I'm not chasing the light
more words on travel
If you’re reading this on the day it was published, I’m probably driving.
I’m doing the same ten-ish-hour drive from Las Vegas to Sonoma I did just a week and a half ago with my family.
Yesterday, I flew from the Bay Area out to my mom’s house and now we’re driving back to Sonoma with her little dog Sparky in tow. In years past, she would’ve made the drive with my dad. Ever since he passed away last April, one of my aunt’s would join her. But this time, nobody else was available to accompany her.
Dedicated readers of this publication know that I’m no stranger to driving, so I didn’t mind tacking on another 609 miles to my lifetime total.
Most people think driving through the desert is boring.
I mean, I get it. It’s basically all desert everywhere you look. But it has a different kind of beauty to it. The sprawling, flat desert with its red and orange hues. The raw rock faces of the mountains with their distinct stratification, lying at angles millions of years removed from the horizon, as the plates of the Earth’s crust have slowly pushed them into the sky. The fields of cacti and Joshua trees stretching miles and miles in each direction. There’s a certain solitude to it that I like.
Long drives are often punctuated by landmarks along the way. And those punctuations trigger memories. It’s especially true on a drive like this where there aren’t very many landmarks or large cities to break up the scenery.
But I’ve also found it true of most long trips, regardless of where you’re driving.
Today we’ll be passing through the town of Baker, home to the world’s tallest thermometer. It’s really not that exciting—or tall. But hey, there’s not much going on around there. I guess whoever built it figured they had to attract people somehow. Was there some time years ago where people flocked to the middle of the desert just to see this large confirmation that, yes, in fact, it is hot as hell outside?
Just down the freeway from Baker is Zzyzx Rd, which leads to a town called, you guessed it, Zzyzx (pronounced zizzicks). The name was coined by this religious evangelist and medical quack Curtis Springer back in the 40s’. He claimed Zzyzx is the last word in the English language alphabetically. Not sure what the significance of that was to him, but it is oddly memorable.
We’ll switch to another highway in Barstow, a city that always reminds me of when I lived in Santa Barbara and would pass through it on my drives to Vegas to play poker. I had loaded all my music onto my iPod, including all my CDs, and I listened to it using this cassette tape-looking thing that had an auxiliary cable coming out of it. I flashback to listening to “Midnight in a Perfect World” by DJ Shadow. My mom took me to a record store when I first transferred to UC Santa Barbara and I bought his debut album Endtroducing, which is still one of my all-time favorites.
Passing through Bakersfield triggers a memory of playing a show in something like 105º heat at Jerry’s Pizza, a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint with a tiny music venue in the cinder block-walled basement. I remember wringing the sweat out of my t-shirt out on the street after our set.
Partway through our trek north on I-5, we’ll pass Harris Ranch, an 800-acre ranch that has the capacity to feed and finish up to 120,000 head of cattle. Picture seeing basically all cows off to your right for about a mile straight. Now recall how much cows stink and multiply that by roughly ten. Maybe more. The memory of that smell hitting my nose while driving my old band’s van with the windows down because we had no A/C is so vivid that it even made me gag a little while writing this. Thankfully, for this trip, I’ll be driving my mom’s climate-controlled Tesla.
The pockmarked asphalt on I-5 will bring to mind the last time I drove it—just a week and a half ago. My three-year-old daughter Em finally fell asleep in her car seat, which she rarely does. My wife Allison’s arm draped across Em holding her arms down so she didn’t startle awake every time we hit a pothole. Somehow the bumps and dips didn’t wake her, but the second Allison asked me a question, Em woke up—and she wasn’t happy about it.
As little fun as it was to hear Em upset, it’s around this time when I’ll miss my family and wish I could somehow magically fast-forward the rest of the drive.
As we approach the Bay Area, we’ll climb over Altamont Pass and its countless windmills with the setting sun searing directly into our eyes. It’ll be just low enough that the sun visor won’t block it or, if it does, the sun will find a way to peak through the gap between the visor and the edge of the window, trying its damndest to blind me. It’ll remind me of the chorus from the song “Chasing the Light” by my other old band Ambionic:
If fear is night
I’m on a westbound flight
Chasing the light
We’ll end the trip winding through too many vineyards to count, and passing the tiny Sonoma Airport and the huge field where the Clydesdales live.
I’ll think about grateful I am that we’ve been able to travel more lately. We’ve made trips to Allison’s parent’s cabin more times than any other year. We took their motorhome for a short weekend camping trip. And then the road trip to Vegas between Xmas and New Year’s.
We’re somewhat limited on where we can go due to Em’s cerebral palsy disability and because she isn’t old enough to be vaccinated yet. But it’s nice to not be stuck at home so damn much.
Our home has morphed into a physical therapy unit for Em—filled with ever-growing medical devices as she gets bigger. Our home is part office ever since we’ve been working from home during COVID. Our home is where my stepdaughter Sara is rapidly approaching her teenage years.
I love our home despite all that.
I’m not chasing the light. I’m not running from fear.
But sometimes you’ve got to change up the scenery, even if it’s just to watch some cacti blurring by in the window as you drive down a lonely desert road.
Thank you for reading.
I’ll leave you with my predictions for 2022:
See you next week.
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