Roadies

The other night, I drove to Sacramento with plans to get a few hours’ sleep at the rest area by the airport, then drive to Sunrise and take the light rail into town in time to catch the 6:40 am train to Fresno. The cheapest place I can find to finally replace my glued-together eyeglasses is in Fresno. This chain, Eyeglass World, is something like half as expensive as LensCrafters (itself supposedly a deep-discount operation) and claims to offer same-day service at on-site optical labs. If I don’t go to Fresno, the closest alternate locations are in–I swear, I’m not making this up–Oceanside, Salt Lake City, and Spokane. I have no fucking idea why this company has locations in Spokane but nowhere around Seattle and in Colorado Springs but not Denver.

My travel plans were thrown into disarray when I arrived at the airport rest area to find every non-disabled parking space taken and ten or fifteen cars parked illegally, straddling the shoulder and the perimeter lawn. There were a number of places where I could have wedged my own car in between other illegally parked cars, and I could have *TIMMMMMMEH* parked in one of the gimp slots, but neither of these options seemed safe.

I don’t mean that there was anything intrinsically unsafe about either of these options. My immediate assumption was that the latter would earn me a citation and the former would get me, along with a dozen or so other motorists, roused at no telling what hour by some passing Chippie and ordered back onto the road. I don’t know whether the Highway Patrol in fact disperses the illegally parked in these circumstances, although I imagine that it’s effectively up to the discretion of the responding officers, regardless of what the agency’s internal working orders state. The night watches probably aren’t heavily enough staffed for supervisors or commanders to actually force their subordinates to do one thing or another, and a recent story on KCRA mentioned in passing that CHP offices around Sacramento have been fielding watches so short-staffed that the agency had trouble responding adequately to a major crash on Interstate 80 at rush hour. Regardless, this was not a risk that I wanted to take. One punk-ass Chip who should have gotten himself popped all night long at Denny’s could easily have royally fucked things up for everyone who was using the shoulders and perimeter lawn of that rest area as overflow parking. I’ve never looked into this, but I have to assume that cops are much more lenient with truckers who park illegally because there aren’t enough designated parking spaces than they are with noncommercial drivers.

I have no doubt that this overflow parking mess was caused by warm homeless from the area, not by travelers who happened to be passing through. I’m especially certain that most of these people had pulled over to get some sleep, not just to use the restrooms or stretch their legs. The average dwell time at rest areas for motorists who have not pulled over to sleep must be well less than an hour. It’s uncommon even to see families picnicking at these facilities. This mess that I encountered was at about midnight on a Tuesday morning in late April. It was not a major travel night. Much of the traffic on 5 appeared to be regional traffic to or from the airport, not a demographic strongly inclined to stop at a rest area a mile or two before the airport exit. The Sacramento Airport has a dedicated cell phone waiting lot with well over a hundred spaces, as well as an Arco with public restrooms. I spent a few minutes in the waiting lot after leaving the rest area, and it was almost empty. Besides, the rest area is located west of the airport entrance, while most of the airport’s clientele is based to points east. The Sacramento Airport has a pretty weird location, in the middle of farm fields that double as an emergency floodplain for the Sacramento River, miles from the nearest cities. Commercial passenger traffic for the entire Sacramento metropolitan area is scheduled exclusively into and out of this remote field, even though Mather Field, one of the gems of my fair city, has plenty of runway capacity and routine cargo operations using aircraft no smaller than 757’s. This is probably due to nimbyism. There may not be a hundred residents close enough to SMF’s approach and takeoff paths to be bothered by jet noise, and regional officials can credibly tell any civic annoyances among them that it’s their fault for insisting on living in mansions on Garden Highway.

My belief that the overflow traffic at the rest area was dominated by the warm homeless isn’t something that I pulled out of my ass. I’m warm homeless myself, of course, and I’m very familiar with the Sacramento area. After failing to find a space at the airport rest area and spending fifteen or twenty minutes at the cell phone waiting lot, trying to take stock of the mess (okay, and watching jetBlue’s very much not bitchin’ ride take off for Kennedy), I drove on to the northbound Dunnigan rest area. It was nearly empty. I was one of maybe half a dozen noncommercial motorists who spent the night. As far as I could tell, it didn’t start hopping by any stretch of the imagination until after sunrise, and even then it wasn’t at all crowded. If it had been a big travel night, there would have been more activity than that.

