Dreams, Deserts & DMVs – the Planwise road trip

The Roadtrip – events, experience and lessons learned

For anyone following the story up until now, it has been all a little too quiet from the fanfare pre-trip last week. Firstly, this post will give everyone an update on just what happened but like anything that appears to have gone wrong it is never completely wrong, there is always more to the story.

I thought about doing this as a video but the story took place over a few days and the pace at which things happened is so much better served with a written narrative. I hope you have the time to read it.

Hitting LA – Day 1

I got to L.A on Monday night, an old friend from Australia, now an actor/director in L.A picked me up from the airport. It was very decent of him and the period we spent in traffic gave us ample time to catch up. Paul came out to L.A a few years back off the back of a huge commercial deal and threw himself into the acting scene but managed to walk into the writers strike and the ensuing lull in work that persisted for quite some time to follow. The world handed him a golden opportunity to come here and served it at the worst possible time yet he persisted and has been having success of late with a short film he wrote, directed and acted in. It was good to see him however briefly as he dropped me where I was staying that night.

I was staying with a friend of mine, who I had met djing in a bar in the Swiss alps earlier this year. That had come about through a random set of events beginning over 10 years prior involving a former girlfriend from Switzerland who I had got back in touch with. I spent some time out there last August and credit my trip there with being a major factor in moving to America and starting Planwise. A long story short I got invited back out to dj at their bar in the village they all grew up in and while waiting for my visa to process, took that chance. Danny, whose brother also part owned the bar, dj’d as well. We go on famously and he, having only in the last week moved out to L.A, to also pursue an acting career, was more than happy to have me on his couch.

Why tell you all this? Within 3 hours of being in L.A I was reminded of the value of persistence against adversity and the serendipitous nature of any of our endeavors. Both these factors would play a key role in the coming days as I was soon to find out

Truck #1 – Day 2

Danny (and his mum, thanks Maureen!) dropped me off at the auto shop Tuesday morning and were on their way.

Greg, who I had spoken to on the phone and over email for some weeks was there to greet me. He was easy going, polite and articulate. I would later find out he had worked in real estate, which seemed to make sense. The truck, looked as it did in the ads, a video of which is already online. It did however have a part of the engine on the ground in front of the truck and not yet attached. Greg assured me it would be a matter of hours before I was on my way. In situations like these, you sometimes must trust in the judgement of others, so I made myself comfortable in the office adjacent to the car yard, got online and planned further parts of my trip. It was here I got the back story on Lizarde Auto Services, from Greg’s brother Gus.

Their old man had started the Auto shop years ago. His background was Mexican but both the boys were born in the US and spoke perfect english and spanish. The auto shop reflected 2 life long dedications to fixing cars, helping people and a love of things automotive generally, both Gus and his father. There was some beautiful old cars in the lot, some customers, others belonging to his staff and a few pet projects including a few mustangs and even an old pickup from the korean war. Still work in progress Gus assured me 🙂

I told Gus about my plan to drive across the country, meet Americans and hear their story, their dreams and their plans. It must have resonated, we spoke for quite some time.

In the end Greg came back in, almost 5pm by this time, to announce that we were good to go. Excellent, it had been over 100 degrees out in east L.A so I was in no rush to drive east into only hotter weather, but I did want to hit the road that night. We got in the truck and drove the 2 miles up to the bank so I could withdraw the money for the payment. After returning with a wad stuffed into a paper envelope which Greg told me to hold on to until we got back to the shop the car refused to start. It was incredibly hot and I was not surprised by this, so I walked off to get some food and 5 mins later Greg showed up at the car-park. In a fateful move, not seeing me coming out to get in the car, he turned the car off.

It would never start again.

We got back to the auto shop after 7pm and discussed options. Greg was committed to getting the truck running and assured me he’d be back in the next morning to sort out the issue which I accepted but pressed that I would have to look for an alternative as a back up. To which he pointed at a classic baby blue & white 65 chevy, parked just up the road. Gus’s daily driver and main side project.

