Cross Country Edition
On cross country drives and the people you meet along the way
Steve Bryant (SB) is a content strategy and ops consultant, co-founder of the midnight costumed adventure Rental Car Rally, founding editor of InsideHook, triangle enthusiast, and a longtime friend of WITI (he wrote our very first guest edition on Maslow and a recent edition on Jeeps).
Steve here. There are at least two things to do when you drive across the country: see places and meet people.
The places take care of themselves. You tap your destination into Google Maps and drive along its blue line, a kind of monorail. The people, on the other hand—they’re not on the maps, and they’re much harder to predict.
Some travelers suggest you can do other diverting things while driving around, like eat food and drink drinks and sleep in tents and on California kings.
But eating food and drinking drinks and sleeping in tents and on California kings have always seemed, to me at least, to be only waypoints on the road to more enjoyable destinations, like riding the pine at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon while a long beard in a cowboy hat relates how he once, back in the 90s, received a makeover on Montell Williams in New York City.
Why is this interesting?
Over the last month, I drove East to West across the forty-eight contiguous states. Began in Virginia at my mom’s house while she watered her rose bushes. Ended in Los Angeles at a Mexican restaurant where a friend told me she’d bought an AR-15.
I took the southern route. Stopped by a field of presidential busts but wasn’t allowed in. Saw a massive rotating head in an office park. Read the Georgia Guidestones, ran through the abandoned factories in Chattanooga, and rode the country’s steepest funicular. Went to a pool party in Nashville.
Toured Graceland, where I got into an argument with an older man who didn’t like the King’s style. Suggested he tour the Radison. Walked through Elvis’s plane behind a kid who asked her dad “ours is bigger, right?”.
Saw a giant Igloo cooler. Saw Willie Nelson in concert. Saw that Prada store outside Marfa that’s really outside Valentine, turned the key in a Titan II missile silo, and stood on the rim of Barringer Crater.
Along the way, in chronological order, these are some of the folks I met:
I met a cousin at a Starbucks in Raleigh whose husband had leukemia and who had been vaccinated, and whose son was homeschooled and who had been vaccinated, but who herself hadn’t been vaccinated because she "didn't really know what to think about all of that”.
I met a friend at a bar in Chapel Hill whose neighbors, despite her protestations that she didn’t need the help, surprised her by putting together her porch furniture while she was away for a few days.
I met a shoeshine man in Durham called Pierce McKoy who somehow convinced me to pay $20 to have my tennis shoes shined.
I met a woman on the highway outside of Durham who was on her first day of vacation after her disability came through because of a hip injury and she’d been driving all night from Schenectady, New York with her two kids to get to her hotel in Greensboro and that’s how she fell asleep at the wheel and sideswiped me at 70mph.
I met a state trooper who was six foot four with generously proportioned biceps and a crew cut so sharp it seemed illustrated who told me I was lucky “‘cause if she had hit your Jeep two inches to the rear she’da flipped ya and buddy I know that’s not the type of off-roading you were lookin’ to do.”
I met a kid in Charleston who was growing his first mustache and didn’t want to shave it off before camp.
I met his dad who invested in casinos where the algorithms know what you eat and what you play and whether you’re down and by how much and whether you might need a comp just to get you to stay.
I met a woman in Gaffney, South Carolina who worked in a bar underneath a water tower painted to look like a giant peach, and who spent her shifts watching her kids and their cousins on a webcam while they played video games at home.
I met a friend in Atlanta who treated me to BBQ for dinner and lent me, for the night, his spare room over the garage.
I met a friend at a Waffle House who told me folks called the local grocery store “Murder Kroger” because people tended to get shot there, so Kroger remodeled to make it more safe, “but I think like three people got shot in the parking lot the next week.”
Met a gas station attendant who told me I was in a town called Bolivar. “You know anything about Bolivar,” she asked. “Tell me about it, I said. “Not much to tell really. It’s about three minutes long.” How many people here, I asked. “I don’t rightly know,” she said, “more than there should be.”
I met a friend who had Covid back in March 2020, lost his sense of smell and everything.
I met a guy at a pool party, just engaged, who was moving to LA to try his hand at screenwriting.
I met a friend who was over-served and spent the night throwing up in our shared bathroom.
I met a young dental school student whose family received political asylum from Cuba in the 2010s and who loves horror movies and salsa dancing and was really curious about shibari.
