanted.
The next morning, I woke up, and quietly left the room in search of a cup of coffee, letting Abby sleep. The motel was a beehive of activity; mostly strange people wearing suits and ties. What kind of a person wears stuff like this on an early, and quite humid, Saturday morning? It was then I spotted the copies of The Watchtower and Awake spread about here and there. Jehovah's Witnesses had descended our out hotel in the middle of the night, filling every room. Now, at 7:30 AM, they were leaving. Their destination - I do not know. Some secret gathering in the mountains somewhere, I suspected. But if Bowlers can have a convention, why not Witnesses?
I met our maid. She was a bit older than myself, but had obviously seen a lot of hard times. I guessed by her appearance that she had at least three kids. I would not be surprised if this was her second or even third job. She smiled at me as I passed her, revealing one upper, and two lower front coal-black teeth. Yea and for true, this was the domain of the people of the mountain, and I had just met their spokes model.
From our borderline Pennsylvania motel, we drove directly to our New Hampshire destination, only slightly hampered by rain and fog. We had both seen and had enough. To hell with safety and laws. There is roadwork every ten miles, and it's getting really fucking annoying travelling at only twenty miles per hour when we are so close to our final destination! We are also surrounded by the second worst drivers in the world - people from Massachusetts. First place belongs specifically to the drivers of Boston, where driving a car is a fast moving contact sport.
New Hampshire at last and the sleep of the dead. The next time we do this kind of driving excursion, we promise to ourselves to be sans cats, and to pick a more intriguing route than the alternately lifeless and/or terrifying I-80 corridor through the United States.
T O P S T O R I E S
C L A S S I C P I G D O G