On The Road:
ON the ROAD with TROY PAIVA
Author of Lost America
Photo Safari: 4,360
Miles in Five Days by Troy Paiva
(continued from page 4)
Day Five - A Third Wind
I do a lot of shooting on day four. Combined with the late start it makes for a short driving day, only 489 miles. I arc onto I-20 under maximum acceleration, heading west. Texas freeways have fun onramps. A quick left-right like a road-racing chicane. You can cut the second apex late and get a strong launch onto the highway, releasing your inner-Unser.
It's time to start thinking about working my way back home. Only two days left before responsibility and real life call. I slip into sleepy Van Horn at about 10 a.m. to get an oil change. The Texaco in the center of town seems open for repair work so I pull into the lube bay. The Mexican mechanic looks happy to see me, his rotten green grin clashing with his oil-stained red and white striped company shirt. He doesn't even mind the burns as the hot oil spills across his fingers. The service happens deliberately, as does everything in this part of the country. It's just too damn hot to be anything except slow and easy-going. The mechanics laugh easily and sing "Ring of Fire" under my car's dusty, battered chassis.
Grab a quick lunch at an International Airport of Pancakes in El Paso -- five different kinds of syrup on the table and none of them are maple. I've obviously slipped into another dimension. Everything you touch in the place is sticky. Loaded up on a greasy brick of road-food, I unglue myself from the vinyl booth, ready for the long run.
The stretch of I-10 between El Paso and Tucson has a tourist shop at nearly every exit. I decide to stop at one and shake out the kinks. The store is filled with insanely tacky tourist crap and I get the stink-eye from the bovine "management trainee" Tammy Faye-Baker look-alike. I must resemble a wild animal by now: a four-day beard, dusty and stained shorts and T, barefoot in 99-cent flip-flops, red-rimmed eyes, and stiff and matted hair sticking out in every direction, but frankly, I'm feeling pretty good, getting my second wind. Lordsburg, New Mexico wins for best billboard: "Lordsburg, halfway between El Paso and Tucson!" as if it that was some sort of distinction. A classic case of "Chamber of Commerce" malpractice, the town manages to live up to this billing and not much else.
It's as quiet and desolate a road-town as you'll ever see. I sprawl on the highway in the center of town to photograph the abandoned Border Cowboy Truckstop, laying across the double-yellow line, chin on the ground to get the lowest possible angle. No need to hurry, no cars are visible as far as the eye can see.
My next stop for gas and chow comes several hours later on the west side of Phoenix. Almost 300 miles and my feet never touch the ground. The frantic buzz of weekday afternoon Phoenix freeways taxes my threadbare nerves. Normally, housewives in giant SUVs, tailgating at 85 while jabbering on cell phones are just irritating. In my condition, they are profoundly disturbing. The explosive growth of Phoenix is overwhelming. Thousands of acres of cheaply made new housing radiate from the city center in waves. The sprawl has even mushroomed out to the old abandoned Googie-style Phoenix Trotting Park. Ten years ago it was seven miles from the nearest subdivision. This stylish and bizarre structure, looking like it was cribbed from a Venusian blueprint, will soon see the wrecking ball.
Most of Arizona is under a heavy layer of clouds as I hum west throughout the day, by the time I get to Phoenix (than-kew Glenn Campbell), I can finally see the edge of the clouds. Once the sun slips below them it occurs to me there will be a beautiful sunset, the first of the trip. I immediately cut short my elegant in-car dinner at In-N-Out Burger and haul ass 30 miles for Salome where I remember seeing the perfect abandoned motel. I get there with minutes to spare and set up the tripod. Pretty good sunset, but the stop is what I really need. I'm buzzing by this time, having a hard time getting my land-legs. Exhausted and twitchy, eyes on fire, I shoot the sunset as the car fills up with moths.
As the sunset ends and the sky turns from mellow purple to indigo, I try to focus my addled brain on my next destination. I remember the old drive-in screen in Parker, just 50 miles away, but once I get there and shoot it, then what? The thought, "San Francisco is only 600 miles from here, give'r take, I could be home by dawn" slowly rolls around in my head, gaining some momentum. I'm getting my third wind.
Once I drop towards the Colorado River, the winds really pick up, like turning on a switch. Thick waves of dust stream over the road, and the car dances and twitches in the gusty headwinds. As I cross some dry rivers, the blowing dust cuts visibility to zero, and the car is battered by branches and tumbleweeds. Many drivers have parked to wait it out, but I pound on. The screen in Parker is still standing, but it's a bit more unraveled than the last time I was down this way. With these winds, I'm not surprised. I set the tripods up in the moonshadow of the screen and lock open my lenses. The tumbleweeds skitter and bounce by me during the time-exposures. I'm being jabbed in the shins as I crouch to look through the lens, still picking out Endee's thorns thousands of miles later. It isn't long before I-40's concrete ribbon once again streams beneath me, heading west this time, into a powerful sandstorm.
I get off at an exit near the
Providence Mountains to take a leak. I have to stand behind
a "Wrong Way" sign so as not to get pee all over
myself in the swirling wind. Even the moths that have been
riding along with me since Salome don't want to get out
of the car. One moth clung to the window just over my shoulder,
basking in the full moon glow for 3 hours as I steamed west
into the teeth of the storm. By midnight, most of the truckers
have called it a night. Every exit ramp is lined with idling
semis, running lights aglow, waiting out the storm.
At 1:11 a.m. I have finally had enough. Since leaving Penwell yesterday morning at 6, I've driven 1,144 miles. The sandstorm has extinguished my third wind. I sleep for a few hours at my favorite secret camping spot near some abandoned trailers between Barstow and Mojave. The engine ticks as it cools and the car rocks in the wind. My body vibrates with phantom road sensations for hours before I can sleep.