Tourism and Writing on a Drive West: Post-Nabokov Reflection
My final post to this blog is a reflection on road trips, travel, and “American experience.” I haven’t included much about myself in these posts, but I am very interested in travel in tourism. I am hoping to do an Independently Design Major that focuses around studying tourism. I like thinking about which advertisements for certain travel experiences work, and why. What is an “authentic” travel experience, whether in the U.S. west, or abroad? Nabokov’s long descriptions of his travels are filled with advertisements and his snarky commentary on them.
“The would-be enticements of their repetitious names–all those Sunset Motels, U-Beam Cottages, Hillcrest Courts, Pine View Courts, Mountain View Courts, Skyline Courts, Park Plaza Courts, Green Acres, Mac’s Courts. There was sometimes a special line in the write-up, such as ‘Children welcome, pets allowed’ (You are welcome, you are allowed). The baths were mostly tiled showers, with an endless variety of spouting mechanisms… [that turned] instantly beastly hot or blindingly cold upon you, depending on whether your neighbor turned on his cold or his hot to deprive you of a necessary complement in the shower you had so carefully blended. Some motels had instructions pasted above the toilet (on whose tank the towels were unhygienically heaped) asking guests not to throw into its bowl garbage, beer cans, cartons, stillborn babies” (Lolita, 146).
I drove from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles, and back, over spring break, passing through various parts of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of these descriptions to a certain point are still accurate descriptions of this part of the country to a degree. There are certain patterns, certain repetitions that seem to stick out if you observe all that you can as you drive. As Nabokov writes, the motels seem to have a certain cheeky monotony, with some failed expectations. (The car I was in broke down on the way, so instead of camping one night, we got a room on the outskirts of Vegas that reminded me of his descriptions. It was called “The Fisher’s Inn”, and there was not one hint at any nautical theme to be seen.) I was drawn in his descriptions to how everything was advertised, how everything seemed to want to draw you in and yet didn’t seem to live up to standard. I’m personally interested in where this advertisement manifests itself with tourism to other countries, so it was helpful, even in fiction, to find some helpful examples. I noticed this on my own trip as well: seemingly infinite and repetitive billboards and advertisements of niche history all intermingled between a wide variety of scenery. Nabokov does a good job of capturing this weird balance:
“Winter in the desert, spring in the foothills, almonds in bloom. Reno, a dreary town in Nevada, with a nightlife said to be ‘cosmopolitan and mature.’ A winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel. Death Valley. Scotty’s Castle. Works of Art collected by one Rogers over a period of years. The ugly villas of handsome actresses. R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano… Somber Yellowstone Park and its colored hot springs, baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mud–symbols of my passion. A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge. Our hundredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents… The Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer single” (Lolita, 157-158).
Nature and oddities intertwined. Maybe even in conversation with one another. That’s the last Nabokov selection I’ve chosen to share. I mentioned that I would try and relate my own road trip to his, so I am including parts of something that I wrote after my road trip. I used to be declared in Creative Writing, and I still continue to write. This class ended up stimulating a variety of disciplines! Here is part of what I’m writing, inspired by the trip and Nabokov:
“Needles. An interesting name for a California town with now pines, and no noticeable epidemic. The town isn’t too sharp, and car breaks down after a mechanic jiggles some parts the wrong way. Sigh, goes the car engine, putt-putting one last cough. Sigh, goes the crowd of three in the parking Rite-Aid parking. The Rite-Aid is a sort of grail here. The town is in fact Weedles, informs one of the mechanics. He isn’t working on the car. There are four marijuana dispensaries, and a Rite-Aid as a grocery store. Would Rite-Aid sell hot dogs to grill for dinner? No, but they’ve been trying for years. The hot dogs never arrive. Behind the Rite-Aid was surprising grandeur a plain, a train, and a full-scale mountain chain. This was the triad to find in each Western town, even if it meant looking behind the Rite-Aid or underneath a couple cars. Not your typical back-alley scene. Orange, simple, stunning, blue, bountiful, lush, lurching, white, wonderful. Who cares that the car broke down, with all this to gaze at? Not us, whisper the mountains. In the other direction, two gas stations. One has a freezer of raw hot dogs, that they refuse to sell raw. That’s not food code violation, but we are happy to heat our dogs for you.
A tow to a Needles mechanic. Dogs running around. Woof, says one dog. Remind me of when I cared, reads on mans Rite-Aid T-shirt. No car part. A tow to Vegas. Lights, hills, cascading arrows and dots of yellow. A stop at the itchy Fisher’s Inn, a fishy place–not one ocean, not one boat to be moored. No images of beach cookouts, no hot dogs, no beach dogs. Stiff and itchy beds are the sand you find at the end of the day.
The next day, a bus out of Vegas. No more car. A man in a full clown costume has white makeup around his eyes, crisp and gleaning in the desert bus-stop sun. His clashing green hat reflects all the green to be found in this mad country—the rolling hills, the standoff shrubbery, the one tree amidst the swirls of dust and dirt. He’s smoking a cigarette, pacing his drags carefully. He’s the plain waiting under the desert sky. He’s the idle train, loading up for a trip across America. He’s the frost-tipped mountains pointing to nothing in particular, with an authority that is so bold, and yet so patient. There’s no need to go any quickly, he seems to say. Stay, if you may, just one more day.”
The car-breaking was not enjoyable, but I enjoyed writing bits of the account down, and fragmenting parts of a very odd journey for my own enjoyment. This is my final post, as it is now Block 7. If you’ve been following along on these posts, thank you for reading, and for putting up with my writing and excessive quotation. Be sure to take a road trip with Nabokov in hand as soon as you can.