Tomorrow, I will be driving to Dallas to begin a road trip with my friend Charles Braden. Sadly, though we keep in touch through email, we rarely see each other anymore and based on our particular life circumstances, it doesn’t look like it is going to get better anytime soon. So, Charles invited me to drive to Tempe, AZ with him, where he will be competing in an Ironman Triathlon. I was going to enter the triathlon, too, but…uh, it was sold out. Too bad. Anyway, the road trip sounded like a great way to catch-up and spend some time together, so I agreed. Charles and I went on a few notorious road trips in our youth, so I thought I would republish a retro blog post about our trip to California in 1991.
I have never thought this was a particularly good write-up, but it is simply a direct transcription of my diary, except for minor editing (grammar, clarity), or where there have been gross omissions, such as our foray into Tijuana and our encounter with a tornado. Yes, somehow I forgot the tornado. Maybe Charles can help me remember more details about the trip.
Road Trip: Monterrey, California, August 7-15, 1991
San Antonio, TX – Ft. Stockton, TX
My friend Charles Braden, who was living in Houston at the time, met me at the entrance of the San Antonio International Airport sometime around 11pm on Wednesday, August 7, 1991. He was riding his Honda VFR700 Interceptor. I had just ridden down from Austin on my smaller ’84 Honda VF500F Interceptor. We met in San Antonio to catch I-10 West, which would take us all the way to California and our friends Rob and Michelle, who were living in Monterrey. Despite already being tired from an ordinary day, the excitement of finally setting out on our long-planned trip kept us riding until 5am, when we finally had to stop just outside of Ft. Stockton for some sleep.
Our first campsite located just outside of Ft. Stockton. The night we stopped was beautiful. It was so dark that the Milky Way could easily be seen and the light from our flashlights made visible beams into the distance. We were so tired that the rocky ground didn’t bother us at all. We probably could have done without a tent and even sleeping bags. However, the Sheriff that told us we were on private property the next morning DID bother us, so we left.
West Texas – The Tornado
August in Texas is no picnic. It was easily 100 F degrees in the shade every day that we rode. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the shade. We were also sitting behind running engines all day, with our feet resting just above burning hot exhausts. It was hot, get it?
Anyway, somewhere deep in West Texas, we found some relief in the occasional flash rainstorm. These storms would literally appear out of nowhere, unload on us, and then they were gone. One storm that we were coming upon looked particularly ominous. The sky above us was bright sunny and clear, but in the very near distance, perhaps just a couple of miles ahead (less than two minutes), we could see a sky as black as night. We could also see the WALL of water pouring from the sky. It was one of the strangest things I had ever seen. In a split second, I went from hot and dry, to riding through the water wall and into cold gusting winds blasting us with sand. Visibility went to very bad, but we pressed on. Just ahead, we could see an overpass. We pulled in underneath and found a couple of other cyclists. We thought it would blow over quickly, so we just sat on the bikes.
In an instant the wind and rain picked up to an incredible level. Then the hail started. It was deafening. I had just a moment to make a last nervous joke to Charles and I yelled to him at the top of my lungs, “We’re all going to die!” A split second after that it turned worse and I realized it was no joking matter. We could hear the freight train sound and we were bent over our bikes (like so many of our top speed tests) clutching onto the bikes for dear life. For a second, there was a reprieve and we ran up to the uppermost corner of the underpass. We could see big parts of trees and other debris flying through the underpass. A minute later it was gone. We never actually saw the funnel, but it was there. We spent some time collecting ourselves and after some delay, got back on the road.
Tucson, AZ and the Jacket Incident
We stayed in Tucson that night in the worst fleabag motel we could find – The Dreamland Motel (the Vista Del Sol was full), for $18. The next morning, we had breakfast at the best diner I have ever been to. Talk about a slice of America, I thought “Mel” (Vic Tayback, R.I.P.) was going to walk out of the kitchen at any time. I made the above notes while eating the “Hungry Jack” breakfast.
So there we were, somewhere in Arizona, minding our own business and going 120 mph. I was drafting Charles, trying to raise my top speed record, which stood at 124 mph (set the previous day). All of a sudden, my beautiful new Harley-Davidson jacket, which was strapped onto my seat, was sucked behind my bike where it was then picked up by the rear wheel and pulled into the bike. It looked like this:
This put me into a skid. A fast one. I somehow managed to keep from dropping the bike, pulled over, and leapt from the bike thinking it might be on fire (burning rubber and leather creates a lot of smoke). Imagine my surprise at seeing the culprit. The end results weren’t so bad: a nice adrenaline rush, a seriously worn tire, and an ordinary jacket transformed into a battered, melted and torn Mad Maxâ„¢ jacket! Cool!
Jimmy’s Top Tip: Don’t try this at home.
The skid mark begins where Charles is standing – 495 feet!
San Diego, CA – Tijuana, Mexico
In trying to maintain the $18 nightly room rate we had found on the Interstate, we ended up in the seediest part of San Diego. It was so bad, that when we were checking into the hotel, the clerk slid a form to me from under his caged window. “What’s this?” I asked. “It says that you aren’t a hooker and nobody you bring to your room is a hooker,” he said. Classy.
