Going Home, Day 2, 8/14/12: Sharing Needles, or not even out of California yet

Okay, just what the hell did I get us into? I-40 rest area, in the middle of the Mojave, about 4 p.m., temperature in the 110s.

Oct. 22, 2012

The third installment of the move home from Fresno to Connecticut finally has Alexis and me on the road.

For the first chapter, Going home, the prequel: Loose Ends, click here. For the epic-length second chapter, Going home, Day 1, 8/13/12: Leaving Fresno. Not., click here.

After the longest day of the trip — a delayed rental truck, two load-ins, near heat stroke, emergency last-minute replacement of a blown alternator on my car, and six hours of traveling to and from Oakland to pick up Alexis — the actual trek home would actually begin at last. Really. I swear.

But on less than two hours’ sleep.

And by the end of an arduous first day, we thought we were truly in hell — with the temperature to match. And we weren’t even out of California yet.

Onward at last

When last we left this saga, we got back to Heather’s house a little after 3 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, and were sacked out by 3:30.

Alexis and I had talked about the trip a few times, and she suggested we travel in the dark of night — avoiding both the traffic and the heat of August. She had traveled the Route 66 path before — parts of the actual 66 and the two interstates that supplanted much of it, 40 and 44. both of which we would be traveling extensively — and, well, I totally agreed with her.

In the plans I had in my head, we would get on the road at midnight, travel until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, then stop and get some shuteye, then wake up around 10, shower up, get some breakfast, then on the road again by the next midnight, lather, rinse and repeat until we got back to Connecticut.

She suggested I get in as much driving as possible the first three days, as my spirits were likely to sag by the middle of the trip. “Oh, honey, I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem,” I wrote her in one of my Facebook messages back and forth preceding the trip. I was really looking forward to going home — to see my parents, to reconnect with all my friends, to enjoy life as the prodigal daughter-come-home.

Well, as we found out in the last exciting chapter, things just don’t quite go according to plan. And we were hours behind before we even started, and with the lack of sleep, we’d be set back even farther.

The dry climate and Heather’s cats were enough to wake me up around 5 a.m., after about an hour and a half. I wanted to get on the road asap; my thinking was that if we could at least get on the road, it would be enough adrenaline and a psychological lift to sustain us until we got past Bakersfield — which, driving on 99 at the prescribed rental-truck speed limit of 55 rather than the actual speed limit of 70, would mean over two hours — and maybe much of the way along Highway 58 to the interstates.

Channel 30, the local ABC station (in the largest city in the country without a VHF TV station — or an interstate highway, for that mater), had just begin its morning newscast, another story about another domestic shooting, a twentysomething skank who (allegedly, of course) shot at her parents while they were in bed. I let Alexis sleep a little longer as I went into the bathroom and shaved and did my face; since I would be driving and she was already packed and situated, she could sleep longer, not to mention sleep in the truck.

As for me, I left all my things at Heather’s before leaving for Oakland — two suitcases with clothes for home and/or storage; a zip-up overnight bag with my clothes for the trip (T-shirts, a pair of jeans, some tops and leggings); a big black Hefty garbage bag with my shoes; a plastic Target shopping bag bulging with my toiletries and meds; and my laptop — so I had to do a little bit of arranging in the trunk.

I woke her up shortly before 6. We were set to go about quarter after. Heather saw us off. We were all pretty exhausted by that point, so the last farewell wasn’t heavy-duty emotional; it was a big hug and a sigh of relief that we were finally getting this thing on the road — this adventure of a lifetime, or whatever it was gonna be.

First stop was one last drive through the Jack in the Box window on Blackstone Avenue, near Fresno City College. Then we headed south. I detoured west down McKinley, and took one last left turn down Wishon to give Alexis the 50-cent tour of my little corner of Fresno. I showed her the Tower District — the Tower Theatre, then a right turn on Olive, past the Landmark and Revue (which wasn’t open yet) … and then another mini-detour. I showed her the house on Esther and Lamona where I spent my first five years in Fresno. Where I began the coming-out process with a little epiphany that January evening in 2008, sitting on my bed after work. Back when I was someone. When I was still employed and still worthy of being so.

The detour done, we made our way south the three miles or so to the Fresno Bee parking lot. The very place where the odyssey began as I arrived for my a job interview on a January Thursday afternoon in 2004. I drove the Camry up the ramp and fastened the nylon-strap netting to the front tires and tightened the winches and inserted the pins to keep it all in place. Alexis set to making our little house a home.

