Los Angeles to Austin: The Preview Edition

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

It’s doubtful there will ever be another travel memoir that will have as much effect on pop culture as Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Countless writers have tried — most have failed — to recreate that uniquely American take on driving through the open desert, the twin engines of speed and freedom propelling them forward. It’s Thompson who springs to mind as soon as I find out that I’m going to be driving 1,300 miles to Austin, Texas, through the California desert, Arizona and New Mexico, especially since the entire route is essentially one road — Interstate 10.

With its westernmost terminus in Santa Monica, and its easternmost terminus in Jacksonville, Fla., Interstate 10 is the fourth-longest highway in the U.S. Work began on the road in 1956, and it wasn’t completed until 1990. (Of course, no road in the U.S. is ever really “done,” as summer reconstruction is often called the season of the orange barrel.) More than one-third of the interstate is located in Texas alone, clocking in as the longest stretch of untolled road in the nation, and takes drivers through El Paso, San Antonio and Houston. Surprisingly, for as large as Texas is, most of I-10 is desolate and sparsely populated — or so I’ve been led to expect.

Managing expectations is usually the hardest thing to do on any trip, especially one that has been built up in advance. This trip started as a working vacation, morphed into a potential three-month relocation program, and wound up a two-week whirlwind that will include a side jaunt to The Alamo in San Antonio. There’s a list of “must-do” items, and a list of “if there’s time” items. At the top of the list is the installation of a bike rack on my 2012 Camaro. The box assures me it is already assembled and the installation will take “mere seconds.”

Um, yeah.

I take it out of the box, look at the directions … and then put it back in the trunk and slink back into the house. As far as I see it, I have three options. One, I can quit acting like I’m helpless and just get it done. Two, I can keep it in the trunk and make my future roommate deal with it once I arrive in Texas, since it is his bike that we have to bring back to Los Angeles, and his move here is the reason for the trip. Three, I can beg my mechanic to install it for me when he looks over the car to ensure its road-worthiness before I embark on this trip.

Currently, however, it is dark, and I’ve been advised by the pharmaceutical industry that I should not operate machinery … which leaves me plenty of time to figure out what “The Thing” is, and whether I should stop to see it on the way there. As soon as I mention this to my friend Heather, her screams of agony penetrate my computer screen all the way from her home in Canada. “NO!!!!” she types. “IT’S A SCAM.” She then proceeds to tell me exactly what “The Thing” is, and I’m underwhelmed. Another expectation managed.

An hour later, I’ve cooked three pounds of mashed potatoes and frozen them in individual serving packages for my husband, who will be tending to our house and felines while I’m gone. I’m worried that he’ll starve, and he’s Irish, so my instincts tell me that potatoes are the way to go. For good measure, I whip up and freeze a Shepherd’s pie-type casserole and some chili as well.

I turn next to the Internet. I know we need to avoid Phoenix on the way back because we’ll be traveling the same weekend that the Superbowl is in that town, and the last thing I want to do is contend with crazy NFL fans and giant SUVs. This leads me to ascertain that once we hit Tucson, we can branch off to Interstate 8, which heads back into California through San Diego. Going this way also means that we’ll be close to Tombstone, Ariz. — as in Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the OK Corral. If there’s one thing that I’m fanatical about besides penguins, it’s Doc Holliday. In a flash, I’ve booked us a room at the Tombstone Monument Ranch and organized a photoshoot and filming possibilities. Considering that the aforementioned future roommate is a country singer who wears a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and pearl snap shirts, and we’ll be in Tombstone, surrounded by Old West scenery, we’d be nuts not to take advantage of this. It is what the singer in question would call “a gift.”

Over the next few days, I tick off more things on my “to-do” list, including the acquisition of hemostatic powder, which apparently will stanch the flow of blood should I get stabbed or have a spontaneous nosebleed. Though neither of these things is likely to occur, my friend John, who subscribes to the theory of preparedness to the tune of carrying several multitools, flashlights and various weapons, assures me that it is absolutely vital to my safety on this trip. John also recommends bringing a sleeping bag and non-perishable food. Shouldn’t all food be perishable? Will I be eating bark? Recycled tires? I assume he means things like beef jerky and canned beans. I opt instead to throw a couple of boxes of Ritz Bits and a case of bottled water into the trunk and throw caution to the wind, but not before familiarizing myself with the viability of sauteeing nopalitos on an overheated engine. Sarcasm aside, John’s suggestions and recommendations serve as a sobering reminder that the unexpected can happen, and it’s smart to be prepared for it.

With the mundane out of the way, my thoughts turn inward. The reality of this thing hits me. It’s not just an abstraction. This time next week, I should be somewhere on the Arizona/New Mexico border. What will I see? Who will I meet? What will I experience? The last time I did something like this was 10 years ago, when my husband and I moved cross-country from Chicago to LA. I chronicled every step of the preparations beforehand, and we had professional movers to help us. This time around is different in so many ways. It’s a lot less structured, but I’m a lot more relaxed. I’m open to what’s out there. After all, 1,300 miles means that I’m likely to hear at least a dozen Journey songs on satellite radio. Ten years ago, that would have pissed me off. Now?

“The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’ // I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.”

Sara Farr

Sara Farr

Sara Farr is currently an adjunct marketing instructor at the School of Advertising Art. Previously, she worked as a graphic designer at Variety for six years, and spent 10 years before that as a music writer for various Midwestern and Los Angeles-based newspapers and magazines. Her work appears in “The Little Black Book, Music: Over a Century of the Greatest Artists, Albums, Songs, Performances and Events That Rocked the Music World.”

4 Responses to Los Angeles to Austin: The Preview Edition
  1. Joe Grez

    Joe Grez Reply

    Photos too?

  2. Joe Grez

    Joe Grez Reply

    Yes! More Please!!! Storyteller spin the tale.

  3. Chester Whelks Reply

    Should the bike go missing, be sure to check the Basement of The Alamo!

  4. Shawn Reply

    Amazing! Your handle of the language is intimidatingly awesome!

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