Since we were already wading in the cesspool, we figured why not just dive all the way in and we headed for Tijuana. We parked and walked across the border. Back in Laredo, I was used to being able to just walk across the border and plop myself down at the Cadillac Bar without too much trouble, but in Tijuana you actually have to take a cab into town. We got downtown and started looking around. This place made Laredo look like Tuscany. It was filthy nasty. It didn’t help that it was practically abandoned. We went into a two-story discothÃ¨que and we were literally the only customers. We were too tired to look very hard for the right place to be, so we just parked it and ordered a drink. Charles ordered some kind of popper and the funny thing was the bartender came out to our table and played it up as if the place was packed. He yanked Charles’ head back poured some shots in his mouth, grabbed his head and shook it up while another bartender stood by and cheered him on. I’m sitting there looking around an empty room and thinking what the hell is this guy doing?
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles. La-La Land. Whatever. We didn’t even bother seeing the city. It would take at least a week to begin to see all there is, so we decided to see one small part. While stuck in traffic, we asked this guy where they had filmed the race scenes in the movie “Against All Odds.” Without missing a beat, he gave us precise directions and even helped us find the right road to turn on (it wasn’t far off), so we spent the next four hours racing through the canyons on Mulholland Drive. It was great fun!
Monterrey, CA – Rob and Michelle
We finally arrived in Monterrey and rode up to Rob and Michelle’s apartment. It was finally time for the big surprise. I knocked on the door and Rob answered. He was completely and totally…unsurprised. It seems that my overly-concerned grandmother called ahead, asked for me, and then rang off when they said I wasn’t there. They put two and two together and Rob went out for some beer so we would have something to drink when we got in.
Anyway, we spent some time catching up and then we went out for a nice dinner in Carmel. We stopped by Clint Eastwood’s restaurant on the off chance he would be there, but no such luck. So we went back to Rob and Michelle’s place and stayed up late drinking. The next morning, we realized that we hadn’t taken any photos from the previous night, so Michelle and I “fake partied” for the camera.
Later that morning we headed back south to LA, where we would turn west and finally head home.
Los Angeles, CA – Charles’ Bad Day
As usual, we were traveling at a high rate of speed when Charles passed a CHP truck. The trooper pulled him over and told him that if he had noticed him and slowed down, he wouldn’t have done anything. But Charles somehow didn’t notice that the truck was black and white, had lights in the window, and oh yeah, had “STATE TROOPER” written across the back. Duh. Anyway, the trooper was very nice and we were soon on our way. Considering all we had done up until now, the fact that this was the first ticket of the trip was fairly miraculous.
We rode well for most of the day. Around dusk, we skirted LA and as we moved away from town, we encountered a lot of traffic. So, we started doing something that is common out here. It’s called “white lining.” Motorcycles ride between cars in heavy traffic or in traffic jams. Most of the cars are respectful of the practice.
Anyway, Charles and I were moving through traffic at our usual speeds of about 100 mph when we almost passed another CHP patrol car on the side of the road. Charles, who was a little in front of me, hit his brakes, locked his front wheel and went down hard. For a split second, I thought I might hit him, but I managed to avoid him and pull over quickly. As I got off the bike and ran back to Charles, I remember being completely calm. Then I saw Charles walking around, though he was favoring his hand was obviously in excruciating pain. But, I knew he must be alright.
A very nice young couple pulled over and helped. The guy helped me pick up the bike and roll it off the road, while his pregnant wife helped Charles take his helmet off and wrap his hands. These people were very kind. They even told the cops that we weren’t speeding. The bike’s magnesium crankcase cover broke and spilled all of the oil. Other than that, it appears that the turn signal and fairing are the only other things damaged. The bike was towed to the wrecker company and tomorrow morning, they will take it to the local Honda dealer.
Tonight, Chas and I are staying at a truck stop motel. We will learn tomorrow what’s going to happen as far as getting Charles home. It all depends on whether they can fix his bike quickly or not. I can’t believe Charles topped my jacket incident on this trip.
Self-portrait on the night of Charles’ accident:
God, I look young and tired. The next day I got on my bike and rode 26 hours straight to get back home. Seriously, I’m not sure that I was sane back then.
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So, did Charles get his bike fixed in time to ride back to Texas with you?
I waited with Charles until his bike was repaired, which took two days. After he got the bike back we rode as far as Phoenix and then he needed to call it a night. I was worried about getting home in time to meet a deadline to move out of my apartment. I still felt good that night, so I left Charles in Phoenix and rode through the night. I made it to Texas about the time the sun came up. As soon as I saw El Paso, I thought, “I’m almost home! I’ll just keep going.” LOL.
Anyway, I felt a little bad for leaving my injured friend on his own, but then he reminded me that he felt good enough to race a Corvette ZR-1 at some point on the way home, so I didn’t feel THAT bad.
I am not so sure you were sane back then either. That’s a long time to be on the road, on a bike, nonetheless.
My next question is, did Charles beat the Vette?
Heh. That was pretty painful. I’ll never forget cleaning my hands after that. To date, still the most painful thing I have ever done.
As far as beating the ZR-1, my recollection is that I might have had a little bit of an edge around 55-70 mph, but as we got faster, the Vette would pull even, then on the really big end would actually walk me. It was a huge eye opener that any car could do that (obviously a first for me).
I stopped and got fuel with the ZR-1 and we talked, he was a cool guy. We both enjoyed the games. Good to read this and remember, er, slightly wilder times.
Charles and I were both there. No, Jimmy was not sane then.
Neither was I for that matter.