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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

In 1542, the Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado crossed the Rio Grande northwards in search of the fabled El Dorado, city of gold. He didn’t find it, but he and his men became the first Europeans to lay eyes on the lands that are now Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. By the time they got to Kansas, legend has it, a good portion of Coronado’s party had begun to go mad, completely incapable of coping with the endless, monotonous size and flatness of the country they were discovering.

I’m not sure if I buy it: after all, Spain has some pretty big flat parts too. But it is a good story, and I like to picture the Spanish conquistadors in their pointed silver helmets and puffy shorts, flopping around on the great prairie like fish in the bottom of the boat, their brains blown out by the sheer vastness of it all, while a couple of bemused Indians stnad off to the side, saying, “So who are these jokers?”

Anyway, Gove, Kansas is the sort of place that makes you think it might just be true.

[2007 Edit: I was too “cool” to mention it back in 1996, but the reason we actually went to Gove, Kansas was that it was the setting for a 1980s-era Call of Cthulhu adventure called “The Killer Out Of Space” (from the Cthulhu Now supplement) that scared the underoos off me and my buddies when we played it back in high school. Decades later, I would revise/update the Coronado legend for gaming purposes, as seen here.]

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Carhenge by Day

As you might surmise from the name, Carhenge is a full-scale replica of Stonehenge, accurate to the smallest detail–except for the rateher significant detail that, instead of massive stones, it’s made out of cars.

Nebraska’s answer to England’s most famous Neolithic monument was erected by a farmer named Jim Reinders and his clan at a family reunion in 1979. When asked why, this modern-day Merlin’s only response was the cryptic plane loqui deprehendi–Latin (sort of) for “the thing speaks for itself.” Today the Reinders have moved on like the Druids of old (to Santa Fe, I think), leaving only the mystery of the standing cars as mute testimony to their former greatness.

Carhenge by NightCarhenge stands a few miles north of a little town called Alliance, Nebraska. Never intended to be a tourist attraction, the ‘Henge is set well back from the road and only nominally advertised. [2006 Edit: In 1996, that is. The good people of Alliance have since realized they had a kitsch kash kow on their hands and have stepped up accordingly.] We arrived on foot in the middle of the night. There was no moon, and making our way across the Nebraska plain with only one thin flashlight, one could well imagine himself upon the English moors. (Whatever. It was dark and cool.)

The slaughter stone was a station wagon, a pre-OPEC monster with a grill like the jaws of a hungry beast. It was here, in the dead of night, that we performed the blasphemous rituals only whispered of in Brown Jenkin’s owner’s manual. We stripped off our raiments and fell to our knees in the manner of the ancient Druids. A fat cloud of mosquitoes performed blood sacrifice. In a guttural tongue known to us only by dim ancestral memory, we gave thanks to the Elder Automotive Gods for carrying us thus far and offered strange tribute to ensure our safe return…

We came back the next morning to get a bunch more pictures. In the light of day, of course, what we had been able to imagine as spooky and ominous became merely cheesy. But that was fine too. I mean, Christ, whaddaya want? It’s just a bunch of cars sticking out of the ground.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

BUSTED. Leaving Diamondville, Wyoming after refuelling at Shufflin’ Chappie’s World’s Slowest Service Station, Jenkin was clocked at a neck-snapping 48 mph by patrolman Curtis something or other. $76 cash and a brief lecture by a guy in leather pants later, our heroes were back on the road, but Derek, who had been at the wheel (and who is probably the most conservative driver of the three of us), nursed a bitter grudge against all Wyoming for the rest of the day. Dinner at a vile little Hardee’s squatting off the interstate–the only thing open in Cheyenne on a Sunday night–gave Pete and I good reason to join him.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

What did we do in Utah? What didn’t we do in Utah? Oh the things we did in Utah, my stars!

OK, OK. We just cut through the corner of Utah to pad out our total number of states.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Who's the boss?More hard driving brought us back into the USA, once again stiffing plain Jane Washington as we made a beeline for glamorous, seductive Idaho.

