Chapter 5: Butthole to the Bay.

Chapter 5:  Butthole to the Bay.

It was just about 5:00pm and we were speeding through Baker, home of the world’s largest non working thermometer. Seriously, if this and multiple fast food stops is ALL your town is going to be known for, you’d think they’d keep that shit clean and in working order. 

It was probably the fourth time I drove through there and noticed that the thermometer wasn’t operational. It’s like going to Las Vegas and not seeing ANY lights on the strip. Honestly, I’m often more excited by the Zzyxx Road sign when driving through the desert valleys of southern California.

Speeding was an understatement, by the way. By this time I was well acquainted with 95-100 MPH in the rental car. That Chevrolet Impala had some juice under the hood and we seemed to be making good time, which was of the essence. A four hour late start in a rainy afternoon wasn’t ideal travel weather at all. At the same time we were racing against nightfall. I made it my mission to drive as long as I could until the inevitable tunnel vision set in and I had to give up the wheel. 

I’ve ALWAYS disliked driving at night, mainly on dark roads. I think they call it highway hypnosis. It’s when the little white dots and lines on the dark street put you into a trance, and the next thing you know you’re in a damn ditch in the middle of nowhere with a totaled vehicle or dead on site. I have had the good fortune never to have crashed due to this problem, but I also have the good sense to know when the road has me beaten. So before I get too deep into highway hypnosis, I turn the wheel over.

I wasn’t as worried about the first stretch of road as I’ve driven from Las Vegas to Barstow countless times. It was the uncharted territory of heading northwest past Barstow towards Bakersfield that I was wary about. My mom is a notorious backseat driver and being her youngest child and closest to her wiring, I knew sleep wouldn’t necessarily be an option when it came time to give that wheel up, so the longer I could drive on the uncharted roads, the better. I wanted to know what to expect beyond what the GPS was telling me, especially with Grandma taking the next driving shift. I love Grandma to death, but I never rode in car with her before. Add that to the usual getting used to of a rental and you could understand my concern.

We made it into Barstow in record time it seemed and though we didn’t notice right away, the cloudy/semi rainy weather had gone away completely and that it would be smooth sailing into Northern Cali. 

Oh, Barstow fucking California!

What used to be a highlight of my childhood has now become the stankin’ butthole of the state. I remember being a kid and coming through there with my parents on our way to San Diego or Disneyland.

I was always fond of trains when I was young and I thought that the Barstow Station McDonald’s was the greatest place in the entire town. I mean, it was freaking McDonald’s inside of a wrecked train with a little gift shop attached to it. How cool is that for a little boy? We could sit in a train car and eat an Egg McMuffin, take a leak in semi clean bathroom, buy some cool little toy from the gift shop and hit the road again with an optimistic thought of a return trip on the way back home.

Fast forward to present day. Barstow Station still has a McDonalds and train paraphernalia, but the entire facility is now a train wreck in itself. It reeks of 20 year old feces; yes, not feces from a 20 year old, but actual 20 year old feces, it has a gargantuan gift shop,  multiple fast food restaurants, the single most disgusting bathroom I ever seen  and is as I declare, the official colon to the butthole of the state that is Barstow.

Truthfully, we didn’t even stop there this time but I had to put it out there. That observation was from a stop I made there earlier in the year, and honestly I KNOW it’s still an accurate analysis, why? Because I could smell that 20 year old feces all the way from the 76 station we actually did stop at on this trip, and that was a good quarter mile away. Goodness, freaking gracious! The last time I walked into that place, when I left I wanted to get an AIDS test. THAT, my friends, is how bad that place has become. 

Anyway… so the 76 station was our primary Barstow stop not only because it looked safe and semi clean, but in proximity of our route it appeared to be the most economical. Shortly after topping off our tank, we stopped across the way at the Burger King for some takeout dinner action. Then it was onward into the uncharted territory that we spoke about earlier known as the 58 West.

The CA-58 W makes that dark path from Vegas to Baker look like you’re driving down the Las Vegas strip. It’s a two lane nothing of a freeway and it gets dark as all Hell at night. It seemed easy enough to navigate though. The roads were well maintained and there weren’t a lot of crazy curves; in fact it seemed like an average northwestern jaunt into Bakersfield and beyond. So when it came to that time just after sundown, I was confident in giving Grandma the wheel. 

We stopped at a Love’s store in Tehachapi to make the change. It was time for another bathroom break and a quick stretch. As a first timer at a Love’s I was kind of impressed. It was essentially a truck stop/convenience store/Best Buy all rolled into one! I’ve never seen as many gadgets in a place like that ever. They had chargers, GPS units, games, batteries, clothes… everything a department store had, but at a damn truck stop. Amazing, indeed; I was already getting a re-education on Californian customs.

