Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas, to Denver to Las Vegas to Phoenix to El Paso to San Antonio to Austin to Memphis to Indianapolis to Chicago.
We drove all that in two weeks, with the main purpose of spending Thanksgiving in Vegas wearing matching velour tracksuits and hitting the 24-hour Thanksgiving dinner casino buffet tour.
One of the most memorable moments happened somewhere in Utah, though. Can you tell me the shape of Utah off the top of your head? No cheating! I couldn’t either. (Answer: Utah is shaped like a square with a cute little shelf in the northeast corner. For storing bibles and guns, presumably.) But here we were, making an overnight drive through the state beloved by Edward Abbey, when nature called.
I pulled off into a rest stop area, checked the time—11 pm—and ran into the women’s restroom. Yes, ran, because by nature, I mean I had to, as they say out here, numero dos. Ten minutes pass. I’m humming. I hear a mother and her son come into the restroom. I go mute, as is polite.
My main concern is that it stinks and I feel the familiar poop shame we all share when we do it in a public restroom. This mother’s main concern, though, quickly became me.
Well, not necessarily me as me, but me as what she imagined I was, a conclusion drawn (again, presumably) from my beefy Doc Martens and black pants and the fact that the rest stop seemed completely empty at this time of night because we had parked off to the side and this poor woman with her child thought I was some hoodlum or drug dealer or creepo looking for a beej.
“Hurry up,” she whispered to her son in the handicap stall. “Stopping here maybe wasn’t a good idea.”
At this point I’m still oblivious, gently humming inside my head. I wonder, “Oh no, why?!”
The handicap stall opens. The child exits. I see his small white shoes make their way to the sink.
“No no,” the mom says, quickly. “We don’t need to wash our hands. We need to go go go.”
That’s weird, I thought. Does it smell that bad?
When I left the restroom ~five minutes later, I asked Justin if he saw a mom and kid leaving the women’s restroom.
“Yeah, they looked terrified,” he said. “They were running. I almost went in to check on you. They looked Mormon maybe? I figured they just were scared because this rest stop is scary.”
When I was finally able to stop laughing, I explained my theory of why they were afraid–it was me and my big boots. They seemed fine until she had time to judge that there was a weirdo in the stall next door. I thought I looked country-punk-chic. They thought I looked like a gang member from “A Clockwork Orange,” thirsting to drink their innocent blood under the bright Moab moon.
If only they had seen me–a small woman with just a smile and a tune on her lips, y’all! A kind person who just likes badass-looking boots and who just had to sit and shit for a long time.
It was apropos. Fear unwarranted and breaking through it. That was the whole point of this trip after all–besides Vegas buffets. Here’s how it went down.
This is somewhere in Arizona. I swear I saw new colors on this trip. Or at least I saw colors I’ve known my whole life organized in totally new ways.
San Antonio Riverwalk.
San Antonio was warm. In a lot of ways.
More Texas. There’s a lot of Texas.
In Vegas, even the trees seem unnatural.
THIS IS A REAL PHOTO NO FILTER. !!!
Our drive through the Rockies was one I’ll never forget. No wonder people outside the midwest wonder how we can live in a place so flat. It’d be hard to have this drama dominating your view every day and then try to find majesty in a cornfield.
Vogueing at Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, as one does.
Yes, hi, I’d like to recommend the one-way scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon at sunset. Justin rented us a convertible for the day for two reasons. 1) So he could go from 0 to 80 in seconds on the highway. 2) So we could see this with the top down. Saying it was majestic is cliche, as is saying I cried as we witnessed a mountain tucking in our sun for bedtime. But I don’t give a damn–both are true.
New color inspiration.
Here we are taking photos at Red Rock Canyon and trying not to fall lest we unwittingly become “those people.”
Justin: Comedian, trip planner, BFF. America is for lovers.
Also for lovers? The jungle room at Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel right by Red Rock Canyon. Rawr! We didn’t request this room but they couldn’t have put us in a better one. It even had a velvet painting of a jaguar on the wall.
