I was born among palm trees at one end of Interstate 10. I currently live at the other end of the 10, where my kitchen has a great view of a palm tree.
Last summer my fiancee and I escaped Boston (no palm trees) on June 1st. The plan: a cross-country excursion, destined ultimately for Los Angeles, though the arrival date was fuzzy. July? We spiralled our way down to and across the deep south, relocating every few days. Durham, Charleston, Atlanta, Memphis. We drove the length of Mississippi along I-55 and ended up in New Orleans for a Sazerac. With beignet powder on our fingers, we entered “Houston, TX” in Google maps and chose the scenic route: Route 90, a solid line cut across the ragged bayous.
In Jeanerette, I did 76 in a 65. A lanky black cop unfolded from the driver’s side of a hulking SUV. I told him I thought the speed limit was 75. He told me to visit jeanerettetix.com if I wanted to pay with a credit card. Thirty minutes later, after some fried okra and hushpuppies and a full tank for the Corolla, we merged onto Interstate 10 for the first time.
In those first few hours — crossing into Texas, seeing an alligator — I knew almost nothing about Interstate 10. I did not understand its length, that it connects Jacksonville and Los Angeles (birth and residence, respectively), or that this road would take us all the way to the Pacific. That is to say: we had not yet read its Wikipedia article.
Without the internet, a roadtrip is a series of unanswered questions. With the internet, a roadtrip is a series of weird facts. For example: Texas is full of F-150s pulling into and out a place called Buc-ee’s. What is a Buc-ee’s? Why do so many of the F-150s have “King Ranch” logos? Do all these Texans work at this King Ranch? Answers: (1) Buc-ee’s is an excellent chain of beaver-themed gas stations common in Texas’ southeast; (2) “King Ranch” is a luxury trim option for F-150s; (3) no, not all Texans work at King Ranch, though that it is a real ranch, larger than Rhode Island, founded by a former riverboat captain.
We moved westward, downloading obscure Wikipedia articles, consuming Buc-ee’s beaver nuggets. San Antonio, Alpine, El Paso. Like the lip of a wine glass, America sung with trivia, and with reviews.
For my fiancee, Diana, a roadtrip hunger pang is a chance to Yelp something strange and wonderful. The hushpuppies we had in Lafayette didn’t happen by accident; they came at the recommendation of a prolific Yelper whose reviews combine biography (she has family in Louisiana’s bayou) with inventive vocab. “Got a smiggy-bit of each,” she wrote of the fried food buffet in Lafayette. “And I do mean a smiggy-bit!” (Googling “smiggy-bit” should lead you right to her reviews.)
A week later, on Interstate 10, we planned a one night stay in Las Cruces with Yelp’s assistance.
★★★☆☆ Haunted. A old Union soldier apparition stood at the end of our bed. Did nothing. But was still
creepy as all hell. Me, my, girlfriend, and dog all confirmed seeing him at the same time as our dog was the one waking us up barking at the tall, dark, uniformed apparition. The rooms are nice, as is the atmosphere.
Soon our tires hummed along a particularly dry and straight stretch of I-10. Hunger panged again, and another search loaded slowly. 15 minutes later, we ordered a torta Milanesa in Deming, New Mexico. Though we had never before tried this style (pounded, breaded pork), Diana ordered it with authority. I asked her if she’d ever had one. “No.” She’d just read about it online.
We sat in the window at Tacos Mirasol, eating tortas, looking at the little bit of Deming framed up before us. Dusty and hot. Only two bars of data, but we had lots of questions. “Deming”? The maiden name of a railroad magnate’s wife. In 1881 the Silver Spike was driven here, completing America’s second transcontinental railroad, the Interstate 10 of its day. This earned Deming a weighty nickname: “New Chicago.” Thousands and thousands of future Angelenos must’ve stopped here for lunch on their one-way journeys westward, though their breaded pork might not have been a la milanesa.
But their desert route was our route too, especially in Deming. There in the dust, Interstate 10 harmonizes with the Southern Pacific tracks for miles and miles. Train headlights ripple on the horizon and for a while the train lasts forever — fills the windshield and the rear view mirror — though eventually it rumbles past, eastward.
We zipped westward. In two days, we were in Los Angeles.
Did you know that an unspooled human small intestine is, on average, 23 feet long? Our 3000-mile transcontinental drive has an inverse relationship with Los Angeles. Here, in the ragged desert, all that pavement tangles together; all of America has collapsed into a county. Driving across town can feel like driving from Jeanerette to New Chicago, and looking out the windshield always induces momentary wonder, then a search. Diana has just found a Wikipedia article on some simple-seeming thing, so she leans forward to dim the radio. I’m going to want to hear this.•