“Space is big,” wrote Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.” Or Nevada.
I’ve just spent the best part of two days driving between Los Angeles in California (skyscrapers, traffic jams, Nascar race fever dying down) to Las Vegas in Nevada (millions of acres of wasteland, the occasional truck, Nascar race fever building up).
It’s a trip I’ve often promised myself that I’d take one day, purely because I’ve flown to Vegas and LA direct before, and between the two, and often wondered what lies between them.
The answer, I regret to inform you, is not much at all. Last night I stayed in Barstow, but apart from its presence in the lyrics of Sheryl Crow’s Leaving Las Vegas and a surprisingly decent non-franchised pizza joint, there isn’t much to recommend it.
And while you still have to travel 250 miles beyond Barstow to reach Sin City, you won’t find any other urban sprawls in between; Baker has an absurdly grotesque outlet mall and a few kitsch hotel-casinos, nearby Jean has a McDonalds and a correctional facility.
And then, just as you’re beginning to nod off, you come over a crest and spy the Stratosphere Tower in the distance, a glimmering symbol of Las Vegas madness and the fact that a second-rate hotel at the poor end of the Strip has escaped demolition for another year.
Does this sound dull? It is. But in a way, it’s made the whole drive worthwhile. At Autocar, we often think of driving as a way to cover huge distances, to shrink massive journeys into trips that we barely notice. It’s a talent of some cars, just as others make every trip an event worth savouring.
But when presented with journeys and scenery of the scale I’ve just encountered, driving is the best way to experience it. I could have jumped on a Boeing from LAX to McCarran International, and half an hour later I could have been playing the slots, as if I’d crossed the street. But driving here has made me realise a) that Las Vegas really is in the middle of nowhere and b) the people who founded it were foolhardy, brave, real pioneers. Seems like a decent swap for a tank full of fuel, really.