Her overnight bag came with us in the cab. So did my laptop, along with the huge CD case I normally kept in the car, with about a couple hundred mixdiscs and road copies of some of my albums. The two garlic bulbs Heather gave me to ward off the vampires went in the overhead bin, along with some bottles of water from my trunk.

Google listed the distance from the Bee lot to my folks’ house in Prospect at the time as 3,009 miles, though as I last checked before writing this, the distance seems to have grown to 3,011. (It’s only about 2,500 miles as birds fly, so long as they don’t freeze to death trying to get over the Sierra.)

It was 7 a.m. on the dot, seven hours after our originally planned departure time.

An hour into the trip and we were already zonked.

There was a cloud cover, as there had been two days before when I emptied out Gene’s garage. (It’s been a weird summer weatherwise in Fresno this year.) I turned the key. The console lit up once again like the old Madame LaRue pinball, and the engine cranked with that metallic, monstrous, piston-lifting growl unique to diesel engines.

“Here goes nothing,” I told her, still unsure of my ability with the truck as I brought the shift to D … and we’re off. A left turn out of the lot (and no, I didn’t look back), a right onto Stanislaus, a left onto the frontage road — all the while making sure I took my turns wide enough to accommodate the truck and the car — and after a stop sign, it was down the on-ramp and onto Highway 99 south.

Yes, this was actually happening at last. I really was on my way back to Connecticut. No turning back. As I say at the stroke of midnight every January 1: Onward.

What not to do when you have a car on a dolly on the back of your truck

Well, plans went astray again.

That boost of adrenaline I was banking would get us past Bakersfield?

Well, it got us to Tulare, a little over an hour into the trip. I was starting to crap out already. This wasn’t good.

Fortunately, there was a Love’s truck stop just south of Tulare, heading toward

At Love’s Truck Stop, Tulare, just before the first near-disaster.

Tipton. I brought the truck down the Avenue 216 ramp and made the wide turns easily and found a slot down near the back that had some shade from an adjacent truck, as the sun had broken through gloriously just past Kingsburg, heading toward Visalia. It was a little after 8.

I discovered early on that the truck’s bench seat wasn’t particularly comfortable. I also realized, because of that and the sun, I wasn’t gonna get much sleep.

It actually was about an hour. By then, the sun had moved the shade away from our truck, and it was beating down. Alexis got out to stretch, to pee and to buy a drink. She brought me back the first of many tubs (think Big Gulp size) of unsweetened iced tea. Go figure — I need sugar and milk in my iced coffee, but I take my iced tea plain. It quenches me a lot better than the sugary stuff. But I would need the sugar rush to go with the caffeine rush — thus, she also bought me the first of many packs of Mentos. I alternated between strawberry and fruit, and by trip’s end, it was often two packs a pit stop.

As she waited, an older trucker walked by my door — slight, trim, in his 60s, wearing a baseball hat. He was walking his dog, a little one. I had my window rolled down. (And yes, it was an actual manual crank. They still make them thar

You couldn’t tell from this photo that I was already exhausted and it was just more than an hour on the road. Five and a half days to go.

contraptions.) I was a little concerned — this would be the first time I encountered a trucker in Truck Stop Land USA, with a lot of red-state territory to cover, from the San Joaquin Valley to the Inland Empire, Arizona, Texas Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana and Pennsylvania, and my obvious wonder was whether he’d read the girl driving the big truck as not quite being the usual girl.

“It’s gonna be a hot one,” he told me. He was heading north on an in-state run.

“Oh yeah,” I replied. “I’m not looking forward to it, that’s for sure. We just started five days across the country from Fresno.”

“That’s a long drive. Be safe.”

“Thanks! You, too.”

Well, that was Test No. 1. Test No. 2 was just about to happen. And along with it, a very valuable — and nearly costly — lesson.

Alexis was back in the truck and we were ready to roll. I started to back up.

Apparently, it was somewhere in the agreement, but Jose the Penske guy never told me as he gave me my perfunctory crash course in how to operate the truck.

He never told me not to back up with the car attached.

And as I reversed out of my spot, the dolly started to jackknife.

“Fran! Stop! The car’s coming off”

“Oh, fuck no!”

I pulled the truck forward again. However, there was enough play in the car’s wheels that the car was pivoting sideways. And the left fender of the dolly was pushing into the Camry’s front fender just behind the wheel well and in front of the driver’s door.

“Oh no oh no oh no!” your driver shouted. “We’re not even on the road an hour and this shit happens!”

