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End of the Road

    Going home. Exhausted, rumpled, but broadened and deepened as a person and, more importantly, as a motorist. Put a couple thousand miles on the rental van. Loved the farmland of the Salinas Valley, though wondered who exactly was going to eat all those artichokes (aren't artichoke hearts in salads kind of a 1975 thing?). Loved the redwoods, the wave-carved coves, the ceaselessly flamboyant landscape. Loved the desert oasis of Thousand Palms on a day when it reached 118 in the shade. Loved the Carrizo Plain, and the obvious offsets on the San Andreas at Wallace Creek. Was intrigued by Santa Monica and the aroma of Hollywood deals, points, residuals. Movie idea: Girl is sucked up by tornado, lands in colorful place with small people and a witch and flying monkeys, makes odd friends, realizes there's no place like home (Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles). Meets man in gin joint who gets depressed but is glad they'll always have Paris. Makes offer to witch that she can't refuse. Misses her childhood sled, Rosebud. In final, tragic scene, is eaten by shark. Tell me that's not a movie! Get your people to talk to my people.

    A final memory to savor for a lifetime: I went to the In-N-Out drive-thru burger joint in San Diego. The workers were like machines, focused, with little paper hats like you see on the guy in "Nighthawks" by Hopper. Yet although they prepared only burgers and fries -- this was not the kind of place where you could get a salad or a fish sandwich or anything that wasn't specifically a burger or a cheeseburger with a side of fries -- they kept falling behind, because they were so heavily subscribed, so mobbed, almost all the customers male and adolescent, yearning for burgers at 10 o'clock at night. It was like pigs at the trough. It was amazing and repulsive. GIVE ME BURGER NOW. I was in the thick of it, snuffling, grunting, wheezing, dying, desperate for a burger with all the fixings, my existence nothing but a genetically programmed food-processing enterprise. Yes, there is meaning to life, and nobility, and artistry, and beauty, not to mention geological wonders beyond measure, but mostly we are matter-conversion units, spending our lives at the burger trough, trying to quiet the yelping of the burger-craving tissues in our bodies. Or is that an overstatement. Whatever, it's going to be a theme of the movie.

By Joel Achenbach  |  August 22, 2005; 9:52 PM ET
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