Travelsnort: McDowell Road

There is a road called McDowell Road that stretches nearly 70 miles from Buckeye, eastward through Phoenix, and finally to Mesa. According to Yahoo! Maps, the drive from one end to the other takes 1.5 hours. But that’s not quite right, because the directions assume that nobody in their right mind would drive that road in its entirety and so we are allowed a tick under 58 miles of freeway travel. Remaining on McDowell probably adds another half an hour to the trip. Just under 70 miles in 2 hours: about the same as it takes to drive around the paved parts of the entire island of Kaua’i.

Along McDowell Road you will find gas stations, fast food joints, drug stores, drive-thru liquor stores (I left my bottle opener at home, can you give me a hand with that?), pawn shops, mortuaries and their suppliers, the occasional infantile driver who insists on honking his horn in the rain because you can’t quite make out whether the light is green, red, or other. The same driver talking on his cell phone and continuing to honk his horn because perhaps it is all he knows how to do. The same driver taking too long at the next light and you resisting the urge to return his kindness because you’ve spent enough time in places where you don’t honk the horn unless you’re ready to back it up.

Phoenix is flat. When lightning strikes, it instantly fills and then retreats from the city, unimpeded by geography. The rain falls with maddening inconsistency so that you spend much of your time recalibrating the windshield wipers instead of noticing that there are no restaurants on McDowell Road, or at least not the part you’re traversing, at that time of night. The few potential options reveal themselves to be dead ends. One is a takeout place that you misidentified on the first pass as being a hopping Italian joint based on its casual proximity to a cabaret. The good news is, the Italian place serves takeout till 2 AM. The bad news is, you are staying in a hotel and have little use for takeout. The cabaret, as far as you know, doesn’t serve food. This is probably a good thing. Still, you feel a little pathetic for caring more about food than naked chicks. But you get over it because you’re hungry.

Another option is a more literal dead end. A taco shop that looked less humble from the road than from the alley full of cops next to the window. You don’t stop. You don’t even slow down.

You’re not that hungry.

Everything else is of the “ketchup as vegetable” variety. You pass those without more than an involuntary glance.

After your impromptu tour of Phoenix in the rain (visiting some neighborhoods more than once), you return to the hotel and ask the night watchman if he knows of any restaurants in the area that are open. Yes, there is an IHOP on Central. It is well past midnight and you’ve been on the road–mostly McDowell Road, but also others–for an embarrassingly long time. You know IHOP. It is your friend. It will take you in when no-one else will. Eggs, pancakes, and a disarmingly perky waitress. You don’t need perky at this hour, or at any hour, but it suits her so you don’t mind. The food tastes good and you are grateful not to be driving along a road you do not yet know stretches 70 miles.

You eat your food, you pay the bill. Okay, your friend pays the bill. You head back to the hotel and, unlike after yesterday’s chili burrito, prepare for a good night’s sleep. As you start to drift off, you remember the baseball game you saw that afternoon and the baseball books you bought at various used bookstores. You think of mortuary supply stores and the jackass who managed to operate his cell phone and car horn at the same time. You think of the flashes of lightning and how they mirror inspiration. You know you’re onto something profound (in the way whoever invented drive-thru liquor stores was), but you can’t quite make the connection. You cannot hold onto your thoughts. The last thing you remember is that someday you will have to write about this.

And maybe someday you will…

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