I was hyped about breaking new land, and Grandma was seemingly ready to take control of navigating the good ship Chevrolet. Sira was dosing off and on for the most part and my baby seemed to have turned the corner on being the quiet backseat traveler. I asked how she was doing and almost got punched in the eye; understandably so. The backseat of that Impala was a mess. Not only was she cooped back there watching cartoons on my slow ass laptop, she was forced to hold it in place on top of a cooler that sat in between her and Sira’s car seat. I offered to take her spot in back so that she could get a little more room and get a change of atmosphere. I even went so far as to get settled in her spot when she went to the bathroom and still got vetoed. In fact, she refused to reenter the car until I went back up front in the passenger seat. So I followed her demands and went back up front. I didn’t know what I did wrong, I didn’t ask. I just knew by the look in her eyes that she was irritated and I wanted no piece of that situation. Once we started moving, I offered my baby a peace offering of my iPod. Thankfully, she was cool with that and the trip became a little easier for her. As long as she’s smiling, I’m smiling. I love that woman. 

Giving away my iPod to make Kia happy was much more important than my own comfort. I was going to be uncomfortable regardless of what was in my ear. A few years ago I developed motion sickness, but only when I’m in the passenger seat driving at night. I tend to have dizzy spells and suffer nausea. I don’t know how it developed, it just did. If you’d ever been in a car with me at night and I’m not driving, you would never catch me directly looking out of any windows. I may look up from time to time to see a sign or a point of interest, but the highway hypnosis is much worse for me when I’m not behind the wheel.

Wired up on 5 hour energy and a liter of diet Dr. Pepper, sleeping was out of the question. So I manned up and endured what would be the hardest part of the trip for me. Grandma was not a steady hand behind the wheel. I don’t know if it was the car being too big or too powerful or that Grandma just wasn’t a steady driver, but there were clearly control issues with the Impala. We were slowing, then speeding up, swerving when there was no need and just riding the tails of folks when we really didn’t need to be that close.  I was afraid for my life for a moment, then eventually we either got steady or I got used to it, because I wasn’t bothered all that long.  Okay so I’m lying… I completely stopped looking at the road all together. I don’t think I looked up from my cell phone more than twice since Grandma took the wheel. I just wanted her to get us to wherever we were going to stop next safely. If we could get quickly to go along with the safely part, then even better!

We switched again at the tail end of Bakersfield— thank goodness, and Kia took the wheel for what would be the remainder of the trip. We were destined to have smooth sailing all the way in. She too was wired up on 5 hour energy and it seemed like the last three hours of our trip blew by really fast, especially when we crossed off of the 58 W to the 5, which was essentially a straight shot until just before Gilroy.

Once we made it to Gilroy, the smell of fresh garlic filled the car and for Kia and Grandma that was the smell of great cooking wonders as well as the smell of being almost to our destination of Milpitas. 

To refresh your memory of the plan, that would be where Kia, Sira and I would stay for the night, while Grandma continued on for another 45 minutes into San Francisco. We arrived at the Courtyard in Milpitas at about 1am on Friday morning.

After a quick discussion of whether Sira would join Grandma that night or stay with us, we decided to keep the little one with us that night, as it would be much easier on Grandma when it came to unloading luggage and things from the car. To add a sleepy 3 year old would not have been easy for her.  It was also at this time that Kia offered to continue to drive into San Francisco with her so that she wouldn’t have to be alone and that we would come back into the city to pick her up in the morning. Grandma insisted that she was okay though and we handed the keys over. 

We agreed that the next night Kia, Sira and I would rendezvous in downtown San Francisco to reacquire the car from Grandma, drop her and Sira off together at her sister’s house and then head back to Milpitas with Kia for a night alone on vacation.

Grandma called almost an hour later to let us know that she made it safely to her sister’s house. We were up for a couple more hours before hitting the sheets, as the Five Hour Energy shots were amazingly STILL in our systems. Not to mention that Sira found her second wind and decided she wanted to eat the rest of her 5 hour old chicken nuggets from the Barstow stop, only after purposely tossing one to on the ground in the room, effectively marking her toddler territory.  

Bedtime quickly became a novel concept as Sira exhausted that second wind. We shut the lights out as the baby fell asleep again, leaving Kia and I laying there with no recourse for the 5 hour energy shots, which suddenly felt like a mild addiction to crack.

This would be the time normally we were would relieve each other in an adult manner, but with a 3 year old in the room, that was a big no – no. So “Save it,” I thought to myself. For we hadFriday night all alone and a cushy Courtyard hotel room at our mischievous disposal.

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