Something to declare

The Great American Road Trip ... Interstate Highway 15, California.
The Great American Road Trip ... Interstate Highway 15, California. Photo: Alamy

The three guys stood around the car, hands on hips, looking unimpressed. "So this is our dream machine," Russ asked, kicking one of the little tyres. "This is what we're doing our road trip in?"

Richie was more abrupt. "Aren't you supposed to do this in an old convertible? A Mustang or a Chevy or something?"

It's true. You are supposed to do this sort of thing with the top down and the wind in what's left of your hair as you indulge in the pure fantasy of the Great American Road Trip. You don't make your way sedately in the modest family sedan we were standing around in the LAX car park.

"Where would we all sit in this vintage convertible?" I said, indicating the four of us. "And how much do you think it would cost? And," I added, pointing at the small shipping container Richie had elected to bring with him as luggage, "where do you reckon we'd put that bag of yours, Rich?"

The suitcase was comically oversized. Our family sedan barely had the girth for it. A classic convertible would have had to drag it along, tied on with rope.

"Still," Richie mumbled, "we could have got something ... racier."

There's usually a big difference between the holiday you think you should be having and the one you can afford and actually carry out. Sometimes it's the private seaside bungalow that turns out to be a tacky resort. Other times it's the Michelin-starred meal that winds up being a servo hot dog.

In our case, it was the beautiful, old Chevy convertible of TV land that was now looking very much like the plain, modern sedan of the real world. That's all our budget - and the requirement for boot space - would allow.

The drive we were about to embark on was one that breeds fantasy: Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a classic journey from sunshine to sin taken previously by the guys in The Hangover, by the guys from Entourage, by countless movie stars and bigwigs and hustlers and dreamers from the world over. And now by our little band of pretenders. We could have flown, but where's the fantasy in that?

So we popped the boot, manoeuvred Richie's coffin in, packed our other bags around it, slammed the lid shut and piled into the car, ready for our adventure to begin. Only it wouldn't begin just yet, because there was traffic.

In the movies, they never hit traffic. They plough straight on to the open road.

In our reality, we weren't motoring down an open freeway with the top down but crowded into a tiny sedan moving at two miles an hour in gridlock that seemed to stretch to New York.

Jack Kerouac would have done something crazy by now; he would have torn through the traffic and bolted for Mexico. Hunter S. Thompson would be wasted, pointing a gun at someone. We, on the other hand, were sitting quietly, listening intently to a dash-mounted GPS that was the only thing separating us from a five-day tour of LA's turnpikes and exit ramps.

"We're going the right way, aren't we?" Simon said, cramped into the back with Richie. "I mean, I guess we are ..."

I shrugged. "No idea."

The soundtrack to our adventure wasn't the sort of carefully arranged list of almost-kitsch classics that someone such as Tarantino would put together; it was whatever Russ could find on my iPod that would keep everyone at least semi-happy. We tried for road songs, we tried for Californian songs, we tried for gambling songs. We settled on the Beach Boys.

Finally, we broke LA's vicelike grip, shaking loose and tasting sweet freedom on the widest road you've ever seen, lane after lane after lane of fast-moving traffic making a break for Vegas. The flat tops of LA houses gave way to the vastness of the desert, the kind of place that makes you want to whoop with excitement from the open cab of your Chevy convertible.

We settled for some chat about football in our family sedan.

There's not much between LA and Las Vegas. Anyone who tells you it's a great drive has been rendered misty-eyed by thoughts of what lies at the finish line. There's nothing to look at and little to mark it out but the huge gathering of casinos that crowds the Nevada border like kids waiting by the school fence, desperate to get out.

Finally, the real thing appeared on the hazy horizon: Las Vegas. The lights, the people, the sin.

We didn't stagger into town trailing exhaust pipes behind us, or burst in with the roar of a V12. We sneaked in quietly and economically and dropped the car off, pitching in to haul Richie's bag out of the boot and make our escape.

It wasn't a dream machine, and it wasn't a dream drive. But all the same: we'd arrived.

bengroundwater@gmail.com
smh.com.au/thebackpacker

Comments