Meredith and I have had many experiences together over our last decade of friendship, but one month in particular will always stand out. It was the month after we graduated from college. The month we took a cross-country road trip, in which we drove from Virginia to California, and then back to Virginia. What an idea, right? Yeah, it’s the kind of idea that sounds incredibly appealing, but also incredibly questionable, like an “I was thinking of getting a pixie cut” kind of idea– you’re not actually serious about it.
However, Meredith and I were serious. We committed to this cross-country road trip about six months prior to graduation. We planned most of our route, and made all the necessary arrangements like choosing the proper Super 8 per state for example. We felt ready. Our parents, however, were terrified for us. There were constant lectures about seatbelts, not driving when hungover, and it was fully established that we had to send a text every time we crossed a state line – In Texas, still alive, love you!
Despite a particularly creepy experience in New Orleans that involved chicken nuggets and a security guard named Peter, our trip across America started off without a hitch. It was not until we got to Carlsbad, New Mexico that things became a little debatable. You see, we were on our way to Santa Fe, but had been driving for so damn long that we decided we would take an impromptu overnight in Carlsbad - plus you know, that way we could see the Carlsbad Caverns, because who wouldn’t want to see limestone caves that look like a part of the Princess Bride set? We were relishing our role as tourists after all.
The only lodging available to us that didn’t completely look like it housed serial killers was the local Best Western. We pulled into its parking lot, and took a space next to a beat-up white pick-up with a Utah license plate. A Cowboy in mud-stained jeans, and scrapped skin, stepped out of the truck. Meredith and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised. She then gestured to the Cowboy’s license plate and hissed at me, “You know who else is from Utah? Fucking Elizabeth Smart.” So with the chances of us getting kidnapped appropriately raised, we begrudgingly booked a room. The room was musty and the sheets felt plastic or used or both. We felt there was nothing left to do, but to indulge in the happy hour taking place in the hotel lounge – The Blue Cactus Lounge to be precise.
We walked into the lounge and plopped ourselves at the bar. A female bartender who appeared to be in her 70s – we’ll call her Lazy Sue - approached us, and suggested a special cocktail that was bright blue and filled with bottom shelf liquor. It should be said that no one should ever trust a drink with Hypnotiq in it. More specifically, no one should ever trust a bartender who proposes a drink with Hypnotiq in it. Nonetheless, we ordered two.
As Lazy Sue served us our drinks, she motioned to a fellow bartender named Shawna. According to Lazy Sue, Shawna had a pill problem and was probably “high on meth right now.” Shawna had fried blonde hair with devilishly black roots, and skin that looked like an Amerileather suitcase. It seemed she could sense that Sue had been talking smack, because she quickly appeared in front of us. Feeling awkward and slightly buzzed, I began complimenting Shawna’s sun-stricken skin – I think I said she had a beautiful complexion? I suppose I thought I could improve my karma by being nice to a woman in desperate need of some niceness. Shawna lit up at my remark, and began detailing all of her skincare secrets. Her number one trick? She mashed up avocados and slathered them all over her face. With mayo too of course. Apparently in Carlsbad, treating your face like a taco is a thing.
Shawna was in fact high, but by our second blue drink, Meredith and I were slurring a long with her so we were three peas in a pod by 6:00pm. Soon a few sharks in backwards baseball caps swam up to see if they could spit game at the us. Could they buy us another round? Absolutely. Did we want to smoke weed with them by the pool in the parking lot? Absolutely not. That is how girls disappear. Realizing we were in a potentially precarious situation, Meredith and I kissed Shawna goodbye, and stumbled up to our plastic-used sheets.
Soon after this bizarre evening, Meredith and I found ourselves in another dead-end part of America: Custer, South Dakota. We arrived in Custer and checked into our Super 8. We had big plans to see Mount Rushmore the next day, but still we thought we would go out to dinner. Our hopes for a burger were quickly smashed when we realized that every restaurant in the town of Custer was closed. At 8:00pm on a Saturday. Disheartened and starving, we drove to the only open grocery store, Lynn’s Dakotamart.
We had a microwave in our motel room, so we logically grabbed Hot Pockets. To balance this main course, we also snatched Pringles and a bottle of “Vampire Wine.” We sidled up to the checkout in Lynn’s, and were immediately faced with two meth-head lesbians trying to buy a packet of Kraft Singles with a bounced check. Meth-head #1 yelled violently at Meth-head #2, “This is why I can never trust you with anything, you can’t even cut a check for the Goddamn cheese.” Now we all know that paying for groceries with a check is not exactly standard practice, but these two women were not to be deterred. The cashier was also clearly on meth, because she was actually trying to accept the check. Meredith and I were alarmed, but also annoyed. We wanted our Hot Pockets, and these jokers were taking forever.
Finally, a manager intervened and the lesbians were loudly ushered out of the store. Meredith and I quickly forked over the $14 necessary and left. Only to find the lesbians waiting for us in the parking lot. Since they were unsuccessful in their efforts to purchase cheese, I believe they must have been quite hungry. Not to mention pissed. They looked at us menacingly, our Hot Pockets inevitably insulting them. Could they have knives? Perhaps. Did they need knives to be terrifying? Nope! Meredith and I ran.
We didn’t bother to look behind us. We jumped into the car and hit the pedal to the South Dakota metal. We could have died, we thought. Died by lesbian death fight in the parking lot of Lynn’s Dakotamart. It would have been such a tragically pathetic end. Meredith said her mother would probably have romanticized our deaths and sprinkled our ashes over the Black Hills, but this provided little comfort to either of us. We were ready to go home.
Now, I will say that these two instances with Shawna and the lesbians were not our only uniquely mortifying experiences while on the road. For example, I may or may not have ended up in the ER in San Francisco and had another lesbian (this time a gorgeous doctor) inform me that the relentless pain in my side was due to the fact that I had “a lotta poop in there.” This trip was obviously not one in which we could preserve high quantities of dignity.
However, despite all the unreal moments that occurred in that one month, Meredith and I felt great pride in driving across our country filled with history and crazy characters. These fellow nutty citizens of ours were just trying to live their lives. Weren’t Meredith and I attempting to do the same? I mean it’s pretty darn fascinating to acknowledge that the part of America you’re raised in has great bearing on how you evolve as a person, on how your life’s perspective is shaped. Meredith and I not only realized that we were the kind of best friends that could travel well together, but also that we were the kind of people that could be humbled in new surroundings while still maintaining a sense of humor. That’s a real gift, you know? We genuinely felt a new piece of ourselves ignited in each state we passed through, pieces I doubt we would have known existed without this trip. We learned that we were semi-fearless against meth-heads, that we could navigate foreign roads and construction sites. We could withstand a bird hitting our windshield and take an unjust speeding ticket on the chin. We could survive a Mexican bar fight without smudging a stitch of make-up. We could always find a bathroom. We could carve our initials into trees at certain national landmarks without getting caught.
We received further confirmation that we would always be best friends and have a deep respect for our country no matter what happens in the future. So thank you, AMURICA! For letting us experience your greatness in multiple forms. Thank you for being our splendidly ridiculous, humbling and beautiful nation, and Meredith, thank you for being my best friend.