Alexis was calm about it.

“Just disconnect the car and back it off,” she said.

Which is what I planned to do after I took a deep breath. I stepped off and inspected the damage.

The left fender of the dolly was a little out of whack and the round taillight lens was popped out of the socket. The fender, though, was made of PVC, and I was able to push it back into shape and pop the lens back in.

The rest of the dolly was not PVC, though, and the mini-mishap bent the brackets for both wheel winches. Also, the cable to one of the auxiliary hooks connecting the dolly to the truck (one on each side of the hitch) came loose. And the taillight wires were pulled loose off the back of the truck.

And I couldn’t work the winches loose to take the netting off the wheels. In fact, the left net was now extremely tight.

Fuck. We’re never gonna get out of this Valley.

After about 20 minutes of wrestling with this and trying to keep my wits about me, the driver of the neighboring truck came over. Was hauling food for a Carolina-based trucking chain. Looked to be in his 30s, kind of a cross between a rockabilly dude and a ’60s trucker that country songwriters used to write classic hits about — compact, slight gut, about 5-6, small, dark pompadour, sideburns.

“Let me see what we can do here,” he said.

He somehow was able to get the winches loose; apparently, they weren’t damaged, even though the brackets were bent. I got in the car to back it off. I opened the door; it was rubbing against the front fender panel, which was pushed in about a half-inch; the door just wouldn’t glide open anymore. Well, I figured, it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse. Though maybe the alignment was off, too; I wouldn’t know until I drove it again back home.

But he guided me down the ramp, after which I went back and disconnected the dolly, got back in the truck and backed it out to an unoccupied place where I wouldn’t have to back out again.

He reattached the dolly, I drove the Camry back on and he set to work. He secured the loose cable to the dolly; it would get by on just the hitch and the other support cable. The taillight cable was an easy fix — four color-coded wires that plugged into sockets in the rear of the truck like speaker wires in a stereo receiver.

The left taillight socket was still slightly off; he pulled a tool out of his left rear pocket that looked like a Swiss Army knife, only with more specific tools. And this one tool had a flat, spooned end and worked like a spacer for bicycle tires when fixing flats; he secured the taillight in its socket. I was dealing with a MacGyver — or are all truckers this resourceful?

“I’m used to dealing with things on the road,” he said. “Something always happens.”

I went back to the truck for a couple minutes. I trusted him. He was pretty easygoing. And he didn’t read me as trans, either. And I learned something else about truckers this very early in the trek: They watch out for each other on the road. It’s a rough life, You never know when you’re gonna need help. So I surmised that there’s a lot of paying forward.

He tightened the winches. He wrapped and jerry-rigged the left strapping so that the wheel wouldn’t move, but there was so much give space in the bent wench bracket that I didn’t know how I would get it off the truck once I got it home. But hey — the important thing was to get it home. I would check at every stop from there on home to make certain the dolly held up and the car didn’t shift. It made it through the rest of the trip just fine.

Alexis read the agreement while she was sitting in the cab and out of the sun. There was a manual in the agreement that said not to back up. Great. Wish I knew that when they gave me the truck. But even more disturbing: Though I had paid for all the damage waivers, and then had to go through the process a second time in person, one wasn’t checked off on the agreement — the dolly. Another thing to worry about — getting to the end of the trip just to have Penske hit me up for damages to the dolly. Fucking beautiful. What have I gotten myself into?

Well, I compartmentalized it — worry about it when we get home. We still have pretty much five days ahead. Can’t be getting all worked-up this early on. And after over two hours at the truck stop, I headed south again. We made it to Bakersfield and Highway 58 around noon, then left the Valley’s mother road and headed, at long last, more eastbound than southbound.

And I encountered my first sustained hills as we made our way toward Tehachapi. I started to get a feel for the gears (it was a four-speed) as I made sure to stay in the slow lanes and use all the appropriate trucker courtesies. And made sure to check my mirrors (close-up and distant on each door) and use my turn signals before every lane change. This was gonna be a slower haul than I pictured it.

Get your kicks

We made our first real fuel pit stop along 58 on the eastern outskirts of Tehachapi around 1 p.m. Alexis went in to hit the loo; I went inside and, for the first of many times, added a huge expense to one of my credit cards, which I juggled throughout the trip.

And I learned some trucker language in the process.

“What fleet?” The clerk asked me when I went to put the fill-up on the card.

“What do you mean?” asked the clueless chick doing the filling.

“Oh, you’re private,” she responded.

