“I came running out the woods half naked like a damn Sasquatch.”
I had just Graduated from Art School in Brooklyn and as a present to myself I bought a Mint Green Vespa. It was in Perfect condition with less than 5,000 miles on it. I bought it from this funny Italian dude named Mario for 3,000 dollars. I wanted to see the USA and drive cross country.
I set out August 1st from Newburgh New York. I brought a tent and the two thousand dollars I earned drawing caricatures at the Jersey Shore. I didn’t have a map or any real directions. I just figured I’d head west. I made the mistake and brought my easel and tucked into my army bag. I didn’t realize it LOOKED like a machine gun. I went into a convenience store and everyone freaked and took cover behind various displays thinking I was going to go on a shooting rampage. I was later pulled over by a cop who got a call about “a man driving a scooter who was armed and dangerous”. The cop realized quickly as he approached me “oh its just a camera tripod”.
My first stop on my trip was my ex girlfriend house in York Pennsylvania. It was a miserable drive since it got dark and was raining. Driving on the highway in the dark and in the rain is seriously one of the scariest things ever. The rain PELTS you like pebbles kicked up by a car peeling out. It feels excruciating on my exposed forearms. It hit my helmet with a thud, crescendoing in a symphonic TAT TAT TAT.
When I actually made it to her house it felt like a huge accomplishment that I was still ALIVE. She was happy to see me. We went to her room and watched a movie with Rain Wilson. We start hooking up and then her father enters without knocking dressed in some little league baseball outfit. It was bizarre and super awkward.
In the morning I left. I noticed a lot of wear on my tire and it bothered me, I decided to take a southern detour and go to the nearest scooter repair shop in Hagerstown PA. I replaced both tires there. At the shop I was talking to the repair man about my plans and how I was afraid of highways. “You thought about taking route forty? goes all the way to Utah”. I was sold, it ran right through Hagerstown. It was pleasant rural road that meandered through the countryside, exactly as I imagine my cross country journey to be like.
That second night was heavy rain so I slept in a “Americas Best Value” Hotel. What a waste of 60 bucks. I used the opportunity to watch MTV. I had drawn a caricature of a reporter with Snooki promoting the last season of the Jersey Shore. It was the day she said it was going to air. I anticipated my 15 seconds of fame but I never saw it.
The following day was nice, winding roads through Ohio. On one particular road this man on a Harley pulls in front of me a motions for me to pull over. I do so and he walks over to me on the side of the road. “your from New York?” he says “Yeah” I reply confused and skeptical “I saw your plates and didn’t believe you would drive that all the way from New York” he responded matter of factly. We ended up talking on the side of the road for thirty minutes about the army. He was a retired drill sergeant and question me about my backpack which was an army assault bag. “You wanna come over for some steak? I live right down the road.” he said, shocked and with no real alibi I consented and followed him to his farm a mile down the road. “what the FUCK am I doing, I don’t know this guy” I thought freaking out. His property was filled with horses and dogs but no people. Inside was empty and I sat in his kitchen which doubled as dinning room. A horse came to the window and peered in. “I wanna show you something in my basement” he said.
“Fuck”.. was what I thinking
“Sure”.. is what came out of my mouth.”
I’m going go down there and never come out…I don’t want to end up as a lampshade. No one knows where I am” I thought, my heart beating furiously as I proceeded down the stairs…
It turns out he just wanted to show me a picture of his Army platoon from the seventies. I was relieved I wasn’t going to end up stashed away in a crawl space. He made an dinner and talk incessantly about his son who was some kind of rocket surgeon in Charleston.
I left after dinner to get the most out of the sun that was still up. That night instead of staying at a hotel I pulled into a public park. I parked my vespa in a corner of a parking lot and went into the forest about 20 feet from my vespa. I pitched my tent and nervously got in. I had never pitched a tent in some random place so it was a bit exhilarating. I read a little bit of Uncle Toms Cabin and then passed out.
I was awaken by headlights that were cutting through the forest like you’d imagine an extraterrestrial spaceship does. I have no idea who it is but they are by my Vespa. I hurriedly I get half dressed and come bumbling out of the woods like a damn sasquach. I see my vespa in the back of a tow truck speeding away. “STOP” I cried breathlessly as I run after it in vain. A police officer was there staring at me dumbfounded. “Where did you come from!?” she blurted out. I tell her that it was my scooter and I was sleeping in the woods. Still confused she attempts to scold me about that not being allowed to do that. She decides to give me a ride in her cop car. She puts me in the back, it was my first time in a cop car. She drives me to the tow truck place to get my vespa. The guy was nice but still made me pay 70 bucks to “cut it loose” He actually helped me because I was having trouble starting it and he tighten the connection to the battery which was consistently a problem. I felt dumb how simple it was. It was like 3am so instead of finding a place to sleep I drove through the night.
I spent the next couple days driving down roads that were perfectly straight in Kansas going through either corn or soy fields and seeking shelter from the intense storms.
I noticed a KOA campsite and figured that was the best option for sleeping since it was only 10 dollars a night and no one is going to steal my vespa. “If your traveling across the US do you want a map of all our KOA locations” the lady behind the counter said. I realized soon that if I went to the campsite late at night and left early in the morning I wouldn’t have to pay any money. I could pitch my tent in the dark sleep take a shower and leave before the office opens. Jackpot! despite my vespa being good on gas, driving all day and eating was really draining my funds.
Colorado I found to be the most beautiful state that I passed through. Driving up the The Rocky Mountains was incredible. A gasket broke in my vespa so it was ridiculously loud. Because it was no longer connected to my muffler, the hot air released ended up severing my rear brake line. It sucked because I was in the mountains and really needed both brakes. I never got it fixed which I would later regret as I had to brake quickly during a rain storm. I didnt stop fast enough and crashed into a car. I flew up on its trunk and fell to the asphalt in a crumpled heap. But I was ok.
