One of the most formative experiences of my life – perhaps because it was borderline traumatic – happened to me when I first went to the beautiful state of California to start my new job back in 2000.
At the time, I was working at St. Louis, MO, and had just accepted a job in Northern California. I had a few days before I started, so I decided to travel across the country from Missouri to California to the bright blue Pontiac Grand Am. I rode through Missouri, Kansas and Colorado on I-70 heading west. It was a pretty nice car. I can still remember driving around the vast expanse of Kansas bins – I had never run across such a wide plain in my life – and enjoying the sunset, the widest, widest horizon I had ever seen. I also remember the weird hotel of the place where I slept at night and the amazing snow-capped peaks in the distance as I drove through Colorado the next day after crossing Denver.
Very soon, I arrived in Utah and went I-15 north to Salt Lake City, where I reached I-80 heading west toward California. Leaving Salt Lake City, what awaited me was a long stretch of paddling through an unbearable wasteland – the deserts of Utah and Nevada – a rough and ruthless drive. I still remember checking my gas as I left Salt Lake City – the gas meter read half full (or half empty, depending on how you look at it)! "No problem," I thought to myself. "This should be enough gas to get me to the next city, where I can refill." And so, I began my fatal drive through the Bonneville Salt Flats, the scary desert stretch west of Salt Lake City City.
As I continued on my way, the desert faded in front of me – a vast, strange wilderness. Not the slightest allusion to civilization or culture for miles. I continued along the highway, looking nervously at the gas meter. The sun went down mercilessly. I passed by the occasional truck on the otherwise empty road. Not a car to look at. The gas meter continued to fall, and there was still nothing. I began to wonder if I would ever go to the next city. I started imagining horrible scenarios – stranded in the middle of the desert without food, water or gas for my car. Even if I had a cellphone in me – and I didn't at the time – it surely would have been useless in the middle of the salt flats!
In the end, I literally headed into the fumes and prayed to Jesus Christ with all my might, but still, moving forward through the wilderness, hoping for a miracle! And a miracle came! Just as I heard my car's engine start spitting, I arrived at a gas station frequented by truckers. It seemed like the only refueling station in that desert for miles – a down-loaded institution for gasoline and other evidence – but it was, at the time, a real gift! An oasis! Nirvana! I whispered my thanks to God as the gas tank in my car swallowed the gasoline I pumped into it!
I continued my drive through the deserts of Nevada and as I approached California, from a distance, it really seemed to be the Promised Land – a green noise seemed to be set over the strange hills of Northern California, signifying the promise of salvation from the uninterrupted dry desert I had left behind me. And as I drove through a hilly stretch of road in California, approaching my destination, it really looked like "a land flowing with milk and honey!" It may sound somewhat naive, but that experience has stayed with me ever since. Can't help but wonder what might have happened if I had been quiet on the desert road, with the gas meter reading blank and nothing but the vast expanses of barren desert in all directions! This experience makes me think twice about taking something for granted and makes me appreciate art, culture and civilization more!
The vast horizons of the Kairies, the majestic mountainous horizons of Colorado, and the desert horizons of Utah and Nevada are rooted in my memory. The experience continues to inspire me to push forward in life, even when it seems to me that I am driving the desert in an empty gas tank – because if you move forward, you can just make it to the desert fuel station in the middle of nowhere it will save your life and allow you to continue on your journey to the Promised Land you are hoping for!
In this modern world, with all the amenities that civilization offers us, one can imagine that there is no more room for exploration or adventure, but this notion could not be further from the truth! As long as there are human beings on earth, there will still be new horizons to explore because the whole experience is subjective and civilization is always in flux!