Notes from the road — the P(x) digital diaries
Day 12: Wednesday, August 25th
Blurry-eyed I wake to find myself the motivator of the day. The plan was to pack up and head for Mt. Rushmore, grab a handful foof interviews at the monument and hit the road to Wyoming. The TV was on and tuned to MTV or something similar. Mariah Carey was dancing on the screen and I couldn't remember where my bag was or what city we were in much less where we were going.
The room was a complete disaster, towels and clothes littered everywhere. I showered in a daze, brushed my teeth next to a cracked watermelon on ice in the only sink and tried to think about what I could use as a substitute for coffee on my second day of detox. Everyone was moving so quickly and seemed so perky — was I the only one affectly by last night's adventure? I really hadn't had that much to drink and April and I had stopped way before Chris and Kelli. And yet I was the first to pass out, as I later found out, sprawled across the bed intended for 2.
As we packed up the gear a summer rain came through sprinkling the windshield. I volunteered to drive since I hadnt touched the wheel at all yesterday, succumming to the coma that overtook me. In the beginning of the trip we had decided that it was bad to set me up as the morning driver as I am NOT a morning person. Acutally, I am a morning person, just as long as the morning begins at 10. Somehow we weren't holding to this group suggestion.
Easing out of the small parking lot of the small Town House Motel, the rain picked up. It seemed that I'm always driving when it rains — is it me, do I attract the rain? Or is it that I am subconsiously attracted to driving in the rain? Pulling into the first gas station I could find on the Mt. Rushmore Road I jump out to gas up and grab a cup of hot cocoa. Everyone else has already slurped down their first cup of joe and my thirst for caffeine raged, even if it came in small doses.
Many winding roads later we reach what April would have sworn was Las Vegas without electricity or my thought, Knott's Berry Farm. In truth it was the town you must travel through to get to Mt. Rushmore. T-shirt shops and kitschy ice cream parlors with names of western bandits lined the road. I was nasausted by the sights and smells. Driving on further we reached the acclaimed sculpture. At first glance my thought was "it's much smaller than I expected" We paid the $8 parking fee and headed down the central walkway to the viewing terrace.
Once there we went mad, picking up 13 interviews in an hour and a half. It was a great opportunity to interview people from states/areas we weren't able to visit like Virginia, Washington, New York, Michigan and Palm Springs, CA. We all voted the best to be an Indiana Jones-looking fellow from Michigan. Oh boy was he great to interview. April and Kelli were lucky they could legitimately stare at him through their cameras without being obvious. I on the other hand had to focus on asking thought-provoking questions to him and his father while trying to keep from drooling. Uh, uh, uh hi. I think I need to work on documentaries more often, "excuse me sir, could you please sign this release form giving me your name address and phone number. Oh yes, and don't forget your state, your age and profession for the camera." I love the screening process! Indiana is an aspiring sculptor, yum yum.
Next stop Deadwood! If I were a guy I would not want to say I was from this town. It is a typical gaming town/tourist trap. Every restaurant touted gaming and you could see through the windows all of the slot machines right next to the tables. Not our idea of a nice lunch. Instead we opted for a motel restaurant with the casino to the side and a waitress who hated her job. We were the only customers in the place and everything seemed like an inconvienence to her. The vegetarian options on the menu are the slimest I've seen yet. Of the three veggie options I pick the baked potato. "Those won't be available until 4pm," she says flatly. "OK I guess I'll need a minute," I reply. As everyone finishes ordering I scan the menu looking for omething other than salad. I settle on coleslaw and mashed potatoes, no gravy. My order is greeted with a strange look as she turns to walk away.
Ten minutes later she returns with our meals. Kelli's grilled cheese sandwich consisted of two slices of wonder bread and a processed American cheese slice. That is really to be expected. However, when she returned for a second time with Chris' and my order we were shocked to see the Barbie-size portions. Was she trying to tell us something? Or was this really a meal?
I continued driving whil April blew thru a couple of days of updates. I've been finding it more and more difficult to crank these out as the scenery is so beautiful and distracting and we hadn't tried writing from from the tomb, which is what I'm doing now. Plus it is important for you to gain all the perspectives of this trip. Some of us might not write dirt on ourselves. In fact being the master of the updates I have a wonderful opportunity to add tidbits as I please. No one else is really focused on adding dirt about me!
