Kerouac's - Homage to Life On The American Road
by Michelle McAfee
Rusted light fell across the desert floor, backlighting an ocean of sage brush heavy with yellow flower blooms. We drove the mostly empty two-lane highway along the railroad tracks heading south, winding through the hills of desolate Nevada back-country. Neither of us had ever been in this part of the state. Highway 50 — “The Loneliest Road In America”.
David Jacobs-Strain tours more days a year than I can keep track of and I’ve done a bit of traveling myself. Every September, for the last five, we hop in the tour bus (this year it happens to be David’s VW wagon loaded floor to ceiling with gear) and play a little music in the Southwest, usually Colorado and New Mexico. When the phone rang and David said, “lets try to not drive Interstates on this tour and lets camp every night.” All I could l do was smile, “How soon can we leave?”
I’m also a photographer. In love with the long bent light rays slanting across the earth before the sun bottoms out below the horizon line. We stopped the car… I mean tour bus… in some random pull-out next to a spine ridge that looked like the back of a dinosaur shooting up from the desert floor. “Whoa, the light! We gotta get the light!” David yanked the guitar cases sardined in the back cargo area and we set up an iPhone on the door handle. “Take four….this is the one.” An oncoming pickup zoomed by as the video rolled of us playing a snippet of a song we perform at shows together. By take eight the sun gave up on us so we packed it up.
Darkness swallowed the day and our little-bus-that-could motored south. Wheels hummed for hours on the desolate asphalt without passing a single set of oncoming headlights. I was lucky. I wasn’t driving. My nose was pasted to the passenger window glass, breathing a steam circle everytime I “oooo’d” and “aaahhh’d” at the star-filled sky. I mean the stars out there are insane. It felt like magic, rolling beneath a velvet black sky so littered with light orbs that the constellations disappeared. The Milky Way looked like a cosmic landing strip and the Big Dipper was totally full. Somewhere in my deeper consciousness rang a twinge of sadness. A night sky such as this is rare. We are losing the beautiful starlit darkness in this world to human’s artificial light. What a loss. What a real damn loss.
“I’m freakin’ hungry.” I peeled my face off the steamy window and turned to see if David was still awake at the wheel. “Yeah, me too.” David curated this road trip after the gigs were booked. He researched blue highways, campgrounds…… and food. I wasn’t aware of this. I thought we were winging it until he said, “I checked out a place online in Baker that looks like it might be good.” We’re almost there.
Our goal. Our entire reason for driving The Loneliest Highway in America and going to Baker, Nevada was to camp at Great Basin National Park. Sure, we only get to sleep for 7 hours and have to bug out early in the morning to make the next show on time, but we figured it would be worth it. Lights ahead in the distance on the highway seemed loud after hours of nothing but stars and our own high beams. A little jag off Highway 50 sent us into what turned out to be just a handful of beacons in a tiny town. A yard light at the Ranger Station. A random porch light. A marquee in front of the Inn that said “Kerouac’s” with an arrow pointing across the street.
“Lights are on in there. Looks open”. David kills the engine and we both stiffly get out the car and stretch. He wastes no time, “I’ll go see if they’re still serving.” My tummy growls, “They better be!” The front porch of the restaurant has a shelf with bar stools for outdoor seating and a warm glow radiates from inside the big glass windows. “This is my kind of place,” I say to no one and start crossing the street. The door shuts behind David as he jogs back down the stairs towards me with a frown, “Nope. Closed.” I stop and look at him totally crushed. Then I realize we’re standing on a double yellow line in the middle of the road in the middle of Baker town. This really is my kind of place :)
All the campgrounds down low in Great Basin Park were full. We wound our way up the steep mountain road to the high campground perched at 10,000 feet with our fingers crossed. We got lucky. Pitched tents under a great big full moon surrounded by insane stars in one of the more stunning campsites I’ve seen beneath the second highest peak in the state — Wheeler Peak.
Crawled out of the tent a bit after sunrise to find our water jug on the picnic table had frozen nearly solid. Thank you Marmot for the bomber zero degree sleeping bag I bought this year. Numb fingers fumbled with folding tent poles and without further adieu, we hopped in the tour-bus-car and made the descent to Kerouac’s.
Kerouac’s is an homage to life on the American road and to feeling at home in unexpected places. — Kate & Jake, Owners
Rosie the Sphynx kitty greeted me at the door. I thought she was a stray with a bad case of mange and great big bulging green eyes. I had never seen a hairless cat before and was startled, but she won me over. Had to tear myself away from petting her skin that felt like someone shaved it the night before. I opened the door to a waft of warm air heavy with delightful breakfast aroma and walked in to what may now be “My Favorite Restaurant in America”.
Evergreen colored walls with well-placed black and white photos, wood bar and back bar with lovely wooden tables and chairs gave an ambience of warmth, energy and a place I want to hang. Every table but one was full. The morning chatter mixed with the smell of really good coffee. David was in bliss at a table next to a retired couple who camped the night before in one of the lower campgrounds. I plopped down and a cheerful, lovely woman sauntered up to the table and beamed a hello. “Coffee?” Oh hell yes. I don’t drink coffee on days I have to sing or nights I have to sleep. But on this day, hell yes.
Breakfast was divine. I pretty much order the same thing wherever I eat on the road but the plate Katy, the hello lady, set down in front of me was full of some kind of culinary magic. These people are artists. Real artists. The food was crave-able. Simple. Elegant. No frills. Unforgettable with avocado on top. The place gave me the strange sensation of home, like I was sitting in a local haunt back where I came from which is nothing short of miraculous for folks like us who travel a lot. How do they do it? I mean really? Google mapquest, punch in Baker, Nevada and zoom out. Look at where this place is. Nowhere. The middle of nowhere.
The tour went great. I love this run. Western Slope of Colorado, Front Range, Northern New Mexico, Utah and the Canyonlands. It’s ideal really. On the way home, after a good two weeks of shows, David pulls over at an intersection. “Well…..if we go right it cuts an hour and a half off the drive home but we have to be on I-80 longer.” I’m already smirking when he starts to say, “And if we go left……” I cut him off at the pass. “Kerouac’s”.