The next long day of driving took me through Arizona and nearly all the way through California to the ocean. It was late afternoon when I hit L.A., and I’d had about all of the desert I could take. Worse, my money situation could not have been more precarious.
Right before I’d flown out to Silicon Valley for the interview, my car had thrown its timing belt. (“That sounds bad,” I told the mechanic, who nodded.) Between that, and all the things that broke when one piece of equipment exploded around them, I had an enormous, unexpected bill if I wanted to keep my car. I already had my ticket, so I was taking the trip to California anyway. When the even more enormously unexpected happened and I was offered a job out there, they gave me a check for $5 grand to help with expenses — but the bank would only clear 10% until three business days had passed, which if the world worked as promised would be the evening I arrived in L.A., provided my car survived the trip. I was still driving the little red Miata that had been stolen during my darkest days of working at the game company, trunk lid curled up where the thieves’ crowbar had been unsuccessful at peeling open my mobile treasure chest.
I had just enough money to get me to L.A. with $7 left to spare. I had no way of getting any other money until that check cleared, a few hours later. After that, in my terms, I would be goddamn rich. But I meant only stopping for every other meal for the first two days of the drive, and as little air conditioning as possible to ensure I didn’t burn gasoline any faster than I expected.
By the time I pulled into Casey’s place in L.A., my car was fine but I was a wreck.
My buddy Charlie had told me about the drive. He’d moved first to San Francisco, then to L.A., with his body-builder girlfriend. At the end of one year he was driving them both back to Texas for the holidays, and about three hours into it she tells him she’s been cheating on him with her weight-training coach, and that when they get back to the city she’ll want him to move out. Then for the rest of the trip — what took me two days, he drove all the way through — he drifted in and out of this phantasmagorical dreamland where instead of driving forward, he was falling down into a pit. As the heavily burdened semi trucks would pass him, their tail light looked like the eyes of fiery demons plunging past him, speeding past him into the pit.
My trip was not quite that intense, or it was no more intense than that if for different reasons, but the truth is that something formidable can happen when you make that drive. I was not altogether there when I washed up on friendly shores.
I sat and breathed deeply for nearly an hour, eyes watching the clock. Once the business day was through I stomped around the block until I found a cash machine, where my hand trembled as I slipped my card in. I was prepared to eat Taco Bell that night if my math had been off, but I didn’t know what I’d do for gas if I didn’t have cash the next day.
The card dropped from my trembling hand as I pulled it from the machine, after withdrawing as much in cash from my account as the bank would let me, several hundred dollars.
I bought a shit-ton of food for the friends who were putting me up, and woke up alone and hung over the next morning. The rest of the drive, six hours up the length of California, felt fast and cool and clear and clean. Before sundown I was in Silicon Valley with my car and my computer and my great-grandfather’s shotgun, talking with Doug about how different everything was now.
“I know,” I said, now that I had enough money to reliably eat every day for the first time in months. “But what are the people here really like?”
He told me.