Truck #2

Gus was still finishing with some customers when he motioned to me to talk further about the truck. This was not merely a car for him but the embodiment of his dream to drive to NYC and help his daughter in an upcoming move towards Florida. He spoke vividly about the dream and the need for that car to fulfill it’s role in that dream. I was heading to NY, I shared that dream, it seemed all too convenient.

So we went for a drive, out in the warm L.A evening, we headed north up the I5 towards Burbank, caught up in the perpetual flow of metal that runs through the veins of this city. Keeping pace with traffic, feeling the vehicle and talking about how we might make it work. It already seemed to work on a lot of levels.

In the end, with about 20 miles of driving, talking and listening we were able to agree on a price and an approach. Gus would run the ruler over all the important things the next morning and we would head to the DMV (licensing centre) to sort out the transfer of title. Realistically, with another 100+ degree (40+ metric) coming up it would be the following evening before I set out.

AAA, DMV & AZB Day – 3

Gus, true to his word, was at the shop by 830 and had his guys working on the last few items best checked before setting out on a trip of many days and thousands of miles. I got to the workshop around 1pm, and by 2pm we were on our way to the DMV, in a round about way. We stopped off at a workshop along the way, belonging an older Albanian man that Gus had obviously known for a while. He assured us he could look at the truck straight away for the brake & lamp certification that looked like a likely requirement for the title transfer.

We went to a AAA where if you are a member there is certain DMV services that they are able to help you with. If you sign up for roadside services, which I was going to need, they tend to put you next in queue for the DMV services they provide. With only one other person waiting it was going to be pretty quick either way.

The Russian lady was only too pleased to serve me, enjoying my Australian accent and recounting her prior experiences with my Aussie brethren. One can only imagine if the amount of help I was receiving from strangers over the last few days was a reflection of my incessant use of those 2 sweetest words in the Australian English language “G’Day”.

She was however not so pleased to inform me that since the vehicle was both de-registered since May and had an outstanding ‘salvage’ mark on it that the transfer could only be completed at a DMV office. A friend said to me this morning ‘welcome to the DMVs lair’ in recounting the full story to him. It serves no one to be negative so I informed Gus and we moved on.

It was now 3:30pm, the DMV shut at 5pm, there was still time to do this. Gus drove me to the DMV and he got Greg back on the phone requesting he help get the truck to the brake & lamp place with the intent of meeting us at the DMV with certification and the truck before 5pm. They could give it the once over and I could be on my way.

It was 4:10 before I got in line at the DMV, however it was only 4:40 by the time I got served. By then there was no sign of Greg, so I got him on the phone. It seems the brake & lamp couldn’t be issued, as the reversing lights that were on the truck, despite working, were not connected to the reverse in the newer transmission that was in the truck and accordingly not activated when you put the truck in reverse.

So by 5:40pm, I was back to the shop, we had a truck that was mechanically sound and had a reversing light switch installed, but I was in DMV no mans land. I had a truck that was registered but didn’t have an operating permit, it needed to get to a DMV and to pass, but it needed the brake & lamp to work.

It was going to have to wait another day, but not necessarily in LA. A quick check found a DMV in Blythe, literally the last stop before the AZB (Arizona Border!) and a couple of phone calls found a place to complete my brake & lamp certification, so I booked an appointment at 8:30am.

There was no rush to leave L.A, it’s not possible to rush L.A traffic and with the temp still a balmy 95 degrees at 7pm I instead spent some time playing with 3 of Gus’s 5 children, one of whom proudly announced it was her birthday. They were due somewhere at 730 to celebrate this, Gus had worked right up to the wire of his daughter’s birthday to get the truck right and to see me on my way. We both spoke of the need to try and see this through, I took some photos and he wished me all the best and I drove out east away from the L.A sunset, quickly enveloped by the patchy black of Southern Californian suburbia.

