I woke up early out of fear. The night before I calculated that if I left at 7 a.m. I could get to Barstow, CA and outrun the grueling 100 plus degree temperatures the Mojave Desert would be serving up. I would be bisecting the heart of this cruel land and took the time to plan it carefully. John helped me carry my bags down to the Brick. He snapped a few pictures of me on the bike. I gave him a big bear hug and rolled away. He shrank in my rear view mirror and I thought about how great it was to see him. The mere act of being with a family member is a healing device and I felt lucky to have this serendipitous meeting with my brother. I don’t see my family nearly enough, and I made a vow to myself that I would try and do that more. As I made my way to the highway, I flipped up my face shield and let the warm air dry the tears that ran down my face. They evaporated quickly as if the desert was refusing me the right to experience any emotion.
This was one section of the trip where breaking down was an idea I feared. The road was not populated at this hour and the mercury had already risen to the mid 90’s. I made sure I had some water for the long stretch of 15 that spread out before me. I grabbed a handful of throttle and started to click off the miles. The ride wasn’t nearly as bad or as uninteresting as I thought it would be. There were mountains and some funny stores like the Alien Fresh Jerky shop in Baker, CA. I couldn’t resist pulling into the parking lot, but unfortunately the aliens keep bankers hours and they were not open. I plowed along and was making excellent time. I decided on some breakfast and for many miles I had seen sequential signs for Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner. The advertising technique reminded me of the Burma Shave signs my father told me about when he took road trips as a young man. As I neared the restaurant the signage increased to a hilarious level. “Turn now!” and “This is it!” the signs screamed with their yellow arrows pointing the way like the Star of Bethlehem for truckers.
I turned in, found a shady spot for the brick, and walked through the entrance that mimicked the face of an old Wurlitzer jukebox. I found a table near a large Elvis statue and ordered the ham breakfast. I felt good that I got the heavy lifting of the driving out of the way. The heat was behind me and I would only have about another 3 hours to Santa Monica, CA. I looked around at the paraphernalia adorning the walls as I drank buckets of coffee. Almost all of the pieces had a connection to music. I thought about what a powerful tool music is in communicating ideas. I am lucky to still play in a band with my best friends and although we only get together once a week, I can’t imagine my life without that outlet. I didn’t bring a guitar on this trip and not having access to one has made me realize that I take my talent for granted at times. I should be writing, practicing, and mixing The Hornrims album more often and spending less time doing mindless things like surfing the Internet. Since I bought the Brick I have had less time to work on music, but the mental state the bike puts me in is worth the loss of time. My mood is better, I am calmer, and I know this new disposition will reignite my passion for music.
I finished my food and walked around the diner. There was a strange dinosaur park on the side of the building that had an odd menagerie of statues. There was also a small stage and seeing it made me wonder what watching a band would be like at such a remote place on the edge of the Mojave desert. I sat alone for a few minutes and just relaxed. In about three hours I will have traversed the country on a motorcycle. The thought made me proud yet emotional. I had come so far but there where no obvious answers to life’s questions. The clouds didn’t part, I didn’t hear voices, but I was having such incredible experiences. I was doing something I have wanted to do for a long time – maybe the answer was at the end of the journey back in NYC.
I got back on the road and the driving was easy. The weather was getting nicer with each mile and I was excited to see the Pacific Ocean. I took 15 to 10 and bypassed downtown LA without blinking. I had been there before while on tour with my band dogs on ice and I didn’t care for it much. I was heading straight to Santa Monica because of my skateboarding roots. The town is referred to as Dogtown and I used to draw the logo of the skateboard company of the same name on my high school folders. Seeing the film Dogtown and Z-Boys further peaked my interest to make Santa Monica a destination.
I decided that instead of going to my hotel first, I was going to take a picture at the famous sign at the Santa Monica Pier. I weaved my way to the entrance but the parking lot was full. I asked the cop who was on guard at the entrance if I could park and take a picture. I told him that I came cross-country from NYC. He shook his head, smiled, and waved me through past the cones. I pulled the Brick under the sign and ran towards the nearest tourist I could find and asked him if he would take a picture. “I came all the way for New York!” I screamed through my helmet. “Awesome!” He replied, taking my camera and snapping the picture with confidence. I drove away from the Pier and parked at a meter. I looked at the picture and was instantly overcome with emotion. I had made it. This aging man on his old aluminum horse somehow found a way to drive 3000 miles ocean-to-ocean without being killed.
I smiled wide and headed for the Santa Monica Motel on Lincoln. Describing it as rough on the edges would be an understatement. The clerk would not allow me to check in until 2pm sharp so I had some time to kill. I walked directly across the street to a place called Trip, a live music venue and a bar. I was glad to find them open and ordered a beer. The bartender was wearing a Diamond Guitar Pedals shirt so I knew we would have something to talk about. His name was Shane and had he had an Irish accent. We talked about bands for a bit and I asked for something to eat. He had a little Panini grill and offered me a sandwich. “You are going to love this sandwich. It’s brilliant!” he proclaimed like an excited boy. I was so hungry he could have served me charred cardboard and I would have scarfed it down, but luckily Shane’s concoction was pretty damn brilliant.