Speaking of velvet paintings, look at this dream boat in velour. We wore matching tracksuits on Thanksgiving Day in Vegas. A hilarious sartorial choice indeed, but also a strategic move. When one can hit up all the casino buffets with their 24-hour all-access pass and eat a lot of pumpkin pie, turkey, lobster and the ever decadent ham and green bean platter, one needs a waist band with leeway.
A survivor at the Bonnie Springs petting zoo.
Also, ghosts at Bonnie Springs Motel.
But you can’t never leave!
Part of the beauty of doing this trip as full-time artists/ freelance writers, we got to see a lot of touristy things on days not frequented by tourists. Because all tourists except for us suck.
For example, the Briscoe Art Museum along the San Antonio Riverwalk offers free admission on Tuesdays. AND WE WERE THERE ON A TUESDAY.
Taco spots are always busy though. We ate a LOT of tacos on this trip. Are tacos the new hot dogs? The new American staple food? I see nothing wrong with that. I’d rather have a taco at a baseball game than a hot dog, you know? We’re in that weird mid-paradigm shift where what it means to be an American is as varied as the people living in it–and the people who used to…
As we traveled, I recognized that significance of traveling on land some people stole from another people during a holiday where we celebrated and reimagined that theft.
It was best addressed–meaning unflinchingly and truthfully–in San Antonio. The cathedral light show didn’t keep the truth in the dark, and the art museum, where there was a painting titled, no joke, “Last of His Race” honored the cultures that were either squandered or lost to time–black, brown and white alike.
I found this interesting and chalked up points for SA as one of my favorite spots during the trip because it’s also located in Texas, home to The Alamo, no less, and Texas is good at, I don’t know, ignoring the bigger picture unless they’re the star of it. Or at least that’s what I assumed.
Vegas “medicine man.” Yikes. Was there ever a better–and by better I mean worse–visual metaphor for what was done to the Native Americans?
OK, maybe this. No teepees. No tents.
I sent postcards from every state we visited to my niece and nephew of reading age. Of course I tried to subtly express the urgency of my opinions without being an asshole (PLZ HELP ME FIND A BALANCE, BABY JEZUS). I found postcards that showed cowboys and Indians communicating, sharing, bartering. I loved this orange postcard below that listed the symbols some tribes used to write and what each symbol meant (with an Auntie-drawn frown face by the swastika). 🙁
These postcards made me muse on how much has changed since the first Thanksgiving, like the way we talk, how we talk, the words–and sometimes symbols–that are and are not OK in 2017. It’s pretty incredible, the scope of those changes.
I thanked every star under the big, azure Arizona sky for living in a time when I, a woman!, could work and write from the road. With a hot spot connection, G-Suite toolkit and awesome team of understanding colleagues back in Chicago, I worked my dream profession (writing) while exploring America. What’s the native symbol for Fuck Yeah This Is Awesome?
A virgin pina colada on the Riverwalk.
Non-virgin marijuana in Denver. Grape Kush = 10/10, man.
Some very Texas memorabilia. People are different. People are all the same.
We accidentally stopped at this family owned gas station and it was perfect. Although, we did get a couple comments about being from Chicago where “everyone gets shot.” <eyeroll> Southerners stereotyped us just as much as we did them.
But I did get the BEST coffee-infused blackberry jam here. They put the word “organic” all over the label, which I thought was cute. Not because they thought it would sell urbanites on buying the $8 jar of jam–but that it would, in fact, sell urbanites on buying the $8 jar of jam.
Because Americans of all stripes are nothing if not predictable. But they’re mine. And I am theirs. It’s difficult to face the truth of our country’s past and the flesh and bone it cut its teeth on, but like the grandiosity of the Rocky Mountains or the sheer scope of the Red Rock Canyon–it’s better to face the sprawling perspective, reconcile the violence and beauty, and acknowledge the overwhelming depths head on. In person. Side by side. I don’t want to ever be afraid of this place and I want to make it better so others feel safer here too.
TLDR: Can I get this jacket in size Adult?