“If a man ordered a beer milkshake, he'd better do it in a town where he wasn't known.”
Hotels in Vegas are cheap this time of year, the scorching heat in the dry Nevada desert keeps a lot of people away. We told the camper van guy we were headed through here, he said we could get a room right on the strip for under fifty bucks, it was too hot to camp anyway. They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I’ll freely admit we spent an embarrassing amount of time in that cheap motel, using WiFi to stream The Bachelorette and taking long showers without our shoes on.
We had a little extra cash burning a hole in our pocket, we just sold every thing we owned on Craigslist after all. We gave ourselves a budget, a set amount of money we were willing to lose at the tables, thinking it was a good seed money to last us all night. I couldn’t take pictures, but rest assured we lost it all in the first ten minutes playing video poker and casino war. We only had one night here, we thought about seeing a show or something but didn’t really want to spend more money and figured honestly, people-watching on the strip is good enough.
Joshua Tree was next, I’d been looking forward to this park for a while. I’ve always wanted to see some constellations that weren’t masked by skyscrapers and smog - we’d been in the city a long time - and Joshua Tree has famously dark skies, so it seemed like a good place to do it. We hiked out a ways to find a nice iconic tree and a good place to set up the tripod, I got one or two shots in before we spotted a goddamn tarantula and spent the rest of the night stargazing safely from on top of the picnic table at our campsite.
We were up early the next morning to do a hike, but it was closed due to a “Search in Progress”. Turns out a hiker went missing on that very trail the day before, and according to a Google search just now he’s still missing today, over a week later.
The next couple nights we spent in Santa Monica, just outside Venice Beach. We rented rollerblades during golden hour and fumbled our way around, I’d like to blame my lack of coordination on the setting sun in my eyes but at least I never completely wiped out. We did more touristy stuff the next day, Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theater. Peter wanted to do a studio tour so we rode in a golf cart around Paramount Pictures, looking at movie sets and old props. We learned that the 1983 Paramount Studio fire was discovered by William Shatner (who had thought he smelled barbecue), and that Alfred Hitchcock was sort of an asshole. We saw two people who I am convinced are actors on a Netflix show, cannot confirm because they were both deliberately obscuring their faces, but that just makes me all the more convinced.
After a mind-numbingly hot drive through Southern California and Death Valley, we got to Sequoia National Park. The difference in scenery was a nice change, ten days in the desert had us welcoming the sight of trees again. We continued on through Sequoia, driving along Highway 1 to Big Sur, and finally to Cannery Row which brings us to the beer milkshakes.
For some background: Peter and I dated for about five months in college before transitioning to the dreaded long-distance relationship - he was starting a new job in Canton, Ohio, and I was finishing up my senior year in Ann Arbor. While we were apart we’d do a “book club”, taking turns picking a book neither of us had read, then discussing it the next time we were together. The first one we ever did was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It's one of those sweet, nostalgic, slice-of-life books with no real plot, which I love, and it quickly became one of my favorite novellas. It's a beautiful elegy to a street in Monterey, California, called Cannery Row, and once we realized we were going to be driving right past there, we knew we had to visit.
Anyway, one of the main characters is named Doc, and partway through the book he becomes really fixated on the idea of a beer milkshake. He knows it’s probably not going to taste very good, but it’s just one of those ideas that gets stuck in your head, elbowing its way into your cranium and you can’t let it go. We thought it would be a fun way to honor that book, getting a beer milkshake right here in Cannery Row. We got several weird looks, the waitress did sort of a double take and had to confirm twice that yes, we really wanted a beer milkshake, that’s half a bottle of beer blended with vanilla ice cream, no extra sugar added.
You’re probably wondering if the milkshake was really so good that I named this entire post for it, and the answer is no. But I guess I thought that getting it sort of embodied the spirit of our trip - we’re going to make a lot of decisions along the way, even ones that we know might not be good ideas (like getting a beer milkshake, or quitting our jobs). But we really won’t ever know for sure if something’s good or bad until we try. Because not getting the beer milkshake at all would be worse than how it actually tasted (which was pretty fucking terrible). Anyway, that’s all I got.