Aug. 13th: Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Salt Lake City
Next morning, I woke up to the piercing sunshine through the middle crack between curtains. It was so strong and blinding. I looked at my cell phone, or was it this device that woke me up? Anyway, it was 8 am, right about time we should be getting up.
I noticed something placed right over the vent of the loud air-conditioning below the main window. It was an unopened blueberry flavored Greek yogurt. Next to it was an open bag of Fritos plus assorted chips and that huge can of Bud light. That’s right, we swung by a 7-Eleven on our way back so that we can munch on some breakfast. Since there was no refrigerator in our hotel room, I put the yogurt on the vent, thinking it’s better than nothing.
She did not want it, so I finished it all. Hopped in the shower, we were gone to the parking lot across the street. Around 9:30am, the morning sun was already burning our skin. It was a different planet we were on. The color of soil and the scorching heat made me think of Mars. Inside of Nissan was incredibly hot even though I had parked it under a tree.
I drove back into the hotel’s temporary parking spot through the back alley to pick her up and the luggage. We stopped at the same 7-Eleven, and I got myself my favorite kind of French Vanilla flavored gas station coffee and drove off to the highway.
Driving then felt totally a whole other sport because I was on the road, driving the other side of the road in the other side of the driving seat. Yes, I was doing that already, but now with clear vision of the wild desert surrounding us, unlike the pitch-black tunnel vision from last night’s drive. I felt wings on my back, flying through orange sand dunes on both sides.
As we approached the mountainous valley of Virgin River gorge, I saw the thermometer behind my steering wheel and noticed it was pushing 100 degrees. It was around noon when we stopped at a small town called St. George for fueling, shopping for camping gears at Walmart, and having lunch at Jack in the Box because they offer Teriyaki chicken served with rice.
I clearly remembered this town from 15 years ago. It is one those countryside towns in the US where all the possible fast food joints you can think of are in abundance regardless of its population.
So, 15 years ago, we stayed at a random motel since we slept in the rental car the previous night in Las Vegas, relocating a parking spot in vigilance after another in various casinos after kept being spotted by security guards for trespassing. They told us to move unless we are playing at the casino. We surely did for a couple of hours strolling around places like Harrah’s and the Venetian, having next to nothing mixed drinks and beers instead of gambling. I am no hustler. I am just a cheapskate with lots of curiosity in things. That’s all.
Anyhow, we had exhausted ourselves from doing it, and 3-hour time difference from NY really gave us a final blow. It was like 3 or 4am in NY, so we were back in the car, appearing in random dark parking places like zombies. She did not complain at all because it was not my fault doing it. We had a lost baggage at the McCarran Airport and needed to wait till the next morning to pick it up.
Anyway, I remember we got into some argument over something probably very silly on our way to Zion, and she just took off on foot and wandered around the vast shopping area of Walmart, this very Walmart in St. George. I also took a walk in this vast lot in the unbearable heat with strings of other shops until I found her sitting on the curb. We slept well that night.
I was daydreaming about all this stuff while driving through the canyons. She probably did not notice it, but I was kind of jumpy and being distracted by the sceneries along the road because I was pretty sure I drove the same route back then. I totally remembered the town called Hurricane and Colorado City and all.
Our destination for today was Salt Lake City. We absolutely had to get there by next morning for she’d be attending some business conference. But, I recommended Grand Canyon because it was her first time in the US, and having been there twice, I felt obligated to recommend it because it is one of the most spectacular vistas in America. Well, to be honest, somewhere deep down, I was having some nostalgic and sweet and sour memory of the road trip from 15 years ago.
So, our itinerary was stretched into this very ambitious one, for driving 4 and half hours to Grand Canyon north rim, then turn back around and reroute ourselves to Salt Lake City, which was at least 6 and half hours of driving. I am a traveler by birth, and I am pretty sure Americans do this all the time, but I am only sure, not positive. I could be wrong or be fantasizing the American way too much. But, I am going to keep it that way for the sake of the legacy of American frontier spirit.
