From Far East to Far West: 3800-Mile-Drive of the West Region of the USA (Day 1)

Aug. 12th: Narita, Taipei, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas

 My drowsy eye saw on the flight map that we are passing right over the south eastern side of Tokyo in midair, and I thought of the last 8 hours spent getting here from my house, to the airport, 3-hour flight to Taipei, the 2-hour layover, and through all that uneasy feeling about trying to get in the line as fast as possible to board the aircraft because you’re feeling that all others are cheating on the “zoning” system of embarkment. After all that trouble, I was back in Tokyo. It seemed that way, and I almost fell for the same trap of cynicism. No. I was not going to let it.

It was almost the happiest moment to me, even before things get to happen because I don’t have to look back, feel lost, or feel driven to write something like this now in order to sustain the past time. In Taipei airport, we had just an okay tasting Pearl Tea with the airport-rate premium price that can easily leave you with a sour memory of the place. I understand that there’s a lot of fixed costs involved to run even a smallest tea stand in airports, but people should really give another thought about that situation. Anyhow, I was having great time because I was with her, and I felt shy but enjoyed being fed a small piece of KFC fried chicken, which she bought right before we were about to board the flight to Los Angeles.

Y’know, you sometimes feel that there is always something not quite complete even though you think you’d prepared it thoroughly. This time to me was that I forgot to select the aisle seat in advance. So, of course, I was put in the middle seat for the over-12-hour flight to LAX. Perfect. Just perfect. As I was walking right onto the aircraft, though I usually show my boarding pass to the flight attendant just as courtesy pretending that I would be having hard time finding my seat, this time I did not even have it in my hand. I just kept on, and in my mind, I was resisting a flashback of a flight to the US from several years back when a guy next to me was so huge that he was pouring out of his seat and right into my space.

I sat in the seat, eyes closed. I didn’t want to see what’s coming to me. Then soon enough, some lady spoke to me, so I replied and said with obvious grumpy tone, “ok, this is you by the window, right?” and I stood up. But, what I got as a response was completely different. It tunes out that she has two sons who are sitting next to me sandwiching me, and she is sitting somewhere down the aisle, so she was wondering if I can switch the seats with her. Before I responded, she knew what the decisive factor in all this would be. She said, “it is an aisle seat.” So, I said sure. I probably pronounced it with such a cheerful tone. What a jerk.

Anyway, so here I am, having canned Taiwan Beer times two and a glass of cheap red wine in a plastic bottle, worrying if I had wasted my time. Now I know I didn’t. Such looking back in time helps because it makes me feel like I am having adventure. I also probably grinned many times when I remembered that she was somewhere on the other side of the row. I wondered what she was watching. I watched “Sweet Country” from Australia and “Salyut-7” from Russia. At that moment, I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t watch these kinds of movies, but most of other popular titles such as Avengers, Justice League, Ready Player One, Red Sparrow, etc. etc. were my past. So, I opened my book. “On the New” by Boris Groys, my favorite art writer these days.

Passed the immigration by using the scanning machine, we were waiting for the luggage. Just by sensing the size of carousel, instantly I felt I was back in the US. Everything was familiar to me. The particular hue of fluorescent light, the air-conditioning sound and smell, and the long wait for the luggage are all welcoming me. Oh, almost forgot. That arbitrary pick of visitors into customs inspection room was still the case, and she was caught in the routine for 30 min. God, that was long. And, after she was released, she told me that the officer was speaking to her about kind of personal topics of her and himself, which creeped me out. Anyway, we were headed to our car rental branch, whose location is remote from the airport.

By the time we got our car at Thrifty, it was already 7:30pm instead of 6. I had reserved Carola “or similar” in mid-size car, but of course Carola was all dispatched. I specifically studied 2018 model of Carola for audio accessories and knew it has SD card slot, so I had prepared all that 90’s music that I saw fit to the terrain and country side while we are on the road, but in vein. I ended up getting Nissan Sentra as substitution, which of course is not equipped with SD card slot. I was okay because there’s always a classic rock radio station in every town or city in America. I guess I felt a bit of disappointment for not being able to take a good start. That’s all. I was just thinking too much.

By the time we got on the road, we were very hungry, so I looked up non-beef fast food, and I discovered there’s Church’s nearby. I explained it to her, then we were on our way there in 5 min. The food tasted like nothing, not like I had enjoyed 20 years earlier somewhere down south like Albuquerque, El Paso, or Houston. I was only excited to begin the road trip, so even though the long road to Las Vegas awaited us, I was ready to hit the road and skip LA. We’ll be back to it in the end anyway. This is what I was telling her, but she probably was not digging it as much as I thought she was.

Driving in the US is a trick first because driver’s seat is on the other side of the car, plus streets go on the other side as well. I used to drive in NYC, so I just need a few moments to get the hang of it back. I got on I-105, then I-605, then I-210, and finally I-15 all the way to Las Vegas. About 4 and half hours of straight drive. We began around 8pm, but the magenta and orange colors over dark silhouette of palm trees were still present in the sky, quickly fading into purple.

