As John "Kiwi" Kiewicz completed his requisite pre-baby class, Brian "Stick Boy" Vance and Jeff "Bart" Bartlett wrapped up loose ends at the office and began preparations for Leg Two. Thanks to LA's world-famous traffic, much of the afternoon was spent filming the introduction to the first video segment. A painful ratio of three hours invested netting about 30 seconds of usable production material offered new insights into how Hollywood film budgets escalate beyond the gross national product of some third-world nations.
By the time Kiwi parked the Infiniti M45 beneath MT headquarters, we had the initial coverage and Intro story in the digital can. As we began rolling down Wilshire Blvd., debating the best route to Death Valley, we found the H2 drawn to a Del Taco. We chose not to dine at our beloved Taco Bell in response to readers' e-mail and to prove we do not have brand bias (though everyone always hungers for their favorite).
Young Padawan Brian piloted the Hummer through the darkness, while plans were fine-tuned for the following day's adventures. The XM Satellite Radio system provided the evening's soundtrack, with thrashing sounds from Boneyard and XM Liquid Metal assaulting the apprentice's Dave Matthews sensibilities. We eventually settled on Fred, an interesting Gen-X station featuring late 1970s to early 1990s alternative rock.
Freshly packed, the Hummer provided tight quarters, though each passenger found adequate comfort. For Leg 2, we spaced the massive spare tires apart, creating a tunnel between them for rearward vision. Even still, commanding the H2 felt like driving an armored personnel carrier, complete with weight and fuel economy.
Well after 11 p.m., we rolled into Trona, a small town in the Greater Mojave Desert. Its spires are recognized as a national landmark, serving as outdoor sets for films such as "Start Trek V" and "Planet of the Apes," though, it looked more like "The Day After" late at night. We pulled into the empty parking lot of the only operational motel in town, just catching the proprietor on his way out.
Accommodations were affordable and available, so we were enthusiastic as we approached the first room. Turning on the light exposed what appeared to be the aftermath of a rock star's drug-fueled maelstrom, with furniture and decorations in wild disarray. Room number two appeared to have someone sleeping in the bed, though once our eyes adjusted, it proved to be just rumpled bedclothes. On to rooms three and four: In any other situation, we would have passed on these as well. But as we learned in Coldfoot, Alaska, when you're the only game in town, you set the standards.