Travel: Tales from the Road
Reflections on a journey to discover the character of a country
The GPS commands, “In point-two miles turn right, then turn left.” In the Mojave, past the “Other Desert Cities” sign, a cloud of rainbow-colored locusts moves over sand, gnawing at one another’s necks. We stop at a Wal-Mart parking lot that looks exactly like the last one. There’s always a photo studio, but some stores have a pedicure shop and hair salon, and others an eyeglass center and arcade. Sometimes it seems like we are continually traveling down the same road, and the unexpected small things become the most memorable.
In Baton Rouge, we discovered the beauty of trash bags dancing in the sky on a windy day. Heading west, we spotted more and more fire performers, and people asked if we were going to Burning Man. In Amarillo, we just wanted to wash laundry and leave the quiet town, but an afternoon became a week spent with millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 and the wife of cowboy poet Buck Ramsey. In Chimayo, New Mexico, a hole in the ground has miraculous dirt that cures cripples. We were all surprised to find cities of salt crystals in the water around the Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake. When a female elk got a bit too close during a snapshot in Glacier National Park, our hearts jumped. Some nights, we listened to the rain ting on the roof of our metal house because it was too hot and sticky to sleep.
Somewhere near Big Sur on Route 1, we saw the Pacific’s silver sheen vibrating in the sun like a million coins. That’s also where we discovered what it’s like to be lost in a fog. In Playas de Rosarito, Mexico, we painted a mural; lived a month on $100; and fed ourselves by fishing, picking mussels, and hunting octopus and crabs. At the general store in Pinedale, Wyoming, a big sign read, “Welcome to Pinedale, all the civilization you need!” On the walls hung taxidermy trophy heads of moose, wild goats, and buffalo. We felt like we’d found a more remote part of America where things haven’t really changed. The checkout girl had long black hair and Native American features. We asked if we could take her picture. She said, “Yes. My name is Victoria. I am exchange student from Moldova.”