In the spring of 2004, I was 22 years old and had spent most of the winter and spring driving across the country, staying with various buddies and relatives. I’d started at home in the Bay Area, hitting Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, New York City, Boston, Georgia, New Orleans, Texas, Phoenix and back home. I’d taken nearly three months on the northern, eastern track but due to overall road-wariness and a shrinking bank account, I decided to make the southerly cross-country Georgia to California leg in a quick 6 day swoop.
I had been staying with my buddy Kevin in Augusta, Georgia and it was decided that he would drive with me to Houston just for kicks. He had the days off of work and wanted to see New Orleans, after which he’d fly back.
It was about the time that this was decided that we, by chance, watched a television program on the JFK assassination one night and realized that I would probably be going through Dallas and should go check out Dealey Plaza where it all happened. I had always been interested in the JFK assassination and remembered as a kid reading about it and wanting to go see it for myself so bad, just to put the story in context and see how close everyone was and the angles of the shots and all that stuff. I was excited right away and for the next four or five days, JFK was everything to me. I read everything I could find on the man and his death. I researched conspiracy theories. I studied maps and diagrams. I looked at autopsy photos online. I watched the Oliver Stone film with Kevin Costner. I even watched the Seinfeld episode where they spoor the assassination. I couldn’t believe I was going to be there. Me and my green Toyota, that I had just driven through Manhattan, battling cabs in Times Square, would be cruising through Dallas, looking up at the Texas School Book Depository. Maybe the two ultimate highlights of the great American road trip.
Before we left, I carefully mapped out my Dallas itinerary. I’d arrive there on Saturday night and get a cheap hotel and from there walk to Dealey Plaza to get an initial look around. Then I’d come back again the next day to see it in the early afternoon, around the same time as the assassination. Because it was a Sunday, the Book Depository would be closed, which was fine with me since I had very little money. Then I’d get back in the car and retrace the motorcade’s route through the city, before getting back on the freeway and on to my friend Mark’s house in Lubbock, five hours west. It should be told that there is a faster way to get from Houston to Lubbock, besides going north through Dallas, but this was worth the excursion.
Kevin and I spent two days in New Orleans, mostly gambling, swimming in the hotel pool and following Jazz musicians from bar to bar at all hours. On the last night we drunkenly bought a bag of weed from an old black man on the street at 3am and it turned out to be fake.
In the morning we left New Orleans and started the five-hour drive west to Houston. Kevin’s flight was at 7pm. The road down there doesn’t offer much to look at. Mostly swampland and massive oil refineries. We stopped off right as we got into Texas and got out of the car to 90 degrees and as humid as you’ll ever experience. There were smokestacks in every direction and nothing but dirt and roads. It looked like some sort of science fiction dystopia. I told Kevin that if hell existed, this would be it. He agreed.
We got to Houston with plenty of time to spare. I dropped Kevin off at the George H.W. Bush International Airport and spent an hour driving around Houston, just checking it out. Went through downtown. Went through the suburbs. Then started driving north to Dallas.
I wasn’t more than 30 minutes out of Houston when my back left tire blew out as I was going 60 or 70 on the freeway. I didn’t lose control of the car but it was pretty scary anyways. I pulled off to the side of the freeway but there was not a lot of spare room and I was a bit tepid about getting out and trying to fix the tire myself. I had never changed a tire before, but I was pretty sure that if I had to, I could. I got out and looked through the trunk. There was a spare tire, but nothing else. No jack. No box of tools. There was a place for them, but it was empty. I think I was actually relieved that it excused me from having to do it myself. I called AAA. They told me someone would come within an hour. I waited two hours and called back. They said they were busy and someone would come when they could.
It got dark while I sat there. Before I had left California, a friend of mine got a bumper sticker that said “Somebody Else For President” and put it on my car, just for a laugh. I never took it off and I sat imagining, with a grin on my face of the sight for all these Texans whizzing past of my little green Toyota, with California plates and an anti-Bush bumper sticker in the family’s home town, broken down on the side of the road with no one to help.
Eventually someone did come. A man and a woman pulled up in a pick-up truck. They got out and used their own jack to put the spare on. He told me it would be $40. I said, “aren’t you from AAA?” and he said “No.” So I gave it to him, which was the only cash I had on me. I probably only had $200 to get home on, so $40 was a lot, but after 3 hours on the side of the road, I was moving again.
