THE OPEN ROAD: The Travel Journals #1 …Words and Photos by Paul Vlachos

I don’t feel like coming up with a narrative or story arc here. I’m a bit discombobulated. I just want to throw some stuff up against the wall, some words and some photos, and let it stick or watch it slowly slide towards the floor. And that may be how I felt when I took this trip.

Trip? What trip?

All the following photos and the words are from a cross country trip I took in October of 2010. I had taken another cross country just a few months earlier, but I have not yet gotten to that in my notes.

Notes? What do you mean by “notes?”

Well, I have driven around for a few decades taking notes, usually by talking into one of those hand-held wax cylinder machines that captures your voice. I drive and ramble and mumble and cough and talk trash about random things as I roll down the road. And now I’m in Florida, going through more than 1200 pages of transcribed notes, emails and other ephemera from those trips. I have been meaning to go through these tapes for over ten years, which is a long time to keep something on a “to do” list. So, I’m finally grinding through them all now.

I’m up to this trip from 2010. And, judging from the deranged sound of my notes, I was all over the map, mentally and literally. I was zigging and zagging and backtracking all over the west and trying to decide which direction to go on almost every day of this trip. The amazing thing, in hindsight, is that it did not matter which way I went. It was all good. But, to judge from my unhinged ramblings, the constant indecision must have meant something to me at the time.

Or maybe I only thought it meant something. I was simply driving and having a good time. When I wasn’t worrying about where I was going, that is. It’s strange how few photos I took over the course of those two or three weeks. There are exactly 126 photos in the folder of files from the trip. If I had been shooting film, it would have been only three or four rolls. Back when I carried only film cameras, I routinely shot 20 or more rolls on a long trip, so it’s freakish how few photos I took here.

Those of us who began our photography lives shooting film may be more frugal with shutter actuations than those of us who grew up with digital. This was a fine digital camera, though, and I was either moving too fast to shoot or I simply did not see anything. I refuse to believe that. I think I was just too busy, thinking and driving.

Best to do one or the other – either think or drive, but don’t try to do both at the same time. Anyway, I was thinking and driving and taking the occasional photograph and mumbling into my tape machine and now, ten years later, I’m going through 27 years’ worth of this stuff, cogitating and trying to figure out how to assemble it into some sort of form for printing and binding into a book.

I’m not even going to pretend to make sense of it, other than what I just said. I will just put up a few fragments of the stuff that was going through my head at the time, then add some photos. There is no correlation between the photos and the text, aside from the fact that they are all from the same trip. So, there you have it.

In fact, I could even claim – at some future date, high on the lofty summit of semi-senile hindsight – that this very column was part of my “process.” “Process” is a precious, overused word that we love to utter in this century, but which has far less weight than we would like to think it has.

Or should I just speak for myself? I don’t want to offend anybody. Or do I? Okay, enough out of me. Let’s take a trip back to October of 2010, in the almost new Ford E-350 cargo van, along with my trusty sidekick at the time, Elko, the desert dog.

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Amargosa Valley, Nevada. Photo by Paul Vlachos
Amargosa Valley, Nevada

I spent the night at a Flying J truck stop in Rawlins, Wyoming. It was pleasant enough and I slept well, then took a truck stop shower in the morning. There’s a trucker’s lounge outside the shower area with a bunch of chairs, all facing the flat screen TV, and about 15 guys in there slouched over, watching a football game and smoking up a storm. I think everybody is looking for some community. It might not look like community when you walk past them, but that’s what it can be when you’re on the road.

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Fallon, Nevada. Photo by Paul Vlachos
Fallon, Nevada

Another night of dry camping, although the woman at the Best Western desk last night called it “dry docking” and everybody else calls it “boondocking.” Either way, it was a fine night. It was a little warm in the van, but the ceiling fan helped and then it got cooler as the night went on. This was in the parking lot of Terrible’s Town Casino and RV Stop in Pahrump, Nevada. There were other RVs in that lot, but there was more than enough space that it felt isolated. It was actually a pretty fine parking lot, a lot nicer than these RV camps where everybody is lined up four feet from each other, which is hideous to me. So, this is cool. Elko and I did our thing. And the price was right. It was free. Now we move on.

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Benton, California. Photo by Paul Vlachos
Benton, California

I just passed a billboard in New Mexico. “Railroad ties. Buy 10, get 2 free.” Not a bad deal. Big pile of railroad ties next to it and nothing else in the distance except fields. I woke up this morning at the casino parking lot just north of Albuquerque. I was glad I stayed there because it was nice and quiet. The two freaks in the car next to me were just that: two freaks in a car. Still, this is never something to take lightly. They had stuffed foil and crap in their windows, so I just took out the foil I had put over my own windows, started up, and drove halfway down the parking lot, where I gave Elko a quick walk and we moved on. I then hit Starbucks, where I washed up a little in the bathroom. Got my oatmeal and coffee. Now I’m looking at three solid days of driving if all goes well. It shouldn’t be that bad. Three full days and I could be home.

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Unidentified, but probably Arizona. Photo by Paul Vlachos
Unidentified, but probably Arizona

There’s a fly in the van. It has been here since yesterday. I have not spent much time trying to track it down. Last night, before I went to bed, I tried to get it with a road atlas and Elko thought I was either coming after him or that I had lost my mind. He retired to the front seat for a little while and kept one eye on me. And now this fly just popped up from the dashboard. I think I picked him up in Canute, Oklahoma or possibly even San Jon, New Mexico. Anyway, I’ll get rid of him by day’s end when I can see him. It’s still too dark.

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Veyo, Utah. Photo by Paul Vlachos
Veyo, Utah

The forces of stasis are very strong. And they may be stronger than the forces of odyssey. But once you’re moving, you’re moving. Of course, this begs the question: are you only moving so that you can get to the next safe haven? Are you out there floating on the open road or are you simply going somewhere? Do you need something to aim at or is wandering enough?

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Near Coaldale, Nevada - road line painting practice. Photo by Paul Vlachos
Near Coaldale, Nevada – road line painting practice

The old question – is it the journey or the destination? It’s popular to say, “the journey, it’s about the journey,” and that is true in life when you look backwards. You can see that one thing led to another and it all took you to a certain place. But what if you’re just moving away from one place of stasis and towards the next stasis? I don’t know. But I’m going to put down this recorder down and drive while I try not to think about it.

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