Wednesday, October 1, 2008


The final day of our cross-country journey. Josh and I will finally pull over at my bff Beth’s apartment in Irvine around dinner, and I can’t wait to see her new home in her new town. The last time we saw each other was Labor Day, right before Beth moved to grad school. It seems like no time at all since I last hugged her and said, “See you on the west coast! See you when our lives are completely different!” And now…they are.

We spent the last two days at the Grand Canyon, an odd mix of natural grandeur, old white Americans, foreign tourists with large cameras and many children, bitter and bored exchange students working the cashiers, and a Disneyified version of camping in the wilderness. Bees swarmed around our car, and the squirrels scurried up to our toes hoping for junk trail mix handouts.

We spent yesterday hiking halfway down the canyon on a red dust trail. We made friends along the way from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and spent the return trip heaving and pulling ourselves up like a couple of old smokers. After dinner at the canteen, we crowded onto the lowest observation spot at Mather Point to listen to a Star Talk. You know you can see the Milky Way from the Grand Canyon? They have laws about the light and sound emittance from the park, so even their emergency helicopters are virtually silent. It was an incredible way to end our stay, craning our necks up above, thinking about how little our lives our, and short. Josh questioned the futility of our existence, while I couldn’t stop thinking about how I must remind myself, whether I can see the night sky or not, it is no way worth it to spend my life afraid and worrying. Par example, I spent the first hour of the day worrying about dying on the hike yesterday morning. (Josh is part of the most dangerous demographic who visit the park: 18-30 year old males.) Lo and behold, we survived.

We crossed the Colorado River into California a few hours ago, and shrieked with glee when we saw the “Welcome to California!” sign. I was driving, and Josh put on the ipod Gene Kelly singing, “Singing in the Rain.” That’s when I started crying. I never thought I’d move to the west coast. I never thought I’d want to live near palm trees and Baywatch and the desert. But I watched Gene Kelly, literally, thousands of times. He made me want to be an actor, in the cheesiest of ways. And now, here I am, in my car, with my love, in California. Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at apartments.

I have to remember the Milky Way.


Day Four and we’re driving through New Mexico on our way to the Grand Canyon. At this point, I think we both loathe the car a little bit. My sweet little Toyota Matrix is a champ, even though I’m paranoid her tires are going flat, or her engine is making mouse-squeaks, or her alignment is fucked. She’s fine, despite a constant smattering of bug guts on her white exterior. We, however, are starting to go crazy.

I think it really took hold in Texas. Ugh, Texas. The panhandle, at least, sucks. It was both Josh and my first time there, and it was just flat, flat, and more flat. The only good things about Texas: the Free 72 oz. Steak repeatedly and boldly advertised (but only if you eat it in a hour) and the tall, alien windmills spread pell-mell across the horizon. They tried really hard to redeem the landscape.

And then we entered New Mexico, and almost immediately, I felt better. Broad mountains dotted with low-lying trees swept across the sky. Hills dipped the road. Bushes speckled the dusty fields that stretched forever out of sight. We stopped at a gas station in a three building town called Newkirk, where the pumps seem to have been installed in the early 60’s, and a train sped past us for several minutes. An abandoned church, forgotten by everyone (God too?), stood awkwardly beside the road, its front door boarded up and a foot-wide crack bisecting the adobe walls. I was utterly sold on the state when we got to Santa Fe. All the houses are adobe, and there are lush gardens of bright, reaching flowers everywhere. At the first sign of a dreadlocked hippie artist, I felt at home. It’s a liberal, apparently well-moneyed town, and everyone was very polite and welcoming.

And now we’re off again, through these rolling swathes of land, empty and totally silent. A man came up to our window with his small girl and told a long story about his family going through Sky City, and how he lost his wallet. Poor people are everywhere in this world, not all of them homeless, but looking around my car with two ipods, a garmin nuvi, two laptops, cell phones and Bluetooth devices in our pockets, I felt a tiny bit embarrassed. I can’t tell if I’m greedy or normal, but I have an inkling I might still be that desperate kid in elementary school, pleading my mom to take me shopping, to be like the other kids and buy new things, new, newer. I want and I want, and I ask for so much, when all I really need is food, a safe place to live, water, sunshine. That’s one thing I really despise about my career: it encourages you to want and want, and never be satisfied. Good for the ambition, detrimental to the soul.

So, Josh gave this man $5 to feed his daughter, or whatever. Maybe he’s like the New Yorkers, and he just needs to drink, or maybe to gamble, or maybe he does need something to feed his little children. It almost doesn’t matter. He’s doing what all Americans do: we beg for more. For something. We prostrate ourselves at the feet of our government, do this for me, give me my fix of more and more.

We’re crossing Arizona now, and just passed Flagstaff. It’s funny to me, knowing nothing about Flagstaff, I always imagined it as a singularly unattractive town, tan and dusty and treeless, nothing but an oversized American flag in the middle of an unhappy village of very tan old people. Lo and behold, Flagstaff in reality is forested and beautiful, and my imagined counterpart is instead more of an accurate description of Albuquerque. Yuck. A low point in NM’s map.

Arizona’s flag, interestingly, looks like an 80’s t-shirt now being resold for $40 at Urban Outfitters: bright blues, reds, and oranges, exploding out of a center star. Everyone who pastes it onto their car windows are automatically cool.

I heard an NPR interview once with an American Flag representative, who said that the rules for handling flags so specifically were instated because of the worry the flag would be overused, overdisplayed. That seems to have been lost somewhere. We’ve driven through 480 miles today of empty lots of land, sometimes with nothing but a shanty and a flag in the middle of a sea of lonely shrubbery. Signs for “America’s Restaurant,” or “Patriot’s Place” dot the billboards. When there’s nothing else around you, just sky and sagebrush, maybe patriotism for your country and fervent belief in God are the only things to keep you sane, or to keep you from wallowing in an intense and justified loneliness.

Ninety percent of the other billboards today have been for Indian wares: Indian blankets, Indian pottery, Indian polished petrified wood, Indian smokes, Indian food, Indian maps, Indian merchandise of all kinds. When we pulled off at a “Scenic Spot,” which consisted of six plywood shacks, half of which were empty, the other half selling Indian merchandise, I told Josh it reminded me of Jamaica. Jamaica is a frightening place full of restless bodies, a whole country full of displaced people who didn’t ask to be where they are, the ancestors of enslaved workers from another world. The Native Americans, even more recently displaced, have turned their misplacement into the most American activity possible: capitalism. They do what actors do. They are so desperate to survive, they sell the most precious thing they have left: themselves. Their identity is for sale on wide, chipping billboards: REAL INDIANS. Some day long ago, somebody mistook them for someone else, but after persecution and all but annihilation, they turned in their identities. They market the mistake.

It’s hard to believe with all this space, it’s still not enough. Wanting, wanting.