Secretly for a while now, I’ve wanted to be Joan Didion. Nothing brings this home like driving up to northern California. I always take the I-5 and I’ve come to love that long boring road. It’s always hot. The food is bad. I drive too fast. And it feels like I’m never going to get there. But I think of Didion and try to pay careful attention.
Sometimes, the not-getting-there feeling is really okay. I had that experience the other day coming back to LA after dropping the girls off with family up near San Francisco. I hit a stretch of road somewhere south of Gilroy where the towns don’t seem to have names and thought that I could drive forever. I had a great Spotify playlist courtesy of Kajon Cermak (KCRW traffic goddess). The iced coffee was pretty good and the light was fantastic and I was one with the road.
The freeway was closed for a patch near Bakerfield. This seems an awesome CalTrans undertaking. I kept thinking of all the preparation to close a stretch of major interstate. Signs for miles and I started wondering what the date actually was and somehow thought this road closure wouldn’t actually happen to me. How long will the detour be? Shit. I’m not going to get home until 11pm. But then thanks to Kajon’s skillful DJ-ing, Wayne Hancock started singing about busted up love and hitting the road and it all seemed a fine adventure once again.
Bakersfield. Almost 100 degrees at sundown. I know from my stepson that Bakerfield is pretty much the car wash capital of the world. As the sun went down and a cacophony of insects hit my windshield, I understood why.
Bakersfield. Or maybe just the outskirts. You can’t see much once the sun goes down from the freeway. There are some distant lights and the flatness of the land is large. There is a distinct farm and animal smell. It is not beautiful.
The detour onto the smaller roads afforded me the opportunity to pass an 18-wheeler on a two lane highway. As a city dweller, I had almost forgotten that fleeting rush. At a stop sign, CalTrans workers stood directing traffic; their orange vests illuminated by an enormous light they’d rigged up. The halo of that light attracted every insect my car hadn’t taken down earlier. Set against an ink dark sky, it was a floating, flying particulate explosion. A momentary, live and moving fireworks display.