Well, not totally private; I’m a writer with a blog and social media accounts, after all. (Of course I didn’t say that to her! Trans trucker didn’t want to draw any attention to herself by being a smartass, after all.) But from that point, I knew to say “private” when a clerk asked.

I also learned that fueling up required an extra step. My fuel tank was on the passenger side. Each truck stop stall had two pumps, one for whichever side a trucker needed. But the main pump was the driver’s side one. so in order to

If you have a plan to motor west …

operate the auxiliary passenger-side pump, I had to remove the nozzles and lift the latches on both pumps. Just a slight pain in the ass.

Not as big a pain as the price of fuel to fill a 32-gallon tank. It was about $4.20 a gallon there, and my first fill-up was about $87. This was a shock to someone who didn’t drive very far in Fresno and dropped $40-50 in her Toyota tank every two weeks.

I followed the etiquette I picked up from seeing the other truckers. I finished fueling and pulled the truck up a space past the pumps so that another trucker could fuel up. Truck fueling, for the most part, isn’t the quick in-and-out that car fueling is. Drivers will stop and empty their bladders and fill up their cups of coffee or soda, look around in the store for something they need, or go get a bite. And there are showers available for the long-haulers. No one’s in a huge rush; they’ll make up their time on the road.

And I needed a loo break, too. My first trip to the ladies’ room in a truck stop. Not that I’ve never used a ladies’ room — and I haven’t used a men’s room in a dog’s age — but again, being in the state of Truck Stop USA made me just a little apprehensive. But no problems.

Alexis and I decided to have lunch at the Subway there. Subway is a Connecticut-based chain, if you didn’t know, based in Milford, three towns west of New Haven. But living in New Haven, why would you get one of their cheap, skimp-on-ingredients subs when you can go to a great deli, as I did during my Register years, when I would go nearly every day to the late, beloved Frank & Mary’s at the far end of Wooster Street? Kinda like why would any New Havener go to a pizza chain place when there are so many world-class pizza joints? So I was mildly surprised to see so many Subway shops along the way home. Part of me still remembers it as a local chain in the ’70s, during my adolescence, with its “Make Tracks for Subway” jingles playing on WPLR. But whatever — the turkey-and-Swiss foot-long was an adequate quick-filler lunch. I bought another tub of iced tea and more Mentos and we set off around quarter to 2.

And as we left, a woman came through the door. I’m guessing she was around my age, and I’m guessing she was the wife of a trucker.

“Hey! I like your top,” she said. I wore one of my Celtic tops, from a place called Holyclothing,com that sells tops, skirts and dresses made in India; I have four tops from this place, and all have done me well. Was wearing black, with black leggings and black flats. And I guess I looked like I fit in. As just about any transperson will tell you, stealth is a very good thing, especially in a strange place. “Thanks,” I told her, not belaboring the point.

And now, on the road. A short while later, we finally reached I-15 outside of Barstow — welcome to the Route 66 portion of our program.

And within a couple of miles — and some curves and ramps I navigated slowly and carefully — we were on the western end of I-40, the first of 2.554 miles from there to Wilmington, N.C. The original Mother Road of Steinbeck and Bobby Troup and Marty Milner either runs mostly parallel to or is part of I-40 from Barstow to Oklahoma City, then I-44 from there to St. Louis. (Then it’s mostly near I-55 to Chicago.) We’d be along 66, or whatever’s left of it, until the I-270/I-255 belt around St. Louis, where we’d break off and get on I-70 (which runs alongside another historical highway: U.S. 40 — the National Road) across the river in Illinois.

We were headed into the desert. Into the Mojave. At the time of day we really

The road and sky go on forever, so it seems.

didn’t want to be driving it. We had planned to be off the road by this point, but we were both matter-of-fact about the fact that shit happens. Plus, I told her, we’ll catch up on our sleep by the time the middle of the week rolls around.

I didn’t realize we were driving alongside Edwards Air Force Base until pretty much after the fact. The former Muroc Field, where Chuck Yeager and others made their test flights of supersonic madness, where some of the astronauts trained as pilots, where the space shuttles sometimes landed. From my vantage point — and keep in mind I spent a lot of time the first day just looking straight ahead — it was just endless, nearly empty desert, with rock formations countering a vast, seemingly infinite sky.

This, after all, was the Southwest of so many old Westerns, like the ones my father watches on the Encore Western channel. And every so often, Alexis would take a photo on her iPhone, or I would grab my digital camera, which I kept in the elastic netting above my windshield. I was just struck by the openness of the land.

