Wagons West: Ray Moves to California

This article is part of the PPSA Online Magazine
by Ray Swartz
Volume 8 Number 2 - Fall 1995

31 July 1995

After a busy week of preparing, intermixed with a series of farewell picnics with friends, our intrepid explorers prepare to depart for their journey. With provisions in car and tongue firmly in cheek, we open on our hero as he is finishing a long night of packing...

Me:     Zzzzzzzzzzzz
Phone:  *ring* *ring*
Me:     Zzzz - mrph.  *grunt* Hello?
Blonde: Good morning!  Are you all up and ready to go on the trip?
Me:     (instantly wide awake) Uhh, sure!  All packed, just waiting for you.
Blonde: We're leaving here now.  I just called to see if you wanted
        anything for the trip, like orange juice or fruit or anything?
Me:     Nope, all set.  Don't think there'd be room anyway.
Blonde: Ok, see you in about an hour.  Bye.

Quickly taking a shower, I scan the room where I've been camped out for the past several years (a story for another time) and start grabbing huge armloads of stuff to pack into the car. That completed, it was time to send the last of my mail that would bear the postmark of Warrenville, IL. Then to the bank to get a kilobuck cash advance on the credit card for which I had just sent in the minimum monthly payment, taking it dangerously close to it's limit. I'd only been living off the thing for the past year, so it's not surprising the little numbers were rubbed nearly flat.

About an hour after the phone call, The Blonde arrives with (in order of decreasing weight) her luggage, her parents car, and her parents. Thereafter followed a half-hour during which I unloaded most of my belongings from my car in order to fit hers inside. Another half-hour resulted in the car being reloaded, with enough room so I could even see out the rear window. Of course, this was accomplished by craning my neck, leaning a bit to the side, hanging my feet out the window, and looking underneath the passenger seat into the series of mirrors we had set up. It sure seemed difficult to do in the parking lot, but I was confident that it would get easier to do once we were on the road, since then I might *have* to see out the back window.

Never to take no as an answer, The Blonde's parents were there with a bag of foodstuffs - fruit, orange juice, milk,... - just the kind of thing you want to take with you when you will be driving a long distance and leaving the car parked in the sun for many hours at a time with no refrigeration. It took another ten or so times repeating that we had no use for the items before they finally were distracted by a passing fire truck - at which time I stealthily moved the bag from my car back to theirs.

The odometer is at 48263 (not counting another 100,000 miles which doesn't show), and the clock says 12:30 when we finally pull out of the parking lot.

The air conditioner in the car seems not to be working. Since it had just been dead for a year, and I got it fixed a week ago for this trip, am rather perturbed. Turning it off for 10 minutes (during which time I lost 8 pounds, can you say sauna?) seems to clear whatever problem there was, and we keep this remedy in mind in case it fails again. Luckily, it doesn't.

We stop in Springfield, IL to eat dinner at the Magic Kitchen, a restaurant so great that friends have made the drive from Chicago and Urbana in order to eat dinner there. Of course, since it was Monday, they were closed, so after a bit of wailing and moaning (I did want to try the place *once* before leaving) we agree on Taco Bell.

On the horizon appears that loop where they test-drive those cars on that commercial - oh wait, it's only the St. Louis Arch. At least, that's what we think it was, and not 1/2 of a new McDonald's being constructed.

The odometer reports 48555. We stop to rest (well, ok, pee) in the St. Clair, Missouri McDonald's. The earlier sighting of the arch must have had a subconscious effect.

Pass an exit for Cuba. Check map.

We stop to get gas, pee, and put a piece of the car back on which fell off.

Meant to stop in Springfield, Missouri to sleep, but we missed the turn somewhere. We end up in the Joplin, MO Ramada. The night went well except for a minor problem with the plumbing. This was to become a theme during this trip.

1 August 1995

We sleep until just before check-out, and we leave the hotel around noon. We stock up with coke, and the Blonde takes a turn to drive. After about an hour into Oklahoma, the Blonde mentions that OK reminds her of Illinois (which is the flattest place on earth - check Guiness). Then, about 20 minutes later, she says that she remembers OK as being flatter than it is. Go figure, since being flatter than Illinois is clearly not possible. We drive south on the Will Rogers Turnpike, and it cost us $3. Seeing as Mr. Rogers used to always talk about the crooked politicians picking our pockets, I wonder how he likes it that one of the pick-pocketing methods of his home state has his name on it. For shame, Oklahoma! Will Rogers, spinning in his grave, was unavailable for comment.

