Morning, Poor Dude with a Dog…: Tuesday morning I woke up weary of the road and ready to bust out on I-40 to drive all the way the Riverside, California with the idea that I could put in a few of days work with my client in Ontario before returning to Novato. It would mean three more nights in cheap motels but it would put another $1600 in my bank account. I put in the call and told the boss man that depending on the traffic I’d likely show up sometime Wednesday morning. I pulled into the Circle K, filled up with gas and coffee and started for the on ramp to I-40 West. As I was pulling out there stood a forty-something white dude who was thumbing a ride. I stopped and asked him where he was headed, and he said Albuquerque and told me he had a dog…I’m not sure why, maybe it was just my mood, but the idea of driving a hundred miles with a sad smelly dog in the back seat just didn’t ring my bell, so I said sorry and drove away down the street to the on-ramp and got on the freeway.
…Mike MWNN…: By the time I reached Albuquerque I needed more coffee and a trip to the men’s room. I drove through town, found a truck stop and pulled in to take care of business and there I found my next traveling companion, the man with no name - MWNN. He sat on the shoulder next to one relatively small sports bag with his thumb out just in front of the on ramp sign… I’m not sure but I think he may have been napping. There’s an unspoken etiquette that comes with picking up hitchhikers and it’s very basic: conversation, information and identity is voluntary. Since MWNN didn’t volunteer his name, I’ve decided to identify him as Mike. He seemed to me to be the kind of guy that everybody called Mike while his mother always called him Michael.
Turned out that after a construction job fell through in Colorado Springs, Mike was headed back to Las Vegas, Nevada to hook up with his contacts to find work. He’d scored a long ride with a trucker who dropped him off at the truck stop at 1:00am before driving north to Sante Fe so I told him I could take him as far as Flagstaff or Kingman, Arizona. Because many truck stops have cracked down on prostitution, drug dealers and panhandlers, they’ve hired security guards to patrol the parking lots at night and run off anyone who might be loitering or sleeping. Mike had spent those early morning hours in the coffee shop trying to stay awake until daylight, so after his initial rundown about his situation and destination, the rhythm of the road caught up with him and he fell asleep.
I turned down the sound system and let him snore and it was well after noon when he woke up as we drove into Flagstaff and decided to grab a late breakfast. Mike got the cheeseburger special for $5.95 and I got some eggs and sausages. We traded selected tales and he revealed that he felt kind of lost and betrayed over the twenty years he’d lived and worked concrete construction in and out of Las Vegas. He’d always worked non union jobs, mostly tilt up warehousing, and though he got paid well, he never really benefited from the giant casino and family resort hotel builds that changed the face of Sin City:
His family lived in Virginia and after this recent fiasco in Colorado Springs, he was thinking hard about calling his brother and returning to his roots. I suggested that with the endless construction in the DC metro area as well as what went on in Norfolk, he’d probably manage to get back on his feet pretty quick. When I paid for lunch, I asked him how much money he had and when Mike confessed that he was down to a couple of dollars and pocket change, I pushed a twenty bill across the table and said, “That ought to help you out until you get back to Vegas.”
Fortified and fueled, we drove through Flagstaff and I ran across an alternative route, Highway 89 North to Page, which had nothing to do with getting to California but did in a round about way take us northeast of Grand Canyon National Park into Utah and eventually through a small slice of Zion National Park to Las Vegas by way of St. George:
I was weary and bored with dodging eighteen wheelers on I-40, so on impulse, I asked Mike if he wanted to try to hitch out of Kingman, or spend the night in St. George and have a guaranteed ride to Las Vegas tomorrow morning. Although he had little use for the local law enforcement folk in Utah, he calculated the odds against catching a ride to Vegas out of Kingman and elected for the longer scenic route. I was blowing off $1600 of work, but it would be Wednesday before I got to Ontario and I had to admit that this long trip to and from Texas had taken a physical and mental toll on me. I needed my blue highway fix more than I needed the money:
We made Page with plenty of daylight left and cruised over the bridge just downstream of Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam, which Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater eventually came to regret as the worst vote he ever cast in his long history in the US Congress.
Highway 89 winds through some interesting rocks and stuff northwest of Page, Arizona then goes kind of flat in Utah:
This is near the town of Kanab which is, believe it or not, just about ten miles north of Fredonia, Arizona… not sure if that town was named after the mythical kingdom from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup or just some guy named Fred:
After about 20 miles we turned onto Utah SR 9 and headed toward Zion National Park, which was open no thanks to Ted Cruz:
…and Geezer Pass: That turned out to be a small problem, because the entrance fee to Zion National Park is $25.00 which when you’re just driving through on Utah SR 9, works to be a toll of about $1.47 a mile!!! Fortunately the Park Ranger manning the entrance kiosk made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Since I’m an American citizen over the age of 62, I qualified for the incredibly deeply discounted life time Senior Pass to all National Parks and Monuments and a whole bunch of other places for the one time low, low price of $10.00!!! I jumped on that sucker in a New York second and after a few minutes on his computer, the kind ranger presented me with this:
On principle I’m usually averse to any kind of Senior discount stuff, but this was too tempting to pass up. When Mike and I dubbed it the Geezer Pass, the ranger, who wasn’t that much younger than me, laughed out loud and sent us on our way. As they snake through the park those 17 miles of road are a thing of beauty, but you have to take it slow and keep an eye peeled for idiot tourists wandering around taking pictures at every turn:
There are also a couple of miles of tunnels on that road that run right through two mountains:
At the end of the day the sky glowed with twilight as we came out on the other side of that tiny slice of the park, but the sun went down before we got to St. George, so we ended up at some lame motel in a tiny town called Hurricane.
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