Although it was summer the altitude of the rockies made it much colder. At night when I pitched my camp at a KOA the temperature dropped incredibly during the night. I had no blanket whatsoever. the condensation at the top of my tent was freezing, it was unbearable. I went to the bathroom and sat in the shower, it had one of those handicap seats in it. I defrosted myself with the hot water that ran over my entire body. I fell asleep exhausted and woke up in the morning like prune with water still rushing over me. It was bizarre but everything about this trip was.
In the morning I left early as usual to avoid paying any money. Finally I got out of Colorado. I got off route 40 and headed south, Fortunately it got much warmer. Too warm actually. Driving in the desert at 60 miles an hour wasn’t refreshing at all. The air felt like I opened an oven door and it went into my face. Unbearable. I had to be careful to get gas all the time because there would be 100 or 150 miles between gas stations and I only have a 2.2 gallon tank.
Eventually I did run out of gas and had to hitch hike to a gas station. The lady who picked me up was friendly with a curious 7 year old in the back seat bashing action figures together. I bought one of those red gallon gas containers and headed back to find my vespa stashed on the side of the road and refill it. In this region of America you pass small towns and lots taste concoctions like buffalo Jerky and of course In and Out burger.
The area south of Colorado was Hopi and Cherokee territory, I had never driven through a Native American reservation before. Seemed like they got fucked on that deal. The land was nothing but parched desert and tumble weeds, not to mention the high tension power lines which dangled directly over their homes. I stopped at McDonalds run exclusively by Indians. Outside was these two drunk indians pandering for money “Hey brother your the same as us” he spoke to me “we both got fucked by the white man”the other retorted. I smiled thinking of the Native American stereotypes. I went over and they immediatly engaged me. They reeked of Fire Water and there molars were ground down unnaturally flat.”You know we won World War 2″ he said proudly .” The government used us as translators because no one speaks Cherokee.” They called us “Code Talkers”. I listened eagerly with rapt attention to his tales.
I continued on my journey passed Four Corners. Its the point where four states meet. It cost five bucks to enter and take a picture. “thats stupid” I thought and passed right by it. I made it to Flagstaff Arizona on my way to the Grand Canyon. My phone died so I couldn’t take a picture of it, It was marvelous sight. absolutely breathtaking. I basked in the ambience as the sun when down. At that point it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
On my way to Las Vegas I got a call from my friend Natalia she told me about a job opportunity in Myrtle beach and if I wanted it, I had a week to get back to the other side of the country. I was excited but also dismayed. “This was my trip I had been waiting for” I bemoaned. I don’t want to rush it for anybody, not for some lousy airbrush caricature job. So instead of rushing to LA which was 200 miles away I decided to stay in Vegas for a day relax enjoy the city then drive route 66 to South Carolina. Vegas was such a fake city, glittering lights and outrageously ostentatious people. It was a giant never-ending commercial. My hotel was the most decadent id ever been in. At only 40 dollars a night it was a steal. After a refreshing shower I headed to the casinos to play some good ol Texas Hold’em Poker . I’m a decent poker player but I was on a hot streak. Every hand I got was gold. I made almost 600 dollars with no end in sight before I left.
I walked up and down the Vegas Strip. There were these little flyers with sexy women on them,a phone number and a price. I realized Las Vegas was the only place in the USA Prostitution was Legal. interesting. I went to the movies and saw the new Planet of the Apes movie, I went back to my hotel and called the number on the card. I was curious. Vegas, hooker, why not? She came over..knock knock.
“Oh my god” is what I thought.
“Hi” is what I said.
She was a wilted flower. She was christmas without snow, presents, or a tree. Alarmed, I was tense, I watched everything she touched and made a mental note, like it was a door handle in a greyhound bus terminal. She took off her bra and her boobs poured out like pancake batter. She had a sly smile and a cocky attitude that didn’t match. like a piece to the wrong puzzle. I payed her just to leave. “Do you want someone else to come?” she said. “no thanks” I replied and fell asleep.
Leaving Las Vegas felt good. I stopped off at the Hoover Dam. It was sheltering hot and boring.
The Roads In New Mexico were perfectly flat and straight with no traffic or wind. For the first time I drove at max speed. It was wonderful, 79 miles per hour felt great. I whizzed passed Albequeqe and thats when it happened…
My Vespa broke down exactly at the exit for Tucumcari New Mexico. It was good I wasn’t stranded in the damn desert. I walked my vespa off the exit and into town. It was a small dust bowl of a town. Turns out my chain drive broke from the heat and driving too fast. The only place I could get a spare chain drive was in Albequerqe. I payed a pickup truck to take me some 250 miles back to Albequeque to the vespa dealer to replace the belt drive, cost me every penny I earned at the casino almost 600 bucks. I thanked to tow truck dude. He was super chill but scared me by telling me horrific stories of people he knew who died in motorcycle accidents. After my belt got fixed I set off again not wanting to lose any more precious time I needed to get back to South Carolina.
To make matters worse one of the girls I was seeing called me when I was at a gas station getting gatorade and a Odwalla bar. “Im pregnant…I could never have an abortion” she said into the phone. I didn’t hear anything after that. I don’t know who I am. Everything become background noise. I floated out of my body and watched myself sitting on the curb staring off into the desert. My thoughts wavered, ricocheting from one thing to the next empty.zoning out into oblivion. Faded.
I drove non stop through Texas,Oklahoma and Georgia. I drove almost directly to Myrtle Beach. I showed up tan and sweaty, I worked as a caricature artist for the remainder of the summer. It was the craziest 15 days of my life. I love it but felt a bit cheated it was cut short. I love to one day go back out on the road with me and my tent and finish what I started.