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We are sitting on the side of the highway, 400 miles east of Reno. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere and especially here, so I’m drinking a Gin and Tonic from a warm Nalgene bottle. Our Civic overheated for a third time so my baby sister hovers under the car’s popped hood and stares blankly at the radiator. She’s twenty years old and not nearly as precious or worthless as I’m making her sound, but we must have looked desperate enough to need assistance.

Our plan was to sleep in San Francisco that night, our third night of driving from my hometown in Minnesota out to Los Angeles. I have driven to L.A. several times, but never with a family member or in a vehicle that I was responsible for. The drive takes about 32 hours, and is mostly routed through vast expanses of land.

Immediately upon crossing into South Dakota from Minnesota there is a truck stop and restaurant called Westward-ho. Minnesota itself is not graced with any themes of traveling west, but there’s something to be said about the dotted landscapes and cities between the center of America and the coast. These are towns that have completely embraced their place on the map, which is pretty respectable. No one is stopping here. If they are it is for gas, and perhaps the type of packaged food with flavors and wrappers that are loud enough to keep you awake on the road at 3 a.m. Some towns have “NO SERVICES” printed on the freeway exit sign followed by “POPULATION 4” and sometimes none is listed at all. I was raised on a gravel road but nothing compared to this. Mediocrity and simplicity here is accepted and drives the theme. Travelers, feel free to stop and enjoy the kitsch of Wall Drug or Buffalo Bill but you are transient and this symbiotic relationship relies on fuel and the call of someplace else, far away. You are going West.

So we’re beach bound, but we’re sitting outside Reno as the radiator gurgles out green coolant everywhere in total mockery of my warm gin and lime. There’s been a swarm of bikers on each road we take because of the

infamous Sturgis rally. I notice a biker rush past us who looked familiar from the last truck stop we had fueled up at. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later he shows up again and pulls off onto the gravel. His jacket reads “Hells Angels California” across the shoulders and he says his name is Johnny over the sound of his leather shuffling towards us. Johnny smelled like stale mustard and smoke but mentioned his kids and seemed like a nice enough dude to offer help. He pours too much water into the radiator and has me start the engine, it proceeds to boil over and splurt out green lava again. But the motor is now running and the temperature gauge has dropped significantly so we thank Johnny and for his troubles he asks to take a photo with us.

Whenever anyone asks to take a photo with me, my heart leaps for joy because of the instant access they just presented me to take a picture of them in return. It becomes exhaustive to explain to strangers why I would want to photograph them and how. No, I don’t have a facebook account and so I won’t post it there and no, it won’t make me any money, and yes you do look great today. Johnny is sweet and makes a comment about how big my camera is as he pushes it towards my sister and throws an arm around me for the shot. Now, I am no longer holding my camera so this is pointless. Just when she presses the shutter, he presses his sunburnt lips and mustard-mustache against me for the longest kiss on the cheek that I have ever received. My sister laughs awkwardly while she thanks him again. He starts his engine and rolls away into the sunset, just like everyone on
the highway 80 that day. Hasta la vista, send us West. 

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