You need three people to take a road trip. One to drive, one to keep the driver awake and one to sleep off his hangover before it’s his turn at the wheel. The third person can also serve as an intermediary in the inevitable arguments over wrong turns and speeding tickets, or, God forbid, as bait when you need to make some gas money quickly in the wrong part of some strange town.
You also have to consider the amount of space in the car. Three people in the car leaves enough room for bags, books and beer. If you’re taking a road trip in America, as I was, with American friends, as mine are, chances are better than good that they are large people. Any more than three and you’re looking at no space and six or more interpersonal relationships that certainly won’t be as solid when you come back as they were when you left.
So there I am, with four of my closest, largest friends, clogging up the interior of my father’s SUV like some doomed artery, heading southwest on Highway 285 out of Denver and into 10,000 feet of thin air, on our way to the fabled city of South Park, Colorado.
After two hours through narrow mountain roads, hangover complaints, and a final long curve to the west, South Park opens out in front of us like a book. South Park is technically the name of the region, an area nestled inside the lofty Rocky Mountains; not a valley, but a wide, flat park, with blinding, snow-covered fields. Not the kind of shit you want to see with a hangover.
The town that actually inspired the television series is named Fairplay. And it’s not too much to look at. We see it, and from the back seat I hear what everyone is thinking, “So this is fuckin’ Fairplay, huh? You ready to go the fuck home?”
There was nothing there, nothing but a tiny mountain town filled with tiny mountain people. I was surprised that, back in Denver, the five of us thought that this might actually be a good idea. I mean, who the hell wants to drive out to a deserted mountain town in the middle of the winter?
So anyway, we arrive in Fairplay. Both Matt Stone and Trey Parker spent a portion of their youth in the surrounding area. Parker even attended Fairplay High School for a year. The only tourist attraction in Fairplay is ‘Old South Park City\'; a restored museum/ghost town made up of old buildings lined up along a mock dirt road and shut off, during the winter, by a heavy chain stretched across the road. So we look at that for about five hardcore minutes, see a three-foot, hand-painted ‘Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo’, take a picture, and moved on.
If nothing else, the popularity of the television show has brought a large amount of money into the town. It might not have anything resembling an actual sidewalk, but there is a late-model SUV parked in every driveway and the local restaurant was serving mahi-mahi and shrimp pomodoro. But I still spot discarded furniture in front of newly-painted homes. I suppose you can lead a hillbilly to water, but you can’t make him bathe.
Aside from the show, South Park is also famous for its regular UFO activity. It has one of the highest concentrations of UFO sightings in the North American continent. South Park also happens to sit next-door to Cheyenne Mountain, a semi-secret military installation (like Area 51) that is buried deep within a mountain. So, there ya’ go. Unfortunately, we were there during the annual Leonid meteor shower (or maybe it was the Gemenid meteor shower, it doesn’t really matter) and except for a few shooting stars, we didn’t see shit. Maybe flying saucers don’t come out during meteor showers–makes sense, I don’t even come out during a light drizzle.
So, that’s just about all there was to the real South Park. It was a giant drag and I didn’t stop hearing about it for the remainder of my visit. The next time I have some quasi-clever idea about visiting a town based solely on its name (like Shag Point, Twizel or Waikikamukau), I’m keeping it to myself and not sharing it with my highly critical, never-having-any-fun, blame-me-for-their-boredom, bunch of bastard friends.