You Had To Be There Moment #77

(as seen on Entertainment Tonight)
“Pssst! Onytay! Ixnay on the abybay!”
–Tony Danza’s agent

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Jenkin had to bust its little brown hump to do it, but we made it back to The Great White North in time to celebrate the Glorious Fourteenth (of August) with our own kind. Specifically, with my former Golden Words Has-Beens Colin and Colin, known to the world as Pepe and Big Bird, respectively. Big Bird has some kind of George Costanza-like job with the Vancouver Grizzlies, and this thin veneer of corporate respectability makes him a beloved host and sugar daddy to slackers from around the globe. Well, halfway around the globe. Louise was from England, and Alex and Laura-Kate (and us, I guess) were what British Colubrians call UFOs: “Unemployed From Ontario.”

Pepe came over, Derek tracked down his buddy Sean, another Ontarioan expatriate, and we opened my birthday presents: American malt liquor from Derek and Pete and some Canadian [redacted] from the Birdman. So we partied in, around, and on top of Big Bird’s high rise apartment building, listened to space age bachelor pad music, watched Star Wars, and somehow acquiered a little stuffed pig wearing a Harley-Davidson jacket.

The next day, while Big Bird was off to work and Brown Jenkin underwent some reconstructive surgery at Canadian Tire, we toured Vancouver with Sean, who came out here to live the good life a few months ago. Sean had what you might call a “mandatorily minimalist” apartment off of Commercial: after six months, the sum total of furniture he had acquired was: a TV, an air mattress, and a roommate (yet another UFO). The beach was just okay, and a lot of Vancouver was pretty seedy and depressing, but Sean kept us in stitches all day with old stories of Derek’s love life, Lovecraftian spellings of “Dole” a story involving Patrick “Jean-Luc Picard” Stewart that segued into a three-minute guitar solo from “Jesus Is Just Alright,” and pantloads more. Granted, we were an easy audience after hearing and making the same fifteen jokes for three weeks straight, but Sean remains a machine.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

We’re back! And now we’re all Web 2.0 in the hizzle. Check out the first half of the journey here: (Actually, the full-screen version at Google Maps works a little better.)



And watch for the second half of the journey, blogged a mere eleven years after the fact.

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It must be summer: I’m resurrecting Route 96, my ten eleven year old roadtrip blog. Join our heroes for the second half of their Mother Roadtrip: Carhenge! The Garden of Eden! House on the Rock! The World’s Largest Talking Cow! Plus a nifty new interactive map from our overlords at Google.

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.
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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Six Road Movies to Inspire and Delight–and not one involving a Trucker and a Chimp!

Raising Arizona
Fargo
, while fun, was redundant. Hilarious and hyper-kinetic, Raising Arizona is the only film the Coen brothers, or anyone else for that matter, ever need to make. If I start recounting my favorite parts, we’ll be here all night, so I’ll just say, “Boy, you got a panty on your head,” and leave it at that. Oh, and Nicholas Cage has never been better, and that’s saying a lot. [Well, it was in 1996! Remember, all this was written 10 years ago.]

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Washington State, beautiful as it is, was underappreciated by our heroes as they drove Jenkin hard to make a return to native soil before the sun went down on my birthday. Isn’t Seattle kind of 1993 anyway?

Speaking of the early 1990s, we did stop for burgers at a diner near Isa’s home town of Bellingham, and there spotted the kind of sublimely tacky t-shirt Canadians usually only read about. On the front was the ingenious Gulf War slogan “Saddam Hussein = So-Damn Insane,” and on the back was a cartoon showing the Butcher of Baghdad under the gun from a bristling array of star-spangled bombs and missiles, defecating in fear. So now we know where Isa gets all of her genuine class.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

On the morning of my actual birthday, Pete and Derek bought me admission to the granddaddy of all mystery spots, the Oregon Vortex. First discovered by the white man in 1864, the “natural, historical, educational, scientific, authentic” Oregon Vortex is, we were told, the oldest and “most respected” gravitational vortex in America. The science behind this authentic natural wonder is a little too educational and historical to get into here, but suffice to say the vortex is a “famous” circular area with “unique” phenomena: balls roll up hill, squirrels fear to tread, and the harsh mistress of gravity takes a nap on the job.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

We drove late that night because the next day was my birthday and I wanted to make it to Vancouver to celebrate. As in Texas, that long quiet night drive became one of our favorite parts of the trip.

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The last and perhaps best named attraction in this cavalcade of rather hurting tourist traps were the Trees of Mystery. I’m sorry to report that the Trees of Mystery were just closing by the time we got there, so just what was so special about them remains… a mystery. In the Trees of Mystery parking lot, however, was a giant statue of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. We sauntered over for some photos, amused by the family of Euro-children talking to the statues (and also by the fact that Babe the giant ox was anatomically correct), when suddenly, the giant lumber jack answered the children in a big booming voice.

