Jet lag seemed to be setting in already as me and Sue were wide awake at about 6am. We got ready and packed, commenting on how the constant packing on this trip was going to be a ball ache. Well with all those shoes and cosmetics I have to put in my case it would be! We definitely brought too much stuff.
We got a taxi to the car rental place at the airport and my nerves began to jangle. I suddenly became a nervy driver. We scored a free upgrade, being bumped up from a Ford Focus to a Chevrolet Malibu LT, which means nothing to me, but it looks pretty swish. It certainly wasn’t a Honda Civic 1.4 anyway. Its kitted out inside with all sorts of gadgets I didn’t know existed. There’s even a camera that flashed up on the dashboard when you reversed. It actually confused me more. I was far batter at the old arm around the passenger seat and head turn at 180 degrees like the girl from ‘The Exoricst.’
I sat in the driver’s seat and made a complete blooper from the off by approaching the right hand side. Not a very good start so I took my time, composed myself and set up the Sat Nav to Tucson that only takes 6hrs 7mins! Time to set off! Just remember to drive on the right and everything is the opposite way around. It’s a good job these cars are automatic too because changing gears with my right hand would be far too strange. I set off and concentrated like I’ve never concentrated before, managing to negotiate my way through two left turns at lights until we hit the freeway, where I just hugged the right hand lane till I get my confidence. I find I’m gripping the wheel tightly from nerves, holding on too tight like Cougar from Top Gun. I start to settle and the picturesque surroundings of stunning mountain ranges and valleys come into view as we escape Vegas and enter Lake Mead. Now I’m relaxed I press play on the pre set up iPod and on comes…….’Roadhouse Blues’ by The Doors….. “Keep Your Eyes on the Road, Your Hands Upon the Wheel.” I start to speed up!!! Confidence attained!
What a rush this is! This is The Bucket List right here. The music is firing out on a great sound system and I’m driving through the desert with very few cars around. The Doors, Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty, The Eagles, Rolling Stones, America, Jimi Hendrix, Mamas & Papas, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and songs from various films that depict the image of the American Highways all follow each other and soundtrack the scenery. I’m completely in my element. This is what it’s all about! This is our destiny!
The mountains and valleys provide the scenic backdrop to the desert, and the colours switch between brown/gold and orange. The land is barren and arid, and the fiery sun is lighting up the road that you can for miles dead ahead. Just a flat out straight run into the distance beyond each rock formation. The odd random trailer appears out of nowhere every now and then, making me wonder whether some ‘Breaking Bad’ shenanigans are going down. Bigger Trailer Parks are thrown up every so often along with a random bar just planted in the middle of nowhere. I felt like stopping for a beer, but the thought of the American version of ‘A League of Gentleman’ stops me.
I can’t fully express what Sue and I are feeling throughout this long drive. It’s too much for words. Simply stunning and euphoric! You ask me to drive anywhere in the UK for six hours and I’ll tell you to fuck off! But you ask me to drive in West America in a car I’m not familiar with and the wrong way around on the other side of the road with a highway code I don’t fully understand yet, then sign me up. Ok, so the music and scenery have something to do with the pull. It’s not like listening to Hotel California driving over Barton Bridge has the same effect is it?
Time for a pit stop after nearly four hours of driving. We see a sign saying ‘Burger King 15 miles away’. I’m already licking my lips envisioning a big ass Double Decker burger of sorts. I even make a note of the current mileage so I know how far to go. Fifteen miles turns to sixteen, then seventeen and I’m beginning to think what a cruel joke that was. We reach 21 miles before seeing a sign for a Dennys so I immediately pull in with both our bladders about to explode too. So it turns out its Dennys for tea for three nights in a row. I can’t complain at all, but I am miffed by the sudden drop in prices compared to Vegas. Everything seemed $1.50 cheaper. At this point I also notice that my watch has suddenly become different to my phone, and then realise that we’ve just crossed into a different timezone, jumping forward an hour. Now that’s weird! When did that happen? Did people live on one side and travel to work on the other? What’s weirder is that in two days time the clocks go forward in The States, but not in Arizona, time doesn’t change at all!
After Dennys and another Philly Cheese Steak, (thinking I’ll need to hit a Philly Cheese Steak Rehab Centre on my return) we carry on our journey to Tucson, passing through Sun City where it all of sudden gets dark in a matter of minutes. We end up on Phoenix’s answer to The Mancunian Way and end up playing Dodgeball with cars and lane hop into the correct way to go. It’s a good job we have Sat Nav or else we’d be doing a Dumb and Dumber moment. “You drove halfway across the country in the wrong direction!” Eventually the traffic calms and being only an hour and a half out I put my foot down, and get cocky about overtaking cars! The scenery is lost to darkness, but what disappears on land is gained in the sky as the clear dark night is pierced by cluster of silver diamonds as far as the eye could see. Simply stunning!
There’s nothing for it on this last hurdle but to burn it at high speed! I find out on my arrival that being caught speeding is an immediate night in jail! A bit harsh! We aimed to get to Tucson for 6pm, but not knowing about the jump in timezone and subsequent traffic we were two hours behind schedule and arrive at our destination shortly before 9pm.
We pull into a cul-de-sac in suburban America and there’s no street lighting at all. This leg of the trip was booked through airbnb, so we are staying in the guest house of Mickey and Noomie, who come out to greet us. After spending five minutes with them we could tell we’d made a great decision in picking this residency. The fact Mickey was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt was a good sign, and because he knows why we’re here on this trip, the conversation quickly turns to music. Mickey said he’s seen The Grateful Dead about 300 times since his love affair started with them in the 60s. He then tells us of his sound system that he has firing out constantly, revealing he’s had The Doors and Pink Floyd on earlier. He’s charmed me already!
Their whole property is huge and our little guest house at the front is beautiful, complete with a little garden with a table and chairs. We have a sizeable room and a walk in wardrobe, not that unpacking does any good on this trip because we’re living out of the suitcases, but it ends up being good storage space. We have a coffee maker in the room too, but have no idea how to use it, until Noomie shows us. I still can’t work it so make a brew in the microwave! Useless!
Due to our late arrival and tiring day, which was the same for Mohawk Radio who had a four and a half hour flight from North Carolina to Phoenix, then a further hour and a half drive, we decide to have an early night and be fresher the next day for when we meet up. It’s strange to think that they are only a ten minute walk away.