The Great American Road Trip: Part Two. We Told You Not To Leave.

Posted: April 2, 2022 in Memoirs/A Teacher's Life
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This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). This specific piece is part two about aa cross country road trip I did in 2012. On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

After a few days I’d done everything I’d wanted to do in Rapid City, and was about to head back east. Mike and I had a mutual friend who moved to Billings Montana. She was pretty busy, having had a few kids since I’d seen her last, and wasn’t sure if she could have me for a visit or not. My last night in Rapid she got a hold of me and said come on out, so I headed west the next day. That was the furthest west I’d ever driven. I spent the next few days with my friend and her family, and once I was that far I thought I might as well go all the way to the west coast. My friend Alex, who I knew from Korea, lived in Long Beach California, and we arranged a visit.

After a few days in Montana, I made the long haul to Las Vegas, mostly because I’d never been. Vegas was actually kind of boring because I didn’t know anyone there. I did see a few shows, such as Absinthe, which they say, and I can believe, is the best show on the strip. I rode the roller coaster at the New York Casino, saw the Hoover Dam and the Atomic Bomb Museum. Still, I had more fun hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen in over ten years than I had most of the time in Vegas. 

Long Beach was fun. One day I made the short trip to Venice beach and saw the Pacific Ocean. Alex took me into Los Angeles where we saw the Sunset Strip, including the Rainbow Club where they filmed a few Guns N Roses videos. We also saw Mann’s Chinese Theater, and the Walk of Fame where I made a point to find the stars for Ozzy Osbourne and Sylvester Stallone. What was really surreal was driving through Korea town. We didn’t stop anywhere but just rode around. It’s this huge neighborhood with signs in Korean. They even had a CGV, which is a chain of Korean movie theaters. That was really trippy to me. I joked, what if I fell asleep in Alex’s car then woke up in Korea town and started freaking out, like we drove to Korea.

            One night we went to a place in Long Beach conveniently called Alex’s Bar, which occasionally appears on the HBO series True Blood. That night they had heavy metal karaoke, during which a live band plays on stage and anyone who signs up can belt out a metal song. It had been about a year since my friend Adam passed, and while watching the band play Metallica and AC/DC, I remembered all the shows he and I went to and knew he would have loved a place like this.

I decided to get up and do a song myself. While the band was tuning up, I talked to the crowd a bit and mentioned Adam, how he would have loved this place and that I wanted to do this song for him. While explaining this the crowd responded and cheered really loud. I really appreciated that, especially since they didn’t even know Adam and I was a stranger to them. Soon the bar rocked to Breaking the Law by Judas Priest, and I knew Adam would have approved.

Heavy Metal Karaoke Breaking the Law by Judas Priest at Alex’s Bar

Once I was done in Long Beach it was time to head back east. I was happy to leave California and its $4 gas. My next stop was the Grand Canyon. I made it to Grand Canyon Village in the early afternoon. I could have seen it from Vegas but it would have been a little more out of the way, and where I was at now apparently was the spot really worth seeing. I was at the south Rim of Arizona Highway 64. Right on the edge of the Grand Canyon Park was an area with hotels, restaurants and stores. I got a map at the information center and saw a busload of Koreans. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually see the canyon that day, but I had time and got a two day pass. 

Sometimes going to so many places can be jading, but the Grand Canyon is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I remember parking my car and walking up to it for the first time. When your eyes first see it you’re instantly taken back by the enormity of the sight. Photographs can’t possibly do justice for how massive it is. I’d just missed a snowstorm the night before, and now the Canyon and its trees were blanketed in white snow, making a scene I’d never envisioned. I was oblivious to the cold biting at my hands and face because the sight before me was mesmerizing.

The next morning I walked around some more of the canyon, making small talk with Japanese and Korean tourists. After lunch I took 64 out of the park. The thing is once you leave the official park area there are still a few spots you can park and get a view of the canyon, so I ended up stopping a few more times to have another look. 

It hadn’t occurred to me to see the four corners spot, where Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico meet. I saw a sign for it and while stopping for gas I looked at my map and considered it. My plan was to take 64 to 160 to 191 North to Utah where I’d get on I-70 East.  However, 191 would take me right through the spot. I was still unsure, but one of the turns I had to make came up real quick and I missed it, and off to four points I was.

Or so I thought. I got to some little town then there was a turn to the left for four corners. Another left off the road was the spot, but the gate in front of it was shut. The four corners spot was closed. It was 5:15-5:20 when I got there, and they closed at 5. How does a spot close? 

Over the next few days I continued east and made my way back to Saint Francis South Dakota, where my teaching career began. I briefly stopped here on my way out west but didn’t get a chance to see my old school. This time I did. My old classroom was now an elementary room, as a whole new middle and high school had been built since I was away. In the new building the same secretary from when I worked here worked the front desk. When she looked at me she asked if I was from Office Products. I was confused until I realized she thought I was a delivery guy. We had a good laugh as she remembered who I was. Then I got to check out the new building, which was pretty nice.

A handful of teachers I’d worked with were still there. They were surprised but happy to see me, and we reminisced about the crazy old days. They told me things were a lot better than they used to be. I briefly saw a few students who seemed nice enough. While I deeply regretted leaving this school when I did, I wasn’t 100% sure about actually coming back. My former co-workers did mention what teachers they would need that next school year. Social studies was not one of them, which in my mind took that option off the table. 

That night I got a hotel and went down to the Derby bar in Valentine, Nebraska. By random chance my old coworker Nick sat next to me. Nick used to be a counselor at Saint Francis, and now works at Todd County. Once again, I had someone to catch up with about the old days and he asked me about living in Asia and such.

A few Natives also sat at the bar, one of whom told Nick he knew me. I felt bad because I didn’t remember him, but it was another one of my old students. As we had a beer together, he looked me right in the eye and said, “We told you not to leave and you fucking did anyway!” Oh man, I didn’t remember that at all. I asked if he said that to me himself, and he said “We all did!” 

There was a woman my old student was with; we didn’t know each other, but her brother had been a student of mine from my second year of teaching. I remembered that he really liked me and called me Mur-dog. On his first day in my class he said out loud in front of everyone that he heard good things about me. His sister told me he was in jail up by Rapid City, and I said to give him my best. Before leaving that night, I told my old student that I was sorry, and I told him that he was right, I should have stayed, and I paid a price for leaving. While Nick I had a good time that night, I also came face to face with what I did wrong.

To purchase my full account of this trip, click here.

  1. […] The Great American Road Trip: Part Two. We Told You Not To Leave. […]

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