When we got to the Grand Canyon, it was already 6pm. Well, now we were in Arizona, so the time zone changed, and we gained one hour actually. Still, it was much later than I planned. I tried hard not to panic or hustle through the trail because I thought she would not like it, not at all. So, we took our sweet time and looked everywhere in the canyon, walked on the edges of the steep drop, posed and took pics, hiked to the Bright Angel’s Point, and observed the unmatchable spectacular sunsetting view, the view totally worth all the gas, extra driving hours, and any other thinkable troubles. Even though it was a bit hazy or smoky, the mood and color were paramount, and I was glad she saw it by her own eye. I could tell that she was impressed by the scale of it too.
It was almost 7pm when we took off back into Kaibab forest. I was already fatigued from the jet lag and long drives until now, so I had to ask her to switch with me and drive for a while. She is a good driver. I knew it from Bangkok.
There was low speed limit along the forest, and surely, we encountered several groups of deer crossing the road besides a large herd of buffaloes. Some were close calls for deer, and she had to step on the brake hard, several times.
Nightfall felt sooner because in the pacific time zone it meant 8pm, and we were on the western verge of the mountain standard time zone. I was taking some good evening shots by Nikon D810, but I fell asleep after navigating her onto the right path to Salt Lake City.
I woke up after maybe 45 min., and she was zipping through the dark winding road somewhere in southern Utah. It was still Route 89 right before Mount Carmel junction. This route was so dark. I was wide awake at that time. Coming from countries whose driving is totally on the other side, usually people tend to keep the car way too much on the right side, and often times tires would hit the ripples off the white stripe then make uncomfortable noise. There were many times like that. It is inevitable. You just need to get used to it.
She was silent. I said to her, “let’s have some dinner and rest at the next town.” Yes, she said. But, what we saw along little towns like Orderville, Glendale, and Hatch were unknown, unglamorous restaurants that are probably run by a local mom and pop, and there was not even a convenient store at a gas station, so we skipped them all.
We were driving some steep hills and downhills in pitch dark winding single-lane road, which was tough enough to confuse our pace. Obviously, we generated a line of tailgaters behind us, and some folks had angled up headlights or even high beams, so that did not help at all.
In this technical single lane road with 65-mile speed limit, whenever they saw the chance they pounded on gas and passed right by us with such roaring engine sounds. I was getting hungrier and, she was leaning over the steering wheel, which made me think she was having difficult time or getting tired or something. Actually, she wanted to go find restrooms, but at that point, we were even deeper into the abyss of darkness and the wild nature, so I suggested to pull over.
When I stepped outside, it was silent. It felt chilly on my exposed skin, but the air tasted fresh and nostalgic almost. It was the kind of clean air of winter that I like the most. Then, I looked up, and of course, there was the Milky Way in unbelievably perfect form, the form that stayed forever in my memory from my childhood in the winter in Nagano prefecture. The more I gazed the night sky, the more stars started to appear before my eye until I was almost feeling the embodiment of every single star on the celestial sphere over my head. That was miraculous. I felt very small in a good way, in front of the infinite space, mother of all things.
Nature’s call. I felt driven to urinate into the bush as she was finishing her business too. I sat in the driver’s seat. The drive continued, this time in this new spaceship.
Yet, our empty stomach was far from being satisfied. Nothing came up. We were back on earth. Looking at the meter, about 1/4 tank worth of gas was left. It was still easily 50 miles to get us back on I-15, but I knew that was the solution to the situation. I drove passed Panguitch and took route 20 in dark. We were both silent. It was already midnight. I knew she hated the long drive. We were very tired and hungry, and we started to miss things. She was looking at her mobile, probably her daughter’s pictures or work-related things. Yes, I knew that I am a boring guy on top of this boring road at night. I had already forgotten how beautiful that moment was only few seconds ago, looking into the sky.
I followed her choice of conversational topic. I wanted to talk about Cara too. She appreciated me when I talk about mine, so did I to hers. I thought it is a great quality of both of us, and I always felt obliged for this.
But, of all animals on this planet, a man or just a male in my own sense of understanding its kind, takes a fast path and jump to conclusions, conclusions that are heavily based on assumptions and where his mind was at that time and place. I was talking about our future. Bad idea. There were few concerns she had, which appeared to me as a countless many barrier that were too high to overcome. It clearly meant that she was not sure about us. I did not want to admit that I understood such unassured feelings with my own instinct, although where her heart was was totally reasonable.
