My wife and I have just returned from an 18 day trip through the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, California and Nevada. The trip was designed to stop at the many different casinos on our way to and from California. We attended the 80th birthday party of my wife’s father, which was in Southern California. We then traveled to Northern California to visit our son and his family and then into Central California to visit our son and his family. We drove to Lake Tahoe and then to Las Vegas. It was a great trip and a long trip. We drove about 4000 miles mostly along the freeways and highways of the different states. The good news is we enjoyed each other’s company through the whole trip. But in visiting each one of our stops I found some thoughts that I intend to share during the following months.
One of the first things I thought of was the amount of 18 wheelers on the road every day. I found them to be the better drivers on the road and also an irritation on the road. On the freeway where the land is mostly flat the 18 wheelers seem to drive the speed of the posted signs. The irritation was the quick movement of 18 Wheeler into the passing lane to get around another 18 Wheeler. Some of the drivers must think there driving sports cars to make a lane change so quickly and without consideration of the space between an oncoming vehicle and the back of their trucks. It was also irritating to notice when passing the 18 wheelers I saw them texting or looking at a device instead of looking straight ahead at the road. The worst experiences were when I got into the mountains and got behind one slow-moving truck trying to pass another slower moving truck. Other than that I know that this nation depends upon the service of the 18 wheelers to get the goods we need to the many places we buy them at. It seems to me that the size and the shape of 18 Wheeler has not changed much in the many years they been on the road. No matter what the make and model of the 18 Wheeler they all seem to have the same height and width that demands more fuel through the wind. My thought is that the complete redesign of the 18 Wheeler is necessary. Much like the redesign of vehicles for the European market, I think we can redesign the 18 Wheeler. I’m not sure why the height and ground clearance of the vehicle has to be so tall. I realize that many vehicles may have to go on rough roads to pick up their product. But I also believe many of them only drive on pavement. The cab of the 18 Wheeler usually has some kind of resting quarters attached, it seems a little bit too wide. I do not see a lot of vehicles with two people in the cab. Since pushing the big rigs through the wind is such a fuel consumption issue, they sould be shorter and wider. If there has to be a second seat for the cab why can it not be behind the driver much like the attack helicopters and jet plane seating arrangement? I realize that there are height limitations to the trailers. This seems like there’s a lot of wasted space between the set of wheels that can be utilized, much like many of the modern RVs on the road. I noticed a lot of air dynamic add-ons to the bottom of the trailers, so the issue clearance does not seem to be there. By utilizing the space between the wheels you cut down the height of the cab and the trailer and still carry the same amount of product. I also believe that the 18 wheelers in the United States base can be a little wider and a little lower to help avoid the 18 Wheeler from being blown over by the wind on the highway. The last issue is about the 18 wheelers ability to knock down the amount of spray that comes from the wheels during a rain. For me as a driver, when I decide to pass an 18 Wheeler in the rain I realize I’m going into a totally blind situation with the hopes that the road doesn’t change drastically before I pass the 18. I have noticed that commercial transportation buses and large RVs seem to have knocked down this amount of spray considerably. The current day 18 Wheeler should be redesigned to increase in safety and fuel consumption.
Another issue along the road is the availability and the cleanliness of the restrooms. As I get older it gets harder for me to go a long time without needing to use the restroom. And certainly while traveling across I -40 or I- 10 I had to keep a close watch on where there was an off ramp that will provide restroom facilities. I follow some kind of unwritten rule that if you stopped and use the restroom facilities you should spend some money at that facility, either getting gasoline or buying some coffee or food products at that location. To my surprise the rest stops and welcome centers located along the freeway in each of the states were clean and well kept. It was the private gas stations or restaurants that seem to vary widely in their conditions. I did not expect really sanitary or clean conditions in non-major company locations. But I did expect them at the different major brands that were along the highway. Whether be companies like Shell Oil, Exxon Mobil oil, Phillips 66 or TA Love’s stores, the conditions were unpredictable. I know that there are state agencies that check the gas pumps and are not responsible for the restrooms. I think those major brands should use some kind of mechanism that we checked the restrooms especially along the major freeways. There were times that I was under so much pressure to go to the bathroom I ended up walking into the wrong side of the restroom area. Upon quickly realizing I hit the wrong door I turned around and with great embarrassment went to the other side. Then those few seconds that I looked into the front area of the restroom, it seems like the women’s side of the restrooms were cleaner than the men’s side. I did notice some kind of unwritten rule about waiting for an open spot in the men’s restroom. First of all if there are more than two urinals open you never walk into the urinal next to someone else that’s already using one. I walked to the farthest urinal so that there space between me and the other person. Second, if there is a line waiting to use the urinal you, calmly walked to the end of the line and keep from speaking to anyone in line. It seemed like the men’s room was usually out of soap or towels to clean your hands. So there was always that awkward moment after washing your hands you realize that there’s no hand towels to dry them. In those moments your shirt in your pants were used as a towels.
