A boy and his dog, part 4: Omaha to Rawlins

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series A boy and his dog

(Continued from yesterday.)

The drive from Omaha to Rawlins, Wyoming, was the longest leg of my trip. It was grueling, for me and Alex both. I would have preferred to stop sooner, in Cheyenne or Laramie (home town of Penny Priddy!), but as I discovered the previous night placing calls from my Omaha hotel room, finding a dog-friendly hotel in Wyoming on the weekend (this day, fifteen years ago, was a Saturday) on one day’s notice was not so easily done, at least not in 1992.

The featurelessness of this leg was the worst part. I am not the first to remark on the fact that the Great Plains, while beautiful, are boring. From the interstate they’re worse still, nothing but “gray highway and… endless billboards,” as my friend Vicky knows all too well. It made for some horrible video.

Before leaving Pittsburgh I hit upon the idea of videotaping the entire drive. My friend Steve — the same one who, a few years earlier, regularly loaned me his car — loaned me his videocamera, which had a poor-man’s time-lapse feature: it would shoot one second of video, at normal speed, every 30 seconds. It seemed weird to have such a setting. My best guess is that it was meant to be used as a security camera.

At any rate, my plan was to rig it somehow so that I could aim it through the windshield while I drove, without it blocking my view and without it getting in Alex’s way. In the weeks leading up to my departure from Pittsburgh I frequented supply stores of various kinds, devising one harness or mount after another. None of them quite worked. For instance, I thought I’d hit upon a solution when I suspended it over my shoulder from a canvas strap that wrapped around the top of the car and came in through the windows (closed or open). But even with the strap pulled taut, at highway speeds the wind caught it at its resonant frequency and suddenly it sounded like Gregory Hines was dancing on top of my car. While firing a machine gun. At helicopter blades.

The camera-rig project was made trickier by the need to quickly disassemble and reassemble it. I couldn’t leave my friend’s expensive camera unattended in motel parking lots overnight! I ended up with the aforementioned complicated web of “suction cups, S-hooks, turnbuckles, and twine.” Having to hide the camera all the time, combined with my determination to ensure Alex’s safety with the doggie seatbelt, turned the simple acts of getting in and out of the car into a lengthy operation of stowing or unstowing, hooking, unhooking, tightening, loosening, checking, and more.

My camera harness did the job, but my faux-time-lapse movie came out awful. It runs for over an hour, and for all of that hour the picture is dominated by the pavement directly ahead. What interesting scenery there is — the odd city or landmark flashing by, comprising about 0.003% of the total running time — is relegated to the very edges of the screen. More often than not, the same tractor-trailer can be seen just ahead for minutes at a time, jumping slightly forward or backward each second. Most of the rest of the time, the only thing to see are the cloud patterns, slowly changing, slowly sliding off the top of the screen. And the splattered insect guts on the windshield. Plus, filming one ordinary second out of every thirty is a very poor approximation to true time-lapse photography.

Fortunately, someone with a better budget, a better car, and a better sense of filmmaking had the same idea recently, and you can watch brilliant director Michel Gondry‘s time-lapse video of a cross-country drive online. (And then you can watch him solve a Rubik’s cube with his feet. Really!)

At least by the time we got to Rawlins, the terrain was finally starting to get interesting. There were hills. Small mountains, even. Curves in the road. Brush. Clay. The Midwest was over.

(…to be continued…)

Series NavigationA boy and his dog, part 3: Davenport to OmahaA boy and his dog, part 5: Rawlins to Salt Lake City

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