Not only was there no traffic, but there was no anything. For miles. In every direction. I barely even noticed passing into New Mexico, feeling a little like I was the last human on the planet.
In those pre-dawn hours, this looked much more desolate.
This was the first day of this trip that I didn't have a particular plan. I thought I would get to Phoenix in the afternoon, hopefully before rush hour. If I still felt okay, I'd press on. If I was dying, I'd find a hotel somewhere. Phoenix is big, and I didn't think it would be a huge problem finding a place with a vacancy.
The sun finally came up, and I saw signs of civilization. I admit that because of Bugs Bunny, I was planning to stop for breakfast in Albuquerque. Just to be able to say I did. And since I was headed west, I could even say I took that left turn at Albuquerque.
I'm sure people have stopped in places for worse, or sillier, reasons.
I randomly selected an exit and pulled into the parking lot of a small shopping center. It was about 9:00am and I'd been on the road already for over five hours. So I treated myself to an actual restaurant, instead of drive-thru.
The Owl Cafe. They were hopping that morning. Even so, I didn't have to wait long for a table for one. It was nice to think that the "table for one" days were coming to an end.
The other interesting thing about the Owl Cafe was that this was the first time I had been anywhere that had Chorizo and Eggs on the menu. There's a movie called "Midnight Run" (Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin) that's one of those movies my family really latched onto. It's a good movie, and really funny. It also has a lot of bad language, so if you don't like that kind of thing, you shouldn't watch it.
Anyway, there's a scene where there's a discussion of Chorizo and Eggs. That was the first time I'd ever heard of it, and I'd never seen it on a menu anywhere. So I had to order it.
For those who don't know, Chorizo is a Mexican sausage.
It was good, and if you're ever in Albuquerque, I recommend the Owl Cafe.
After a leisurely breakfast, I left the restaurant and saw that there was a Target nearby. It was a Tuesday. That's typically when new music releases come out.
Yes, that's the actual Target at that exit in Albuquerque.
I wandered over and not only did they have the one CD in particular that I was looking for, but they also had a second CD that I was sure wasn't coming out until the next Tuesday.
You didn't think the Christmas music thing was something new, did you?
I popped these two into my CD-changer and headed back out on the road. The new music reinvigorated me, and the miles flew by.
The Grand Canyon! I hadn't even considered that! I thought long and hard about taking a side-trip. After all, I could still get to Phoenix by that night.
But as much as I wanted to play tourist, I wanted to get to Lisa and California much more. So I passed all the exits and signs for the Grand Canyon and kept going.
Gassed up again during a brief, cold rain in Flagstaff. I had thought it was always hot in Arizona. And a dry heat, at that. But I was lucky that this was the first bad weather I'd encountered on the drive, and it was brief, anyway.
I was starting to think that maybe Phoenix would be it for the day. While I really wanted to get to Lisa, I also wanted to get to her alive. And I was dragging. I even started to convince myself that, if I stopped in Phoenix, I could still get up early the next day and be in San Diego by lunch, if not earlier.
Then I talked to Lisa. And she told me how her mom (my future mother-in-law) had remarked that if I was going to get all the way to Phoenix, I should just go the rest of the way, since it really wasn't that much further.
And there it was. I had to go on, now.
So I got to Phoenix, and kept on going.
I got around the city close to 4:00pm, so I was able to beat most of the traffic. I figured once I got past the city, I'd find somewhere to grab a bite and some caffeine. Unfortunately, once you get past Phoenix, there's not a lot. In fact, there were a few times, during that first hour after Phoenix, that I seriously considered turning around and finding a hotel for the night.
But I kept going. And as the sun started to sink behind the mountains, I made it to Yuma, which is a small town right on the border of Arizona and California.
I was so relieved to finally be in California! I wasn't sure what there was between Yuma and my final destination, so I exited and pulled into a Jack In The Box. How very Californian! There were even Palm Trees!
With my body and my car refueled, I got back on the highway. I tried to pick up one of the radio stations Lisa listened to, but I was still too far away, so it was back to Brian Wilson and Brian Setzer.
As I drove, I had that stereotypical idea of California that I should soon be able to see the ocean on the horizon. Crossing mountain after mountain, all I saw was more mountains.
Then the sun sank and fog rolled in. Maybe it was a cloud. The elevation was pretty high. Exhaustion really started to take it's toll, and I found myself gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter. It was almost like some movie, with the fog coming right up to the edge of the highway. I started to worry it would cover the road, and I'd wind up driving off the side of the mountain, never to be heard from again.
That last maddening stretch took the better part of three hours. With visibility reduced, I couldn't drive nearly as fast as I wanted. But soon, the fog started to dissipate, and I saw signs for my exit. I almost couldn't believe that just four days before, I had been in Washington DC, and now I was pulling into the driveway of my new life.
And now I find it hard to believe that it's already been nine years.
I've lived in a lot of places. In part, because that's the nature of radio; you're hired to be fired. But I did the math recently and realized that, not only is today the ninth anniversary of the start of my new life with Lisa, but it also marks the longest I've ever lived at one particular address!
San Diego. Where it's almost always sunny, except when we have a slight chance of a cloud.
Nine years. I am so glad I finally got here. I've been fortunate enough to have gotten lots of hugs over my life, especially during the last nine years, but the one that I got that night, nine years ago tonight, was my favorite.
Anyway, I hope you have something to celebrate today, and I really hope you have someone to celebrate with.
And Lisa, thanks for welcoming me in nine years ago. And thanks in advance for the next nine. And the nine after that. Infinity.
Ken Kessler has always been interested in psychic phenomena, and like Mulder on the X-Files, wants to believe. But like most, he tends to look for, and accept, rational explanations. (More)