Ms. Micro-Bladder announces that we will have to stop in Tulsa.

We miss Tulsa. It's not my fault, as MB was driving (Ms. Micro-Bladder is also Ms. Micro-Memory, I guess). We stop in Sapulpa, OK, for pit-stop, food.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The odometer is at 49005 miles, and the Federal Building was already removed two weeks previously. I suggest stopping there to set off some firecrackers to see if any locals jump, but the Blonde vetos, as she wants to live. Meanwhile, the weather is getting worse, and I get excited at the chance to see an Oklahoma twister.

Stop to eat at Hardee's in El Reno, OK, and watch the storm. We keep a lookout for tornados, which seems to be easy here as the place seems built for it. I've never seen so much window in any restaurant, or anywhere. No tornadoes, but they must get a lot of wind here. We saw a very large wind generator, with a very nice advanced design.

A few hours from Amarillo, and saw a dead Armadillo by the roadside. Is there a connection?

McPee break, and get some coke to drink. It's interesting how it is very dark going in, and light yellow coming out. Where does the dark stuff go, and where does the yellow come from? They can't be the same stuff, because when I drink water, it is still yellow coming out. So the yellow is made from something other than the dark stuff. Hmmm. In any case, we just get the coke. Not really hungry.

Camels?!? Check the damn map again! Good thing we didn't eat at the McDonald's, you never know...

Texas, and cows.

We stay overnight at the West Amarillo Ramada, since my new employer is paying for the room anyway, and the nightly room allowance is more than the room cost.

2 August 1995

We leave Amarillo on I-40 west. Soon, we see the Cadillac Ranch. This is a line of cars with their front ends all buried in the ground. It's supposed to be a piece of art, but it looks more like an accident I saw on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago once.

Sight the first Texas Longhorn.

New Mexico, and Mountain Time zone. Set clock to 10:24.

Stop for food at Denny's in Tucumcari, NM. The Blonde seems to be driving in the right lane of the freeway today without being reminded - seems the training is effective. It seems interesting how the terrain changes from state to state. It is now large mesas, covered with scrub.

The Blonde allows us to be passed by a very, very old lady driver. Oh, the shame! I hope nobody saw that.

Micro-Bladder takes us into a rest stop. The Men's bathroom is out of toilet paper. Luckily for my Boy Scout training, I break out my emergency supply from the car. Of course I leave some for the people after me.

Clines Corners, NM. Lots and lots of signs announce this rest stop, so we stop to get gas and see what the fuss is about. Nothing special, except the dog I saw sitting in the drivers seat of one of the cars while a woman sat in the passenger seat. They were at a pump, and I was wondering how the dog was going to pump the gas. I never did see, as we left after only 15 minutes, and the dog just sat there. Maybe he forgot his credit card.

We get back on the road, and leave I-40 at this point, for highway 255 north. The road is closed for some of the distance, and we drive on a detour that horses probably avoided when the West was young. At one point, I swear that an arrow flew across the hood, but the Blonde insists it was just a bird.

Los Alamos, NM. We go to McDonald's and call John, but of course, just like the last time we were in Los Alamos, he is not home. We leave messages at his apartment and at his home. In a few minutes, we try again, and he is at work.

We meet at his apartment, and sit around a while. Then we go for dinner at a mexican place in Santa Fe, so he can expose us to real mexican food. They had a truly *awful* Margarita, which John finishes for me. We then walk around the plaza in Santa Fe for a while. Then back to John's for pool and jacuzzi.

3 August 1995

Woke up at 9:30, and John is still at a meeting he had at work. We did a little shopping, and went to the Los Alamos ski area to eat lunch. The Blonde had a hummingbird get fresh with her bright red sweatshirt, which she still happened to be wearing. I complained about the bright sun in my eyes so John reminded me that at MTU I was the weather god, and could cause whatever weather I wanted. I thus decide to make it cloudy and maybe throw in some rain.

Ray reacts to a wicked Margarita in Santa Fe. John ended up finishing it.

Ray struggles in the heat of Bandalier.

The Blonde allows Ray to lean on her.