With a slight pain like a needle inside of my stomach, amongst topics, one particular one killed me. From her networks of friends or families or something else who knows what, which as a matter of fact I couldn’t even be sure because it had already gotten under my skin, she was concerned that a future step father would molest her daughter because she learned such cases around her close people.
I was astonished. I asked her right away if she’d speculate me as such a monster. And, I told her that such idea would never come across me in my whole life, nor was I ever a sex criminal or child molester or anything at all. I am clean. Of all people on earth, why would she not trust me, her boyfriend? I was way too excited to be responding to the topic, and I thought that me freaking out like this would probably give her even more wrong ideas. I was so desperate though. But, I stopped mouth and said to myself in mind, never a word about this. I calmed myself down, and we were silent again.
My mid was full of some strange mixed thoughts about the whole reason about this trip. Was I here to help her business or did I come for my own pleasure… The reason why I was puzzled was most likely because I could not really make sense of how we ended up at restaurants from last night and this afternoon at Joe’s. Why did I not go to In-Out-Burger in St. George? Even back home in Japan, I sometimes dreamt of that tasty burger, that all-in animal style. I own that hat they give away to kids, and without any shame, I hang it in my room.
No, I tried to be thoughtful because I know this country like my own only slightly short of what I know about Japan, so I have the leisure to help someone who’s never been here before. Plus, she cannot eat beef, and I was only able to find options other than Mexican food which she does not eat also. But, again, it seemed obvious that I was not trusted, so why bother even. All this was spinning around in my head.
Out of simple need, I was snacking a large bag of Chips Ahoy cookies that I bought at Walmart for $2. I needed that jolt from sugar to keep my focus on the road. But, that was a bad idea. It made me unhappy. I hated picturing myself consuming such filthy trans-fat-filled poison as a substitution for dinner. I just wanted a decent meal. I’d happily take greasy American diner food over it if I could find it at all.
Totally feeling a downer, nonetheless, street lights and signs began to appear more frequently when I learned that soon we would be on I-15 again. That glorious interstate highway was my savior. Thanks Ike.
As soon as we got on the highway, I took the next exit off to the left and swung by Denny’s because I knew they would have a meal that she could eat, although none of their level of spiciness could meet her grading criteria at all. All the characteristics of Good old Denny’s of that sepia orange light, overly puffy vinyl seats, tables taken by local hillbilly kids who are having a swell session at 1am, and the menu whose colors were pretty much all blurry yellow and orange and brown and reds for their fatty, greasy all-American dishes were giving me carrot-and-stick sensation in my stomach.
Anyhow, I got some Fajita with warm tortilla sheets, while she got a Cobb or Caesar salad. Since they don’t serve beer, I got just a plastic cup of room temperature tap water, so did she. It took quite a long until our meal was served. We were probably not enjoying the food after all for the wait, fatigue from extended hours of driving, and the jet lag. Oh yes, that particular word did not come to my attention until that very moment.
Then, out of the blue, we started to argue. No, it was me who started all that. I went all the way back to the conversation about her worrying about the step father situation, if he’d be a child rapist and all. That really was stuck inside me. I went on and on to tell her that I would never even begin to think of such wrong deeds, and I was disappointed for being considered as such potential threat. The more I spat out, the angrier I became, and finally I was pointing my index finger right into her face and yelling stuff like, never, ever label me like that, ever again.
We paid up. I left a fat tip for disturbing the family restaurant. We were silent, again. From that moment, after I fueled up about $35 worth of gas at the nearest station, all the rest of journey till Salt Lake City was ambient. After our Denny’s in Beaver, we passed Cover Fort, Meadow, Fillmore, Holden, Scipio, Nephi, Santaquin, and from Provo, Draper, and Sandy, only visible element was the city neon lights flying by on my right and left. Lanes increased from two to three, and three to four eventually.
It was 3am when we got to the Airbnb, which her Thai colleagues reserved in advance. She woke up one of the guys, and he stepped outside for us, so I told him thank you and sorry for being so late.
He said, “oh, it is okay.” That quiet little words of oblivion were enough to give me a little slack to the situation for me. In my head, that phrase was rolling. Let the oblivion roll over. Roll right over me, please.
I don’t remember how I got to the bed. But, the morning next day still arrived as if nothing was ever a problem.