We make a stop of gas in Gillette, WY. The locals were not clean-shaven as we had hoped, in fact as we drove down the highway and through the town we hypothesized as to if this was the next site for a ZZ Top convention. Perhaps this is where they stole their look from. The thought of a chocolate shake sounded very appealing, but then we remembered the cracked watermelon on ice in the cooler and dug in. We started off 4 civilized young women and digressed quickly to scooping the fleshy pieces out with our hands and engaging in a seed spitting compitition. April came out the winner. What does it mean to be the best at seed spitting and the worst at video games?
Please feel free to respond to these questions I pose. ...
After five hours of driving on the open roads of Wyoming my mind had begun to wander. All kinds of thoughts were running through my head, like how do you start a grassroots movement on volunteerism. Yest I work far too much — look at my resort vacation choices. I figure if I'm going to be on this planet sucking resources I had best be doing something to make it a better place than I left it — I guess I took the girlscout motto way too seriously as a child. Anyway, my point here is that as I surveyed the expansive country side it occurred to me that Wyoming looks like Arizona, but with fur. As I shared my profound revelation with April I realized how absurd my statement sounded. We giggled for a while on it and decided it would be great to share it with you. Hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did. If not, I guess you just had to be there.
On our journey we pass the Crazy Woman River. From the map this looked like a great place for Chris to continue her naked adventures in water. However, upon seeing the river from the road April ascertained that you would have to be a crazy woman to swin in the cow-packed muddy little stream. So we let Chris continue sleeping in the tomb til the next stop and broke it to her then.
Can I just ask why Wyoming of all states is in the process of repaving every single stretch of highway within its boundaries? And where did they get all the money? By the time we left I was so sick of "low to 35 mph" signs, I was about to start road-raging on the construction workers. If we all die of lung cancer within the next year please file a class action lawsuit on the state of Wyoming for tar inhalation. The case may be harder for the families of the smokers, but April and I were clean before we got there.
Sheridan, WY is the next town we chose to corrupt. Pulling off the highway we find many hotel with a wide range of western themes at our fingertips. However, at the first 2 places we try, a "lovely" motel next to a taxidermy shop and another across the street with a sign reading "Swim with Jaws" (that's appealing) no one seems to be home. Further up the road we find a cozy place with a park in the middle and get this, it has two rooms! We all find this extremely exciting. Chris being the funder and dictator, I mean director, automatically gets the single bed in the spare room. From there April, Kelli and I are left to ro-sham-bo to see who gets their own two bed. I'll jump ahead and let you know that April sort of won by passing out on the bed with the big pile of laundry. I just hope that bit of info didn't blow the whole continuity of the story.
So we head out around 6:30pm looking for interviews. I'm beginning to think this evening interview schedule is acutally a ploy by certain cew members to find guys to hang out with. I'll let you know what my final conclusion is.
Parking on a side street next to a movie theater we see that The Blair Witch Project is playing. Alright! Maybe we won't have to wait in line to buy tickets for next July. April has already seen it and isn't interested in seeing it again. Kelli has promised a friend she'd wait to see it with her and Chris is very focused on work. Bummed, I resign myself to waiting to see it when I get home. Hopefully there will be someone left to see it with when I get back. Someone who hasn't already seen it I mean. Walking past the theater Kelli befriends two 13-year old-girls. They are sitting outside of the theater waiting to find someone over 18 who can get them into the movie. Hey maybe I can go with them? No, too much work to do and the last showing starts in 15 minutes.Foiled again!
Turning onto the main street, again titled Main Street (god people are so clever) we find many western shops. I charge into the first one I see, "Dan's Western Wear" hoping to get an interview with a real live steer wrangling cowboy with boots, spurs and a cowboy hat. Instead I find the place void of customers with a delicate man in a button-up shirt behind the counter. Not wanting to walk away without an interview I ask the delicate man if he would like to participate. He is very uncomfortable with the idea and quickly goes to see if the manager would like to step in in his place. Returing he says she is interested and points me in her direction. Walking into her office I attempt to introduce myself, but am cut off by a "so what is it you want?" I begin explaining the project "We're a documentary film crew traveling across the US asking people questions ..." again I am cut off by her growling "Okay well ask away!" I motion April for April to join me with the camer and hear the woman bark, "Are you going to use a camera?!" ...
