Day 2 of my solo trip across America was spent in Los Angeles with my fabulous godmother, her mom, sister, and niece, and a sprinkling of folks from her and my mom’s days in college. We ventured into Pasadena for lunch at Umami Burger (which apparently means savory in Japanese), and while the fries and potato shmushed things were incredible, as was the garlic aioli (oh me oh my), the vegetarian open faced sloppy-joe-esk burger was not my favorite, next time I’d probably go for the ahi tuna one. However I will say that our berry lime lemonade vodka drinks were delightful and bubbly. And really, that garlic aioli, bring it on forever ’cause it’s incredible.
Day 3 saw a bright and early start, a preliminary trip to Starbucks to fill up my reusable smoothie cup and water bottles. Yes plural. Hydration is important. With my bag of snacks in the passenger seat ready for some munching action, and a quick fill up on gas, I set off to the east!
As soon as I was beyond the city, I hit the high desert mountain landscape and kept on climbing towards the Chiraco Summit. My route was be-speckled with windmills and signs pointing towards desert spas (tempting), and a kind of terrain I’m really not used to being in for miles and miles. Oregon certainly has high desert regions–as well as coast line, mountains, forests, rivers, snow, sun… Let’s be real. Oregon has everything, which makes it the best and most beautiful state. Don’t argue with me on that–but not in the same way that the southwest of the US does. And to be honest, I was worried about driving over a thousand miles through desert. But, amazingly, it never got old. Indeed, it got prettier and prettier. It morphed. It changed colors with the sun. There really are cacti in Arizona. That may sound mildly moronic, but if you’ve never been to Arizona, and only seen it on tv and in magazines, I bet you’d have an “oh my gosh, that’s a cactus! They’re right there! On the side of the road!” moment too.
I decided to give myself a break for dinner in Tucson, and for whatever reason, had the biggest hankering for Red Robin, so I navigated to a shopping mall, circled it one and a half times, and settled in to a solo meal with a veggie burger and a banana milkshake (with sprinkles of course). Even though the sun was setting, I still had 4.5 hours ahead of me to El Paso, and so, sadly, the 300+ miles I spent in New Mexico were entirely nighttime miles. I hope to return someday to experience NM’s beauty in the daylight hours!
As I drove from Tucson to El Paso, I kept looking to my right towards the US-Mexico border. Though it was dark and I couldn’t see a thing, I knew that as I continued along I-10 I was growing closer and closer to the border as the road veered south towards El Paso. I have been to 11 countries, I’ve never been to Mexico, and I did have my passport with me… but I had a schedule to keep up with. Just before I pulled into El Paso, I passed the “Welcome to Texas” sign and immediately on my right a giant cement wall with barbed wire and search towers appeared below me. The highway was built into a hill, on my left was America, to my right was Ciudad Juarez. And it couldn’t have been more obvious which side was which. To my right was a hillside of small buildings, mostly brown, mostly small-house-sized. With the wall, and the all-too-obvious disparity on either side, I felt like I was back in the eastern Mediterranean looking over the wall from Israel to Palestine. In this scenario, the US was Israel, Mexico was Palestine, and it was not a pleasant feeling.
Now, I am not from Texas or any other border state. I do not live in a city so close to another country that you have to zoom in very far on google maps to see “El Paso” right next to “Ciudad Juarez.” But that wall of towering concrete was so stark. So ominous. So clearly communicating “stay over there. We DO NOT want you.” It didn’t feel friendly. I didn’t spend any daylight time in El Paso, I would love to in the future as I here it’s a delightful place to live. But a towering concrete wall on a hillside, next to a “Welcome to Texas!” sign didn’t quite fit with the friendly sign, the lovely things I’d heard about the city.
I pulled into the Comfort Inn El Paso a little after midnight. The website had made it look like a hotel (with no outside access to rooms) but alas, it was a motel. And though I promised my mother I wouldn’t spend any nights in a motel, it was 12:30am, I was getting up at 6am, and I wasn’t about to drive around the El Paso airport searching for mother-approved accommodations, wasting my precious few sleeping hours. Plus, it was only $44! So with my flare gun and pepper spray on my bedside table, and the door firmly dead-bolted and chained, I conked out for a few happy hours. And no axe murderers appeared!