This past week, I headed to Las Vegas for a meetup with the happiness leads working at Automattic. Since we are a distributed company the time in person is really valuable and provides a new way of communicating with one another. I am living in San Diego right now so I decided it would be way more fun to make a road trip out of it rather than fly the short distance. A fellow lead and friend, Ryan, lives in LA so I didn’t have to make the trek alone which was a nice change of pace after mostly traveling solo these last 6 or so months. It helped that Ryan also happened to be someone in my division who I’ve basically have worked with for the last year and a half straight. We talked non stop on the way down only pausing for me to freak out at all the glorious views. I had never made the trip but Ryan has numerous times – I jokingly demanded he explain and look up every beautiful mountain range we saw. We passed by all sorts of oddities as well including these stacked, colored rocks which I found out later were an art installation costing 3.5 million dollars:
We made a brief attempt to try to stop but I swear it was like there were no other exits between when we saw these colorful distractions and when we got to Las Vegas. Ryan casually pointed out an abandoned waterpark on the way down and we vaguely agreed we had to hit it up on the return trip home.
The week in Las Vegas was both fantastic and a culture shock. I went to one of the best coffee shops I’ve ever been to called PublicUs (I left a review on Google maps if that tells you anything about how pleased I was). I mainly stuck to getting a speciality drink called OYO Maple Cortado. It was heaven and I still am considering making the trip back to Vegas soon just for the coffee alone. Everywhere we went to eat proved to be delicious and very high quality food. The amount of noise at night was something I wasn’t quite prepared for despite the fact the hotel provided ear plugs for you to use!
The main culture shock came when I decided to make the trip to PublicUs one morning solo. On the .7 mile walk, I was cat called/confronted by 3 different men. One exclaimed, “Excuse me pretty thing – where are you headed?”. I was genuinely verging on being late to the morning session so I stupidly answered him saying I was late and had to go. As I picked up the pace and continued walking, I heard him yell after me calling me the c word (one of the few times I’ve been called that in my life). To top it off, I was even pursued while WITH a white, male coworker by a random guy. It was pretty bizarre and reminded me of how others perceive me even when I’m literally wearing black pants and a zipped up athletic grey jacket. All in all, the in person time was fabulous with the team and the work was incredibly productive. More than anything, it was nice to make in person connections with folks that I haven’t truly had time with in person since working at Automattic.
On the journey back, Ryan and I decided to make a little adventure out of the trip despite both of us being exhausted from 5 days straight of talking and working essentially from 9am to 9pm each night (at least). There wasn’t much planning which is just how I like to adventure – you spend as much time as you want, you go where you want, and you do what you want.
The first stop was Zzyzx, California which, on first glance, seems completely made up. I love how Ryan (my coworker) described it, “It’s almost like it was the end of the day on a Friday, someone just really wanted to leave the office so they randomly typed the name on a keyboard and called it a day”. I had to learn more so, upon writing this post, I found the wikipedia page:
Curtis Howe Springer gave the made-up name Zzyzx to the area in 1944, claiming it to be the last word in the English language. He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa in 1944 at the spot, which was federal land, after filing mining claims for 12,000 acres (49 km2) surrounding the springs. He used the springs to bottle his water and provide drinks for travelers through the hot desert. Springer also imported animals from around the country to attract more families to visit his ranch. He used Zzyzx until 1974, when the land was reclaimed by the government.
Roadtrippers has even more fun description (read some of the comments too):
What makes Zzyzx, California such a weird and wonderful place is that it was founded by a crackpot preacher who stuck his middle finger up at the government when he named the town with the last letters of the alphabet.
We had driven by Zzyzx on the way down but I didn’t realize it was a place to stop until a Google search pulled up an article recommending it. Ryan had never explored it so we quickly shrugged and agreed to see what the hell zzyzx was all about. As we pulled off the exit, everything quickly came into view. I’m genuinely surprised we weren’t able to see how cool it was from the highway as it was obviously a neat spot after only making it a bit down the road. We parked and walked aimlessly towards the vast salted landscape. We think it was salt – we didn’t dare try to test that theory though. It was strange how empty it was and as we made our way out into the actual meat of the land we came upon some sort of tracking device. We joked that this was where the US Government is probably watching us from a drone hundreds of feet in the air.
Wanting to get closer to the mountains and not really in a rush, we took a turn deeper into the salt field (for lack of a better term). Barely 20 feet later, I stepped down into a tiny dip in between two mounds only to sink probably 6 inches into thick mud. I managed to get both my feet stuck in it but also managed to let out an “OH SHIT” soon enough to warn Ryan before he got the worst of it. In those moments where something doesn’t go as planned and it feels like it’s going to be a huge inconvenience, I’ve learned to just laugh. I laughed harder when I began to struggle getting my feet out of the mud and upon seeing my pants had even gotten mud soaked at the bottom. What a glorious, worthwhile mess. We trudged back to the car and after trying to shake loose as much of the mud as we could, continued on only pausing to take a few more pictures farther up the 5 mile stretch. We both were pretty surprised that we passed this stop without much thought on the way down after experiencing how strange and cool the place was.
Down the road, we drove passed the abandoned waterpark. Again, we knew we needed to find an exit. This time, we also knew that there was likely a Google maps marker for this spot and turned to technology to get us there. Boom – 10 minute drive just off of the exit up ahead! Even better, alongside the highway and the adjacent road we were to take was a stopped train. On the way down, Ryan had been teaching me all about graffiti artists and the world of graffiti art on trains. It was truly serendipitous that we had happened upon this train and I slowed down the car as we drove by so Ryan could snap pictures as we went.
When we finally pulled up to the abandoned waterpark, we both realized we hadn’t thought through whether we would be able to enter it. Sure enough, there was a makeshift entrance made of rocks that we climbed over and sauntered on through. I thought we were alone at first and slightly jumped as a man on what appeared to be a motorized longboard zipped by. It took me a while to realize there were two folks filming themselves skating with gopros.
The amount of graffiti was nearly overwhelming and the whole place felt pretty eery yet fascinating. It’s as if the graffiti made the dark hallways and torn apart buildings more approachable. I don’t think I would have been as adventurous in exploring every part of the park if it wasn’t for the creativity found in every nook and cranny. We both commented out loud wondering what this place must have been like in it’s prime. When was it closed down? Why? I highly recommend a read through the wikipedia page. Funny enough, I drive a mini cooper and Tony Hawk filmed a mini ad here in the last couple of years.
At one point, I impulsively decided that one of the ladders on one of the buildings was low enough that I could pull up my way into climbing it. I still don’t exactly know how I finagled it but fake it til you make it?! I got to the top not thinking much about the fact that god knows if the roof is in any way sturdy. It was quiet and beautiful – cars sleepily passing by, mountains stubbornly staying in their places, the desert looking so unforgiving and enticing all at once. It was one of those “Make note of this” moments.
After taking all the pictures our hearts could desire, we headed back to the car and onto Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. I literally knew nothing about this place beyond the fact someone somewhere on the internet said it was worthwhile stopping at. Apparently, this is Elmer and he’s spent the last 15 years building up this free stop. Humans can be pretty cool sometimes 🙂
My favorite part about this stop was that you missed some really obvious things on first glance. Right near the entrance, there’s a run down jeep that Ryan and I walked RIGHT past without even noticing it at first. Or the fact that there were tons of beautiful, old typewriters all over the place. At one point, I wandered to a different area only to be immersed in wind chimes. It was really quite strange but the level of detail made you want to stay for way longer than you’d expect.
We trekked on as simply as we came – weaving in and out of conversations and cars all the same.