Through the Wasteland

Jeff Merrion braves a desolate Wyoming landscape to reach the fabled California coast by car.

The dream of driving down the California coast is inculcated in us by a century’s worth of pop culture, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of it. Earlier tonight, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge while the sun expanded on the horizon, expending its last pink light in a final ecstatic moment, I was reminded of a prayer in the Byzantine Catholic liturgy, in which the faithful thank God for bringing them out of nonexistence into existence. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how odd it is that I exist, that even the nagging pain in my back is a good thing compared to nonexistence. The moment on the bridge reminds me of a line from a Neutral Milk Hotel song that goes, “Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all.”

Whenever I drive from Colorado to California, I am struck by the vastness of the wasteland that stretches between the two locales. Perhaps wasteland is too strong of a word, but considering that I come from a place in which every single sunset looks like this, it makes sense when I say that Wyoming is a terrible place from which nothing good can ever come.

On the first day of my trip, I drove from Denver to Rock Springs, Wyoming. To get there, I had to cross southern Wyoming–a giant, empty desert bereft of everything but scrub brush and the occasional giant oil refinery. One of the first towns I passed through in Wyoming was Sinclair, which owes its name to the oil company. A sign at the outskirts of town bragged that it was home to the West’s most advanced oil refinery. All I saw were smokestacks and refineries belching flame into the sky like some demonic lighthouse.

From Wyoming, it was on to Reno, Nevada. In between was one of the highlights of my drive, a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 80 without a single turn that runs flat across the surface of the Salt Lake Desert. These salt flats are where all the world’s speed records have been set. Mostly, I was curious as to whether or not the salt flats were actually salty. I got out of the car, licked the earth, and can now verify that the salt flats are both delicious and beautiful.

Finally, the centerpiece of the trip: Reno, Nevada, home to a Journey cover band, a Chicago cover band, and a Foreigner cover band, as well as a magician with a tiger, whose name was, I believe, Hürneberger Von Schümpenheimer. All this got me thinking about possible slogans for Reno to rival Vegas’s “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” campaign. Reno’s current slogan is “The biggest little city in the world.”

  • If you’re in Reno, you’re probably at rock bottom already, and it doesn’t really matter if what happens in Reno stays in Reno.
  • Reno: the biggest little mistake you’ll ever make.
  • Reno: Dean Martin once had a bowel movement here.

After Reno came the promised land of California, weighty beneath its own legend, muse for countless pop songs, devourer of the Joads and of Brian Wilson. A beautiful siren.

While he excels in most other areas, Jeff Merrion’s spatial logic falls within the lower third percentile of United States citizens. He is a Religious Studies major and, as such, has a long life of administrative assistantship awaiting him. To potential employers: Jeff makes a mean cup of coffee.