We sat and blabbed for a long time about travel, guitars, the state of music, and old punk rock. We had both been leaders of bands before and Shane said, “In order to keep something going you need to have that brick, the person that is going to dedicate the time to make it work.” He didn’t know that I referred to my motorcycle as the Brick and that made his words more poignant. I wondered if I was driving the Brick or was it driving me? Shane warned me of the motel and said that if I had anything of value to carry it with me because the place is constantly getting robbed. This worried me because I had an expensive MacBook Pro in tow and was nervous about getting it hijacked. I told Shane I would return after my sightseeing around Santa Monica and gave him a strong handshake.
I checked into the motel and I was shocked to see no air conditioning. The security was inadequate as well with nothing more than a locking knob like the type on an interior bathroom door. The sliding window also could be pried open with a credit card. I rested for a bit and decided to head to the pier. I was worried about my computer so I hid it behind a chair, that way if somebody did break in they would not just see it obviously on the desk. I can’t say it put me at ease, but I was glad that Shane warned me. I walked towards the Santa Monica Pier and I was amazed at the cars and motorcycles parked on the street. There were also many classic car and bike shops on the walk. Pure eye candy for me and I was impressed by the vehicles Californians drove as daily transportation.
I walked along the beach towards the pier. The sun was high and the weather was like a postcard. People were swimming, exercising, and enjoying the amusements on the Pier. I walked up the ramp and onto the long wooden structure that juts far out into the pacific. I still was in disbelief that I had made it all the way across the continent on my bike literally shore-to-shore. I had set my mind to this task, and now it was complete. I wandered around the pier and watched families enjoying the games and rides. My normal reaction of sadness and longing for a family of my own was not present. My joy of completing the trip made me feel happy and free. Instead of lamenting the things I didn’t have, I celebrated the many things I did. Life is short – very short. Enjoy it.
The pier was an active place and I had fun playing old video games, pinball, and watching people ride the rides. Bands were performing and an array of characters spiced up the atmosphere with juggling, opera singing, and stilt walking. I was getting hungry and the place that suited me the most was a joint called Big Dean’s “Muscle In” Café located where the pier meets the beach. I walked in and the atmosphere was great. People were shoeless and laughing while ordering cold beer and baskets of fries. I was tempted to get a hot dog to sustain one of my main themes of the trip, but the specialty at this place was definitely the cheeseburger. I ordered one and a huge light beer. The bar had very low seats but the effect provided a cozy atmosphere. A group of three walked in and I slid over to make room for them at the bar. The girl to my left started to talk to me. I was stunned because this rarely happens to me in bars. Maybe it was my newfound sense of self-acceptance that she sensed, or perhaps her vision wasn’t very good. She was a very pretty girl named Dana and introduced me to her sister and brother-in-law. We all talked for a while, exchanging stories and having several more drinks. I told Dana I was driving cross-country and about my old bike. She said, “That’s so great, that bike gives you wings to fly.” It was such a cool thing to say and she was right. The Brick did give me a freedom like I have never known. I finished my meal and I told Dana I needed to see the sunset as I traveled all of this way and I wanted to see the sun disappear into the west.
The four of us journeyed out to the beach. We almost missed it because we were having such a good time in the bar, laughing and making jokes. Dana felt like an old friend more than somebody I just met. I wondered if it was a California thing, but she said she just moved to Santa Monica from the Midwest only 10 months previously. We watched as the sun dissolved behind a mountain and the golden color was one I have never seen. Dana asked me to join her for dinner but for some reason I declined. I was worried about my computer getting ripped off, but I think this decision was something else. I didn’t feel ready for any kind of relationship even if it was just for a night. This trip was about driving and healing, and I wanted to stay focused on those two points. She was such a beautiful kindred spirit, but I never even got her last name. I have left so many incredible women in the wake of my dysfunction and I didn’t need another notch in that belt. We parted ways and I walked quietly back to the hotel. I was going to hit Trip again but I decided to stay in and just relax. I had enough beer and excitement for one day, and tomorrow was my journey up the Pacific Coast Highway – one of the main destinations on this trip. I wanted to be rested for the demanding road.
My head fell on hay-like pillow and I reflected on the day as a rattling box fan blew air over my body. I had so many experiences in less than a 24-hour period. I crossed the country, ate great food, met interesting people, saw a West Coast sunset, and found a new level of happiness. I am learning how to live in the moment instead of worrying about the future and agonizing over the past. Today is the day – and what a great day it was.
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Las Vegas to Santa Monica – 297 Miles