I would drive for a few hours, getting a real feel for the car. It is challenging and nerve wracking driving an old car on old roads. I discovered this in a trip across Australia a few years prior. It gets impossible to tell the bumps in the road from the bumps in your car. You drive listening to every noise, creak and feeling every stagger and lurch. I’d love to say I felt good to be on the road but I felt sick to my stomach. I had 4 days to be in New Orleans, I had a glorious truck, exactly what I had hoped for but I was not yet in the clear, either on paper or in reality. As I passed out on the bench seat at 2am in a truck stop 10 miles past Coachella and still some 80 miles from Blythe it was sheer exhaustion that allowed me to ignore the still searing heat and the continual internal monologue and get some semblance of rest.

Sunrise on a day and sets on a dream Day – 3

By 5am a biker deep in conversation with another motorist who had also pulled over alongside my truck had me woken beyond the point of no return so I decided it was time to get back on the road. For some reason this guy reminded me of Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club, in the scene on the plane. I would later wonder whether it too had been merely a figment of my imagination. I fueled up and got on the road.

For the first time since I left L.A, I felt like I was actually on a road trip. In Australia not hours from leaving a city center and certainly any time after 10pm if you’re on a country road, it’s just you. In some sort of Pavlovian manner the 4 hours on the road out from L.A the night before was cluttered with traffic and noise to the point where it wasn’t until setting out at 5am into the milky darkness of a pre-sunrise morning that I felt I was truly on a road trip.

As the sun slowly drew itself from behind the craggy peaks of Eagle Mountain a barren landscape was revealed to me. It was beautiful and scary. I had been driving through this last night and days of this lay ahead of me. I soldiered on to Blythe arriving just after 7am.

It had taken 3 days to get to this point, it would take less than 3 minutes to understand that to complete the title transfer, which required a brake & lamp certification, would now mean 100+ mile drive back towards L.A as the only place in town that did them, didn’t do them any more.

A simple enough mistake for a sales guy to make at 6pm when I confirmed the previous day that the cert could definitely be done but in the end you have to heed the signs that up until this point I had assigned to the ‘challenges that made the story’ category.

As I meandered back to Starbucks, a green oasis in the otherwise hot & reception challenged town of Blythe, the reality began to sink in. I’m reminded of a ted talk given by Tony Robbins where he talks about success in the face of adversity and people who persevere despite continual setbacks & challenges and tried to muster up a way out of this but to no avail.

What the mind tends to do then is akin to the fabled ‘sour grapes’ but through rationalisation. It was obvious that no amount of positive energy and projection was going to change the facts.

Thursday morning
200+ mile round trip to Indio to get brake & lamp cert then
no certainty the DMV would then pass inspection
110+ degrees for the next 3 days (TX on fire!)
1600+ miles to New Orleans
Old car that can manage 60 miles an hour and;
in these conditions should be driven at night only when it’s cooler
but the real fact was the road trip was a means to an end, and that end was to demo a product on stage in NYC on Sep 19th. The trip was meant as an exercise in getting to NYC, marketing the company and lastly an adventure.

It was not contributing positively to any of the three, it was time to re-assess priorities, but first I needed sleep. No good decisions were made on poor sleep except perhaps the decision to sleep. I found a cheap motel, promising the Chinese lady that I would be leaving in the middle of the night and hoping for a cheaper rate. She offered $40, which became $45 when I pulled out a credit card. Turns out this was the standard rate anyway :). I was too tired to care, I set an alarm for 1am and passed out in between laptops, remotes and mobile phones.

Tasting the road Day – 4

It started at 1am, as the alarm went off, in fact it started at 12:01am. After a few hours of good sleep earlier I woke up restless and unable to get back to sleep. I had resigned to head back to SF but every other thought played over in my mind so I was evaded by sleep. By 1am, I was in no state to be getting back on the road so after an attempt to get up and pack I decided to go back to bed. It was the best decision I had made, I slept soundly till 5am when I woke up without an alarm and within 10 minutes I was pack and on the road.