Granted, that’s in huge part because no one in their right mind would live there, but still, as someone who grew up in the tight confines of the Northeast and lived in a city out west, it was a revelation. Just nothing for miles and miles except those Woody Guthrie ribbons of highway, one in each direction,

Had I printed this in sepia, It’d look like one of those Dorothea Lange photos from the Dust Bowl.

with occasional cars and trucks in either direction. Where Route 66 was a human pipeline with a steady stream of westward-bound people, and many motels and mom-and-pop diners and filling stations, I-40 through the Inland Empire was a quiet, nondescript, desolate place that gets tedious.

And yes, air conditioning is a good thing. When you’re in a vehicle with AC, you get that insular feeling, a false security. But that would change.

Sometime after 4, I needed to stop and rest again, and I’m not sure which was the lesser of two hells — staying in the truck or getting out. Because when we stepped out of the cab, we were immediately hit by a blast furnace. It had to be at least 110. And it was a dry heat. This was more of a desert than Fresno ever is, and my former city is, indeed, a hit place, especially in August.

(And as an aside: Who the fuck at CalTrans thinks it’s a great idea to have an

Watching the cars and trucks go by from the I-40 rest stop in the Mojave.

interstate rest area in the middle of a desert and NOT have any vending machines? Just asking …)

Alexis went off to take a walk and stretch her legs and take some photos of the majesty beyond the rest area. I sat at a picnic table, under an umbrella, and stayed still as the heat breathed gently on my face, watching the cars and trucks leisurely drive either toward the coast or toward the void. I needed the rest, but I couldn’t sleep in an uncomfortable cab with the air conditioning off, and I couldn’t sleep sitting outside at a concrete picnic table in the midst of the heat. Just how did the pioneers do this, anyway? How did they manage?

We didn’t stay more than a half-hour. We needed to push on. It was looking more as if there would be five more days of travel. It was starting to look like Saturday instead of Friday.

A frozen pond in flats

Oh yeah — one more thing I learned on my first day on the road. This was a frightening lesson, and it ensured I didn’t nod off at the wheel.

A 26-foot truck with a huge cargo area and a house full of stuff, no matter how well-packed, has a rather high center of gravity. And anything — it could be a dip in the pavement, a change in the pitch of the road surface, a pothole, a gust of wind — would send the truck drifting to the right.

I learned this on I-40 late in the afternoon. For no reason (and I had both hands on the wheel), the truck drifted. I let out an unintelligible sound of alarm. Alexis asked, “What’s wrong?” As if we needed another problem. And I couldn’t quickly jerk the wheel because oversteer, with the center of gravity being what it was, would’ve caused the truck to tip. So I slowed down (I was already doing just 55) and eased the right tires back onto the road surface.

Verbally explaining this all to her as I was doing this helped keep me calm. It probably kept her calm, too. It would be good to have Alexis as my co-pilot this week.

I’ve described the actual driving process home as trying to talk on a frozen pond in flats. The physics of it all made for a slippery ride, regardless of the road surface. Or the temperature outside.

The Best Motel in Needles

Somewhere around 6:30, the tank finally emptied for the last time. Not the fuel tank, though we were getting awfully low there, too. My tank — and Alexis’.

The next place of any size coming up was Needles, the last city before the Arizona border. It sits on the western bank of the Colorado River; the road veers south a few miles before it crosses a bridge into Arizona.

We weren’t ready to cross into Arizona, though. We were ready to crash, though Alexis wanted to eat first. But we definitely weren’t ready for Needles.

We pulled off the freeway at the first Needles exit — onto Needles Highway,

Westside Chevron — a monument to Needles’ most famous citizen and to astronomical fuel prices.

the four-lane former 66 through the city — and the first order of business was to fuel up, as I was almost on empty. It almost emptied my bank account.

The one gas station I saw with diesel was Westside Chevron. The wall out by the fuel pumps has a mural map of Route 66, as well as a painting of its most famous resident. The main windowpane also has a painting of its most famous resident. That would be Spike, Snoopy’s fedora-wearing, sad-sack brother from Peanuts. That says a lot about Needles.

And the heat was, as America sang in “A Horse With No Name,” hot. It hit me at that moment that this was the Needles of so many nights I proofed the weather map on the Bee copy desk in the previous months — if Death Valley wasn’t the hottest spot in California on any given day, then chances are it was Needles. And now I knew. And felt it.

