The day after the eclipse, we left Phoenix as the sun was setting, heading for Las Vegas. It was dark before we hit the strip of Highway 93 known as Bloody Alley because of all the accidents that happen there.
My fantasies of a galactic highway system were tempered by my having watched the Mexican vampire gunslinger movie El Pueblo Fantasma before Emily got off work.
She also brought some of her mom’s ashes, after all, we were carrying on the tradition of the Maggie Devenport Annual Road Trip. Em also brought an audiobook of Stephen Fry reading ghost stories, to set a spooky mood as we glided through the interstellar blackness of the dark desert void.
My writer’s brain noted that a vampire making this drive would be a good beginning for a vampire story. It would need more, though. Stuff to keep it from being a cornball, here’s-the-vampire-folks thing. Too bad that James Dean didn’t live to star in an R-rated, Seventies, “Vampire Run to Vegas.” Or maybe in the story, he became a vampire, who now drives these roads at night . . .
At one point a pair of headlights came straight at us . . .
We gassed up at Kingman. $3.95 a gallon. The Petro station was festooned in Halloween decorations. The gritty realities of 2023 C.E. were effectively blacked out. Dime store demons were welcome companions.
After a while, Vegas materialized as an ocean of urban lights, triggering my visions of a galactic civilization.
Spent the night in Mike’s Henderson (just out of L.V.) house, parked our Elantra, transferred our stuff–including Emily’s mom–to his Prius, and had no trouble getting to sleep even if a neighbor’s air conditioner played a mechaniod concerto just out our window.
Next morning we whizzed past Las Vegas. The illusions of a glittering, mulitcolored, neon Oz on the edge of decadent galaxy gave way to the sun-blasted, post-Apocalypitic deserts of Planet Nevada, its own world of gambler’s utopia, legal prostitution, atomic testing, Area 51 . . . Hunter S. Thompson was right, this is the American Dream . . . Ha . . . Ha . . . Ha . . .
Henderson, and other Nevada towns, are Mars colony-esque. As most of the arid Southwest–Aztlán, dammit!--is. This region is a dress rehearsal for what Terrestrial Civilization (if you haven’t noticed, Western Civilization is an obsolete concept) plans to do to the Red Planet. It’ll be like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, only a lot more bizarre . . .
Somehow, I managed to get to California without taking any Planet Nevada photos. The westward journey mellowed into a different kind of weirdness. Then when it gets to California, the state of my birth, it becomes familiar territory, but then we were north of the SoCal of my youth, still another flavor of strange.
This popped into focus in Wasco, at the Jolly Kone Drive-In, now a postmodern archaeological ruin, boarded up with its wind and ultraviolet radiation-eaten sign, and a mural blending into graffiti in the back. What I’ve been talking, and writing, about. It could have been part of one of my Mars stories.
Then, in trying to find our way through farm country, a friendly highway worker pointed us to the James Dean gas station. It’s a local tourist spot, the last stop Dean made before he drove off to have his fatal accident.
It was selling gas for $6.35 a gallon. There was also a gigantic store/tourist trap with all kinds of stuff for sale, and photo ops that weren’t necessarily on subject.
Dean probably would have made a great vampire in his old age. Now one of the cutouts of him stands by the gas pumps, with bird shit dripping down his face.