Burn the map

I just want to go home.

It was 1997 in Chicago and, as I sat alone in a West Side bar fending off advances from the drunk guy two stools over, one thought played in an endless loop inside my head:

I just want to go home.

But home was more than 2,000 miles away. So, as the friend with whom I’d made the Midwestern trek snorted coke in the bar’s back room—since when did she snort coke?!—with her ex-boyfriend the bar owner, I knew I’d have to make the best of a bad situation. After seven states and two-and-half days on the road, after all, I still had miles (and at least eight more states) to traverse before sleeping in my Sacramento bed again.

I learned a lot about myself on that journey, most notably that the best road-trip moments aren’t found on a map. My most transcendental highway experience, in fact, occurred after a stray cigarette ember turned the trusty Rand McNally guide into a smoking pile of ash, forcing me to figure out the road ahead, unaided.

But that’s what makes such journeys so wonderful—so quintessentially American. For every how-the-hell-did-I-get-here instance, there’s likely a near-perfect counterpoint: watching the countryside zip by like a moving piece of art, forgoing a cheap motel to camp out beneath the stars, or making real (non-coke-snorting) friends out of strangers.

In &8220;Trip out!&8221; (see page 16), five SN&R writers share their best, worst and most life-changing experiences on California’s highways, byways and back roads. Sure, there’s plenty of road-weary angst and drama (read: drugs, love lost and scary strangers), but thanks to some noisy peacocks, snowbound dogs and late-night key mix-ups, there are also countless moments of unexpected joy.