We then went to, Bandalier National Park, which consists of a bunch of indian ruins and cave dwellings. John supplied water and a guidebook, and we climbed up to the Ceremonial Cave. The weather had been growing worse by this time, so by the time we were climbing up to the Ceremonial Cave, it was raining quite a bit, with some cold wind thrown in as well. The Blonde and John start to complain about the wind and rain, so I decide to make the storm go away. By the time we get back to the Visitors Center, the rain has stopped and it's getting too bright again. There's just no pleasing some people. I *liked* the rain, since I knew that once I was in California I would never see rain again.

John and Ray searching for the Ancient Ruins of the First Polkinghorne Palace.

Ray, checking the view from the Ceremonial Cave, and noting the extent of the storm he whipped up.

The Paintball Warriors.
Target Ray is in the back center, and The Blonde is in front of him.
The Blonde's shirt, worn for padding, did an excellent job of camouflage in the woods.
The "intended" couple are kneeling. Note the bride's red cheek.

We then went shopping in Santa Fe and then had dinner at the "Cowgirl Hall of Fame." Apparently one of their cows self-immolated in the kitchen the weekend before, so we were limited in what we could order. We had dinner, then went to a coffeehouse that had some very talented singing waiters and waitresses. Then, it was back to John's apartment where he showed some videos from MTU Physics Field Day. I found it hard to believe that a medium t-shirt fit so loosely back then. I wear an XL now. Must have been the camera. (I hear it adds 10 pounds...)

4 August 1995

Up at 7:00 a.m., and on the road at 8:15 after a farewell to our host. Mickey-Dee's for breakfast, and on to Albuquerque. We have a wedding coming up, and as a surprise to the lucky couple a group of friends decide that a "Paintball Bachelor-Bachelorette Party" was just the thing. Chris and Laura are dragged out there where we spend over an hour going over the rules of the course and how (and how not to) shoot each other.

The first game was a "possee", where the lucky couple got a five minute head start and the rest of us then hunted them down like dogs. Laura's sister Jane ends up taking them both out, and causes the first injury of the day - a shot to the bride had part of the pellet going through a vent in her mask, and cuts and bruises Laura's cheek. Later in the day, Chris dove into a trench and hit his knee on a rock. Since it was their pre-wedding party, I thought it appropriate they get the most severe injuries. We can't let them be healthy on their wedding night, now can we? They might actually have some fun.

As the day went on, Jane proved to be the better player in my opinion. She moved very quietly, and when she opened up on you, you were hit. By the end of the day, we were all exhausted, and showing off our bruises and welts to each other. The Blonde proved quite hard to hit, as she was quite agile when being shot at. *grumble* I'll get her next time.

Some good pictures were taken of this party, but the film containing the best pictures were misplaced. A few group-shots survive, though.

The Blonde and I get a room at the Park Inn, where we stumble into the hot tub for a few minutes to sooth our aching muscles before passing out until morning.

5 August 1995

Chris and Laura, just after the wedding.

Loading up the truck to break up the party. This was a 100% do-it-yourself celebration.

The blonde on the trail overlooking the wedding location.

Ten O'Clock sees us on I-40, trying to find the site of the wedding. They are getting married at the Las Huertas Picnic Area in the Sandia National Forest, and the highway we are on turns into a dirt mountain road for several miles. Just as we are about to turn around to retrace our steps, we find the spot. The wedding was planned for 12:00, and the Bride and Groom arrive at 11:55, not dressed for the ceremony. After some waiting due to other problems (the rings were FedEx'ed to the wrong address and have to be located) the event finally happens at 1:30. The rings arrive at 2:00. Since the rings didn't arrive until the ceremony, Chris borrowed Dave's ring for the event. They suggest that I will have to borrow it as well for my wedding, since it's been making the rounds. "Tradition is it's own justification."

We left the park at 5:30, and had a snack at Burger King. We were supposed to meet the wedding party at 6:00 at the Sandia Tramway for a ride to the top to watch the sunset, but nobody arrived until we were boarding, too late for the sunset. They plan to meet us at the top, taking the next tram, but didn't. The Blonde and I see the sights, and feed raccoons, and get back at the Inn at 11:30.

A visitor begging for munchies on the Sandia Crest.

