Thursday, April 23, 2015

Travels with Krispy and Noddy (And Karen!), Days 7 and 8: Game, Set and Match

Friday, the 13th of March, 2015. Not Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday,  Sunday or Saturday.

I awoke in a Motel 6. This is not a Charles Bukowski short story or a Tom Waits lyric. Its just a motel, albeit one that is cheaper and uglier and surlier than most.

Still, I was thankful that I did not awake in the bathtub full of ice, with a badly stitched incision in my side. 

No, my first thought upon waking was not that I had had a kidney stolen. My first thought was that the minivan was stolen. Last night, after the baseball game, we had to park it in the dark alley behind the motel: It was a carjackers wet dream. Its the set where they would film a short film about how stupid you would have to be to park your car there.

Karen and the Minivan back in Utah.
This was almost its lost known photograph.
So the first thing I did was use the Emergency Escape Pile of Clothing and race out to the back alley. Whew. Still there.

For now.

We had come so far (2000 miles!) and had such fun things ahead of us, I would have really dreaded having the rental van stolen. With the cedar chest and all of the photo albums from my childhood.

Plus, that would have meant more time spent in this little armpit of the Tucphoesonix megalopolis. Ugh. I couldn't wait to get out of here.

Which, ironically, there was little call to do. We had an easy driving day ahead of us, a mere 275 miles, and nothing on the agenda until late in the afternoon. So I cooled my heels.

I first tried to cool them by the motel pool, but it was closed until 10am. By then the temperature would have been nearing triple digits. Thanks, Motel 6. I walked around the motel property looking for a seat, but I only saw prostitutes and drug
Bright sunlight, empty pool. Because its closed.
Theeenks. Our room was 2nd floor, 3rd from the left.
addicts. The former standing up (for now) and the latter laying down (forever). No one was sitting anywhere, because there was nowhere to sit.

I thought about sitting in the minivan, as Protection, but naaah, gonna spend enough time in there already. The lobby? Nope, I couldn't write under the cold, clinical, lidless stare of that early model android behind the front desk clerk. Ugh.

I ended up back in the room, at the plastic table with the mismatched lawn furniture chairs, cooling my heels on the scratchy so-not-pergo flooring. (Jesus, does the entire room just get hosed down every week or so?)

This is it for amenities: Toothpaste samples and a
bar of soap in a dingy folded washcloth.
With side trips every 5 minutes to check on the whereabouts of the minivan.

Karen eventually awoke. Together we took a long, objective look at a typical Motel 6 bathroom and decided to shower on the other end of the days journey.

Where to get breakfast? This was not an idle thought, as we had had ice cream for dinner last night. (Hey, we were on a ROAD TRIP.) We were hungry. But also itching to get out of this unsightly armpit of a suburb.

Luckily, after a night at a Motel 6, that was the only itching we experienced.

Go West, Young Minivan

Overkill? OCD? Maybe. Jealous? You should be.
We hopped on I-10 and watched the signs for the knife and fork emoji. Huh. Does no one eat breakfast in Avondale or Litchfield park? We ended up at Jack-in-your-crack, eating, staring-at, and then eating some more of various breakfast shaped items.

Huh. Chewy, and yet almost no fiber. Nothing for your stomach to actually do,
like, you know, extract nutrients, and yet there it sits, all damned day. Weird.

Anyhoo, the scenery machine was broken again. Luckily the mighty mix CD juggernaut was still going strong though, and today was only a '3er'.

Kind of a bathroom alcove, center, and kitchen /
diningroom (!) in the other room. No extra charge
for the padded seat with the big rip in it.
We did pass "Sore Finger Road", and wondered if the Northward, um, knuckle of this leads you up to Dry Beaver Creek.

We crossed the Colorado River downstream of where we last saw it the day before, under much more scenic conditions, and we were back in California. They don't check for fruit anymore, by the way.

We switched drivers and gassed up (AGAIN!) at one of those looooonely gas stations out in the middle of buttfuck nowhere. And, as always, I thought to myself: There are employees here. Day shift and night shift. 7 Days a week. Where do these people live?

There was nothing to see out here, but there were now signs that would direct us to scenery if we would choose to go look at some Joshua Trees. But alas, we must push on to Indio, and the final blossom in our fading Motel bouquet.
That's masking tape holding up the aluminum foil
shielding back there, then a sink, then the brand new
microwave oven. Oven and fridge down below.
And check out the patina on the 'counter' on the left!

And what a funky flower the Tropics Motor Hotel turned out to be. Clean, mismatched, spacious, duct-taped, broken, upgraded, so-not-up-to-code, and hey, a whole separate kitchen room and dining room that we didn't ask for.

