4360 Miles in 126 Hours

Troy Paiva

1) Day One- Motel Kalifornia

The run begins southbound from my suburban San Francisco Bay Area home on a warm Saturday morning and then heads due east at Bakersfield. Before I know it, I've driven 975 miles in 14 hours.

I've been road-tripping as often as possible for decades. When I was a teenager my friend Jeff and I would take off in his tinny but blindingly fast Mazda RX2, storming across the Southwest deserts. Driving in shifts, round the clock, we'd cover thousands of miles in a couple of high-speed days, the vast expanses of desert compressed into scale models. I gladly volunteered for the late-night driving shifts and watched with fascination as countless abandoned buildings and towns unreeled in the windshield. To my friends, it was just an off-the-wall thing to do, but for me, the lure of the desert night began to take on mythical proportions. Once I picked up night photography in the late 1980s, these surreal safaris blossomed into new meaning and purpose. I started to document the decaying American roadside with long time exposures lit by the full moon. It wasn't long before I added colored lighting during the exposure, sculpting the shadows like a stage set (none of this work is digitally manipulated, it's all done "in camera" at the scene). Now I do the trips alone, tossing the sleeping bag and tripods in the back of my trusty, crusty Subaru Forester.

The day is a blur of concrete, sage and green Interstate signs with only one short meal stop and a series of quick gas and pee breaks. A long day, but it's a familiar and satisfying pace. I ramble into Gallup, eyes watering and neck stiff. Both my head and the sky are too cloudy to shoot- so I randomly pick a cheap motel room and pack my gear in for the night. Ironically, tonights' cable movie is Kalifornia. A strange portent for the drive ahead? I'm not tracking the locations of serial killings like the characters in the film, but I am chasing the ghosts of the American Dream. I fall asleep as Brad Pitt murders the proprietor of Roy's Cafe in Amboy. A few years ago, the current owner of Roy's chased me off with a shotgun as I finished my first exposure of the famous sign.