6 August 1995

We get up and get to the Albuquerque Marriott for a post-wedding brunch which was scheduled for 10:00. Typical of Luchini organization and scheduling, we finally sit down at noon. The Blonde and I go to visit Sandia Cave, but since it had been vandalized, it was closed. We then drove up to the Sandia Crest, and watched some hang gliders fly on some thermals that really looked like they were developing into a thunderstorm. We then watch the storm pick up, and the cold rain started to fall. Lost sight of the hang gliders. I miss flying. Since I now have a job, I'll have to get back into it. The forest at the crest was *very* similar to a deep forest recreation The Blonde and I saw at Universal Studios in Florida, where they had an E.T. ride set up, so we got to calling the Sandia forest the E.T. forest. They did a VERY good job of recreating the forest in a building, so that as we now were in the depths of a real forest of that type, it was hard to tell the difference.

Ray, Chris, Laura, and friends on the Sandia Crest having a sunset picnic.

Sunset on the Sandia Crest near Albuquerque. Since no trees were around, Ray sits near a bush. Not TOO distant a relative.

At 6:00 we meet Chris and Laura for another try at the sunset. This time it works well, and we sit up there watching the sunset and eating a picnic dinner. Chris started out by leading us to the "perfect place", but since he got lost, the rest of us mutiny and just sit at a convenient spot. We wanted to actually SEE the sunset, Chris!

During the sunset, a bear started getting into the garbage cans near the restaurant on the peak, and the Blonde decides it was the perfect opportunity to take pictures. The only problem was, when she gets a camera in her hand her brain goes on vacation. She starts to get too close to the bear, and then slides down a slope and ends up a lot closer to it, startling the bear. Some other tourist gets closer, though, and while the bear is busy eating *him*, she escapes.

The sunset was beautiful!

7 August 1995

The Blonde standing at the edge of the Volcano.

On the road again at 10:00, after a quick McDonald's breakfast. We leave I-40 at Route 53, and head south to Bandera Crater and the associated Ice Caves. The volcano has an impressive cinder cone and lava tubes, which went through about 2000 years ago. One of the lava tubes was rather deep, and even though the outside temperature was about 100 degrees, the deep cave, combined with the insulating igneous rock and the high altitude creates a "natural refrigerator,Ó so that the cave is at 31 degrees. The ice used to be mined in the last century, and even up until the 1930Õs, but it hasn't been mined since then. The ice is still about 12 feet lower than was Ònatural,Ó though. It is slowly refilling as water finds its way in. We also hike out to the cinder cone, and it starts to rain again. It was a pleasant hike, and on the way back I saw my first hummingbird.

The next stop was El Morrow Monument, which is also called Inscription Rock. This rock has inscriptions and graffiti from early explorers starting in the 1500Õs, and on up to the late 1800Õs. This place used to be a watering hole for people travelling through the area until the Santa Fe Railroad was completed about 20 miles north, after which it was mostly bypassed. Many of the inscriptions were quite impressive, and were very professional looking. They looked like they took a long time to complete. For some reason, the ranger wasn't too happy when we decided to add our names to the rock, in the tradition of all those who came before us. Some traditions *do* die, it seems.

We pass into Arizona at 5:14 p.m.

At 9:00 p.m., we arrive in Globe, AZ, and get a room at the Cloud Nine Motel. an intense rain and lightning storm prevents us from using the outside pool, but the natural fireworks were very impressive to see. The storm compared well to the worse Illinois electrical storms I've seen. We even lose power for a brief time. So this is the desert? Wettest area I've ever seen. It's been raining every day since Oklahoma.

8 August 1995

Check out of motel and have breakfast at the local Country Kitchen. Everyone seems to know one another, and lots of hellos fill the place. We then see the historic downtown area, from when this was a mining town. A retired local lawyer stops to tell us some local history, and mentions that his grandfather was from Michigan. This is to become a theme, as once you are west of the plain states, nobody seems to be a native any longer.

Head out for Phoenix.

The Blonde, finally finding the object of her desire at the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum near Superior, New Mexico, gives it a hug.

The Blonde FINALLY sees a cactus!! She is very excited. On our last trip through the southwest two years ago, she was very disappointed that we didn't see any, and I've been constantly hearing about it since then. We stop at the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum, where she gives one of her new a hug.

On the road again...

We stop at the Flying Dutchman State Park, near Superstition Mountain. There is a legend of a lost gold mine in the area, which people have unsuccessfully looked for for a century. I'd say they found it in the prices they charge tourists to the area. Several of the world's most productive gold mines were here around 1895, until they hit an "underground river" and the mine filled up. The day is So Very, Very Hot!