There must have been a guy inside Paul Bunyan somewhere peeking out, whose job was to banter with the visitors to the Trees of Mystery. “HELLOOO DOWN THERE!” he’d say. “YOU IN THE MOTOR HOME! HAVE YOU VISITED MY GIFT SHOP? WHY NOT MAKE YOURSELF A SOUVENIR PENNY OR TRY SOME TREES OF MYSTERY FUDGE?” Paul wasn’t having much luck chatting with the German kids, however. They kept shouting up questions like “Are you made ov metal or ov vood?” And he’d mishear them, booming back, “AM I BETTER OR AM I GOOD?” Good times.

You-Had-To-Be-There Moment #66

“Well, it looks like there’s space for a handicapped motorcyclist.”

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Right there, what we're doing? That is the maximum amount of fun one could have at the Confusion Hill Shoe House. Yep. That's as good as it gets.But it was Confusion Hill that won the Jenkie award for Absolute Lamest Tourist Attraction in the Nation, beating out even the historical bell museum in Eureka Springs and the future birthplace of Captain Kirk. The secret of the Hill’s success? It is in fact three (3) utterly lame attractions all in one:

  1. The “Confusion Hill Mystery”: a “mysterious” house built on a slant. That’s it.
  2. The Mountain Train Ride: in an innovative twist on the Drive-Thru Tree, Confusion Hill featured a little train that went through a tree. It might have been fun once, at least for people on certain medications. Unfortunately, a storm two winters ago knocked the tree over (its root system fatally weakened by the tunnel going through it) and squashed the train flat.
  3. The Confusion Hill Shoe House: an empty wooden shed–you couldn’t really call it a house–that was shaped nothing at all like a shoe.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

After the Drive-Thru Tree, the roadside attractions grew increasingly stupid. Not that that bothered us, of course.

“The Legend of Bigfoot” had a promising name, but just turned out to be a store that sold such lawn decorating essentials as plaster gnomes and all-weather Elvis busts. Their true specialties were big wooden sculptures of bears. Talk about false advertising: we learned nothing about the legend of Bigfoot. They had a couple of wooden Bigfoots, but their feet were barely bigger than mine.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

It's a tree! I am TOTALLY driving through that fucker!The long drive up northern California is a lot like the Ozarks in its juxtaposition of intense natural beauty and surpassing tourist trap tackiness. The first sign of the latter was the World Famous Drive-Thru Tree. For those of you having trouble picturing this natural wonder, it’s a tree. And you can drive through it. In fact, you have to drive through it, in order to get to the World Famous Drive-Thru Tree Gift Shop.

What a fantastic, and fantastically American, concept: something is made more interesting because you can drive through it. Dr0v3thruuz0RRd!Why can’t you drive through the Statue of Liberty? Or the Parthenon or the Louvre? Tourist dollars down at the Great Pyramids? Here’s a tip, Anwar: knock a big hole through those suckers and lay down some asphalt. The world will beat a path to–and through–your door.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

San Franciskey? How did you came? Did you drove or did you flew?

In San Francisco we stayed with Isa, one of my corky Harvard chums, and her equally cool friend Anisa, also visiting from the East. They didn’t ask us, “did you drove or did you flew?” [2006 Edit: An old Eugene Levy catchphrase from SCTV, long before he was America’s favorite dorky honky. Was this a reference to anything, does anyone know? I’ve been wondering about that for about twenty years.] but they were Grade A queens o’ hospitality nonetheless, and we had a great time. Isa was doing research this summer for a big White House egghead task force designed to get more Americans bowling again for some reason. Her boyfriend Noah was down in Argentina bringing Nazis to justice. (To quote Ray Stevens, and why the hell not: “That kind of superficiality can wear pretty thin.”)

I’d been told that Frisco (Isa: “We don’t call it that.”) is one of those cities that can be a lot of fun or very depressing, depending on which side of the tracks you’re on and ho much money you have in your pocket. We didn’t have much money, but Isa and Anisa (I know, it’s too cute isn’t it? Just wait until we meet up with Lisa and order a pizza.) must have steered us well clear of those prodigal tracks, because we thought San Francisco was boss to the Nth degree. We ended up spending a couple of days there, eschewing our usual hit-and-run guerrilla tourism to spend at least a little time in a few of SF’s funkier neighborhoods.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

We skirted Los Angeles on the storied L.A. freeways, but were so busted by the day without power that we decided to skip Los Angeles itself. It’s not like any interesting pop culture stuff ever came out of that city…

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

When you’re in the dark and you want to see,
You need uh… electricity, eee-lectricity!

