Vacation Time – August 1997 Part XV

I leave Denver with my wheels spinnin’ and my friends grinnin’, and skyrocketsouth on I-25 at Mach .073 (that’s55 mph divided by the speed of sound), stoppingat the Holiday Inn ice station in Colorado Springs, and the “only-one-in-town” Safeway in Trinidad, the last stop before leaving “Colorful Colorado”. I saunter over toan old Chevy van (an early ‘70s model) just as the owner, a genteel woman in her mid-sixties, arrives with her grocery cart.

She confirms the age of her van to be twenty-five, and adds: “I bought it in 1976 in California, and drove it over the mountains without a hitch. That little 305 has more than 250,000 miles on her, and she’s still ginnin’ right along”. That kind of unsolicited endorsement for tried and true Chevy power units just reassures me that Ol’ Baleau still may have a lot of miles left in those old cylinders. The visit with the van lady was a most enjoyable respite.

Thepeople in the market, both employees and customers, seemed to be overly friendly, inan unpretentious manner. It was like I was receiving these telepathic signals saying:”Stick around. You’re not readyto leave Colorado, are you?” Well, I’m never reall yready to exit this state…never have been, never will be. That’s the beauty of being here. Let us not get maudlin….I’m outta here headed over the 8,800 foot summit anddown to Raton, never looking back. I strike out into the desolate northeastern plains of New Mexico, coasting on a cool tailwind towards my favorite rest area anywhere,halfway between Raton and Clayton near the extinct Capulin volcano.

The Burlington Northern coal trains ply their way, back and forth, from Wyoming to Houston, withina stone’s throw ofmy parking slot. I’ve stopped here countless times, mainly because it is exactly one-third of the distance between Dallas and Denver, seeing that I always allow myself three days to drive the easy 800 miles. This place is like an oasis, with its pump handle standpipe connected to a sub-surface water table. The”midway” rest area sits at an elevation of 6,700 feet, so there’s never been anything close to an uncomfortable night’s sleep here. In fact, there always seems to be atleast a breeze up here, if not an antenna-whippin’ wind, which leads me to wonderwhat the wind chill factor might be…in August.

As I’m arranging the blankets inpreparation for a rather cool night, a gentleman approaches me, asking if I couldgive him a push. Seems as if the starter is the culprit. His vehicle is anSUV withan automatic tranny, but I assure him thetask is not an impossibility, recounting a similar situation with Ol’ Baleau (fortunately, I was on a slope, so I just rolledher old bones down the hill in neutral and she clicked over). With our bumpers syn­chronized height-wise, I jam her into low and ram that sucker up to 20 mph, and thenback off…no luck, that dog won’t hunt tonight. I’ve pushed them all the way to the end of the parking area, where they’ve come to rest in a safe, off-of-the-pave­ment repose. He thanks me for the effort. He and the missus are going to sack out on the bench seats, somehow making a bedroom out of all the clutter, plus a cat in a cage to add to their clitter. I offered my triple A card to assist them the next morning, but he politely refused. They were from somewhere in Texas, and headed toPueblo, Colorado, which reminds me that 98% of the traffic that stops here has either Texas or Colorado plates…one never sees any New Mexico residents, except for the road maintenance crews. As I’m lying in my ultra-comfortable bed, I can’thelp wondering how those two unfortunates are faring in their uncomfortable situation. Along with my thanks for a safe arrival, I say a little prayer for the couple at the other end of the parking lot. I look up at the stars, zillions of them.

The next morning, I walk down to the end of the asphalt, only to see that my Texas friends have vanished, somewhere, somehow, I don’t know how. What a bummer! I really wanted to help them. How did they get that son-of-a-SUV started while I was asleep? I’ll never know. The mysteries of travel, wondering where peopleare headed, and where they’re coming from. Well, to heck with them…let’s kick a tire and start a fire…I’m outta here.

Fifty miles later, I’m crossing the stateline into Texas, exactly one month after I departed my dear state. The ubiquitousstate slogans immediately surface along the roadside:”Drive Friendly”, “Don’t Mess With Texas”, and my favorite, “D.W.I. You Can’t Afford It”- that’s the admonition whichis posted at the exits of all roadside picnic and rest areas, ironically right next to a trash barrel filled with empty beer cans. Something doesn’t ring right. I’ve been playing cat-and-mouse with a coal train ever since Texline, so outside of Dalhart, I speed up a little to put some distance between us. Just before Hartley, I pull off at a picnic area, another favorite spot of mine, with four venerable cotton-woods clumped together, standing all alone on the unforgiving flatness of the Panhandle. I walk up to the tracks and peer down the rails to infinity….everything out there, the power lines, fence posts, the semis on the highway, all swallowed up by thecurvature of the earth. Then a small speck appears with an luminous headlamp – it’s my alluring B & N coal train, highballing straight towards me as I straddle one of therails.

Waiting until the last possible second, I side-step down the road ballastto a safe distance (about 8 feet), and the engineer acknowledges my wave with a blast fromhis horn.With unbridled horsepower, the four diesel units roar past me, pulling morethan a mile of coal cars. The ground heaves a little under my feet, and a rush comesover me, goose-bumps up and down my arms. That was my final “fix” for the trip. Thirty miles farther down the road, and there’s that ostentatious billboard flaunting: “Spenda Night in Dynamic Dumas”. Yeah, right. The only amenity in this burg is the ice machine at the Best Western Dumas Inn. Down the pike to Amarillo to stop for somecheap petrol, and then on to the final rest area between Vernon and Wichita Falls.

This segment of the return trip is always a drag, so I’m not inclined to describe any more of this fantastic, thirty-two day, well-earned vacation trip(3,700 miles). My first phone call is to dear Mom, assuring her that I have returned safely, and notic­ing that it’s a comfortable 75 degrees outside, I boast: “I told you, I’d bring somecool air down with me”. She’s very appreciative. End of story.

William C. Early © 1997

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