Frequent traveller: Highway to hellBack to Forum
Anonymous30 Jun 2009
In which our correspondent plays a reluctant Thelma to her colleague’s Louise on a perilous American road trip…
A recent spate of meetings in the US meant I had to spend a number of days in Sacramento followed by Las Vegas. The thought of enduring yet another dreary domestic flight propelled me to jump into a hire car – far less practical but at least my personal space would not be invaded by folds of fat from a sweaty, over-friendly neighbour – and this way I could actually see some of the country.
I would have been more than happy to embark on the journey alone, but an irritating colleague piped up to say she would join me. We hit the Capital City freeway early to see the sun rise over the American river. At least, we would have seen it had we paid the extra charge for satnav. My colleague’s life-threatening map-reading skills, combined with Sacramento’s dizzying grid system of one-way streets, meant we were lucky to get out of the city before sunset.
Nevertheless, we were soon bowling along Interstate 80, and I was pleased to find that a Christian rock station we stumbled on put an end to my travelling partner’s tedious monologue. Thank God. The rolling green hills of California turned into Sierra Nevada’s snow-covered mountains, which led me to recall a bleary-eyed conversation I’d had with the hotel concierge the night before. The route we were taking via Lake Tahoe – a favourite ski spot – could get quite treacherous and it would have been wise to take snow chains. As the icy, pockmarked road climbed ever higher, I imagined being cocooned in an icy grave for eternity next to my colleague, and decided that flying with a fat man would probably have been a better fate.
Stopping for petrol in the US is a novel experience for a foreigner. Once you’ve figured out that you can’t pay by card at the pump like everyone else (you need to enter a zip code to do so), you then have to weigh up how badly you need the bathroom. The facilities are awful – and that’s when they’re working. At one stop the women’s toilets were out of order so I had to nip into the men’s, finding myself behind a jaded-looking chap who tried to engage me in conversation. As his brain registered my English accent (a sure way to get unwanted attention), I reverted to my survival tactic – widening my eyes like a crazed woman and staring straight at the toilet door, silently willing the guy inside to hurry up.
After two days driving through the wilderness, even I rejoiced at the sight of an In-N-Out Burger bar. From dining at the best restaurants in Sacramento, I was forced to go native and resort to beef jerky, crinkle-cut potato chips and murky cups of filter coffee. Mind you, it couldn’t have been much worse than the average in-flight meal.
You know you’ve reached Nevada when you start passing billboards reading “I was dealt a royal flush”, followed by another asking, “Have we lured you in yet?” A sideways glance at my workmate plucking her eyebrows, and it was all I could do to resist the urge to pull up, dash into the next casino and gamble my life away. I focused on the road ahead and, as night fell, we passed a cluster of motels. They were all closed except one, its neon sign swinging in the dark. With thoughts of Norman Bates in Psycho, I was finally relieved to have my colleague with me. Perhaps I’d let her have a shower first.
We knocked on the small wooden door and it swung open to reveal a man with poker-straight black hair sitting behind a cramped reception desk. Unable to escape the association with another terrifying movie, No Country for Old Men, I backed out, leaving my partner to do the talking.
After a fitful but thankfully uneventful night, our journey took us through Death Valley, one of the most arid places on earth, and a few hours later we saw the lights of our destination glimmering in the distance. Driving in Vegas can really bring out the fear and loathing in you – especially when you pass sleek limousines that you suspect are transporting smug business travellers to their hotel from the airport 3km away. Finally we reached our hotel, and I made a mental note to check in online for my flight back as soon as I got to my room.30 Jun 2009