Because it felt like I was about to die, it seemed logical that Death Valley should be my next, and perhaps final, destination. Checking the National Park Service website, I saw that although most of the services inside the park were closed, the entrances remained open.
All the lanes on Las Vegas Boulevard were being funneled down to one, so after checking out of my room, I shot down it like a rocket being fired through a concrete tunnel, eventually hitting the 215 and then taking the 15 north. Being on the move and drinking alcohol had always served to pacify my restless mind, but now nothing was doing the trick. Driving out of the city, I was jumping out of my skin, scanning the desert ahead of me, constantly checking the rear-view mirror, certain that something was on my tail, ready to pounce.
When I got to the turnoff for Death Valley an hour later, I pulled over at a unique tourist trap in Amargosa Valley, the Area 51 Alien Center. Area 51, the site of a secretive Air Force Base, has long been associated with UFOs and extraterrestrials. The gas station itself was full of all things alien. There were aliens on the sign, aliens out front, a green alien with outstretched arms by the potato chips, one sitting on a bench, two patrolling the aisles, another with a headwrap in a glass case, telling fortunes. Right next door to the convenience store there was even an alien-themed brothel. Wearing protection would now have a whole new meaning if you walked into a place like that. The invasion of the planet was real.
I’d picked up a four pack of wine, and drank a few bottles before getting back on the road. Although Death Valley was my destination, all I really wanted to do was drive and keep driving. Upon entering the park, I pulled over at Zabriski Point, where I rushed to the top of the viewpoint and wildly scanned the Martian terrain, before hurrying back to the car and continuing on. In a few hours I passed from the lowest elevation in America, Badwater Basin, at 280 feet below sea level, to the base for the second highest, Mount Whitney, at 14, 505 miles above it. Neither place came close to matching the lows of my despair or the heights of my anxiety.
The Wild West town of Lone Pine offered little peace when I got there, being just as locked down as the rest of the state. Out of new places to drive that day, I got a hotel room and turned my attention back to drinking. There was little peace in that either.
At one point, I wandered up to The Museum of Western Film History and looked at some of the movie posters out front. Roy Rogers. Tom Mix. John Wayne. The Lone Ranger. In those movies it was always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Problems could be settled with a shoot-out. In 2020, it would become almost impossible to separate the heroes from the villains. Were they the ones with masks or the ones without? Not only would people prove incapable of coming together when faced with a common enemy, they couldn’t even agree on who the enemy was. Instead of coming together to find a solution, they would all begin pointing their fingers at each other.