This was to be the most spontaneous trip of all ever taken. It was the evening of April 16th, and the Weather Channel was forecasting snow in central Colorado for the next four days. The last several days in Dallas had been downright yucky – extremely warm, windy and humid, and there was no letup in sight. And there was another reason to get out of town – I was tired of waiting – tired of waiting for a check from Austin Lewis (for architectural services rendered), tired of waiting to hear from Charly Lambert about when to start construction on his deck, and tired of waiting for Ol ‘ Blue to turn over 200,000 miles (the odometer read 198, 645). So, the next morning I was packed up and ready to go by 1 P. M . Now, that’s what I call a fast getaway.
I might add that I had just reached a culmination point in a “saturation watercoloring” binge, which meant that I had finally finished six aquarelles of Union Pacific locomotives and had subsequently just mailed off half dozen sets of prints to friends. So, you might say I was “washed out” for the time being. That was okay. It was another good reason to get the hell out of D(odge).
As I was crawling out of Dallas (that’s the only way one can usually exit this Metromess), I was thinking to myself “I’ve gotta be crazy leaving on the spur of the moment like this. I’ll just drive as far as I feel like going, and if I feel like turning around and coming back, so be it. No one was expecting me and no one knew I had left.” I guess it was that last thought that kept me going. I was free to go. Oh, tempestuous me!
Once past Grapevine, old TX HWY 114 was undergoing the throes of transformation from a rural two and four-lane road to a quasi-interstate link between I-35 and U.S. 287. The Apocalypse Now of North Texas – an abonimable maze of concrete swaths and multilevel spaghetti interchanges that utterly decimate the scale of the pastoral countryside. I’ve passed by John McElhenry’s beautiful horse ranch so many, many times, and wondered just how long it would be before it was engulfed by the greed of developers. It was not until I reached the junction of U.S. 287 that I could feel extricated from the infestation of man’s “culture”. And that was 45 MILES from my front door!
The warm, humid winds were pushing me north by northwest. I passed a highway patrol car sitting on the shoulder, and within minutes, I could not believe my eyes. There in my rear-view mirror were those horrific blinking lights of the Texas Gestapo. Well, it seems he had sighted me in his rear-view mirror not wearing a seat belt. Yep, I got a citation, the first one for such a violation in almost 200,000 miles of highway travelling! Guess I finally deserved it. Once burned, twice learned. With that behind me, I was entertaining thoughts about spending the night at the rest area just outside of Estilline, but when I got there, the altimeter read under 3,000 feet and the air was still muggy…not too conducive for a good night’s sleep. It was getting dark, but I decided to push on to Amarillo. The Almighty was making the 100 mile drive rather exhilarating with a majestic display of lightning bolts. It hardly rained at all – a lot of bark and no bite.
I pulled in at the familiar Pilot Gas Stop off of I-40 on the eastern edge of Amarillo at around 10:30 P.M. That was another first – I had never, ever been through the Panhandle City after dark. I got an okay from the manager to park overnight behind the station. It seemed like a rhetorical question since there were dozens of 18-wheelers parked all over the place. As soon I had found my spot, a short Chevy van with Colorado plates pulled up next to me. I waved at the guy, and over strolled this scraggly, bearded, dimitutive primate…just what I expected out of a lonely Colorado van. I asked, “You plannin’ on spending the night here?” He replied, “Nope. I’m in the truck polishin’ business.” We swapped a few van comparisons and then he headed over towards the rigs to hawk his trade. About a hour later, I saw him scramble into his van and drive off into the darkness. All I could do was wonder where the little rascal tradesman was headed. I wished him luck. The midnight air was cool and dry. I pulled the curtains and had no trouble falling to sleep to the drone of the idlying diesels, but not before thanking the Lord for getting me through the night (driving-wise, that is).
I can’t tell you what an exhilarating feeling it was to wake up with pulsating Peterbilts all around me. But at least, it had been safe and legal. I had a short talk with uncle Allen Early on the pay phone, and then I was off and running. After a quick stop at my reliable Dumas Inn for a load of ice, I was out onto the interminable flatness of the Panhandle. There was still a forceful southwest wind, and it was then I noticed a certain peculiarity. It was spring planting time and it looked like (to this niave eye) that there was some top soil evident, but yet, there was no blowing dust. It occurred to me that some 70 years ago this area was the center of the Dust Bowl, and almost to the day, it had been 67 years since the infamous Black Sunday when a mile-high cloud of dirt roiled in over the plains. Gosh, that must have been one hellish day! Soil management had obviously come a long way since those disastrous days, thank goodness!