I used to call it "The Drive at Five." When driving to visit my parents in Upland, California, I'd get up before the crack of dawn to get on the road by 5am, rolling into the Inland Empire around 10am, depending on traffic and time changes. The journey works pretty well, and I have it down to a two-tank trip.
Then my work hours changed to dayside, and I started making those getaways right after I got done with the 5:00 news. It's the same game, just played a little different.
5:45 Hopefully be out the door. Hopefully not have a grumbling tummy, but that can be appeased with a quick run through the drive-through window. Otherwise, dinner is three hours off, at least.
7:15 If rush hour traffic is done, and some fool hasn't jack-knifed his semi along I-10, I'm rolling into Phoenix. To give you an idea of the size of this metro area, one of the biggest in the nation, realize that it takes at least one hour to drive from one edge of the area to the other.
8:00 Be out of Phoenix, driving into the West Valley, and my first large stretch of darkness. In the summer, the sun is setting. In the winter, the sun was down hours ago.
8:45 Debate whether to get gas at the Zip station 20 miles east of Quartzite or keep rolling. Given my new car's fuel efficiency, I prefer to keep going.
9:00 Debate whether to gas up at the Pilot in Quartzite and grab something from the Golden Arches right next door. If this were daytime, I might also sniff around at one of the swap meets in town. (Here's where I pause so you can make your "Sid" jokes.) Depending on my timing, I might catch the news on the radio from KJMB, one of the few family-owned FM radio stations still running network news at the top of the hour.
9:15 If passing on both above options, gas up at the Flying J on top of the hill in Ehrenberg. It's still my favorite truck stop on the Arizona-California line: clean restrooms, large drink selection, and a Wendy's. Grab grub after a 10-100 and roll on.
9:30 Roll into California and pass through the U.S.D.A. checkpoint. They're looking for fruit flies. They always wave me through. They wave everybody in a car through. Why even stop sedans?
9:35 Out of Blythe and into another dark stretch. It's spooky. It's late. I have a big soda.
10:30 Signs of life reappear around Twenty-Nine Palms. The town glistens along with the lights of the Spotlight 29 Casino. No time to stop and play.
11:00 More spookiness. Dozens of red lights flash in the distance atop the numerous wind turbines. It looks like a UFO invasion. This is the time to keep my head. In the past, I've had visions of people darting across the road. Or maybe those weren't visions. No, the soda isn't spiked.
11:45 In the home stretch. Upland is about half an hour away. The lights of L.A. are on the horizon.
12:30am Hopefully we're home now. Kiss the Queen Mother and Royal Father. Gawk a little about the trip. Collapse into bed.
You gotta have a system...