Google Maps told me that it would be about 38 hours of solid driving from my dad's place in Simi Valley, CA to my girlfriend's apartment in Raleigh—most of it occupied by I-40. The states traversed, either in part or in full, would be California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and a good chunk of North Carolina. I had allotted three days for the trip, and I needed to make the drive by myself in my BRZ.
I thought it would be a piece of cake. I was pretty badly wrong about that.
Okay, let's get this out of the way first.
States on I-40, Ranked
In the words of the not-at-all-biased band Best Coast, "Why would you live anywhere else?" On a side note, San Bernardino County is bigger than it looks on any map. You're blasting along through miles and miles of desert for hours on end, and you start thinking to yourself, "Did Arizona forget to put up a sign welcoming me to their state?" But no, it's just that the Mojave Desert (in Eastern California, that is) is a vast and mostly-uninhabited hellscape.
2. North Carolina
North Carolina is a very nice state. It might even be the best state in "the South," though as the consummate non-Southerner (being from Colorado puts you, somehow, in very shaky territory vis-a-vis being a "yankee") I don't understand this place yet. But there are lots of nice restaurants and people seem very friendly; also the roads seem fairly well-maintained, and a lot of people seem to have VERY nice rides.
This state is gorgeous (and, as a bonus, their roads are lovely and smooth!). Truthfully, my journey through Arizona coincided perfectly with late afternoon and an awesome sunset, so that may be a factor, but I was pretty much blown away nevertheless. Also they have Geronimo, the world's largest petrified tree! Road trip nirvana.
Truthfully, I didn't know what to expect from Texas. I expected it to be sort of like an episode of "Dallas," but hopefully with more intrigue than gunplay. Thankfully, it was a perfectly lovely place, and the service station I stopped at (somewhere outside Amarillo) had the nicest bathroom of any I visited.
Resoundingly mediocre. I wasn't killed by a tornado (for which I am thankful), but nothing interesting comes to mind about Oklahoma at all. Except for the fact that they are the first state (coming from the West) to lower the Interstate Speed Limit by 10mph, a fall from which it never recovers.
6. New Mexico
If you expected New Mexico to be closer to Arizona on this list just because conventional wisdom seems to indicate that they are utterly identical, then YOU ARE SO WRONG. And before you ask, no, I was not involved in any kind of Breaking Bad-esque drug drama in Albuquerque (on that show, they sometimes refer to it as "ABQ," after the airport designation, but I decided to refer to it as "the 'Querque" while I was there. I hope that catches on.). No, the problem with New Mexico is that it's full of bugs.
Almost no bugs (seriously, a crazy small amount) hit my hood between California and Arizona. But New Mexico is, I gather, basically shrouded in a blanket of bugs. Picture that sun-shield that Mr. Burns used to block the sun from Springfield, only it's not a nefarious plot, it's just way too many goddamned insects. Nothing is really wrong with the state itself, or its fine denizens (well...SOME of them might be meth dealers). I met some lovely people there, but I am still struggling to get the bug stains off of my front bumper.
This is the only state in which I encountered rednecks in a rusted-out S10 flying twin confederate flags—which is more or less what I expected from the moment I crossed the Texas border. I have no patience for people who pull that kind of shit, so that earned Tennessee a black mark on this list from the get-go. But TN was also the only state to bring me (and countless others) the unmitigated joy of a full two-lane stop lasting almost an hour.
Oh dear. When I pulled into a gas station in Western Arkansas for a fill-up after dark, I was greeted with the most terrifying setting I could fathom: the air was laden with humidity and the loud sounds of angry(/horny?) insects. Nothing was remotely clean, and only a handful of lights were anywhere in evidence (all of them fluorescent bulbs flickering an eerie, horror-film green). One or two frightening-looking musclebound men in wife-beaters burbled in and out of the gas station in pickups that looked purpose-built to intimidate yankees. Basically I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there in my shiny blue sports car with out-of-state plates.
And then the rain came.
It rained from about the 50-mile mark all the way to Memphis. Not just rained, actually—it would be more accurate to say that it gushed down in sheets, creating deadly hydroplane-traps in the road. RWD was starting to seem like a mistake, but I plowed on resolutely, determined to make Memphis before I stopped rolling, and knowing that if I didn't, it might mean an entire additional night on the road. Plus, I was pretty sure that if I stayed at a hotel in Arkansas, I would be kidnapped by hill folk. Psychotic truckers roared past me, as I puttered along nervously in the right lane at a dime under the speed limit, waiting for the rain to stop. But the rain didn't. ever. stop. Not until some time in the wee hours of the morning, after I had made it (barely) into West Memphis and holed up in a terrifyingly unsanitary motel room.
More tales from the road will follow, but for now, tl;dr? Don't go to Arkansas.