Excuse me but how else do you make a documentary? The reason this is so annoying is that is isn't the first time I've been asked this question. What this shows is that we must be getting interviews from very broad and diverse populations: those who know doucmentaries are films and those who don't. To make a long story short we didn't get the interview. What we did get were silly redneck postcards, T-shirts and bumper stickers that said things like "Carp the other white meat" and "You have 2 chances of roping me, slim and none."
But you know what? The whole purpose of my telling all of that was to let you know that it was at that moment in time that Chris found her super cool, bad ass, black cowgirl hat. We'll have to get a picture of her in a lake or river wearing nothing but the hat! You'll see it appear in the film from this point on! She is very rarely without it. It wonder how it will fit in in Petaluma?
From Dan's we mosied over to the The Mint Bar. For miles April and I had been seeing billboards for it and had casually made comments, "Yeah, we'll probably end up there tonight." Mind you we didnt actually expect that we would, we were just joking. But as fate would have it there we were stepping up to the bar to ask the bartender if we could interview the Wrangler-wearing patrons in the comfort of the lacquered wood booths with an audience of slain animals animals peering down form all four walls. The bartender was kind and said it was not problem asking if she should turn down the jukebox.
The rest of the crew streamed in and we agreed on a reasonably quiet place in the back near the pool table. The first gentlemen I approached was an average-height slender cattle rancher cowboy with a classical mustache and friendly smile. I think I took him a bit by surprise as he was just exiting the little wrangler room, but he recovered well with a nod and retorted my request for an interview with "Can I buy you a beer first?".Finding myself speechless I deferred to April who had just flanked me on the right. I'd just like to say right now that it is a real shame that more people in big cities don't make gestures like that more often. Like the concept of being neighborly, it has fallen by the wayside.
Stepping off my soapbox I will continue the story. Dan being the first cattle rancher we had interviewed had a perspective we had not yet encountered. The word environment to him meant ranchers. Ranchers were to him the stewards of the land, they had been taking care of it for generations. At this moment I realized how important this project was. How amazing it was to be a part of something that respected each person's ability to have their own opinion and perspective even if it was different from ours. We had the goal of reaching people from all walks of life and we were, in their place, in their comfort zone.
Once we finished talking with Dan we asked him to nominate the next candidate for us to interview. Gladly he hollered to his friend Tim to join us and then insisted on buying all four of us drinks. We couldn't refuse the gesture and enjoyed the local favorite, Budweiser (were you surprised?), while we collected more fascinating perspectives on our future. Once Dan and Tim were in the booth with us it seemed the whole bar joined. Chris did a wonderful job of interviewing four plumbers at once, trying to keep them from talking over one another.
As we finished the interviews we turned to notice that the conversation had not stopped just because the cameras had. We had struck a nerve in them and it was spreading like wildfire. Oscar and George came back to life in Kelli and April's hands dodging to and fro to collect as much of the conversation as they could. If this is all we had set out to do, start a dialogue, we had met our goal in Sheridan, Wyoming.
Much time had passed and it was time for us to move on. We hadn't eaten in hours and the physical and emotional intensity of the past twelve days was beginning to wear on us all. Twelve days without a real day or night off is a bit much for anyone. Every day that we push this agenda we become more and more irritable, grating on each others' nerves. Things that were no big deal a few days ago like resting your arm against someone when you are in the tomb or where we eat, when we eat, how many interviews we want to get today and when have become majoy ordeals. The endless days and nights of traveling and working together with little alone time and no privacy are definitely taking their toll. You know this when you go from counting how many days you've been gone to counting how many days till youre back in your own bed taking up as much space as you damn well please.
We head over to a local microbrewery bar and grill for dinner and a few beers to ease the stress. The waiter and a few patrons are cute and witty taking our minds of the long day and the five long days to come. I ordered the house "oilcan" brew. Darker than Guinness, but lighter in texture, it is refreshing and very hoppy — we must be leaving corn country and nearing grain territory.