Last Crawl

In which three Doggie Diner Dog Heads lead Silke Tudor cross-country, to a place that is not San Francisco but, even so, feels like home

The next day, we are refit with tires in Sacramento and loaded up with phosphate sodas at a diner on Ghost Town Road in Yermo. On our way to Primm, Nev. -- home to Buffalo Bill's Casino and a 90-mile-per-hour roller coaster called the Desperado -- we listen to passing truckers on the CB radio: "Breaker one nine. Dang it, there's three mighty big dogs behind that hippie bus!"; and the less heartening, "Don't Californians know there's a minimum speed out here?"

In Vegas, at nightfall, the Dog Heads seem in their element. Shining beatifically in the neon glow, they become as much of a tourist attraction as the town. Passers-by gawk and wave. A car full of locals follows us down the Strip, one of them proclaiming: "I want to be just like you when I grow up." We cook dinner on the edge of the Hoover Dam with the Dog Heads in stately repose.


Outside of Flagstaff, snow flurries begin to pile up on the windshield; still, we make a stop at the Flintstones Bedrock City Theme Park & Campground, a marvel of desolate roadside Americana located 6,600 feet above sea level. By the time we reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the weather has grown colder yet, but Reese, refreshed from his first real sleep of the trip, insists he can jump the great chasm aboard his renowned Homeland Security Bike. A crowd gathers; a few of us cover our eyes; the rest of us cheer. With Reese's crash helmet, cape, and teeny-tiny ramp in place, the Homeland Security's auxiliary propane jet propulsion blasters are lit and Reese makes his approach. Sadly, a malfunction in said propulsion unit sends the bike veering dramatically to left, just shy of the canyon's edge. (Editor's note: This is not how the stunt appears in Head Trip.)

The crowd applauds anyway, and we invite everyone back to rub dog noses.

The Dog Heads forge ahead, stopping at a rattlesnake museum, a fireworks depot, and the Cadillac Ranchalong the way. There are more mechanical mishaps -- brake lines fail on Kim Jordan's satellite vehicle in Texas, another bus tire is blown in Oklahoma -- and more disturbing weather: golf-ball-size hail in Motley, Texas; baseball-size hail in Hardman, Texas; tornadoes moving down the road on either side of us somewhere between Louisiana and Missouri.

All the same, we arrive at Graceland unscathed. The crew gets drunk on Beale Street, has a proto-religious experience involving "space gophers" under the St. Louis Arch; and gets treated like royalty in Pittsburgh, Penn., by underground luminaries Tommy Amoeba and Phat Man Dee. There, we bring aboard beards-and-beauty impresario $teven Ra$pa; the future Mrs. Law, Christina Hardbridge; Bike Rodeo publicist Summer Burkes; and San Francisco wild man Ché, just in time for dog walking in Washington, D.C., and a guided tour of pathological specimens at the Mütter Museumin Philadelphia (RIP Gretchen Worden, the museum director who took us in after hours and treated us to her macabre wit and indelible spirit).

And, at last, New Jersey.

There's nothing like a quiet walk on the beach at dawn after a long drive, a solitary moment in which to peruse local attractions. I stroll along, engaging in conversation with an elderly Romanian woman, and find a satin prom dress lying in a gutter by the Dog Head bus. I alter it while waiting for Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs to open for breakfast. We all eat hot dogs and drive into Brooklyn, and here's where it begins to happen.


"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights," writes historian Miriam Beard. "It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent in the ideas of living."

I don't know what I can tell you about Brooklyn.

I've read somewhere that there are 3,268,121 potholes in Brooklyn; 90 different ethnic groups; 1,600 miles of street; 50 miles of shoreline; 1,500 registered places of worship; I understand that 8,000 Belgian waffles are consumed in Brooklyn every day. I couldn't say for sure, but what I can tell you is this: Brooklyn feels like home in a way that nowhere else but San Francisco ever has. I like it here.

I like the way the children chase the Dog Head bus as though it were an ice cream truck; the way groups of Hasidim stop and gape as if they've just seen a movable blasphemy; the way the old black men shuffle out of the barbershops and the young Italian men lean against their cars and fold their arms across their chests. I like the way the Polish waitresses don't smile until they've seen me in their restaurants for three days in a row.

I like the way the old women in the thrift stores try to dress me, and the way strangers say hello on the street, whether I'm alone or not. I like the subways after midnight and the "regular coffee" at dawn. I like the musicians on the street corners and the dancers on the rooftops and the cat lady in the park. I like the neighborhoods, the vast, wild ranges of humanity that permit me to trip around the world without ever leaving home. I like the smell of the bricks and the texture of the air and the unfamiliar odors that cling to my clothes when I'm here.

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