If you aren’t familiar with that part of California, you may be wondering what the fuck is Dunnigan. That’s a reasonable question. Ain’t a lot there, quite honestly. There’s a low-volume split at the northern terminus of 505, a disused old diner called Bill and Kathy’s, a Pilot, and symmetrical rest areas with dozens of noncommercial spaces apiece, both of them planted with eucalyptus groves. As rest areas go, they’re–how do I say this–exceptionally restful. Dunnigan is small enough that the entire warm homeless population within manageable and affordable driving distance might not be numerous enough to swamp the rest areas. There are symmetrical rest areas every twenty or thirty miles the rest of the way north on the Interstate almost to Cottonwood. Most of these are on the outskirts of small cities. Going south from the airport, the first rest area on 5 is well south of Stockton; going east on 80, the first one is at Gold Run, east of Auburn at 4,000 feet above sea level, i.e., more than half the vertical distance to Donner Pass; if I’m not mistaken, the next rest area going south from Sacramento on 99 is Enoch Christoffersen, just south of Turlock.

The big cities get shit for services from this infrastructure, even though (0r, more cynically, because) they contain most of the warm homeless who need a place to park where maybe the cops won’t make their lives hell. Recall, too, that the Kingsburg rest area, where I spent the night a few months ago, has signs badgering motorists to get the hell out of the lot when their eight hours are up because otherwise there won’t be any space for the next shift of sleepy Jeans. It’s probably no coincidence that it’s within manageable commuting distance of Fresno. It’s so popular that its clients are ordered by signs to submit to hot-spotting, the asphalt answer to three shifts of railroad roustabouts sleeping in the same bunks (and, because the Gilded Age was disgusting, usually in the same sheets). It’s a fucking parking lot. Meanwhile the Kardashians waste water by the acre-foot on their estate, and East Porterville actually has water in a good week.

When I described staying at the airport rest area the other night as seeming unsafe, I wasn’t being emo. My worst fear was that the Highway Patrol might cause a number of serious accidents by ordering exhausted drivers onto the road. I didn’t want to expose myself to that. I had to protect myself, since I was financially able to do so and rested enough to drive another 45 minutes up the freeway. These are the sorts extreme measures that the homeless are forced to take for our own safety. And I don’t forget that I’m in excellent financial and personal shape compared to many homeless.

Sacramento spent $519m on that stupid downtown arena, because Kevin Johnson is a ballsac–I mean, a Sactown baller–while giving its cold homeless no reasonable alternative to shitting in the American River greenbelt. Ain’t that America. The only good thing that came of my driving all the way to Dunnigan the other night was that I was managed to time my return drive to Sacramento perfectly with the short final approach of an American Airlines MD80, one of this country’s bitchinest rides. Sacramento could buy that very plane and use it to bunk some of its less disturbed homeless for less than our governments spend on emergency room care for Sacramentans who are too indigent and marginalized to reliably find a place to shit or change into fresh clothes. The mad dog costs two mill a pop or something on the open market. But that beautiful ballgame, man. We need priorities.

I’m planning to try the park-and-ride to Fresno thing again tomorrow morning. Driving all the way when I don’t have anything else going on to points south sounds like a huge waste. Besides, I just possibly might be able to come back north on the California Comet, that other bitchin’ West Coast ride. Why didn’t War sing about that low rider? Oh, yeah: it was still just a bunch of crappy SEPTA rolling stock back then. Hell, I can’t even say for sure that it was in production that long ago, and I’m not looking it up. The California Comet is open to all brothers and sisters who have, like, $15 to spare right now, CalTrans willing.

Fuck your Escalade stretched limousine. That fuel-to-noise silver bird didn’t put anyone out on the street, because it was a product of the Great Compression, and Amtrak is some of the most cost-effective socialism in the hemisphere. The Escalade limo crowd is the one that sends people to the ER because they’re too scared to move their bowels for days on end. It’s all about priorities, and ours are super evil.

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