Ray, having been unable to finish Ye Olde Whopper at Ye Olde Burger King, is punished.

Goldfield Ghost Town. Of course it wasn't an authentic ghost town, but you don't learn that until you are well into their tour (if you aren't observant). Of course, nothing is authentic these days.

Back on the road.

Phoenix traffic - Yuck! At one point I saw the seasons change three times before getting away from a traffic light, the longest light I've ever seen.

Kingman, AZ. Since this is where the Oklahoma City bombing investigation focused a few months back, we decide to stop here for the night. After all, any remaining bombers wouldn't bomb their own town, right? We stay at the Silver Queen Motel.

9 August 1995

Wake up at 8:00 and eat breakfast at Denny's. On the road at 10:10, with 100 miles to go until Vegas. This trip is certainly at a different pace than our last trip to the southwest. At that time, we set the cruise control on the car to 90 and made the Chicago - Denver run in 14 hours.

The Hoover Dam. Been there, done that the last time we were here. At that time, we learned that the Dam cost $52 million to build, and with the revenue coming in from the electricity, it had just finished paying itself off. So of course this time around they are unveiling their new $150 million visitor center. We can't actually have a government project in the *black*, can we?

The Las Vegas strip. I had enough of this town the last time we were here. Actually, I had enough of it *before* the last time we were here - and I'd never been here before that. Hype, hype, and more hype. If there was ever anything of any real substance in this town, I'm cure it died of loneliness years ago.

They are building a tall hotel that looks like an airport control tower. For a while, I think it *is* a control tower. After all, you can't put something the size of a hotel on a tall spindle of a tower, can you? As we get closer, though, it keeps getting larger and larger until I realize it is a hotel, and it almost looks like a full sized one from underneath. When it opens, I'll have to return just to get a room up there. I could lose the rest of the city, but I do so love altitude.

At Excalibur in Las Vegas, Ray is cursed by the Dragon. Note Ray's "evil eye."

The Flamingo Hilton has a newly remodeled "water park" of a pool in the back, which was nice, if you could call an exterminator to deal with all of the people inhabiting it. Walking around on the street later, Patricia likes the show of battling ships in front of "Treasure Island". They've certainly gone heavily into the theme hotels since our last visit. The MGM Grand Hotel, with it's Emerald City looks, is an amazing 5000 rooms. When you consider that at it's height the ancient city of Athens was 70,000 people, you get the hotel holding 1/7th of the entire city at a comfortable 2 per room. Add in a few more hotels on the strip, and you have the entire city. Amazing, that all that legend could come from such a small place.

The Blonde wants to see the Michael Crawford show at The Grand, which we do. She expected something like ÒPhantom,Ó and was disappointed because he didn't do more of the singing. It was about what I was expecting.

10 August 1995

Reaching our destination - the Embassy Suites in Arcadia, California.

Up at 9:30 and onto the road. We drive through the Mojave desert, in heat that was reported as 117 degrees. Fun, fun. Of course, at this time, my transmission decides that it finally wants to shrug off this mortal coil, and begins slipping as we approach Arcadia, CA (our final destination). We arrive at the Embassy Suites at 6:00 p.m., and unload the car.

Ray surveys the room supplied to him while he searches for an apartment.

Over the next few days, as I get used to my new home, we get a rental car for the Blonde to travel around in while I'm at work - I don't want to leave her at the mercy of my dying transmission. While picking up the rental, my car gives a last cough, and just barely makes it to an Aamco. The result is a week of work, and a new transmission - which promptly fails five weeks later, and then again three days after they re-replace it. I also learn the meaning of smog.

The trip is now complete. My new job at JPL started on August 14, 1995, and I enjoy it. I have since flown back to Chicago a couple times, but it is not the same as driving. The flight is much faster, but I've never enjoyed the feeling of riding on a crowded bus - even if it has wings. Nothing compares to seeing the country close-up. I think the next major trip I do will have to be the northwest, which I last saw from a car of a freight train as a friend and I did a "hobo" trip from Chicago to San Francisco in 1988. Maybe I'll have to dig out my old notes and write up that trip...

Raymond Swartz - 9 February 1996

Last Updated 02/11/95.© 1996 PPSA