During the journey I used a GPS device and to help direct me from one location to another. This is usually a great help except when the GPS device uses the name of the street rather than the number of the road to give you directions while driving to a city area. I am a typical male that does not like to ask for directions and I use terms like North, South, East and West with I ask wife which way we should go. The problem with that is that I should’ve been asking questions way earlier and my wife has no concept of North, South, East and West. Each time that I seem to get off course (not lost) I would turn the negative feeling into a positive one by claiming they were just on another adventure and would eventually get to our location. One of the scary adventures was while going through the state of New Mexico. The plan was to stop at a local Indian casino off of I- 40. During the preparation for the trip I used the address of the casino that appeared on the Internet site. After hours of driving along I- 40 my GPS device advised to get off of the freeway and use the frontage road to get to the location. As I drove down the frontage road I noticed that there was nothing but wide-open desert on both sides of the freeway. Then in a surprising announcement the GPS device said, you have reached your destination. I looked around and there were no buildings, no information signs and no signs of actual life. This is a scary moment, there was nothing there. I cannot imagine a time before cell phones that I would have any hope of finding the location. But a quick call to the casino discovered that the location that we were at was the Indian nation casino mailing address. I did not see any PO Box or mailbox. There was nothing there but wide-open desert and a pole for an old telephone line. The person on the phone at the casino informed me that this is just a mailing address and that casino was 20 miles down the road. So after returning on the surface road to get back onto the freeway and driving 20 miles down the freeway I found the casino standing alone in the middle of the desert.
In the beginning of our trip my wife and I had decided that we would not just eat fast food. We wanted to experience the different restaurants along the way. But the reality was we did not see what appeared to be a nice restaurant near the exit ramps. And we did not want to spend hours at each exit ramp trying to find one. So we ate at every different brand of fast food restaurant along the way. It was only when we were at casinos that we ate any good food. What I was not prepared for was the effect of so much fast food on my digestive system. This brings me back to the issue of restrooms. To say that I ate fast food it demanded that I paid attention to where the next restroom facility could be.
The other surprise I found along the trip was the different prices for the same products. First of all gasoline that was priced around $3.50 a gallon in Texas cost $4.50 in California. The farther west we went the higher the price of fuel. Another surprise was the price of Dairy Queen ice cream. The price I paid in Texas doubled by the time I got to northern California.
My final thought in this blog was the condition of the areas. I enjoyed the green colors and East Texas as my trip started. As I traveled farther west the green disappeared into a desert setting. By the time I got to California it seemed there was nothing but dried out and brown surroundings. Even while going through Flagstaff where the green pine trees seem to line the road, everywhere the ground below the trees were brown and dry. The condition of the country on the West Coast is in bad shape. Even as the cities grow and the traffic gets more congested, the lack of water would seem to limit that growth.
I’m sure that all of you have experienced the excitement of finally getting to home sweet home. No matter what your home looks like where it is on this earth, home is a special place. To be welcomed by my dogs as I walked in the front door or going to sleep in my own bed home is sweet home. As exciting as the adventure was, coming home was wonderful.
I tried to write a few blogs while I was on my trip but I left my computer at one of the hotels and so that didn’t happen. Now that I am back I intend to express my thoughts on a regular basis and enjoy the freedom of living in this country and the warmth of being at home.