I’m spending the night in Fort Stockton, Texas because — if I tried to drive to the next town — I would fall asleep and take this mid-size SUV off a cliff.
Here’s a few things about that first sentence:
1) I’m heading to Big Bend National Park. I’ll be in the park for about eight or nine days and don’t need to be back to New Orleans until January 7.
2) I drive so infrequently, that I was calling the vehicle I rented an SVU until my friend, Devin (who’s mentioned in this blog a disproportionate amount because he’s the most likely to tell me I’m doing something stupid), pointed out that that’s a Law & Order series and not a car.
3) I once fell asleep at the wheel and crashed a car into the side railing on an interstate in Wyoming. The railing was there because there was a vast cliff below it. This incident was more than a decade ago, but — as a result — I have no confidence I can drive more than four hours without falling asleep. (The good news is I’ve driven six hours twice on this trip already, so I’m now confident I can drive six hours, but only if I’m well-rested, it’s not late at night,and I can stop every two hours for a snack break.)
3+) After crashing the car a decade ago, I was momentarily jolted awake. The adrenaline would surely sustain me for the remainder of my journey, right? Wrong. I fell asleep again and almost hit an Asian family crossing the street at passenger drop-off outside the Denver International Airport.
I have a long-term goal of going to all 59 of America’s National Parks. There are something like eight of them in Alaska — which probably means four trips to Alaska — so this isn’t going to be easy.
And I’m not talking about stopping in for the day. I’m talking about long stays. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and Badlands, but I’m not counting those visits because I don’t think I was there long enough to get a feel for the essence of the park.
When I step foot in Big Bend tomorrow morning that will make 14 National Parks visited. Not bad, but still a long way to go.
I thought about taking the train from New Orleans to somewhere about where I am now, but I also wanted to take the time to visit some cities and towns along the way, and renting a car gave me the flexibility I craved for this trip.
My plan was to leave on Friday, December 21. But then I wanted to go to my friend’s party. So I changed the departure date to December 22. But then I was up until 4am playing drums for live band karaoke at said party. (I don’t play drums, so…I don’t know why I was doing that.) Then I was eating six pounds of leftover Peking duck at a bar down the street until 6am. Then I was watching a soccer match at another bar until 8am. Then I was…okay, I was drinking and not-sleeping until noon.
By the time I rolled out of New Orleans in the cheapest rental car I could find ($35/day for this mid-size SVU!!), it was 3pm on Sunday. Womp womp womp.
I wanted to watch the second half of the Saints game, so I decided I’d put in a modest, two-hour shift to Lafayette and stop there for the night. More on Lafayette in a minute.
Next stop was San Antonio, for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The drive went pretty well. I sang “7 Nation Army” more than a dozen times [“And I’m talkin’ to myself at niigggghhhttt…”] to get me through that second stretch from Houston to San Antonio, but I made it!
I’ve been to San Antonio a bunch of times (which I’m going to call “San An-tone” from now on, in commemoration of a boss who annoyingly called it that every single time it came up…which was surprisingly often). But my visits were usually with marching band, so I didn’t have a lot of time for non-marching band fun.
The problem with arriving in a city on Christmas Eve is that everything is fucking closed. The good news is that it gave me a great conversation starter: “Hello, how are you? What the fuck is open in your fine city right now?”And, after the 5th time, I was directed to a very fine bar. And at that bar — called the Brooklynite — I had a very fine drink – also called the Brooklynite. And while sipping that drink, the bartender told me about a list created by some of the city’s bartenders that showed all the restaurants and bars open throughout the holiday.
That helped a lot!
San An-tone was great. I drank very nice drinks. And ate very nice food. I saw some movies (because I’m Jewish and it was Christmas) and ate some Asian food (because I’m Jewish and it was Christmas). I went for a very long walk, and I found the spring that is the origin of the San Antonio (An-tone) River, which the Riverwalk is built around.
I took a pretty good number of pictures as you can see.
I only took one picture in Lafayette. This isn’t a criticism of Lafayette (I can’t criticize anything — see my King Cake rankings from two years ago where nothing came in under a B). I was enjoying my brief stay there, but wasn’t taking pics. Except for this one:
There’s more to Lafayette than this creepy, dead fish. I just didn’t take a picture of those other things.
I accidentally stayed in San An-tone too late, because everything opened back up on the 26th and I had to eat it all. It was a six hour drive to Big Bend. The first two hours were awesome. The third hour It rained. Real bad. Like, I was going 40mph in an 80mph zone and still couldn’t see anything.
Lightning can’t strike me in a car, right? I wasn’t sure and figured it wasn’t the right time to Google on my phone. But the tires are rubber, so I thought I was fine? But why can I get struck on a bicycle, then? Those are rubber, too. Wait, can I get struck on a bicycle? Why don’t I know anything??
Anyway, that was scary. Though, it was kind of beautiful when I could see a big blue sky up ahead, but — when I looked in the rear view mirror — it looked like the fucking apocalypse. I drove faster.
Then sunset happened and that was beautiful. I was feeling good. But I still had three more hours of driving.
And I was getting tired. And because I drink lots of beer AND water, I pee every 45 minutes.
But mostly I was tired. I was doing the thing where I lightly slapped my face to try to stay awake, but there was no way I was making it to the park. And the next town wasn’t for another 90 miles.
I was searching YouTube for fun songs to listen to, and that’s when it happened. I accidentally found the song “This is Me” from the movie-musical, The Greatest Showman.
Does it have some cheese? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah! Extra cheese!
Did I sing along with it for the next 45 minutes without letting out so much as a yawn? You betcha.
So here I am in Fort Stockton, Texas. Thanks mostly to Hugh Jackson’s movie musical about a circus. I don’t know what the population is here, but there are only three women on Bumble within 30 miles of the bar I’m at, so it can’t be a big place.
Nobody noticed me until I opened up my laptop, and now no less than five people have asked, “Are you really typing at a bar?!” I don’t know how to answer that question, because I’m obviously typing at a bar. You can see my fingers hitting a keyboard. This isn’t a drill. It’s real typing.
All I need to do now is figure out where I’m sleeping tonight. The good news about having an SVU is that that’s basically an RV. In, both, Lafayette and San Antone, I’ve been parking it on some quiet street and sleeping in the back.
I average six hours of sleep a night at home. In the back of this car? Almost eight hours a night! C’mawn!
I’m getting pretty good at it, too. Before I go to bed, I have to scope out a pee spot. Because after eight hours of sleep, I’m holding in 10 or 11 normal pees. When I wake up, there’s no time to debate where I’m going to urinate.
So one more beer here, a quick wee-wee scope, and then I’ll be fast asleep. Tomorrow, I’ll start my week at Big Bend — my first time in a national park during a government shutdown. Me, alone in the desert with no rangers to give advice. Me, eating only Mexican food with no maintained toilets.
What could go wrong?