I met a woman working at a Waffle House in Canton, MS whose name tag said Big Baby and who sang Wet Ass Pussy while scrambling eggs at the griddle.
I met a Brazilian cancer researcher who was obsessed with squirrels.
I met an Illinoian tending bar in Smithville, Texas named Stevie who was wary of telling anybody he used to live in LA because “they hate people from California here, man”.
I stayed with an old friend in Austin who was renting the house where Matthew McConaughey was arrested in 1999, during a bender, for playing the bongos naked in his living room at 3am.
I met a blonde woman at a mezcal bar in Austin who told me her sign was mezcal sun, martini moon, fernet rising.
I met a woman at the Willie Nelson concert in Luck, Texas who lived next to Willie’s ranch and whose husband died of brain cancer four years ago.
I met a man with a large cowboy hat and a larger belly at Poodie’s who said my compliments to you that’s a good lookin’ woman you got there, and then fist-bumped me and proceeded to dance by himself to the band.
While viewing a curious auto museum at an RV park on the side of Route 10 I met a man and his father who were driving from New Orleans to San Diego, stopping at all the underground caverns along the way.
I met a bartender named Nikki at the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa who told us how bad the cops are in this town, and how they follow her home, and how sometimes they do shady shit like drive by her apartment without their lights on, “it’s weird man”.
I met the owner of Cactus Liquors in Marfa who said the cops don’t like the new owner of the Lost Horse Saloon because he’s “some grifter footed by Mexican drug money” and that the former owner, Tye, was “off with Martin Scorcese shooting some movie”.
I met a man named Chris from Detroit who told us we should go see the Blue Origin launch up past Van Horn, and we said yeah absolutely where are you watching from exactly, and he was like “oh well to be honest I’ll be at the launchpad because I’m a friend of Jeff Bezos’s brother.”
I met a guy named Cliff who was driving around in a Dodge Challenger with his wife (whose name I didn’t get), and a dachshund (whose name was Apollo), and who was in town because he’s an engineer for Blue Origin, but he lived in Seattle, and “anyway man hit me up when you get there I’ll take you on a tour of where we make the rockets”.
I met a man who’d been to Cape Canaveral to see the shuttle launches, and who was driving around seeing all the SpaceX launches, “even the Starlink ones”, and who used to work oil pipelines but got laid off because of Covid, “and it lasted so long we just decided to go ahead and retire”.
I met a man at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone named Wolf who always carried his .45, but not now because they don’t allow ‘em in here, and whose wife kept her 9mm beside her recliner at home while she watched soaps, and anyway he just that morning accepted a job driving the town stagecoach and by the way once, many decades ago and thanks to a phone call made by his daughter, received a makeover on Montell Williams in New York City: “The wife and I had a good time in the hotel room that night lemme tell ya.”
I met a guy named Steve who was driving a golf cart up the hill to The Chapel of the Holy Cross, and who hadn’t showered in days, and who moved to Sedona from Vancouver five years ago because he “wanted to see if I could live in the desert.”
I met a man playing blackjack at The Golden Nugget who owned a computer company and just got back from Pebble Beach where he was playing golf with his son-in-law, who he introduces as “the guy who’s doing my daughter.”
I met a blackjack dealer named Lola from Jalisco, Mexico who had been dealing cards for 35 years and didn’t believe that slot machines were programmed with algorithms “because it’s all just luck, nobody knows how often people will win.”
I met a man at a bar in the Bellagio beside the poker room who asked about my postcards and tells me he’s here for his wife’s sixtieth and they’re from Orange County and he owns a traffic light maintenance company and moved to LA from Detroit twenty-six years ago, but before that, when he lived in Detroit, he met the girl who is now his wife; she was 13, he was 14, they lived in the same subdivision, he used to jump the fence to her place, they dated in high school and when he bought his first house at 18 she moved in and three months later they were married; her family, including her identical twin sister, were already in Orange County so they moved there and had two kids, both girls, both now dancers, one a choreographer and one erotic, and the latter’s daughter lives with them now and lord lord lord she runs the house yes she does.
I met a friend who, out of concern for the presidential transition, learned to shoot guns at an outdoor firing range, and who ordered drinks to welcome me to Los Angeles. (SB)
Good one from Emily Oster: How Should I Think about School & Child Care Now? (NRB)
Last week (thanks to Steve, actually), I learned the word snowclone: “a verbal formula that is adapted for reuse by changing only a few words so that the allusion to the original phrase remains clear.” (NRB)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Steve (SB)
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