I had never driven with a spare tire and didn’t know how fast I could go or how many miles I could travel on it. It’s about 4 hours from Houston to Dallas and with about an hour to go, it started to rain really hard. I was finding it difficult to drive in and was a bit freaked out about the tire. I figured there was no reason to try to get all the way to Dallas that night and it’d be safer to just pull off and get a room along the freeway.
The motel was 2 stories of about 25 units. $30 a room. It was located next to a gas station and two fast food places, and although it was dark, you could tell not much else surrounded it. It had a bed that would vibrate upon the insertion of quarters, which was something I thought that only existed in television. The TV got twelve channels, including two pornographic that were only 3/4ths blurred out. It smelled like cigarettes and there were no signs posted telling you not to smoke.
It’d been a long day. 9 hours driving and another 3 sitting by the side of the road. I was exhausted and laid down to rest and a few minutes later got a call from my Mom saying that my Brother had to go into the hospital due to an uncontrollable rapid heart beat. She said she didn’t know much more but would keep me informed and hung up. That moment in that shitty hotel in the middle of nowhere was one of the loneliest of my life. I had a broken car, with no money and bag of fake weed. I was thousands of miles from home and now had a brother in the hospital. I went and ate some fast food dinner and didn’t feel any better. I laid awake in the hotel room trying to fall asleep for hours with no success. I tried masturbating to the blurred porn on the TV but couldn’t keep an interest. I called my mom three times and she had no news and eventually I drifted off.
The next morning the main focus was getting a proper tire put on the car for the rest of the drive. I asked the man at the front desk if he knew where I could get one. He told me that I probably wouldn’t have much luck on a Sunday around here. He gave me the phone book and I started calling around and found a place that was open a few miles away. I had to take a rural road to get there and when I did, my car was third in line to be worked on and there was only one mechanic. The woman who ran the front counter told me it would probably just be a couple of hours at most. I sat at the window of a Wendy’s across the street, watching and waiting for them to fix the tire while I drank refill after refill of Coca-Cola. I saw them finish it and the woman motioned me through the window to come back. They felt sorry for me and didn’t charge me as much as they could have. I thanked them and got back on the road.
I called my Mom to ask about my brother and she told me they would have to keep him another night, which I took to mean that it was quite a serious issue. I say this only because it must partially account for the head space I was in because I can’t really account for the next 2 hours of my life besides to say that I was very distracted. The freeway leading up to Dallas went from one lane, to two lanes, to four lanes. I was a little intimidated and didn’t know where to go. The land around there is mostly flat and featureless and there is nothing to orient yourself by. I saw a sign saying Ft. Worth and Lubbock and knew that was the direction I was supposed to be heading in.
I didn’t even glance over as I passed downtown Dallas. I remember I passed by the Ranger’s stadium in Arlington, and then the nearby old Cowboys Stadium and Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. I passed through Ft. Worth and the western edge of the suburbs. Then about an hour later I turned on the radio and the first thing that the newsreader said was that President Bush and Mexican President Fox would be meeting in Dallas in a week and it hit me that I’d totally forgotten all about going through Dealey Plaza and seeing all the JFK sights. In the chaotic evening and morning, it had just completely slipped my mind. I was pissed. I pulled off at the next ramp to turn around and go back but realized it would add another 4 or so hours to the trip and I had to get to Mark’s house in Lubbock that night and it was already probably 3 o’clock and I didn’t want to drive through barren west Texas in the middle of the night. I didn’t have the money to stay in another hotel. I pulled over to a gas station to think things over. I could not believe that I had forgotten all about it. It had been the motivating factor for the trip and the focus of the last week of my life. I had it all mapped and planned and I just completely forgot about it. I slammed the steering wheel several times and for then for the next five minutes I cried. I sat in my car in the parking lot of the gas station and cried. I didn’t want to spend another night in Dallas or anywhere. At that moment it all hit me. The homesickness, the being away for months, the blown tire, the being broke, the humid heat, the brother sick at home. And now blowing right past Dealey Plaza when the only reason I came to Dallas was to see it. I just wanted to get home.
I went in to the shop and bought myself a bottle of Coke and then continued on to Lubbock. I tried to think of all the reasons I didn’t want to see it anyways. I tried to tell myself I didn’t care. But I did. As I consoled myself, I made a resolution right there that car that within a year I would come back to Dallas and do it right. I’d fly in, I’d get a hotel downtown and spend a good few days studying all the sites. I’d have a picnic on the grassy knoll, I’d see where Ruby shot Oswald, I’d even make sure to go on a weekday to get the tour of the Book Depository. Really dig it. Well, it’s been ten years and I havent been back to Dallas since.