Tortoise crossing — expect long delays

By Mike Murphy

I’m not a very religious person, but I must admit that I did a lot of praying on a recent car trip to Southern California. Getting past Las Vegas was particularly taxing. Average daily auto traffic for Vegas is more than 100,000 vehicles, and I swear on both our trips past the city all 100,000 waited for our car to enter the city limits before zooming up the on ramp! Or maybe it just happened to be rush hour, which in Vegas runs from midnight to midnight.
My wife’s strategy on urban freeways is to stay in the middle lane and not budge for anything. This can occasionally result in some long intervals stuck behind a cattle truck that just spent all day crossing the blazing hot desert hauling a ton of cow poop, which by now, through a magical chemical process, has morphed into a deadly brown cloud of methane gas that is streaming from the truck straight into our car’s air vent.
We did manage to navigate the traffic successfully. Though I never witnessed how that happened because I was hiding in the back seat cuddled up with the dog, both of us with our heads under a pillow, until the car was no longer surrounded by speeding deranged gamblers, all feeling just a tad bit grumpy after staying up all night throwing away money on watered-down drinks and rigged slot machines.
It’s no wonder that the interstate leading into Vegas is lined with billboards advertising lawyers since a lot of tourists will end up filing for bankruptcy once they return home from “Sin City.” That is, the people will make it home — while all their money “stays in Vegas.”
On this latest trip, I noticed that large metro areas like Salt Lake City have an Express Lane you can use under certain criteria, which I assume includes experience as a former NASCAR driver. It seems many Utahans interpret Express Lane as synonymous with “Bat out of hell” lane.
If you ask me, it only seems fair that, with so many retired baby boomers now traveling year around, a logical option would be to add a “Senior Lane.” It would have no minimum speed, no passing, and rest areas every mile offering free coffee and bingo games.
When it’s my turn to drive in Nevada, I prefer long, desolate stretches of two-lane, where I just have to deal with an occasional crazed, sun-stroked jack rabbit bounding across the road to get to the other side for reasons that escape me because the desolate landscape on the left looks just as God-forsaken as that on the right.
But at night, even driving endless two-lane stretches of deserted desert can be troublesome for me when every bug that pops up out of the blackness and into the headlight glare becomes an imagined deer, coyote or even an Islamic terrorist who somehow got his deserts mixed up and is now a Mojave Jihadi.
An interesting trait of the highways in Southern California is the presence of call boxes, roadside telephones apparently available for emergency situations, some 4,000 in Los Angeles County alone. This seems like a waste since the average middle school student now has a phone that can do just about everything except warm up the kid’s enchilada he just picked up at the convenient mart on the way home from school.
Instead of call boxes, how about an occasional rest area to use for the most important call of all—nature’s call!? I realize that the drought has gotten pretty severe in the state but surely Californians can squeeze out and drink an occasional drop of water from a sliced-up cactus, causing a man to eventually need to “drain his lizard” (appropriate desert slang, don’t you think?).
Of course, there are truck pull-off areas, but I’m a little reluctant to park between two monstrous semi-trucks with their hoods raised to cool their roaring engines which are bigger than my entire car. Or slide past a couple of truckers who resemble 1950s professional wrestler Haystacks Calhoun, who weighed 600 lb. and wore an actual horseshoe on a neck chain, like some sort of hillbilly bling bling, so I can mosey over behind the nearest yucca plant to take a whiz!
We topped off our trip with some relaxing time exploring the desert. We actually stumbled upon a rare desert tortoise. That’s one species with every justification to be bisexual due to the slim chance of encountering any other turtles in the middle of nowhere, let alone one of the opposite sex. I mean, after waiting patiently in the shade of a bush for a year, even a cross-dressing lizard, say a Gila monster with a discarded Pizza Hut box attached to its back, would look darn good.
Yeah, I could see that happening. After all, it is California.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello retired after a 35-year teaching and coaching career. He has a master’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is an Associated Press award-winning columnist.