We spent a little time exploring and laughing at our room.
  • The portable A/C unit set in front of the busted in-wall unit.
  • The industrial-sized fluorescent light in the kitchen, whose worn and cracked power cord was looped around several wall fixtures before finding its way to an outlet halfway up a far wall.
  • The spider-webbed bathroom window, hiding the bleakest backside-of-a-cheap-motel view this side of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

If the Coen Brothers ever direct an episode of Breaking Bad, this is your set right here.

Your Author, Karen and Kimmie.
They might be related, no?
The Sport of Kings

Anyhoo, it was time for the biggest ticket item of this whole Epic Road Trip. The reason we did a clockwise loop with this at the end, rather than a widdershins loop that started here in Palm Springs.

Tennis! Specifically the BNP Paribas Open, which is the largest tournament outside of the four Grand Slams. And it was right down the road.

And after seeing our friend Colleen at the baseball yesterday, todays guest star was Karen's sister, Kim. Together the three of us drove down to Indian Wells.

You can only wear those pants if you
are standing next to David Lee Roth.
Indio has a weird layout: Most of it is large boulevards with intersections every mile and no cross streets. Its a series of high-walled gated communities with private 18-hole golf courses on these mile-square lots.

Wonder no more where all the water in the West goes to. 

The weather was 'mild' by local standards, meaning it was only 93 degrees. But there was a light breeze and lots of shade inside the Indian Wells, complex, which is like a beige, stuccoed Amusement park. Kim, Karen and I stepped inside and immediately decided to go on "Pirates of the Caribbean" first.

Well, first up was a meal, since it was our customary lunch time of 3pm. And then there was shopping to be done, since, hello, its a tennis tournament. I didn't mind, as the shopping tents were air-conditioned. What I quickly found though was that there are very few fashions geared towards men. Well, towards heterosexual men, at any rate.

Now THIS is the way to see a sporting event.
(Photography by Albert.)
And the few men’s items I did manage to find: Ay-yi-yi. Tennis fashions are second only to ice skating for sheer hideousness. I could only take so much neon
rhinestone fabulousness before my Jack-in-the-box breakfast threatened to finally leave my stomach, but not in the proper direction.

Eventually we made our way to the 16,000 seat Stadium Court, but not to the seats. Oh no. For our finale we had reserved space in one of the suites, which had (in addition to the outdoor seats), an indoor livingroom, air conditioning, drinks and snacks and our very own attendant.

Albert was dealing mostly with the other guests in our box suite, who were mostly rich WASPs from Texas. Inside, by the bar, I asked Albert what qualifications one needed to work this job for two weeks every year. He finally flashed a genuine smile and said that the rest of the year he teaches
Our view during warm-ups.
developmentally disabled children.

Together we looked out at the dozen needy, tan Republicans in the seats and I nodded. Well played, Albert. Well played.

And hey, our spectacular timing continued, because during our Night Session we got to see the World's #1, Serena Williams, play. This was her first time at Indian Wells since 2001, when a bunch of tan, Texas republicans acted like assholes to her, and caused her to boycott the place for 14 years. Her return to the Stadium Court on that Friday night was greeted with a cheer so loud and long that it brought her to tears.

(Very nice pics of this moment, with a view of our row of box suites HERE.)

I had never seen tennis played live, let alone a major tournament like this. Here's 10 things I noticed:
Serena serving.
  1. We were perched above a corner of the court, so there was no side-to-side-tennis-head-swivel shenanigans.
  2. Serena Williams never hides a second serve ball under her outfit. Perhaps because there is no room in there.
  3. The endzone TV angle flattens out the game and hides just how far the ball travels. All of those 75 mph, 80 foot shots are much more impressive with a better perspective.
  4. The ball boys and girls have a highly choreographed ballet they perform after every point. There are constant tennis balls rolling this way and that to make sure that everyone has a good supply before the next serve.
  5. The forehands and backhands are faster than they appear on TV, I anticipated that, but what was fascinating was how much slower the slice shots were.
  6. A tennis stadium is the ultimate fishbowl environment. The court is so small, compared with team sports, that you feel close to the action, even with 16,000 other fans.
  7. Every person should see Serena Williams' butt live, in 3 dimensions. Its glorious.
  8. Her opponent, the more human-shaped Monica Niculescu, has no regular, straight shot. Everything she hit, she hit with a slice. Everything.
  9. Sounds carries extremely well in such a stuccoed hothouse environment, and Tennis is a rigidly quiet sport. I found I wasn't even chewing while points were being played.
  10. Did I mention Serena's ass yet?

We laughed at Mr. Van Halen pants, but then
we saw what his assignment was, and we
stopped laughing.
The match was an excellent one, with Serena flummoxed by the relentless slices that were floating in, dropping off the table, and landing just inside the baseline. Break points were traded, momentum was exchanged and sports clich├ęs were shouted in both American and Romanian.

