Note: When you spend a long time driving, you have a lot of time to think of stuff. I pulled a few paragraphs out of this episode and put them in one of their own, but this is still one hell of a muddled ramble. Even without the Theology and sociology, we’ve got us some philosophy, a (somewhat disguised) treatise on storytelling, thoughts on agricultural practices, lovely, curvaceous roads, and lunch. Not in that order.
I slept rather late this morning, in a awkward position it would seem as my entire left arm was numb when I finally stirred. I lifted it and flexed it, enjoying the curious feeling while it lasted. How nice it is to be easily amused.
Awake, showered, ponytailed and behatted, coated liberally with PABA, I got the hell out of Dodge. One more life ambition checked off. I headed in the direction of Garden City. All around me food was being made. Big round fields of it stretched across the landscape, the radius of the circles defined by the length of the irrigation pipe. I heard the grumbling engines working to draw the water from the depths and pump it out to the thirsty plants. Sometimes I passed other factories dedicated to turning the vegetable food into meat food. The only exception to the single-minded devotion to food production was an occasional oil well. One way or another, it was all about energy.
I was well past Garden City when I started to wonder if that was the way I really should be going. Not so much, it turns out. At Lakin I made a course correction, crossing the Arkansas River and heading due south on Sunflower 25. The Arkansas was bone dry. As I went south the land became more sere, the spaces between the verdant circles greater and the uncultivated areas scrubbier. It occurred to me that, like the oil, the water would run out some day as well.
The highway was not crowded, and I was gradually catching up to an SUV. I thought I smelled burning rubber, and soon after a cloud of blue smoke came from the left side of the SUV. Only after a few more seconds did the driver hit his brakes and begin to move to the side of the road, the smoke getting thicker all the while. At first it was difficult to tell in the mirage of the hot pavement, but it seemed like something was separating from the truck. The something resolved itself into a tire, or at least the tread of a tire, a big rubber donut bounding across the road and into the ditch on the other side. The SUV pulled over, its naked, shiny chrome rim shooting sparks as it dragged across the pavement. The truck had super-low-profile tires on expensive wheels, and one of the tires had lost its sidewalls and gone off on its own. Important note to people who buy fancy tires like that: Check the pressure often. Those tiny sidewalls don’t give you any room for error.
Hugoton is an attractive little farm town, and I decided it would be a good place to break my fast. I stopped at Dominoes, which was doing a fair lunch business when I walked in. It may surprise you to learn that I was the only long-haired male in the place wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. As any Czech will tell you, however, a friendly hello to the people in charge will almost always be returned in kind, and I found I had stumbled into a very friendly place. By Czech standards. The men in their blue jeans and shirts with snaps discussed offshore drilling and the price of oil (down nine cents), along with farm topics, and the waitress spent her time trying to drown me with iced tea. Ah, America! When I paid, she asked, “do you want some ice tea to go?”
I joined highway 56 in its dogged pursuit of WSW, across the Oklahoma panhandle. It’s the sort of road that people joke isn’t 100 miles but the same mile 100 times. One mile was different, however. At the side of the road was a cross, elaborately decorated. Someone had died there, presumably as the result of an automobile accident. I had to wonder, why there? Sometimes when you see a roadside memorial you can piece together what happened. A sudden curve or the end of a passing lane. You can see the threat the driver faced and understand it. Other times, like this time, there are no such clues, no such reason. It could have been any place along that road. But it happened there, at that mile, and that is where the story ends (or begins?), and that mile is forever changed.
I imagine there were people who asked, why him? after the accident. Perhaps there were clues, the driver’s own personal dangerous curves — drugs or alcohol or fatigue or cell phone. Perhaps not. Perhaps, just like that unlikely mile, there was nothing to mark that person for death. Someone else ran him off the road. He had a blowout. In that case, why him is just as meaningless as why there. There’s really now answer at all, no reason it might not be me next time.
Fuel in Clayton, and a decision to take the Cimarron-Taos scenic route. Not a difficult choice, really. I found myself on the sort of road small sports cars are made for, on the sort of day that convertibles are made for. (Note to drivers of big-ass pickup trucks creeping along at twenty miles per hour: If you see a bunch of cars behind you, just pull over for a moment. It’s obvious you’re not in a hurry anyway.)
How is it that Taos, NM, has near-perpetual traffic problems?
Now I am at the folk’s house, windows open, the temperature comfortably cool, thinking that I’ve spent way too much time blogging tonight (as I’m sure many of you will agree), especially since I have a story I thought up out there on the road that I want to start working on. That’s the thing about the road — you just can’t stop thinking of stuff.
So I guess you didn’t drive thru Liberal? What’s up with that name anyway?
Now that you’ve seen the massive farms and feedlots, you should put The Omnivore’s Dilemma on your reading list. (unless you already did and I missed it).
Not to sound like me, but any yahoo who puts super-low-profile tires on his SUV (to, what … increase chance of roll-over? … deprove towing ability? … eliminate any pretense you’re going to off-road in your off-road vehicle?) deserves the inevitable. My guess: a black Ford Fornicator, with chrome rims. Even in mid-America, everyone wants to be a gangster.
Everybody knows that super-low-profile tires are to improve cornering in racetrack conditions. Less sidewall flex. The SUV was dark in color, but I didn’t notice the make. They’re all the same to me.
Didn’t drive through Liberal, but the residents of Lawrence (a holdout of liberalism in Kansas since before the civil war) will attested that it’s poorly named. Billboards claimed that Liberal was Dorothy’s home town, using images that were likely copyright violations. Perhaps that is where the b&w scenes in Wizard of Oz were shot.
Well, we know that big SUV’s need all the help they can get in tight cornering situations. On the other hand, with the impractical tires, the SUV loses its best option for navigating corners, curbs, small dog-like creatures, shrubs, slug bugs, etc. — going right over them.
Well, speaking of SUVs and what constitutes appropriate tires for them … Your namesake nephew just bought himself a set of wheels — very big ones, with a little-bitty SUV on top. One has to exit the vehicle by rappelling.
Nah, Liberal has absolutely no connections to TWoOz, except for thinking of using it as a year-round promotional tool. Their other claim to fame, the Pancake Race, only takes place once a year.
Yes, big tires mean that I don’t have to stop at the little concrete deals that populate parking lots across New Mexico. Plus, those curbs between parking lots are much less annoying when you don’t have to go around them.
And fallen logs are no problem either. I’ve got some pics from the local 4 wheel drive proving ground.
Jer, When yer arm wuz asleep, did ya go fer “the stranger?”
I’m just sitting here dreaming of the beauty of the Cimarron – Taos route.