The high that day was 116. And as I read on that most reliable source, Wikipedia, some time later, we had just missed out on a red-letter weather day. The day before, according to the article, the high was 118, a record for that date. And late in the afternoon, when it was only 115, there was a thunderstorm. It was the hottest recorded temperature for a rain anywhere in the world. And at 11 percent, it was the lowest-humidity rainstorm ever recorded as well. Shucks — we missed it by that much …

But what was of concern to me was the cost of fuel. Needles is in a tourist-trap area, part of the tri-state region of California, Arizona and Nevada. The diesel, which was in the $4.10-$4.20 range every other stop of the trip, was $4.93 a gallon there. Chevron is a ripoff to begin with; not sure how it survives in California, as its prices are usually 15-20 cents a gallon higher than the competition. But this? Wow. But at that point, we were barely awake and needed to stop and needed fuel and, well, I reluctantly forked over the nearly 120 bucks it took to feed the beast.

I made a right turn and drove a couple hundred feet down the road and parked across the street from the Best Motel. Said so right on the big blue sign. We saw the $22-a-night sign and thought “What the hell.” We were delirious;

The Best Motel in Needles — says so right there on the sign.

what can we tell you? We just hoped, given it was supposedly a tourist town, that it wasn’t too bad a place. We weren’t picky, either — we didn’t need luxury, just a halfway-decent place to rest a few hours and then get back on the road again..

There was also a restaurant on the property as well, the New Hungry Bear Restaurant. So we got out across the street in a gravel lot and went to explore. We figured a motel with a restaurant, and a name like The New Hungry Bear, maybe the food was decent.

The office — or what should have been the office — was closed; a sign said to check in at the restaurant. So we walked across the lot and opened the door and entered the darkness.

It was a restaurant in name only. Actually, it was a dive bar. The music was playing loudly. The bar was immediately on our right as we walked in. The bartender was a woman in her late 20s, early 30s, her shirt zipped open down the front like Raquel Welch in that roller derby film The Kansas City Bomber. A couple of college-age dudes were shooting pool to our left. There were a couple of older, mountaineer-grizzly-looking guys at the bar.

As uneasy as Alexis felt, the lone trannie in the bar felt that much more. Apprehensive is a good way of putting it.

And then a guy — black, in his 40s or 50s, with dreads cascading out of a pink doo-rag, wearing a gray T-shirt and shorts and holding a beer — saw me out of his glassy eyes.

“Hey, baby!” he shouted. “I haven’t seen you in a looooong time! How ya been?”

Yeah, it had been forever. Literally. And he walked over to give me a hug. What was I gonna do? I played along — I gave him a hug! The trip was already surreal enough and we weren’t out of California yet after two full days of driving around. Why not add another story to the pile?

Anyway, Raquel told us it was actually gonna be $38 for the night; that $22 was an afternoon special. What were we gonna do? Alexis paid for the room. A guy came in; I’m guessing he was the owner or the owner’s son. Save for the Middle Eastern accent, I’d have had him pegged for central casting from Jersey Shore — a little over 6 feet, long black hair, tanned, weightlifter chest. He asked if that was our truck. He told me to being it over next to the office, He said it would be safe there.

We took our baggage into our room. I have a feeling it was a nice place at one time; if you looked at the sign closely enough, you could see it had once been a Best Western. It turned out to be the worst.

The patterned black-on-white floor tiles were mostly cracked. The air was stale. The walls were a dingy, tired, dirty yellow. The bathroom was clean enough, at least, so that was a saving grace.

We dropped our gear and walked across the street to a pizza restaurant. She splurged for dinner — a salad and pasta. Even though the pizza smell permeated the place, I swore I’d wait until I came home and had the real article in New Haven. I didn’t realize I was hungry — or thirsty — until we sat down. I grabbed a Sprite from the soda fountain. Sugar be damned — it felt good going down.

We got back to the room just about 8:30. Bedtime.

“Oh, no!” or something like that.

I turned. Alexis had turned down the covers to her bed.

Bedbugs. I think they were dead, but the important thing was that something had been sleeping in her bed at one point.

Perfect ending to a perfect day. She turned the covers back up and got ready for an uncomfortable sleep. Since it was so damned hot out, I wasn’t planning to turn down the covers, anyway — I just wanted to plop on the bed and not move for the next four hours.

That’s what I did. And she did the same.

So much for the first day on the road. It had to get better from here. Right?

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One Response to “Going Home, Day 2, 8/14/12: Sharing Needles, or not even out of California yet”

  1. Alexis Says:

    Luckily, we never caught anything while sharing Needles.

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