Californian atmosphere was dry and felt very refreshing as expected, and the evening breeze was much cooler than that of Tokyo for sure.

On the highway in the metropolitan area, those typical 6-lane-roads were covered with fast cars that knew exactly where they were going, and I just had to jump into it until we were in the suburbia. From that on, I had a straight shot to Las Vegas without any need for food or fuel. She was asleep most of the time, and after we passed Barstow, boring flats by the desert stalled everything in mind, so then finally the rack monster haunted me all the sudden. I started to use my pinching technique on my arms and side of the belly to keep myself awake. I did it so hard that the next morning I noticed purple bruise around my belly.

I remembered a long stretch of road that seemed infinite because of the combination of straight downhill and then straight uphill. On the left side, I saw a very tall thermometer near Baker town and got surprised because it showed 95 degrees even at night. We were on the entrance to the Death Valley route.

By the time I was driving down from the mountain pass into the plains of Nevada, my sleepiness went off to somewhere, and instead some lights in distance jumped into my sight as though some kind of mirage, type of what would magnet certain types of people looking to make their dreams of hand-full of loot come true. Then, I remembered that last time I was driving down the same route, it was pouring out there. Also, I knew such welcoming lights of Casino and resorts along I-15, whose decoration is done in particular way that no other industry would be, are only tiny blinks of the real deal, so as I drove by gathered illuminations, I remembered those are Primm and Jean, merely mimicry of Las Vegas.

It was 12:30am already. I could had driven passed all the strip extravaganza, but I didn’t because I wanted her to see it. So, regardless of what Google map says repeatedly, I got off the highway near Caesar’s Palace and took a detour and headed south by Luxor, Mandalay Bay, then I u-turned back up to north, passing by MGM, Bellagio, Paris, the Venetian, the Palazzo, the Peppermill Lounge my favorite, and until it got dark and no soul on street.

I don’t think I ever traveled this far north in Las Vegas, but eventually activities appeared as I saw a gigantic White Castle and got excited, and there it was, our hotel inside of Oasis at Gold Spike. We went through some enigmatic process of strolling luggage into deep of the Casino area before we got to the hotel room, but looking back, it was exactly the same way as let’s say the Palazzo. You’d first pass the casino area until you hit the check-in counter to the hotel, then all rooms are located upstairs. Oasis was the same deal, only much smaller almost like a motel, so it threw me off is all.

We dropped off our luggage and stepped right outside to see the action. We walked to White Castle, and I explained what it is to her. The place left me with pretty much only good memories from the college and deeper side of Brooklyn and Queens. Because of my episodes, she thought I could use some of that meal, but when I looked inside at 1am, it just disgusted me so much that there was no way walking into that. Right outside, there’re drunk bohemians passed out onto their own urine, still holding 32 oz huge beer cans of such particular brands as you know. Ok, I’ll list them. Busch, Coors light, Miller High Life, Bud light, and Pabst blue ribbon, which as you know is the hipsters’ choice, and mine too.

Then, we continued onto Fremont street, which was apparently the place to go if you are in the North Las Vegas. All casinos poised on the street here looked very old, but what surprised me was every casino still had guests inside at 2am playing cards or slot machines. I just do not get their psyche. Well, I guess even though I am no gambler, I still watch hustler movies old and new, so I can somewhat guess what excites them.

But, beer is my game. I was sucked into a large souvenir shop along the street and walked straight to fridge area, totally ignoring cheap souvenirs that are made in China at best. I picked up two 32 oz Bud light for $6 and cracked open right away on the street although the sign on the owning of the shop said, “No consuming of alcohol beverages that are purchased at this shop on this street.” It puzzled me for a second, but it was too late. I mean, I looked around and saw at least 2 dozen sleazy folks like myself wandering and drinking at the same time. Even better, I was smelling the herb all around me. Is Nevada legal to smoke weed? I did not even bother to ask Google. I did not do so for drinking alcohol in public anyway. It just seemed all permissive.

Actually, I noticed an undercover patrol vehicle driving back and forth on the main road, which cut Fremont street in the middle, and I kind of froze and examined what the officer would do to me and all others who held humongous beer cans by hand, but he did not do anything.

That really did it. I felt all free. No hiding from anyone. I was finally able to look. We saw a street performer rapper who was mixing pre-written lyrics of his own and improvising free styles with quotes from recent hit rap songs too. We were there for a while, and she said he is very young. That aspect was out of my picture, but true, he was very young. He should be going to high school or something. Then, I started to imagine his backgrounds and how he got here and all.

I felt something heavy on my shoulders as well as a strange mixture of exhaustion and arousal with eyes wide open. I said let’s go home and get some sleep, so we did.