The drive back through the desert, past Palm Springs and into Riverside county was effortless. I had the sun at my back, I found my road rhythm, swinging in behind large trucks and sitting comfortably at their speed. The truck was driving beautifully, I even reconsidered my decision to head back to L.A. My mind was clear and the road was open to me. The bumps I had encountered in the drive out from L.A seemed less so in the light of day and with the mental calm surrounding me.

It really is true that the drive back from somewhere seems faster. That which is familiar to us brings comfort and confidence, I took mental note of the parallels for the software we are developing.

By 930am I was well into L.A, on my way back to Gus’s. I had figured he could hold on to the truck for a few weeks while I went back to SF and then over to NY to launch, I hadn’t worked out how to get back to SF from L.A as yet but that could be worked out.

It was fortune or fate that saw me get off the I5 one exit early. I went to get back on and in doing so missed my exit entirely and so the option of driving all the way back to SF became a reality. I had it in my mind since cruising through the outskirts of the city and why not? I had done the math. It would take another 8 hours or so including stops to drive back. It would cost about another $100 in fuel at the rate I was going. Having the car in SF was inevitable anyway, besides since not needing it for the trip I had put it on craigslist to see if there was potential to sell it. I didn’t need a 65 chevy in San Francisco and had a few bites already.

I draped my hand out the window, a practice I had been doing regularly as a way of trying to gauge the heat of the day from my moving vehicle. In the desert, even at night, it was like the warm hand dryer at a dive bar restroom, but now it felt cool. I had the wind at my back, the sun as well and for the first time since Monday I felt good about being on the road, so I never turned around.

The rest of the drive home was easy and enjoyable, it was a taste of the trip I was leaving behind. The truck was perfect and perhaps one day will see the east coast, as both Gus and I had hoped. I got to the southern tip of the bay around 6pm and started to see the familiar exits to Mountain View, Stanford and University Ave, a subtle reminder that I had got my priorities right to focus on my software launch over the trip.

As I pulled up home in Potrero Hill, there were neighbors surprised to see me back and others who didn’t know I had gone. I was reminded by a quote that went something like ‘your failures are often considerably less important to others than they are to you’. After 14 hours on the road I was ready for proper sleep, with a clear mind and the knowledge I’d planned, tried, persevered and failed, but that this was ok.

The main game was still ahead.

Lessons learned

The trip was a microcosm of what I had hoped to achieve over the 14 days originally planned. I learned the following

  • Have a unique story and people will conspire to help you
  • Taking time to listen reveals the character of interesting strangers you might otherwise never stumble upon
  • An Australian accent in America doesn’t hurt
  • People relate to you with experiences and dreams, the love of the story is truly that which binds and inspires us
  • Children will surprise you with their blunt assessment of the world around them, if only we could be so honest
  • Little Caesars Pizza outsells Subway 3 to 1 in east L.A, from where I was standing
  • A field of wind turbines is a scary and beautiful thing, especially at night
  • When things go wrong for you, people for the better part genuinely care
  • Comfort can be found in social media, it is the people that matter in the end, not the medium
  • Sunrise and sunset in the desert bear remarkable likeness to each other
  • They really are feeding lots of hundreds of acres of cows in seemingly horrendous conditions, only a few hours south of the bay area
  • Traffic coming into SF on a Friday night at 7pm is considerably worse than traffic driving into L.A on a Friday morning. Don’t get too smug SF, if it wasn’t for the considerable & consistent wind up here, we’d probably have a problem with smog as well.
  • Home never felt so good as when it also closes a chapter in a week plagued by adversity
  • The DMV owns your dreams, when those dreams involve cars and road trips
(originally published at http://blog.planwise.com)

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