The last time I took a road trip like this, my car tried to kill me.
I was about 30 miles outside of New Orleans, still coming to terms with a decision that would change my life. With no job, little money, no home, and with the town still staggering to its feet two years after The Storm, I was making plans to reorganize my life and settle into a mudbank. On Interstate 10, just before the Mississippi state line, the hood latch on my station wagon came loose and the whole hood slammed backwards, shattering the windshield and wiping out my visibility.
I managed to make it through that encounter unscathed, and to help fund my move to New Orleans I sold that car to a brave Alaskan who liked to fix up Subarus (and bless him wherever he is today). I’ve taken a few road trips since then: Driving moving vans and rental cars, transporting my grandparents’ vehicles between Florida and Ohio. I spent four months zigzagging the country on busses, trains, and occasionally hitchhiking when it was my best option. But this will be different. I’ll be driving my own chariot across the country for the first time in eight years.
By the time you read this, I’ll be on the road. On the itinerary: over a dozen states, a few thousand miles of highway, a flight to Hawaii, many friends, a lot of family. And for the road portion, I’ll be riding along in this beast right here:
Meet Mister Valdez, my noble steed.
America is best seen at street level. We’ve got a proud tradition of road tripping here, ever since the Lincoln Highway became the nation’s first coast-to-coast artery in 1913. But the drive to roll west goes back even further. The Santa Fe Trail. The Oregon Trail. The Transcontinental Railroad. As a culture, we’re suckers for a good horizon.
This new series will be a salute to that impulse. We’re a car culture here in the States, and that creates a ton of problems (Hello, L.A. smog!). It also creates opportunities not just for travel, but for the strange roadside attractions that lure in those travelers. This series will cover the places and food and music of America, but also the stories of America’s highways, unique roadside kitsch, and little pockets of the country struggling to retain their character.
And of course, the unique beauty of the American West.
I’ll be seeing it all with Mister Valdez, a 1991 Ford Ranger. He has no air conditioning, no CD player, and he’s fresh off a complete transmission rebuild. We’ll hope for the best. Along the way, I’ll be sending dispatches and pictures from several corners of the strange and maddening and frequently wonderful country I call home.
I hope you’ll stick around for this. There’s a lot to see. My truck’s not big, but there should be enough room for everyone.