I-40 West: The Santa Fe to Venice Beach run on Valentines' Day Weekend


The Santa Fe to Venice Beach run on Valentine’s day weekend.

Caleb John Clark


Leaving Santa Fe I kept telling myself, “I’m not going to LA, I’m going to HOLLYWOOD!”, a big conceptual difference. And one that tapped nicely into my denial gland, coaxing it to trigger a steady release of denialmons that tranquilized the LA shakes I had. Two days later when I hit the 10 West and gridlock on a Saturday at 1pm, I repeated it over and over and kept driving until the freeway ended at the ocean, sanity, and fresh sea air.

In Santa Fe on Valentines day I had packed, headed for the cafe, downed a latte, shook hands with the crossword guys, bid the sexy javettes good bye and climbed in my warm purring Valentine date for ’97, my truck. Still rusting on the outside, but with a cherried engine and some fresh oil we were off on our date.Not much happens from Santa Fe to Albuquerque where you pickup the larger blander child of the famous route 66, I-40 West. Like the kid of a W.W.II GI, the I-40 may be more efficient, more modern, but it can never capture the excitement of the father’s presence creates. Screaming along a tiny two way road in a huge American beast in the 50’s must have been wonderful. Now four lanes take you, trucks, and an endless stream of retirees driving houses, gliding like vanilla over two lanes of chocolate blacktop.

I left at 11am and by 5pm was at a rest stop on the same god forsaken waterless dirt flats I’d seen all day. The only cool thing was that massive power plant outside of Gallup. The uncoolest things were spots of track houses gathered like circled wagons in the middle of nowheresville. But these wagons can never move and have to stay there baking in the sun sucking dust. I took some pictures to show my kids when they complain about ANYTHING.In the truck I carry: 15 Slim Jims, water, cheese, chips, smokes, my stuff, and a porcelain Buddha on the dash. A fold up bed and color TV rest in back, tied down so the tail gate can be open to glide through the desert air that much smoother. I figure the bed and TV are my passport to get into Hollywood and at the California State line they’ll ask, “Sir, are you media capable?” But instead they only ask about fruit, so I showed them the half eaten brown apple on my dash with a grin.

Flagstaff was cool, but I kept going. Pine trees, snow and great air flew along with me as I listened to NPR news and drove into an extended sunset of slate blue and sherbet orange. By 8pm I made Kingman Arizona. I stopped and asked which hotel had a bar, “only one, the Holiday Inn.” But they wanted $55, so I went across the street and paid $19.95 and spent the $25 I saved in the Holiday Inn’s bar. Nothing happening there, except held over trainmen talking tonnage and their wife’s salsa. Back at the room I briefly consider making a run for Vegas and the Mustang ranch, it is Valentine’s day after all, but I decide against it. I don’t have the cash, or the guts.9am and I’m in Kingman’s Macdonalds listening to a pod of young tool belt bucks discuss just how drunk they were when they stopped at the 7-11, “I wouldn’t mind the hangover if I was still drunk,” one says. I flee.

Due to a slight oversight, and acute boredom, 30 miles outside of Ludlow California I’m on empty with no liquid, much less gas, in sight. To get the best possible gas mileage, I drop down to 50mph and slide in behind a retired couple driving a large mansion. I rub my porcelain Buddha’s belly and pray I make it to Ludlow, but I’m not bored anymore. I make it on fumes and feel great! Ludlow is two gas stations in the middle, of the middle, of nowhere. As such they charge $1.80 a gallon versus the $1.17 in Kingman. I call my bud Helen in Venice and caffinate up for the 170 miles bolt to LA.

160 Miles from LA, I mean Hollywood, I top the crest of a hill and see…SMOG. Yes, that far out, the valley of Barstow was smoggy. I sing “Oklahoma city looking oh so pretty, outta see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico… Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino… get your kicks on route 66.” Now the entrance past Barstow, into San Bernandino, almost killed me 10 years ago, so this time I was ready. After hours of desert driving, the kind of driving where you can drift entire lanes and gage your speed by how fast what ever kind of car you’re piloting will go without shaking apart, you hit four lanes of insanity. 10 years ago we were in a 1978 Pontiac Catalina, the last year they made the 400 cu. in. V-8, and we were doing about 95mph, in a desert driving trance, when we hit San Bernandino rush hour, sort of like navigating a mall parking lot at 50mph. This time I was cool, but I forgot about the roller coaster plunge after I-40 ends its tour of duty, and you’re on the concrete four lane Route 15 plunging at 80mph down mountain roads with a bunch of crazy people escaping Vegas.

It was here, penned in between two propane semi’s with burning breaks and being passed by a new Sedan De Ville with two crazy old ladies, who must have won big time in Vegas, and a Geo Metro trying to go slow, that I had the only revelation on the entire trip: A four lane highway at 80 with a few hundred cars, a dozen huge trucks and few motorcycles, is just like one of those video driving games in arcades. Now this isn’t a particularly revolutionary revelation, but the revelation that followed I felt was. Just like those games cost $.50 for a minute or more of play, so did driving in gas money. The only difference was that I had been pumping quarters into this game for 8 hours!

When the 15 dumped us all into 10 West the game was over. We all promptly hit a giant K-mart parking lot and my eyes teared. Eventually I made it up to the stalled car in lane 2 and like a rat in some sick experiment floored it along with the other four cars next to me. We were free, we had to floor it. A minute later we all hit a “standing wave” and were stopped again, except this time there was no stalled car to blame, only mass stupidity for accelerating so fast. As has been observed by physicists studying traffic flow, a standing wave like this can cause what appear to be mysterious slowdowns, in the same spot for hours.

So now I’m in Venice, near the Rose cafe and a block from the beach. My bud Helen from college has a 20s style flat upstairs in an old ivy covered house with 9 doors and lots of cool apartment mates. Helen’s neighbor is nick named the “coffee fairy” because she hand fresh coffee through Helen’s cat door every morning. There’s a TV mounted on the outside of the house nestled in the ivy. It’s left on with the volume off, a sort of social experiment. Sometimes homeless people gather to watch silent news shows. When a friend dropped me off one night she asked, “who pays for it?” A classic case of unclear on the concept. Helen’s flat is wonderfully small in that French apartment way and even has original tight narrow tongue and groove wooden ceilings. I’m sitting in the bedroom with open windows completely screened in by the lush ivy growing on the outside of the house. The sea breeze is healing my desert elbows, there’s a cat asleep at my feet and jazz plays on KLON. It’s nice being in Hollywood, especially in the 500 foot swath of good air near the beach. Helen bolts off to an audition so I take a shower, put on some soft flannel boxers and sprawl on the bed, slowly falling asleep to the sensation of cool sea air caressing clean skin.Caleb out.

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