The Road.  The Great West.  The American Myth.  When Horace Greeley said “Go West, young man,” in regards to Manifest Destiny, he couldn’t have known how generations for at least 150 years to come would still be taking those words to heart.  As I’ve mentioned before, I once embraced those words on my own adventure west, and approaching this SolidLine trip I could not wait to get back on the road.

We’d be following Route 66, the famous American Artery that fueled both westward migration and the American imagination for a large part of the 20th century.  Now mostly abandoned and hard to follow, we wouldn’t actually be on Route 66, just on the interstates along it, following it’s dash across the continent from the Windy City to the City of Angels.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” Kerouac nailed it.  Heading away from Chicago, knowing that I wouldn’t see it for roughly two weeks, I mentally braced myself for a long journey as the Hancock building and Sears towers faded from view.  We stopped in Springfield, IL for dinner with a couple of Greg’s friends, Farzeen and Leanne Irani (Thanks Iranis!) and then departed for good.

We stopped at a Wal-Mart outside of Springfield for the obligatory grocery run, to stock up on food and supplies for the trip.  The SolidLine crew enjoys a betting game when it comes to buying groceries: once the cart is full and we’re in the checkout line, whoever can guess the total within $1 without going over wins $100.  Dave nailed it with a guess of $180 (Total was 180 and some change), and after a few days of convincing Greg that Dave hadn’t gone over (a misunderstanding of the Price is Right rule), Dave won the bet, the first time in SolidLine history this had ever happened.  It was a pretty big deal, and we celebrated (as we often did) with some amazing Guacamole dip.

We drove past the St. Louis Arch that night, and stopped somewhere in Missouri for rest.  We stopped at a gas station/truck stop and filled up, and Ed and I went out and shot some photos of the sleeping trucks.  Wandering the truck stop in the middle of the night I thought a lot about the nature of travel-based jobs.  Here I thought I was “roughing it” on the road, what with living in a relatively comfortable wi-fi enabled ‘luxury’ RV, and here were countless truckers who spend most of their nights sleeping in the cabs of their semis, not just at this truck stop but at truck stops across the country.  I thought about what their view of the view of the world must be like, how they get their information, and how that might be changing from a few decades ago.  I took some pictures of the trucks, and went to sleep.

The next day we drove through Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle.  This was familiar ground for me, from my trip two years ago.  It was raining in Oklahoma, and Dave got pulled over by the Oklahoma State Patrol for missing a toll booth, an event that Dave won’t soon be allowed to live down. We passed by a familiar Indian Trading Post with a huge mural, and rolled through Amarillo, home of the Big Texan and their 72oz steak challenge.  The challenge is that you have one hour to eat a 72oz steak and sides, with the prize for winning being a free meal and the cost for losing is $72.

We drove through New Mexico at night, which is a shame because it’s a really beautiful drive.  We stopped Tuesday night at Gallup, and when I awoke the next morning we were already well into Arizona.  In fact, as I woke up we were pulling into the parking lot for Meteor Crater National Monument.  Meteor Crater is exactly what it sounds like, a gigantic crater formed thousands of years ago when a massive meteor slammed into the earth.  We checked it out, took some pictures, and enjoyed the gift shop.  It was fun to take a break from the constant driving and see a sight.

Back on the road, we headed through Flagstaff and then south to Phoenix, where our first shoot would be.  After circling Phoenix for a few hours looking for an RV park that allowed residents under the age of 50, we found one and parked for the night.  I got to see the RV’s “slide” come out for the first time, and the living space became much larger.  We grilled out and found the hot tub (finding hot tubs is apparently a talent of Greg’s), which was greatly relaxing after three days of travel.

The next morning we picked up our client, Scott, and proceeded to head out to our location for the day while the sun rose.  Our location was in the middle of the desert, away from the highway or civilization.  A train was set to come through carrying containers owned by our client, and we got there early to set up 5 cameras to shoot the scene.  Our main location involved getting both A and B cameras up a small mountain of uneven, unstable rocks, and I learned that I am not an intrepid climber (unless intrepid were re-defined to mean “fearful and slow”).  The train was delayed, so we had time to set up and establish our shots.

