Friday, June 1, 2012


I would like to start June's first post by thanking Alex Finis for his steady hand with my camera while I drove for close to 2,500 miles in two days straight. The span of this post covers a weekend in Chicago and a road trip crossing Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.

How did I end up going on yet *another* road trip, driving mindlessly across the plains of the Midwest, ushering into the West Coast in a matter of hours? Well, the answer is simple: friends, and a situation that made the trip financially feasible.

The story starts on the PeachParts Mercedes forums, where I found a buyer for Orwell's interior. I also found a Mercedes 280SE 4.5 rear end in local yard, a part that René at Burlingame Motors had been looking for. All parts fit flawlessly in Yoda, my loyal Toyota LandCruiser, so, with a little planning and a little courage, I headed up for Chicago to help my friend, Alex, make his move to the sunny San Francisco Bay Area.

That weekend was spent in Glen Ellyn, with a short visit to the Volo Auto Museum, a must-see for anyone who is simultaneously into cars and film. What this museum holds is something completely unexpected from a cluster of barns in rural Illinois...

The real-life Mach Five, Speed Racer's race car.
The first room was a cabinet of wonders, starring a handful of immensely historically significant automobiles in film, the Mach Five being the crown jewel in the room. However, my mouth gaped wide open as soon as I got into the adjacent building...

The original, the only... Ecto-1, the Ghostbuster's 1959 Cadillac ambulance.
It seemed as if the glory days of this museum had been somewhere in the 1980's, back when some of the greatest American blockbusters were taking place in the Windy City –the Blues Brothers or Ferry Buehller's Day Off being two of them-. From this time period we had the Ecto-1, the famous Ghostbusters company vehicle; the Bluesmobile –with that gigantic speaker to announce their last concert- and the most famous DeLorean in the world, one that would take you... Back to the Future.

A 1974 Dodge Monaco police car... is this the Bluesmobile or what?!
Many of the cars in this museum were for sale. From a $150,000 1939 Lincoln Limousine to a $34,000 Mercedes pagoda 280SL, there were cars for all kinds of tastes!

Eleanor, the Ford Mustang Fastback from "Gone in 60 Seconds".

 Amongst the big Detroit steel, an Edsel Wagon sat proudly in the center of the room. This sparked the following conversation between my friend's father and his brother:

B: Cool wagon! It's huge and not that expensive!
F: I would never buy this for you.
B: But why?!

F: It's an Edsel.

Very appropriately,  Alex's father was right: one of the reasons the Edsel company went out of business was not only their unusual styling, but their mediocre reliability. To this day, they still hold their value for their rarity and well, the fact that they have one of the googiest, most distinctive, unique noses in any car ever made!

General Lee, the famous Challenger from "The Dukes of Hazzard".

That afternoon I also met with my friend Emmi, a Finnish girl with a passionate taste for typography, clean design and Star Trek. We drove to the last bastion of the Boston Blackie's franchise to test if their burgers were as good as their –now extinct- downtown Chicago branch. I was not disappointed.

Yoda, refueling somewhere in interstate 80 in Iowa.
 The next day we left at 6am. We were blessed by Alex's family with two turkey-bacon sandwiches, Arizona ice tea and a whole bagload of Brick-a-Bracks. Our first stop was Iowa-80.

Iowa 80, the World's largest truck stop. Paradise for any road animal!
Much to our disgrace, as the trip wet on, the Brick-a-Bracks slowly turned into a gigantic ball of chocolate lasagna. The landscapes we drove through, however, compensated for this mess.

I really do not really know what to say about this cheese-wedge building...

One could drive through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and completely forget about state lines. The land is flat and the sky is wide, with nothing but a few spare farms and the occasional hill.

And, somehow, we knew how the next few hours were going to turn out...

The 94 Toyota Landcruiser fared very well for its EPA MPG: with a heavy foot and several hours at 75mph, the mileage dropped to 16mpg. However, with cruise control, the A/C turned on occasionally and a lot of car parts in the back, we went up to 18.3mpg. Our mileage from then on fell in between these two numbers, never surpassing the dream 20mpg mark. This was going to be the vehicle that I would be taking to Argentina... would the gas mileage kill it? Should I even start to have second thoughts about this gas hog? Close to the California border, at $4.22 a gallon, I cringed at the pump.

