Formerly being a airline travel enthousiast, I never considered driving across the United States until an infortunate incident forced my ex-fiance and I to change our travel plans. We had flown out to Las Vegas, to attend a business convention late one night. The next morning, I turned on the television, only to find that planes had flown into the World Trade Centers in New York. It was 9/11, which devastated us and everyone around us. At Caesar’s Palace, all the tvs were tuned to the tragedy, instead of the usual horse racing or other sporting events. You could hear a pin drop as everyone watched the tragedy unfold, live. The convention closed early due to the horrible tragedy. We were given t-shirts as we left the convention center, in memory to the people who perished in New York and Pennsylvania. Fortunately for us, my ex had already rented a van to get around with, as rental cars sold out quickly when all the planes were grounded. In Las Vegas, the airport is right in the city limits, very close to the Strip. With the planes all down, all we saw was an occaisional military jet fighter circling the city now and then. It was eerie and a reminder of the possible danger to the area. We left and drove over to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, our spirits lifted as we visited the coastline, stopping at lovely places like Balboa Island for lunch, Laguna Beach (full of interesting boutiques and restaurants) and Dana Point, where we stayed in a beautiful oceanfront hotel. Later, we went over to Burbank, and attended the second taping of the Tonight Show, with Jay Leno. The experience was surreal, nobody felt like comedy, so the show was subdued. Jay wheeled out a motorcycle that he was going to auction off for charity, and Arnold Schwartzenegger, Tom Cruise and others came to sign it. Being in the studio was fascinating, the temperature in the large room was cold, to keep the many hot stage lights from bursting, one of the producers told us. We had front row seats, because we got in line very early. If you go, make sure to go much earlier than told to, because it takes a lot of time to park, and the line to get in is very long.
After leaving downtown L.A. we drove around Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I liked Beverly Hills, seeing the beautiful homes was my favorite. Signs were posted everywhere saying that forest fires can happen and gave a daily rating to how much of a chance there was of having one. Interesting. Some movie stars’ homes were on regular streets like yours and mine. Others were high up in the mountains, shielded by gates, high walls and ominous "keep out" signs. I don’t blame them, with all the crazy people in the world. All the posh shops were nice, but a shopping spree there was out of the question unless we won the lottery and were rich like the Hilton family – one piece of clothing could be the cost of a new car or even, house in downtown Beverly Hills. Wow. We drove all over, taking pictures, stopping at fast food places like In and Out Hamburgers and Krispy Kreme Donuts. We also stopped in lovely ethnic restaurants to eat Mexican, Thai and Indian food. The Mexican restaurants were my favorites, most were authentic and gave large portions.
We drove through the desert, going back east, saw Hoover Dam, which was immense. Because of the tragedy going on in New York, everyone there was on edge, so we weren’t allowed to stop on the bridge, just drive past it and park elsewhere. It was very scenic to see the dam, built long ago, with Art Deco influence on the well-built bridge and buildings. It was incredibly hot but the heat was dry, not humid. We drank gallons of soft drinks and bottled water to keep from being dehydrated. The vistas of tall mountains and large amounts of water being pumped by this powerful dam were really fascinating for this midwestern girl.
Our next state to visit was Utah, land of amazing rock formations and mountains. We only saw the southern part but what we saw was breathtaking. Bright red rocks jutting out of the ground, tall mountains and an endless night sky full of stars. We parked on the side of the road and watched the sky for an hour, deep in the desolate parts of the mountains. Without city lights (or any other civilization, for that matter) we could see everything, including the Milky Way. It was both beautiful and surreal at the same time. Utah is loaded with natural wonders and incredibly scenic.
Next, we drove to Colorado. It was so scenic driving up and down the mountain roads of this colorful, beautiful state. The whole state is a photographer’s dream, especially with all the colors of the fall.The aspen trees were turning yellow, since it was now autumn, and the huge mountains all around us took my breath away. It felt and looked like the Old West to me. We stopped at an old mining town, even got to eat buffalo burgers (made of yes, real buffalo meat, which was good). If we’d had more time I would’ve spent a week there, but my ex had to get back to his job so time was limited.
Just east of Denver, everything got amazingly flat. Prairies are desolate and finding signs of life off the highway were few and far between. When we saw a gas station, we’d stop at it, because who knew how long it would be until the next one came along. People there were very friendly. We stayed overnight in a lovely old-fashioned hotel, and ate at the family restaurant next door. True Americana at its best.
We started seeing hills again in parts of Iowa, which we weren’t in for long. Next came Illinois, where we stopped in Chicago. Having been there many times in my past, we stopped at places I liked, like WaterTower Place, the theater and the art museum downtown. There is a lot to do and see in this impressive city, just do it during the summer, because the winters there are cold and brutal. Chicago is a big city, with a long skyline as you drive past it. Much bigger than my hometown of Cleveland.
Late at night, we arrived at my home, in the outer suburbs of Cleveland. The trip was a success, even if it was marred by tragedy, we made the most of the situation. It took us a week to get home, and someday I plan to do it again, but this time with more time on my hands. If you want to see what America is really like, rent a car (try not to use your own, due to the major wear and tear this kind of travel does to a car) and plan places to see before you go. We did this trip without planning and it was still a success. We’d driven through lovely state parks, past amazing scenery and met wonderful people. Next time I do this, I’ll go get a triptych at AAA and plan it to see more of the off-the-beaten-path places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park and Napa Valley.