We fought our way back out of the parking lot and resumed our trek. Barstow was just over the halfway point; we had about 130 miles to go and were rapidly running out of concrete reference points on the map. Up to this point our route had been simple: go east until we hit the 15, then head north until we hit Barstow. From here we headed further north until we hit Baker and then… Well, then we start looking for spoor.

I was getting a little twitchy as Baker blinked by. We figured our turnoff was about 30 miles up ahead, but I wasn’t sure. If I’m going off-road in the desert with a potential axe-murderer, I at least want to be sure of how to get where I’m going. I started doing the Worried Wife routine: "How far is it now? Where do we get off? Are you sure? What’s the exit called again? It’s how far?"

Steve, laconic navigator that he was, didn’t consult his map much, he’d just say "Yup. Nope. About 30 miles," stuff like that. I made him take the map out a few times and show me the route, but I could tell he was just mollifying me, he didn’t really want to look. This made me even more nervous. There was no way in hell we were going to stop to ask for directions, first on general principles because we’re men and men don’t ask, second because how stupid would it sound to ask for directions to a phone booth? Knowing how to get there on our own was fairly important.

Outside, a storm was brewing. What do you think of when you think desert? Miles and miles of arid sand, that’s what. You don’t think of rain. But there it was, storm clouds up ahead, tattering ribbons of rain hanging down to brush the desert floor. Nice. If you know deserts, what do you think of when you think rain in the desert? Flash floods, that’s what. Even nicer.

So now we were headed into a monsoon and potential flash flood and we weren’t really clear on how to get where we were going and my navigator didn’t feel like checking the map… And then the lightning started. Oh, this was getting weird. I flashed on all the disaster shows I’ve watched on the Discovery Channel, the ones where the narrator somberly intones "They didn’t realize they’d just made the first of a series of deadly mistakes. If only they’d turned back then, they might have survived the deadly bandicoot attack."

I turned to Steve and said, "This is really stupid. We’ve driven hundreds of miles already, we’re kind of lost, we’re heading into a cloudburst, soon we’re going to be out on the desert floor where we stand a good chance of being killed in a flash flood, nobody knows exactly where we are, we don’t know each other, and we’re doing all this to hang up a telephone, a pay phone at that. This is really stupid."

Steve chewed it over for a moment, then said, "You’re right, this is stupid. We’re married, we’re fathers, we have people who depend on us. We have no business risking our lives like this and it was the height of irresponsibility for us to even consider this trip in the first place. What were we thinking? Let’s go home."

So we turned around and headed home.

Really? No way. What are we, pussies? I drove faster, Steve took more pictures, and we drove right down the throat of that storm. Laughing. Not doing this would have been stupid.

A few miles later we found our exit, took it, and promptly drove past the dirt road leading to our final destination. We turned around, took the turn-off, and drove off the pavement and into the dirt. I got out and locked my front hubs so we could engage the 4-wheel drive. We wouldn’t need it, not on the graded dirt roads ahead, but we felt better for having it. Manlier. More adventurous. Macho.

The Booth was just a few miles away. We could feel it calling to us.




Death's Waiting Room

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