Cattle ranch somewhere in Nebraska... what a beautiful clutter of colors!
Other than that, the truck worked flawlessly. No hiccups, no noises: just plain, relatively quiet cruising through the land, with eight windows open to the expansive landscapes of the Midwest.

My Egoraptor "O-Face" keychain... they do not make them anymore!
Alex and I had realized that the route we were taking from Chicago was very similar to my first American Road Trip with him and two other friends; this time, Colorado was not in the equation. All the memories from those times surfaced with each mile: we were such different people now! How much we had changed from the two grieving, heartbroken college sophomore that we were! Despite our struggles and our uncertainty about the future, how much more confident we became!

I rarely feature vertical pictures, but when I do, they feature beautiful skies.

The transition to Wyoming was one of the most noticeable ones between states. Alex's father had commented on the beautiful geology of the region, but it wasn't until we crossed the State line that we had the chance to take a look at it by ourselves...

Gorgeous clay formations from centuries of erosion, in Wyoming.

The colors changed as well. From the deep green of the Midwestern fields we transitioned slowly into more washed-out tones, sprinkled with hints of red from the clay in the region.

Truck nation. This actually sparked a conversation on American trucks vs. European lorries.

Looking at the great plains, the great meadows and prairies, I imagined those landscaped two hundred years before I had the chance to drive in complete comfort through them. I imagined the pioneers, struggling, fighting with the native tribes, the heists and runaways of the train lines heading to the Pacific, the strive of railroad workers and miners with their eyes glowing in the thought of gold.

More sculptures of clay, sand, water and wind.

Whoever crosses those landscapes is pretty much on his own. The emptiness in Nebraska, Wyoming and Nevada is so absolute, so barren and inhospitable, a breakdown could make the whole difference between life and death, even with today's new GPS technology and cell phones... we had no reception for a good, good while. I was then thankful that Tyler had the fuel pump relay replaced on the truck.

I always found the notion of roll-down grass very foreign. This truckload just clarified things.

At 7,000 feet, the Landcruiser started feeling the effects of the thin air, still pushing forward with relentless spirit and monstrous appetite for gasoline. We stopped in Cheyenne, the state capital, where we fell on our beds in complete exhaustion, giving up on the possibility of dinner.

We came across some of the most beautiully solemn grain silos. This one is on the Wyoming-Utah border.

The following day was followed by lots of nothing, with a few villages sprinkled in between long tracks of Interstate. Alex learned what a "Business Loop" was, from the days prior to the Eisenhower administration building the Interstate system, making it infinitely more convenient to travel between cites, but leaving many roadside towns –literally- in dust and ruin.

Halfway through the trip, Alex became bored and photo-sniped around 150 drivers.

Alex, armed my my heavy DSLR camera, started testing his reaction times and his hand at sniping quick pictures of moving object. Just for giggles, he started photographing by-passing drivers, getting all kinds of –mostly positive- reactions to the moving paparazzi.

The border with Salt Lake is lined with abandoned electrical posts.

Eventually we transitioned into beautiful Utah, passing through Salt Lake City and cruising past Salt Lake into the Bonneville rest stop, were we, three years later, admired the landscapes once again, and played a commemorative game of Frisbee in the utter flatness of this salty plains.

Film crew in the Salt Flats rest stop, shooting an advertisement,
Not much happened after Utah. While driving through Nevada we considered stopping in Reno to catch some sleep, but the late arrival time filled us with enough courage to push through the California border, past Sacramento, into Petaluma, were we would be greeted by the Moonies.

Off the bucket list: to drive on the Salt Flats. Real salt, but no different in feel from asphalt!

And so, half-dead but happy to be back in the Golden State, we slept a little bit that morning and had a ceremonial burger at Mike's at the Crossroads up in Cotati. Life was good, with very promising prospects for the two of us...

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