The Long and Winding Road

The first leg of Anthony and I’s trip across the country lead us to Sin City. That’s right, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Vegas and I have a long history. My grandmother and mother have a penchant for gambling. I’d like to say that my grandmother has never met a penny slot she didn’t like, but that would be a lie. Martha is, in fact, very particular about her slot machines. For years, I didn’t realize that gambling wasn’t legal because so many of our family vacations ended up at a casino. I swear I learned to count playing 21, and I may have been the only kid in middle school trying to play Pai Gow instead of War.

I remember my first trip to Vegas. I was 10. I spent a lot of time wearing this blue and grey sweater with three butterflies across the chest. My Aunt Lynda brought her daughter Angel and son Ben, who at the time was just a little thing. Everything seemed so magical. So much light, beauty, a mist surrounding the entire strip. Sure, it might be cigarette smoke, but it felt like Disneyland, but for adults.

As we drove to Vegas on Sunday, I’m reminded of some more recent trips. In particular, my 21st birthday.

Like many people celebrating their legality, I gathered my best pals and took to the Vegas strip. I’d tell you more, but, as they say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Or on Facebook, which still has many of the pictures from the trip 🙂 The story that comes to mind, however, is in reference to the drive home. After a night of doing what people do in Vegas–including numerous Jell-O shots courtesy of my dear friend, sorority sister, and former roommate, Katie–my father was graced with the task of driving myself, my boyfriend at the time, and his best friend back to Los Angeles. It’s fair to say that I woke up feeling a little…off. After half a can of 7-up, I figured I was as solid as I’d ever be and hopped into the front seat of the Tahoe. A few miles down the road, I knew that I was not okay. My father suggested that I close my eyes, rest. Somewhere around Baker, my father–ever the food explorer–saw a sign for Alien Jerky. “What?!” Of course he had to try it, and with the other two passengers excited and near-salivating at the thought of checking out this strange roadside shop, he pulled off the road.

That’s when things started to get rough. They asked if I wanted to come in. I didn’t want to move a muscle, in fact, at that point I’d be more than happy to lay on the side of the road and sacrifice myself to the Gods of Adulthood, as they were obviously rejecting my application.

The happily and eagerly returned to the car, ripping open their bags of cured meat. The smell permeated the car, floating up into my nostrils, causing my stomach to churn and turn. I closed my eyes, praying that my somersaulting tummy would come to rest. It didn’t.

We had just gotten back to the Baker side road, when I quickly rolled down the window, threw my head out and painted the sidewalk.

Anthony and I stopped at that very Alien Jerky spot on the way out to Vegas. Fingers crossed that we can skip the vomit this time.

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Carmelot

Earlier this week I referred to my marvelous golden chariot carting me across the country. I love my car. Fondly called “The Yellow Submarine” by my friends in college, my 2007 Volkswagon GLI Fahrenheit is a thing of beauty and wonder.

Yes, it’s bright yellow. No, that was not what I imagined as my first car. To be fair, my German bumblebee was not my first car. For the years between when I got my drivers license and the time I got my own real car, I drove my mother’s hand-me-down Izusu Trooper. The forest green, top heavy, lunk of a car was a disaster. The window on the driver’s side had a tendency to fall into the door, leaving the driver vulnerable to the notoriously horrible LA weather. Okay, it could have been worse. At least I wasn’t living on the East Coast at the time, but I can promise you I drove with the rain in my eyes on more than one occasion. The car worked, and that was all that really mattered.

When I finally started to look for a car of my own, I spent months researching. If you know me, you know this process well. There’s research, compiling of documents and resources, a ranking system of some sort–typically complete with a formula weighted for more desirable attributes. I like to make educated decisions, protecting myself from the possibility of overwhelming bouts of buyers’ remorse. When I was applying to college, I spent no less than a year writing to different schools for information. When I applied to grad school I put together a binder with dividers and spreadsheets. When I was decorating my apartment a few months ago, I put together a powerpoint presentation with multiple options for each room- with cost breakdowns, hyperlinks, and color coding. I like to know what I’m getting myself into…

As I educated myself on the car options available I was practical. I wanted it to be a solid value, dependable, safe, economic, and not too bad on the eyes. I settled on a black VW Jetta. In December of 2007, I rounded up the two of the best negotiators on the planet–my mother and my grandfather–and headed over to the VW dealership. The only problem with bringing two headstrong, opinionated individuals with you to do you bidding is their ability to negotiate you completely out of the decisionmaking process. Rather skillfully, they convince you that you want what they want and the other party wants what they want. We should really send those two to the Middle East–just saying.