Serena finally triumphed 7-5, 7-5 and advanced to the next round, where she had to retire due to a knee injury. Such is the luck of the draw in Tennis, and such is the luck of our Epic Road trip that we got to see Madison Bumgarner pitch (and Will Ferrell play baseball) one night, and Serena Williams play tennis the next.

But our luck was even more magical than that.

After the Serena match Albert the Attendant informed us that the interview room is just down the hall from our suite, and that Serena would be passing right by our door in a few minutes.
Serena. Photo by ME.

This time I wasn't even breathing. Officials came by and coached us on the etiquette here (don't be a dick, basically), and then we saw Mary Carillo sprint by us with more speed than she ever had as a player.

And then, right on cue, flanked by beefy Security goons, Serena strolled right by me. For the record:
  • She's a lot closer to 5'7" than 5'9"
  • She has shoulders like an NFL lineman
  • A sweet smile
  • And I can die happy now.

There was another match after that (boys I think), a long walk back to Kimmie's car, and a night in our last, strangest 'Motor Hotel'. But it was all a blur after a match and a close encounter like that.

Day 8: Bleary Eyes On the Prize

The next morning was a big change to the trip dynamics. First off I was on my own for the home stretch, as Karen and Kim were staying over to see the day session of Tennis, staying Saturday night, and then Karen would be flying home on Sunday.

So that meant I got to do the last leg of the Epic Road trip MY WAY.
  • 4am, baby! On the road at 4:30am. Passed by my old neighborhood of Cucamonga in the dark, on the new leg of the 210 that they built after I left. Made it through North Los Angeles and onto the Grapevine with no traffic at all.
    The highlight of Karen's Saturday was
    watching Grigor Dimitrov stretch.
  • Krispy the frog is much more of nightowl than Noddy the Dinosaur. (Oops, sorry Krispy: didn't mean to mention 'Owl'.)
  • Listened to special CDs I made just for this part of the drive.
  • Stopped at a Carl's Jr., peed like a fire hose, and got right back on the road.
  • Only got lost once, when I zoned out and found myself not on I-5, but on Highway 99, towards, nononononononono Bakersfield. Oh, HELL no.
  • A few east-west farm roads and I was back headed North. Whew.
  • Made it from Palm Springs to the Freaky Tiki, 500 miles, in 7.5 hours. Which is about 65 mph on average.
  • So I wasn't speeding, I was just intently focused on my reward.

What was waiting for me at the house? Nothing. Which is also what would be at the car rental place if I was there after noon, when they closed on Saturdays.

The boys, still into it. The windshield? A mess.
Also, closed on Sunday. Does that sounds a royal scam to cheat customers into extra charges, considering the amount of rental activity that happens on any given weekend? Why yes, it does.

So it was worth major buck-a-roonies if I was able to return the Minivan by mid-day.

I cleaned up the cab of the Minivan as I came in from Watsonville. When I ejected the last CD the Sirius radio celebrated my return by playing me "Lola", "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and the ultimate 70's Who: "Won't Get Fooled Again".

That almost-Bakersfield nightmare had put me behind schedule though. I pulled up to the Freaky Tiki at exactly noon, leaped out and unloaded 8 bags of luggage, 15 banker boxes of photo albums (and Krispy and Noddy) in one minute flat.
Looks good in the Rumpus Room.

Which just left the full cedar chest. Ay-yi-yi. But this is why the Goddess made adrenalin and gym memberships.

Hup! I got it to the middle of the steps leading up to the door and then high-centered big time. 12:05pm - close enough!!

Back in the minivan for the last time, race up the street to the rental place, dive out, and suddenly realize that the entire van is covered in about 15 types of mud and dirt from 6 states. And that awful scratch on the side from the metal chair that we sideswiped way back on day 1. Yikes.

The nice young rental lady zeroed right in on that of course, but declared that it was come-off-able. Thank you. Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou. Our incredible luck and audacious timing held on till the very end.

I walked home in the refreshingly cool fogginess of Santa Cruz, wriggled the cedar chest inside, set the alarm for 24 hours later (when I had to pick up Admiral Karen from the airport), and went instantly, blissfully to sleep, in my
very own bed.
  • 2,700 miles. 
  • 3 National Parks. 
  • 2 Sporting Events. 
  • 1 speeding ticket. 
  • 0 avalanches. 
  • 7 funky motels. 
  • 6 States (If you count the side of my left foot that was in New Mexico).

Mission Accomplished. ZZZZzzzzzzz.........

Angus McMahan


  1. It was Nick Kyrios, and he was amazing. -The Wife

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