Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

02 March 2011

Postcards from the Car

Back in November, we undertook a cross-country drive. The deal was to deliver a car for a friend who was moving from Asheville, NC, to Los Angeles, CA. We planned it as a 3-day trip, but persuaded our friend to let us leave early so we could spend time with some of our other western friends. We could have easily made the trip in three days, given three 12-hour, 750-mile days.

Our friend, whose car it was, remarked that she couldn’t make the trip herself, but her car would surely remember it. At that moment, we got the idea to keep a record of the trip, with photos of the car, to send to the car’s owner later. In other words, postcards from the car. —MB & JS

We started early on Day 1. We hit the road at 6:00 am, when most people are still dreaming of coffee and donuts. We had only the vaguest idea where we might be at the end of the first day; we really just wanted to make good time while we were still relatively fresh. Unfortunately, even the best laid nefarious plans go wrong. Later in the day, we discovered the camera battery had mysteriously died, so we weren’t able to record the trip through the length of Tennessee. We weren’t able to take photos of the late-fall foliage as we passed out of the mountains into the rolling hills and nondescript terrain that makes up most of Tennessee. Well, no one’s loss but our own.

We survived Tennessee and most of Arkansas. The only thing that stopped us was our promise to ourselves to really see the country, working camera or no. We stopped for the night in a place called Clarksville, which is about an hour from the Oklahoma border. It was a place where a greasy spoon is considered a “restaurant.” We “ate” an unfortunate meal at a place called the South Park Cafe. It set a bad precedent for most of the trip.

After a restless night, our photo essay begins on Day 2 with a recharged battery, for the camera at least. What follows are the actual photos and “commentary” that composes the Postcards from the Car series. Enjoy.

Day 2: Here are the first two “Postcards from the Car.” These two photos are from our first stop. No, we didn’t do any gambling, except with the gas we bought and the restroom we used. Both seemed like dicey bets, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. We didn’t buy any kitsch from the “travel plaza” because we just wanted to get the hell out of there. Your car was the only foreign job, and unemployed drifters were giving us the Evil Eye.

The car writes from Oklahoma: “Where the hell am I? There's nothing around for miles! Maybe we took a wrong turn at Mexico City. Why is the landscape in Spanish?” Stupid car. It‘s a good thing we’re driving. But where the hell are we?

We’re still in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. If you look really hard at the horizon, you can see the highway . . . in Missouri. The countryside is pretty in its own way (pretty bleak, that is), and we’re glad we filled the tank when we had a chance. Talk to you again soon. Hopefully.

Well, we’re still in Oklahoma. It’s just like Tennessee, but wider and emptier. As you can see, we’re far from civilization. Now, wherever you are, look out your window. You probably see people and buildings and cars and such. Wanna trade places? There’s nothing here, just one long ribbon of asphalt, interrupted by the occasional fast food bathroom (which is how we think of those places, since they don’t actually serve food). We’ll write again soon. If we can find a mailbox.

Believe it or not, that cross in the background is said to be the largest in the country. Maybe you can’t tell from this distance. We couldn’t. But then, this was Texas, and as you probably know, they always think they have the biggest of everything. Pshaw, we say. Texans. We think they’re just compensating.

The end of Day 2. We found the oldest, continually operated, family-run hotel on old Route 66. It’s in Moriarty, NM, which used to be called Buford. While Moriarty sounds better to us, it didn’t make the town any more attractive. It’s a one-strip, three-restaurant town somewhere far from anything, the kind of place we might have liked more if we liked to go bowling. This night, we had the first cold glass of beer on the trip. A local brew. Not to bad, either. Too bad we can’t say the same about the food options. It’s becoming a trend. Anyway, at this point, we’re about 60 miles east of Albuquerque, so we’re making good time.

Day 3: Where are we now? Oklahoma? Texas? New Mexico? We think it’s New Mexico, based on the dramatic landscape in the background. Where the Texas landscape is caused by the force of erosion (sort of like the Texas culture), New Mexico’s landscape seems carved out sandstone. We could drive all day in this beautiful state, if Mark didn’t have to pee so often. And guess what? That was the reason for this piss, er, pit stop. Seriously, if Mark could learn to pee into a bottle, we’d make better time.

We made to Arizona! You can tell because even the grass has disappeared. All that’s left is dirt, dust, and the occasional cactus. Still, it has its own kind of beauty. We think it’s called “stark” or “barren.” Well, at least they speak English here. Most of the time. Que pasa?

This was the only real detour we made. True, we once went in a fruitless search for the Museum of Route 66, but that doesn’t count because we never found it. This, however, this was a worthwhile stop. In the first photo, you see the car in the bottom right corner in the parking lot. The visitor’s center is visible in the second photo. Can you guess where we are? No? We’ll tell you later.

Here‘s another photo from the wilderness. You can safely assume we’re in the middle of f@(%ing nowhere. It’s far enough from water to qualify as a moonscape. Just take a look at this photo. There’s nothing for miles. If it weren’t for the full tank of gas, we’d be SOL. Go on, take a guess where we are; the answer will come next.

Recognize it? No? Well, the detour we made into the heart of the desert was to see the meteor crater. Not a meteor crater, the meteor crater: the most well-preserved crater on the planet. And guess what? It’s privately owned. Who knew? That means they can charge whatever they want to for admission. Only a dumb-ass tourist would pay that much to see a hole in the ground. Count us in.

Mark joked that he created the crater with one well-aimed fart, but the history books paint a different story. We arrived in time to catch the guided 1-hour, 1-mile hike along the rim -- perfect for anyone squeezed into a car for three days. The hike and tour lived up to all of our low expectations.

At the end of the hike, we jumped right back into the car and hit the highway at full speed. The crater site, in case you want to know, is just east of Flagstaff, and it’s at Flagstaff where the highway to Phoenix (route 17) veers off of I-40. If we had stayed on I-40, we would have been in LA by the end of the day (speaking of detours).

We can tell you there are no photos of Phoenix. We took some, but they turned out all dull gray and dusty brown. Where will the next photo be from? You’ll just have to wait.

We bet you never thought your car would go to the world-famous San Diego Zoo without you, but that’s what happened. Yup.

Well, almost. We tried to get the car in, but they said we had to walk in -- no wheels allowed. We tried to point out the strollers going right through the gates, but they’d have none of it. So we were rebuffed at the door. We had hoped to get a photo of the car in the lion cage or swimming with the tortoises, but you’ll have to settle for these photos at the entrance. We‘re almost in L.A., but not quite yet.

Once we got into California, everything seemed to be about breasts. We saw them everywhere, displayed like trophies. San Diego had lots of them, some barely contained, aching to break free. But that’s another story. Here’s a picture of the worst example: the San Onofre nuclear reactor sitting between the highway and the ocean. Tell us that doesn't sound like a bad idea. See you next time.

In our last stop before reaching LA, we found the lovely harbor of Dana Point, just down Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach. Yes, Virginia, there is a reason to go to California. This paradise is actually more beautiful than the photos can capture. We wish we had more time to spend there—sightseeing, picnicking, and picking up women. As it was, we had to head up I-5 to LAX and our rendezvous.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this photo essay/travelogue. Look for more insights from this trip in future posts. We went so you don’t have to. That's the spirit of Don’t Even Go There. See you next time!
           —MB & JS