Never Drive Vegas to LA on a Holiday Weekend

Hour ten. I can’t take it anymore. I pull over to the first gas station I see to stretch my atrophying muscles and buy a late night “dinner” of a donut and some hot cheetos (I don’t even eat either of those things anymore, but I’m in survival mode). I jump up and down a couple times and say a small prayer to no-one - God was not present here. I’m on the drive home to LA from Vegas on the worst possible day to be on the drive to LA from Vegas; that’s right, it’s the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, and I’m a sucker.

With a long weekend ahead, I had decided to utilize my time to visit my friend Sara. It’d been awhile since I’d seen her and I’d never been to Vegas before, plus there are so many cool attractions on the drive there that I wanted to check out. Three birds with one stone! On the Friday it only took me the typical 4 ½ - 5 hours to arrive, which fueled my false sense of security later when I anticipated a similar drive back. I didn’t make any stops that first day either, since I was anxious to arrive and start the weekend. And what a weekend we had! Sara knew all the best places to go:

But my Vegas experience was not the detour – that was wholly intentional. It was the ensuing return trip that went not-so-according-to-plan.

Dreams do come true

Dreams do come true

My road trip back to Los Angeles on Monday began a bit late so that we could eat breakfast and see a few more local spots I wanted to check out (namely: the Pawn Stars shop. Call me, Chumley). Once I got on the road, I had a handful of objectives: to see the Seven Magic Mountains just outside Vegas on Interstate 15, the Bonnie & Clyde car at Whiskey Pete’s casino in Primm, and Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch in Oro Grande along Route 66. My intentions were so pure. I was so young and naïve. 

I did make it to Seven Magic Mountains without issue. It’s close outside of Vegas, and since it wouldn’t come up on my map, I followed road signs to take the correct exit (25, to Sloan Rd) off I-15 S and got onto a dirt road that brought me directly to the art installation (once you’re on that road there aren’t any further signs, so after a few miles I started to wonder if I was in the right place, until 7-10 miles in I began to see the Mountains growing in the distance). Witnessing them is an uncanny experience – the colors are so vibrant and bright against the neutral wash of the desert, and their sheer enormity interrupts what is otherwise only flatlands. They look random and alien, like a modern day Stonehenge. Apparently Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone meant to "[offer] a creative critique of the simulacra of destinations like Las Vegas. According to Rondinone, the location is physically and symbolically mid-way between the natural and the artificial: the natural is expressed by the mountain ranges, desert, and Jean Dry Lake backdrop, and the artificial is expressed by the highway and the constant flow of traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas."

Why was this so hard?

Why was this so hard?

I got back on the road enthused and ready to find the town of Primm, and thus began my descent into hell. My first hint that something was amiss were the 40+ cars piled up waiting to get gas at the station I wanted to pull into – it was apocalyptic. Hell no. I chalked it up to it being the first gas station since Vegas and decided to wait until the next town to fill up. Unfortunately that decision wouldn’t spare me, as I’d still spend another 30 minutes exactly where I was, stuck behind a line of cars all trying to get up the ramp onto the freeway. After the ramp, things only got worse. From Seven Magic Mountains to Primm is supposed to be 20 minutes. It took me something like 3 hours. The entire highway was at a complete standstill and there were no alternative routes. The desert sun beat down through our collective windows, and I took the idea from surrounding drivers to hang my clothes up around the car to provide some shade. Thankfully I had water with me, but it didn’t prevent me from experiencing some dizziness as the hours wore on. I tried to invest all my mental energy in listening to podcasts and told myself there must be a car wreck or something further up the road that, once I passed, I’d be in the clear. The best thing a girl can be in this world is a beautiful little fool.

[Soundtrack for this section of the trip: The Kills' first album Keep On Your Mean Side – particularly “Jewel Thief”]

When I finally made it to Primm I spent some time collecting myself – what day was it? What year was it? I finally got gas and food, and, in my stubbornness and in honor of my lifelong obsession with Bonnie & Clyde, I staggered towards Whiskey Pete’s knowing it would put me further behind on time. Worth it. The artifacts they have are truly incredible – Clyde’s still-bloodied shirt, gifts that he’d created for his sister while in prison, and of course, the bullet-riddled Ford V8 that drove the couple to their infamous death in Louisiana in May of 1934 (Abby and I always vowed we’d visit the death site itself, only a few hours from where we grew up - it’s still on the bucket list). 

The sun would be setting soon. After all the time I’d spent, I was still in a city that is normally four hours from home, and any other day I’d be back by now. I decided Elmer’s would have to wait, so I buckled down, fired up the podcasts, and put the pedal to the….well I tapped the pedal slightly every few minutes. After four more hours and one mental break came the donut and cheetos moment, and an hour and a half after that I somehow arrived, beaten but not broken. 

And you know what? I would still do it all again. No matter what it takes, the opportunity to discover an unfamiliar city and explore new places or pieces of history is always worth grabbing at (and hanging onto for dear life). The Los Angeles lifestyle has been a strange thing for me, because people are so opposed to venturing anywhere inconvenient. “Do I have to drive more than 15 minutes? Pfft.” “Does it require waking up early? Pfft.” “Will I spend more time getting to the destination than being at the destination? Pfft.” I understand it to a certain extent – I do my fair share of complaining about my daily commute, and my truck fits in exactly zero parking spots in this city. But we live in a major metropolis, surrounded by thousands of interesting places throughout the rest of the state, and all of it is accessible and wide open to us. When I lived in New York, if something cool was happening in a different borough, you got on the train for 45 minutes and went there, and you praised the fact that such ease was even possible (unless all the trains were breaking down that day, or there were delays, or…ok so every kind of transportation has it’s problems). If you don’t want to put in the effort to experience your surroundings in places like this, why live somewhere so expensive?  

So I elect to maintain my determination. I did end up visiting the Bottletree Ranch the next weekend, and a few of the Route 66 museums and roadside shops too. It’s like a junkyard fairytale (coincidentally how I would also describe my life), whimsical and colorful as the sunlight diffracts through glass bottles, all soundtracked by the ring of makeshift windchimes and birdsong. Somehow all the details make sense together, but as I wound through the maze of repurposed artifacts I found myself imagining the origin story behind each individual piece. I got the distinct feeling that everything on display had led a life of it’s own before ending up here, and now our paths were entwining. It’s the same feeling I get when I set foot in any foreign environment that I’ve always heard of in the abstract, but am only just now visiting in person - that feeling of joining together, of bridging the gap. Of becoming a part of the world.


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