On a dusty stretch of the interstate running through the middle of Hereford, Texas there’s a service station called Rodriguez’s Fix-a-Flat. It was a small station that looked more like a barn made of metal siding. A large, hand painted sign hung by the door displaying the prices for each of the services offered; tires $15, brakes, $20, and oil $10. The $5 price to fix a flat tire was cleverly displayed by the road on an upright, blue and red spray painted tire. When Teri and I, along with her golden retriever, Eisley, had woken up early in the KOA campground just outside of Amarillo we had no idea we would be sitting in the hot Texas sun staring at the blue and red tire, wondering if our road trip had hit more than a bump in the road.
Teri had decided the month prior to move to Salinas. She applied to work as an intern at a sleep clinic in a hospital near where her boyfriend lived and she needed a copilot to help drive. As it has been a goal of mine to go on a cross-country road trip ever since I watched the Griswolds set out for Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation, I didn’t hesitate to join her, plus we needed at least one more adventure together before she moved away. Weeks before leaving Wilmington, North Carolina we had met several times over breakfast to plan our trip to Teri’s new home in Salinas, California. We plotted out the route using her iPad, selecting several roadside attractions along the Historic Route 66 and The Grand Canyon to stop at along the way.
While Teri was on a budget simply because she was moving and the costs of renting a U-Haul, I was on an even stricter budget due to having finally deciding to pay off my credit cards. I had just gotten each one under control and set up payments for September and October when Teri propositioned me to join her for this adventure. The thought of not going on a road trip didn’t really cross my mind. Since it was the end of summer, and the dog would be with us we both decided that camping would be the best and cheapest option with campsites costing only $35 per night. Honestly, if I have the chance to do another cross-country road trip, even when I am not broke, I would choose to camp again.
We bought snacks and breakfast bars before leaving Wilmington and I even had a few Starbucks gift cards left over from Christmas to ensure that we had coffee. I had asked my parents if I could use the gas cards they had given me in college to put my half of the gas on and thankfully, they agreed to it. All in all, our road trip was looking to be fairly inexpensive. While I didn’t relish having only $300 in the world to call my own at that time, I was glad to have it for the trip. I did the math and it would be enough to cover the costs of the campsites, food, and a little left over for a souvenir or two. Two weeks before the launch of our expedition Teri and I were at breakfast plotting our course on the iPad when she shared a very “Teri” secret. She was sifting through her messy wallet, discarding point cards that she no longer needed, when she pulled out a visa debit card and referred to it as her “blood money.” Curious, I asked her what she meant and she revealed that for the past couple of weeks she had been donating plasma to have extra money for her move. She had accumulated almost $200 and still had two weeks left to continue. I decided a little extra financial padding couldn’t hurt and joined her four times over the next two weeks at the plasma donation center to add another $200 to my small fortune. What can I say; the need to travel outweighs comfort and a fear of needles.
It was the fourth day of our cross-country road trip and we were eager to start another long day of driving that would eventually end at another campground in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We packed the tent and bags back into the trunk of her Volvo, checked to make sure the small U-Haul trailer was still properly attached to the hitch, and found a Starbucks all by 7 am. We had camped the first and third night of our journey, having been able to stay with Teri’s friend Everett in Arkansas, and arrived late each night, setting up our tent in the dark using flashlights. Albuquerque would be the first time we would be able to arrive before sunset to set up the tent and build a campfire.
We had barely made it back onto I-40 when the GPS told us to make a U-turn and take the first right to arrive at the Cadillac Ranch. The Cadillac Ranch is an art installation composed of ten vintage Cadillacs half buried in a wheat field. Each Cadillac is entombed in years worth of spray paint from tourists wishing to leave their mark. Empty spray cans littered the ground surrounding the classic cars. Teri and I had brought a few cans of gold, hot pink, and blue along with some sharpies to autograph the Texas landmark. We wandered around; taking turns holding Eisley’s leash, signing our names and drawing dinosaurs and flowers on the cars. Standing in the wheat field that late September morning, holding a half empty spray can in one hand and a pumpkin spice latte in the other, I wondered how many other travelers had found their way to the Cadillac Ranch on their journey from either coast. Did we all feel as if we were significant; that our mark would forever remain on the four or so Cadillacs that I spray-painted on? Or would it instantly be erased the moment the next traveler walked 100 feet out into the field and painted over it? I decided that neither of the questions really mattered. The point of being at the Cadillac Ranch and the other sites along the Historic Route 66 was to be in the moment and allow the memories of these places to sort of decorate the trip. Sure we could have driven to California in less time than a week, but where’s the fun in that? What other time would either of us have had to enjoy the tacky pieces of roadside Americana after this?
One of the things we both agreed to do on our road trip was send kitschy post cards to friends and family along the way. We bought a few after our first night at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee and at the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma, but felt that Texas would provide the sense of Americana we were both looking for. We stopped at a convenience store and browsed the turnstile looking for Texas longhorns, cowboy boots, and The Alamo to no success.
Getting back into the car Teri asked, “What’s that hissing sound?” I immediately put my feet inside and slammed the door, fearing a rattlesnake was in our midst as we had both been warned to keep our eyes open for them. Teri, being braver than I, got out and realized she had run over a nail and her front tire was leaking air, and rather quickly by the sound of it. We drove across the road to what looked like a mechanic, who then directed us to drive a couple of miles down the road to what ended up being our saving grace, Rodriguez’s Fix-a-Flat. Having seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre more times that I can count, I can’t say that I wasn’t a little apprehensive about being at the mercy of a man with a hand painted sign who ran a cash-only business along a nearly desolate highway in Texas. What Teri and I both discovered was that the guys who worked at Rodriguez’s Fix-a-Flat were not only able to remove the nail from the tire and plug the hole, but they also checked the pressure in all four tires, the oil, and topped off the fluids for no extra charge. The entire ordeal only took about 30 minutes and cost a total of $15 (the flat was only $5 but Teri threw in extra for all their great help). Looking back on our road trip I can recall some of the most amazing memories I have as a traveler, like camping under the stars of a Texas sky, watching the sun rise over The Grand Canyon, and visiting roadside attractions I’ve only read about, but those memories aren’t all that unique; at least not in a sense that we were the only two women, and dog, to experience those things on a cross-country road trip. I believe far fewer people spent a short afternoon at Rodriguez’s Fix-a-Flat wondering if they were going to be murdered like in a classic horror film or meet some genuinely nice guys who wanted to make sure we reached our destination on the West coast.