After spending two weeks on a journey from the West to the South and back, I have a few scattered observations about flyover America (in no particular order):
- You often get the sense that it’s still the Sixties, driving the remaining stretches of the old Route 66 or driving the mile-long stretch of highway in Utah, stripped down to bare gravel.
- A rerouted highway in a canyon, with weeds growing through cracks in the paving, looks like a remnant of a lost civilization.
- A motel in Wellington, Utah, called the Pillow Talk.
- The person in the party who has the greatest fear of snakes is inevitably the one who will see one.
- A sign-writer in Arches National Park, Utah, manages a Shakespearean flavor in only a few words: “Gather no wood in park.”
- A Japanese motor cycle gang in Arches — riding Harley-Davidsons.
- A car with the Guam license plate wins the prize for the farthest-away-from-home (edging out second-place Hawaii).
- Mesa Verde shows the rise and fall and persistence of civilizations. The woman who sold us hamburgers in the diner could be a descendant of the people who built these majestic housing developments.
- Every road trip has an obligatory side track through country roads. In our case, we missed our turnoff and wandered through 50 miles or more of roads that showed up as light gray lines on our map of New Mexico. After driving a long stretch of gravel leading to the top of a mesa, we found a sign facing the other direction that said: “Warning: 18 miles of unimproved roadway. Impassible in bad weather.” Even though the weather was fine, we would probably have turned back if we had seen the sign in time. We did not.
- Somewhere on these back roads of New Mexico is the town of Hassell, marked on the map, consisting of one farmhouse, one building of uncertain use, possibly public, and one cemetery, labeled “Hassell.” I amused myself for a while imagining the politics for the mayoral election: Bud Hassell vs. Burt Hassell and a more bitter election than if it were Michael Moore vs. Ann Coulter.
- One homestead consisted of three furbished school buses with curtains in the windows, long ago painted blue and green, arranged in a U shape, with nice Japanese cars parked out front.
- Sudan, Texas, is home of the Hornets and Hornettes, 1A basketball champions.
- I met a woman named Jackal Barnes. I double checked the pronunciation and was told it wasn’t a nickname; I’m not sure of the spelling.
- You know you’ve entered an alternative universe when the barristas at Starbucks have Texas accents.
- Speaking of Starbucks, the folks in the South and Southwest are waiting eagerly for the coffee shop Northwesterners love to hate (I complain about them when I’m in Portland; when I find one in Santa Fe, it’s like being at home).
- I don’t know if there’s any diminution of tourism from France and Germany, due to the current little tiff between the USA and “Old Europe,” but German and French accents were the most common in the Grand Canyon.
- The loneliest and most pathetic gambling is what happens at the slots and video poker machines. Poker is a game of interaction, one of the fundamental metaphors of human existence; even blackjack has some skill. But the machine is a whirling, blinking glimpse into the void, and the soul sitting in front of it stares blankly into the abyss. In one small-town casino, there was no live gambling, only banks and banks of the machines. I went into a quick market for a cup of coffee at 7:30 a.m. and found someone playing the machines. Depressing.
- I was a long way away from the hurricanes, in case you’re wondering (people keep asking).
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