All afternoon Jarrett does a lot of the driving. Driving fast.
When you’re flying down the interstate, you’re removed from almost all that’s interesting, all that’s everyday, all that’s unique and personal and wonderfully funky about America, except the glorious landscapes. And we’re still out west, so it’s not too ordinary for us Pennsylvanians. We’re still looking out the windows (that aren’t blocked by the stupid branding stickers), but now we’re playing CDs, looking at newspapers, and Bob starts working the New York Times Crossword puzzle.
When Bob is ready to give up, he starts asking for assistance. Some clues I can help figure out. Five letters, “First name in Israeli politics”: GOLDA. Seven letters for “Steve Martin romantic comedy”: LASTORY. Then I hit the Safari web browser button on my iPhone to help with some of the rest. “Lorre’s role in Casablanca.” Six letters. IMDB says UGARTE. The “Minnesota state tree” is REDPINE. And “Teahouse mat” is a crossword puzzle word: TATAMI.
The miles and the Nevada desert zoom by.
We look the map and decide that West Wendover, Nevada, looks like the logical place to stop for the night. It’s right at the border with Utah, and the salt flats to the east will greet us when we get back on the road in the morning. We hadn’t paused in West Wendover on our way westward, but we remember it because of all the casinos, a big neon cowboy, and it was at West Wendover that we got off Interstate 80, turning south on the beautiful two-lane to Ely. It’s one of those weird too brightly lit oasis towns, neon, flashing lights, billboards for cheap buffets and C-list celebrities, and we figure we’ll get a room in a casino probably.
No such luck. The town and all its parking lots are full. There are campers and RVs and thousands of cars everywhere. At the one casino where we stopped, the woman at the desk says she doesn’t know if there is a room left in town. “I’d go over to Utah,” she says. “You might find something there.”
It’s our twelfth night on the road, and the first time we’ve been stung by no reservations in advance. We just haven’t known where we’ll stop. So we drive into Wendover, Utah, just across the invisible state line, and we lose an hour by doing so. We cross back into Mountain Time in Utah, and as sweet as the extra hours were on the way west, this loss of an hour is one more downer on a night when things seem bleak. It’s dark on this side of the border. No casinos, no bright lights.
Bob and I don’t want to drive to Salt Lake City. It’s another 120 miles, so at least two more hours and here it’s already after 10 PM. Jarrett says he’ll do it, but we think it’s crazy.
After several stops at fleabag motels, including one with no AC where the rooms were still $100 for the night, we find three rooms at a rundown, dark old mom-and-pop motel where there’s just a boy at the desk, maybe 8 or 9 years old. “My father will be right back,” he says. There’s a hand-written sign on the counter: “All Rooms Cash Only.” We check out the one that’s open. The room is OK. The doorknobs and locks seem flimsy. The beds are lumpy. But there is an AC unit in the window and and a TV. And the boy tells me, “And you get free breakfast at the Days Inn next door.” Apparently this is the overflow motel for the Days Inn, probably used only on holiday weekends like this. We take the 3 rooms before they get gobbled up by the next car pulling in.
There’s a small Mexican restaurant across the highway from the motel, and we decide to see if we might still get a bite of dinner. Jarrett says he’d just like a beer, but they don’t sell beer at this restaurant, and so he goes off in search of a six-pack. Bob and I start to order because it looks as if they were ready to close, and Jarrett comes back with no cervezas because all the local store had was ordinary American beers and Jarrett wanted something more than Bud. He says he’s going to bed. No food. I get a little angry and snap at him about his fast-lane pace and insane let’s-get-back-as-fast-as-we-can attitude. He doesn’t care. And I soon regret it because Hey, he’s a big boy, and he can decide when he wants to eat and when he wants to skip a meal. It’s late. The long day, the desert and the search for rooms have made us all a little testy.
Bob and I decide to eat some rice and beans, drink some Jarritos pop and try to relax.