My grandfather was adamant that I not get a black car. First, he told me, black cars are more dangerous because they are harder to see at night. This seemed logical. I liked the idea of black because most of my family members had the practical silver, because it looked cleaner longer. Silver was fine, but I felt some need to push back against the sea of grey in my parent’s driveway. I wanted a sleek black car. He pushed back, beyond the safety, appealing to my vanity. “There is nothing worse than a pretty girl in a dirty car,” he told me for the first of (very) many times.

As we strolled the lot, a glimmer shot into the eye of the salesman. Let me show you what we have, it’s a limited edition. Now we were talking. I don’t really feel the need to be flashy, but I do like to stand out. He took us out to the front and that’s when I saw it, it’s sunshine-bright skin and crimson accents glistening in the L.A. light. “It’s a GLI Fahrenheit,” he told us, “only 1200 in the world. You can see the limited edition plate on the steering wheel. The inside is leather with details and accents to match its exterior. We only have one on the lot, and the car only comes it yellow.” It’s wasn’t love immediately. I liked the idea of having a car that only 1,999 other people in the world had, but yellow? It didn’t feel like me.

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“No one will be able to claim they didn’t see you there,” my grandfather joked. “I’ll be cop-bait,” I argued back. “Well then you better drive safe,” he replied with a smile.

We went for a test drive.

I’m not going to say my grandfather’s a bad driver. He drove me to and from school every day from Kindergarden until I graduated from 8th grade. Without ever complaining, he chauffeured me wherever I needed to go for years. His driving expertise has successfully gotten me from point A to B via two-seater sports cars, spacious Cadillacs, exhilarating jetskis, clunky motorhomes, and even helicopter. We made it to each and every destination and back safely, but there have definitely been some…questionable moments. This was one of them.

I know my grandfather knows how to drive manual. In fact, I believe he was the one who taught my mother to drive. And yet, I could see the white knuckles of the salesman as we stalled and screeched down the streets of West Covina. The man was kind, kinder than I would have been in that situation–shocking. Although, I’m sure I could muster up the patience with a commission like that. When we got back to the lot, I swear he was still shaking a little.

While I hadn’t completely embraced the car, when I finally got it home, we became quick friends. My car became synonymous with my independence, the first thing that was ever really mine. During the summer at UCLA, I’d take my Yellow Submarine up Pacific Coast Highway, just to let him soak in the salty ocean air. I actually hear this is bad for the paint of your car, but what can I say? Sometimes we want things that are bad for us. Can you say you never have?

When I moved to D.C. for grad school, I had to leave my car behind. Washington is no place for a car. While the traffic may not be as bad as Los Angeles (though it’s pretty bad), parking sucks and to make things worse, I’m convinced parking enforcement is in a constant state of needing to prove its worth in a city filled with far more important lawmakers and law enforcers. With all those visiting dignitaries, I’m sure it’s hard to find a vehicle without diplomatic immunity to ticket. I set off to the land of the metro.

But I’m a Virginian now. I moved to Rosslyn (Arlington) in May 2012, and then to the nearby area of Clarendon at the end of that lease. I even re-registered to vote in Virginia, so that’s about as official as it gets. Arlington may be VINO (Virginia in Name Only) and practically just an overflow of the District, the new location has me yearning for my independence–my car. What currently takes hours of walking, metroing, transferring, and walking again, can suddenly become a quick trip. Like my 19 year-old self, I’m eagerly anticipating the world that having my car will unlock. Maybe not the gas expenses, but there’s a world out there waiting to be explored, and I’m on my way to find it.

There and back again

Today, I embark upon a journey. From the muggy swampland of Northern Virginia, I’ll venture to the mystic and plastic land I once called home: Los Angeles. Then, in my golden chariot, I will ride across this majestic country, through 13 states, to return to my Capitol City-adjacent home in Arlington, VA.

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Along the way, my trusty sidekick and I will face perilous obstacles that make us ask ourselves questions we’ve never explored before, like “How much is too much BBQ?” and “How long can I hold it so I don’t have to stop at that nasty rest stop?” Our path will take us through

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Virginia

With stopovers in Las Vegas (Nevada), Denver (Colorado), Jefferson City (Missouri), and Morgantown (West Virginia), it promises to be a thoroughly blog-worthy adventure. Stay tuned to the Star-Spangled Girl and the “Everywhere in Between” tab for more on the sights and sounds from across the U.S. of A.