To get to this unholy mountain of death, as I called it in my mind, we had to park the truck just off the side of the road, load the equipment into the golf cart, and bounce across the desert for around ten minutes, going under the tracks, over small ditches, and in-between giant armed cacti.  To walk it was around a twenty minute walk, and it was getting to be pretty hot that morning.  Once we got to the mountain and began to climb, I realized that our truck was directly across the tracks.  Not five minutes away.  Federal law is against crossing railroad tracks, not to mention the danger, so we didn’t return to the truck very much.

Atop the mountain the wind was blowing something fierce, so Dave held up a screen to try to block the wind from shaking the camera too much.  Once the train came we had roughly ten minutes to get footage, and with all the cameras we had rolling we got more than enough great footage.  We packed up, and Greg and Scott took the heavy equipment back via the golf cart, while Ed and Dave and I began the long trek back to the truck.

That night we again grilled out and enjoyed the hot tub, and got ready for our shoot at the client’s office building in Phoenix.  That shoot was a slightly longer shoot, as there were four or five setups involved, and we had to maneuver the gear around an office building, but we managed to get it all done and afterwards I enjoyed my first visit to an “In – N – Out Burger”.  Quite the experience.

Our original plan was to head to San Dimas to camp at an RV Park all weekend, but it looked like we wouldn’t make it there Friday night, so we stopped at a random patch of desert off the highway near a town called Quartzsite, Arizona.  Here we ended up staying for the weekend, rather than moving on, mainly because this place was amazing.

Ever since my roadtrip two years ago I’ve been in love with the desert.  You see, I’ve camped in the woods, I’ve been on beaches and played around creeks and in cornfields, but I had never really been able to spend much time in the desert.  The east and midwest of our country have fairly similar landscapes, but the southwest desert is something that I’d only spent a quick day or two in, having camped in the forested area around the Grand Canyon.  Our campground at Quartzsite, however, was different from all of that.  Here there was no official campsite, no company owned RV Park or commercial campground, there was just the open desert with a sign about Coyote warnings.  Friday night we camped out and saw the stars, more stars than I’ve seen in a while (you can’t see many in Chicago), and took some pictures of the desert at night.

On Saturday we checked out the actual town of Quartzsite, which consisted more of a series of tents selling random goods, kind of like a flea market.  We browsed the town and got some nice shirts and trucker hats, and had some pretty fantastic beef jerky, and learned about the town of Quartzsite.  The vendors told us that this was their last week at Quartzsite, and that in between March and November the town essentially becomes a ghost town, and is too hot to live in, being around 130-140 degrees.  The town is popular mostly in December and January, when the flea market business is booming there.  In between seasons it sounds like the whole town just tears down and moves away.  It’s hard to imagine a whole town only existing for half a year, but that’s Quartzsite for you.

Saturday night we bopped around in the desert for a while in the golf cart, taking in the beautiful scenery and looking for scorpions and rattlesnakes. The dirt cloud that we would pick up while driving around was impressive, moisture really is rare out there, and more than once I was blasted with a face-full of sand from the cart.  Dave and I found a baby scorpion, but that was all we saw out there.  No coyotes, either.  Just a plethora of sand, sagebrush, and giant cacti.  Pictures rarely do the cacti justice, they are much larger than I expected, and tower above the brush and the few trees that exist out there.  We built a fire, although there wasn’t much good firewood to find, and enjoyed another night under the stars.

There was a cool breeze in the desert at night, and lounging in a camping chair while staring at the stars was the most relaxed I’d been in a while.  I thought about how far we’d come in such a short time, and how easy our journey had been compared with those who first traveled through this desert.  I thought about my previous trip to the Grand Canyon, and how much I’ve changed in the past two years.  I thought too about these people and families who run the marketplace that is Quartzsite, and how they just move with the seasons from place to place, selling their goods and meeting new people.  The average year with SolidLine would see quite a bit more travel than the average person, but there’s always Chicago as home. I wonder what it would be like to call the desert home, or to not even think of home as a “place” so much as a mindset.  After that weekend I love the desert more than ever.

The next day we would head on to the Port of Los Angeles for a few full days of shooting, but I’ll cover that in next week’s blog.  We’d come from cold, gloomy Chicago to the warm, sunny, American west; just like so many pioneers, adventurers, Americans escaping the dust bowl and depression, fun-seekers, and those who just wanted to head west to find a better life.  We had followed the great road west, so come back next week as we shoot at the port, eat in Long Beach, and risk life and limb through a blizzard on the road back through the Rockies.

I’m Sam the intern, and you just read my blog.

-Sam Sher

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