Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 10: Las Vegas to San Francisco

Day 10: Sleep, that blessed vixen, how you eluded us. Snatched from the grip of beautiful slumber by the insanely early (for Vegas, anyway) check-out policies of the Paris Hotel, we wearily packed our bags and joined the throngs of people dropping their keys into too-convenient boxes. Really, if they were smart they would avoid a traffic jam by staggering check out times. We then headed over to the Bellagio buffet for brunch. The Bellagio buffet was the other dining experience I recalled so fondly from my last time in town 5 years prior. Hopefully, opposed to the Paris buffet, it will stand up to memory. Mmmmm. It certainly did. Maybe it was because our schedules were so out of whack, maybe it was because we knew we would be spending the entire day in the car with only fast food as our culinary companions, but we certainly enjoyed Bellagio’s gustatory presentation. The day was bright, a hard sun glinting off our sunglasses as the heat cascaded over us; we got into the car and headed west. Not too far out of the Vegas gridlock we entered California. The golden state, receptacle of my dreams and desires, lay open and dry ahead of us. We climbed miles and miles of golden brown hills; the engine temperature climbed and our check engine light, boon companion of our trip, reacquainted itself. I turned off the air conditioning in climbs to try to drop the engine temp; nothing like driving in the August desert without air conditioning. We stopped off at Baker, California, “Gateway to Death Valley” which really only exists because it’s a convenient middle point between two tawdry civilizations: Vegas and LA. We took the obligatory photo of the gigantic temperature, helpfully announcing 106 degrees, filled up the tank and purchased numerous cold drinks. We got off the 15 (now that I live in California I have to precede every highway number with a “the” as in “the 15” to reference Interstate 15), a nice wide highway, in Barstow to take CA-58, a much smaller road. There’s not much between Las Vegas and San Francisco and no direct superhighway. We stopped again in Mojave for gas, which is very close to Edwards Air Force Base. For such a historic base (this is where Chuck Yaegar broke the sound barrier and is a landing site for the shuttle, among other historical moments) there is really nothing here in the way of services. We did pass 4 billboards proclaiming that “The Bible – Good For Life!” That’s right, that fabulous billboard that greeted me at the beginning of this journey in Pennsylvania resurrected itself in nowheres-ville California. After Mojave we passed through Tehachapi, which is ‘famous’ for its wind turbines clustering along the hillsides and for some random railroad innovation called the Tehachapi Loop, which is a circuitous route built into the hills to help a train with the steep grades. Apparently if a train is long enough it can loop back on itself with no harm. There was a train passing through when we drove by but the loop is so big you can’t tell anything from the car (here’s a picture: We pretended we were excited, tho. We then passed through Bakersfield, easily the highlight of any trip (please note dripping sarcasm), and stopped at a hamburger/taco stand in Wasco, an even tinier town just north of Bakersfield on the connector road between the 99 and the 5. The drive at this point consisted of such scenic highlights as almond groves and other unidentifiable crops lining the road (its not that I can identify almond trees, its just that they were labeled whereas the other crops weren’t, and California doesn’t publish a helpful guide to identifying roadside crops for those long trips like Kansas did). Finally, the 5. I have un-fond memories of driving the 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles in my 4 years in college. Long and boring is what I primarily remember, with the only highlight being that you can speed as much as you want. We reached the bay area by 9:30pm, after only about 9 hours on the road, which isn’t bad at all. I called my brother, which was where liz and I were going to be staying until she flew home and I found an apartment, but he was going to be at work til after midnight. We then called Lizzie’s parents, who happened to be in the bay area on vacation and they generously invited us to crash at their hotel in San Mateo. The check engine light went off, obviously heralding our arrival.


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