late nights and freeway flying always makes me sing

I got an In-N-Out double-double last night and ate it in my car. I had the seat kicked back and the sunroof open, and I was looking straight at the full moon. Mars is still very close, so I could see the Red Planet with an unaided eye right there too.

It doesn’t take much to send me into an astronomical trance. I think about the fact that I’m looking at another planet, and how far away and huge it has to be, just looking up at the moon. When it’s full and looks oversized on a clear night, the moon is just hypnotizing. Mars even more so, since I can look directly at and see an impossibly remote place that maybe, just maybe people might visit someday. I was pleasantly dragged back into sophomoric “oh wow the universe” mode that way and spent a while there.

Years ago I noticed that living in suburban Southern California has a particular depressive effect. When you’re surrounded entirely by man-made things — signs, stores, roads, parks, airplanes, houses, gas stations — the world starts to feel like an extension of the people around you and their attitudes. And here, the man-made world around us is new and cheap and tawdry and already falling apart. It’s a mess of convenience stores sprinkled over beige bedroom communities, strip malls, sterile little parks, drive throughs. The scenery does not inspire. Eventually I get bad theology in my head: the world was built by money-grubbing assholes who didn’t care about their work, and it’s falling apart.

The cure for this is nature. I am a city boy at heart. I don’t much enjoy camping, small-town rural life terrifies me, and I feel naked without a used bookstore and some good coffee down the street. But I like to visit nature. Even an hour staring out into the Pacific Ocean is a decent recharge. But really I need a day in the desert here every few months. When you’re out past 29 Palms with nothing between you and some craggy mountains 30 miles away, and it’s perfectly silent except for creatures you can’t see, there’s no 7-11 to get you down. For me it’s a reminder that the world has its own vastness, its own power, its own logic and function, and that my little world of stoplights and shoe discounters and empty greasy parking lots is small and not representative.

Slumped back in my car seat staring at the moon and Mars last night, I thought “Yeah. It’s time to go there.” Not Mars or the moon (which would be cool also), but the desert. It would be good to shed a layer of suburban grime and doom again.

Then I sat up to get going and fries fell down my pants.

23 thoughts on “late nights and freeway flying always makes me sing

  1. Not nearly as eloquent, but:
    While I rather enjoy being in a non-fake city and no more than an hour away from forest, plains, and beach, In-N-Out grilled cheese sandwiches are one of the big things I miss about SoCal (the Tummy Stuffer #113 super-cheese-with-a-side-of-egg sandwich is another).
    The plastic people, plastic malls, fake plastic trees, concrete, imported palm trees, and billboards are something I am quite happy to be nowhere near anymore.

  2. I was riding my bike home and almost ran off the road. Mars was hanging right under the moon. Then Venus was completely astonishing in the west. RA Damn. Then tonight, yes, Mars hanging out with the moon off to the west now. Very cool. No fries in the pants. But I ate a carne asada enchilada plate to celebrate. While I chewed and chewed the overcooked beef, I read a really cheesy old John Brunner novel about time travel in an alternate future where the Spanish Armada was not defeated.

  3. people think i’m crazy, but i love driving. and not just driving, but driving out to remote nature-y places, like the desert you speak of. driving leaves me feeling in charge and in control and strokes my controlfreak nature very satisfyingly without bugging the fuck out of everyone else. but going places like the desert – aside from the desert having strong ties to my Arizona childhood – or the ocean remind me just how small i really am, and how at the mercy of these seemingly benign forces and landscapes of nature we are, as humans, depite our attempts to prove otherwise with the endless suburban pave-over dotted with 7-11s.
    it’s good to be remined of where i really stand on the grand scale of things, sometimes.

  4. amen. it’s only those things that keep me sane, being a very un-city-girl treehugger. well, that and getting the hell out of here for a week, three times a year.

  5. Falling Down
    I think the greatest terror I’ve ever felt was when I got to Albuquerque in 1996, looked around, and realized that, at the large and small scales, it looked like the San Fernando Valley, or maybe Palmdale, in about 1979.
    Real-estate happiness there seemed to be a matter of finding a place in town from where you couldn’t see the rest of town; and if you got a view of the massive mountains to the east, that was a bonus. Yay nature!

  6. I maintain that San Luis Obispo county is PERFECT for you.
    Beautiful, clean, deserted Morro Bay beaches at 10 miles west. Dry, Mountainous, Desert 20 miles east. And downtown has that coffee and books store you’re needing.

    1. As one that lives in SLO County, I gotta say maybe not. Things close WAY too early around here, and if you can find anyone between the age of 28 and 55, let me know cuz we are AWFULLY lonely.
      I do think Tucson might be a good match for him, if he’s looking for a metro dessert.

      1. I moved here from Morro Bay last July! You’re right about the age thing. Seems like everyone is in college or retired. I just didn’t mind that so much. Maybe because morro bay is SO mellow and I didn’t have to deal with the SLO college crowd unless I wanted thrifting or books.
        I miss it, lots and lots! Where are you?

      2. We’re in the five cities area, which really seems like no man’s land. We go into SLO for dining out, shopping, etc, but since we’re used to a more cosmopolitian area that stays open later, we rarely get out in time to enjoy what’s up there.
        Morro Bay is a nice area. My mom summered there in 2004. It has a nice feel to it.

  7. I heard one of my colleagues give a job-talk rehearsal the other day about “the myth of the addicted army” in Vietnam and its shadow in the Nixon era, and I thought of your stories about SoCal suburban teens in the 70s.

  8. In-n-Out burgers and desert driving filled my weekend, too. Granted, I was going from one antagonistically-built environment (south OC) to another (Las Vegas), but the distance between them is what I carry with me.

  9. Mmm, fries…
    Weirdly, the heavens, such as they are, hold little interest for me, unless they feature exciting nearby stuff, like clouds or tornadoes. I think it’s too abstract and demoralizing for me; I have no practical connection to the sky. I’ll never visit anyone out there. Everything is too far, too bright, too on-fire, to incomprehensible. If I want to feel the philosophically dwarved, I’m much more content thinking the continental plates, or the ocean, or the awesome diversity of human narrative.
    Mmmmm, fries.

  10. lol fryfucker
    What you describe sounds like a great outing to me. I’d love to join you sometime in fries and astronomy.
    Your remark about the bad theology reminds me of a Jewish joke about a guy who goes to pick up a pair of pants from the tailor. Jokingly, the guy says, “What took you so long? It only took God six days to make the whole world!” The tailor replies, “Yes, but look at these pants, and look at the world.”
    Like most Jewish jokes, it loses a lot without the intonation.

  11. “The scenery does not inspire. Eventually I get bad theology in my head: the world was built by money-grubbing assholes who didn’t care about their work, and it’s falling apart. ”
    most of the strip malls in my area follow this belief structure. If you look at the craft involved in signs for shops built in areas during hte 50s and 60s there is a lot of time and effort (not to mention thought put into material and metalwork) put into the signs.
    Now they jsut built fiberglass panel signs that are meant to be replaced. Strip malls are all modular and when new businesses come in and don’t think that the existing strip will fit their needs they jsut go ahead and bulldoze some other arean and built another ticky tacky shopping center.

  12. …The heart winces For junk and gimcrack, for Jerrybuilt things And the men who make them for a little money, Bartering pride like the bought boxer Who pulls his punches, or the paid-off jockey Who in the home stretch holds in his horse…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.