Have I mentioned yet that it was a trifle warm the day we crossed the desert? It seems that one too many fans and air conditioners and soothing ocean sound generators were plugged in that day–a little fuse blew out somewhere and cut off power to six entire states! [2006 Edit: The West Coast blackout of August 11, 1996 actually affected four million customers in nine western states, plus Mexico–the largest power outage in North America until the Northeast birthday blackout (my birthday, that is) of 2003. Apparently it was triggered by a transmission line sagging into a tree branch and shorting out. I’d like to blame it on utility deregulation and corporate malfeasance (hello, Enron), but apparently deregulation took effect in California after the summer of 1996.]

We were driving across the desert between Joshua Tree and Yucca Flats looking for Desert Christ, the Mojave’s mellow SoCal answer to Christ of the Ozarks. “I wanna see concrete biblical people!” Pete lamented, but Desert Jesus was nowhere to be found… and pretty soon we needed to get gas. Heh heh heh. Gas pumps are powered by electricity. Which meant that, unless Brown Jenkin had enough juice to get us back to Texas or up to Seattle, we weren’t going nowhere for a while.

Jenkin did have just enough juice to get us across the Mojave–we puttered along on fumes as far as Palm Springs, and there it went kaput, leaving us marooned until Enus and cletus at Central Services could find a new 10,000,000 amp fuse to turn the western half of the continent back on again. If you don’t dig Lawrence Welk and Seniors Bingo, an afternoon in Palm Springs could probably be a dicey prospect any day, but with the power out, it was like being in a shopping mall with every store front locked: there was less than nothing to do.

Well, there was one place open, a little restaurant called the Hamburger Hamlet, where they wheeled a tub of beer onto the patio and started selling it for exorbitant sums. I’m not sure whether the prices included a special blackout markup or were just everyday gouging. Palm Springs has the look of a city where even the Hamburger Hamlet might charge $2.50 for a lemonade. The people of Palm Springs were quite impressed by the restauranteur’s Yankee ingenuity. Everyone who walked by said something like, “Oh, look at that! They put ice on the beer! To keep it cold! How clever!” Hardy frontiersmen all.

Derek and I sat on the Hammy Hamlet patio and tried to drink our $5 beers very slowly, since no power meant no bank machines and no credit cards and nowhere else for us to go. Pete was beat by the heat and wandered off to find somewhere he could sleep, vagrant style. But when the power finally did come on, late that night, Pete was nowhere to be found. Derek and I wandered around for ages, looking for him in dumpsters and back alleys, but never found him. Eventually we had to drive on without him, and he’s never been seen again to this day.*

*No, no, that’s not right. We found Pete. It was his mix tape of Arrested Development and King Crimson and Schoolhouse Rock that we never found.

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Originally published at Route 96. You can comment here or there.

Given the demise of Jenkin’s air conditioner, and the fact that it was a vinyl-melting 115 F by mid-morning, we decided to skip Death Valley. Instead we drove one hundred miles farther south and crossed the Mojave Desert at high noon!

Our last watering hole before the great crossing–of course we’d picked a minor sub-highway that went over a hundred miles without any sign of human settlement–was Lake Havasu City, a surreal little vacation spot where some loony jackass had put London Bridge–the genuine article, bought and carried over brick by brick. The bridge had become the centerpiece for an entire Merrie Olde England tourist town, with double decker buses and red telephone booths and miserable looking Buckingham Palace-type guards liquefying under those tall fur hats. [2006 Edit: Matt Grasso, I’m looking to you to provide some appropriate image or line of dialogue from the “Little England” episodes of Arrested Development.]

We had chip buddies and bangers and mash at the local pub, and did our best to imagine we really were in England–wonderful damp, cool, rainy England. But even inside the pub, free from the blistering heat and gnarled cactii, there were still a few subtle clues that we might be closer to California than the sceptered isles. Do most real London pubs sell tropical fruit smoothies with your choice of bee pollen, beta proteins, liao drug, or other trendy smartdrink additives? (Well, maybe in the West End.)

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