I sped past the slavish “last chance” casinos in Elko, Wells, and Wendover, and flatlined it across the Great Salt Lake Desert, ending up behind one of my favorite Holiday Inns. Salt Lake City happened to be host to a wild weekend of rodeo finals, and the Inn’s parking lot was packed with pickups and trailers and good ol’ boys leaning on their hoods, sippin’ from their six-packs. I was lucky to find a space, but when I did, here came three young cowpokes, offering me a Coors and asking, “What part of Colorado you from?”. The old white and green plates again came through as a kind of welcome mat, as though there was a mystical kinship between Colorado and her neighboring states, specifically Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico (states in which pickups are the highest per capita).
Not withstanding our generation gap, I had one raucous good time with those mavericks. I asked one of them, “What in the wild world of sports makes you mount a wild animal and try stay on until every bone in your body is shook to hell?”. His simple answer was, “Heck, God made them critters to be rode, and I was put on this earth to ride ’em”. Then he asked me, “What was your sport, man, when you were growing up?”. With that, I reached into Ol’ Baleau and retrieved my Louisville Slugger, and brandishing a batting stance the likes of Ted Williams, I calmly said, “Hey, all I tried to do was hit a baseball thrown at me at 85 miles per hour. That was my brush with danger”. It was party ’til you puke in the parking lot kind of night for a bunch of those young cowpokes. Thank you again, Holiday Inn.
Up, up, and up I climbed out of the green valley and onto the high plains of uncorrupted, unbridled Wyoming. With the sun at my back, it made for one glorious journey with the solstice rays accentuating the myriad of colors of the mesas and mountains in front of me. With my antenna at full extension, I was still receiving the “soft jazz” from the Salt Lake FM station … I was in seventh heaven. It was dark when I saw the twinkling lights of Cheyenne in the distance. I found my way to the Hitchin’ Post Inn, where another “reserved” space awaited me.
I do believe most travelers would adamantly ask the motel proprietor for a room the farthest distance from the railroad tracks as possible. Insomnia seems to be equated with passing freight trains. Not so, with this atypical journeyman…the rumble of the Union Pacific units only fifty yards away was like a Nytol to put me to sleep. It has always been a very comforting sound.
I hightailed it south to Denver, where I made a few conciliatory calls to architect buddies. Then I headed east across the rolling plains of Colorado’s bountiful farmlands, and saw the Rockies slowly disappear in my rear-view mirror. Those were always wistful moments, realizing it would not be soon enough until I saw those majestic mountains again.
As I crossed the state line into Kansas, the unevenness of Colorado’s plains succumbed to the interminable flatness of the “bread basket” of America. Again, there was a discernable difference in the topography, just as I had experienced when criss-crossing the stateline of Colorado into the other three neighboring states (Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico). All four boundaries of the Mile High state ran the gamut of geological disparities, as if the Almighty Himself had laid out the latitudes and longitudes precisely where they should be. I pulled into Garden City, which was an eerie replica of Lubbock, Texas: grain elevators and feed lots. I called on a lady who had been referred to me by cousin John Farris (an ex-employee of his).
John was trying to be a subtle match-maker. Ann Brown and I had a most pleasant evening, starting with cocktails at her modest house, and then dinner at a restaurant, which was named something like Stacks o’ Sirloin, appropriately. I decided to deviate from my anti-red meat regimen, and why not? I figured a steak there would be as fresh and cheap as one could hope to get, being only two miles from the packing plant. I spent the night comfortably parked in a legal and level space in Ann’s driveway.
We had toast and coffee together the next morning, then went our separate ways. I turned myself southeastwardly towards Oklahoma City, which was no easy task in the midwest, since most of the routes were constrained to follow the north-to-south and east-to-west grid of farmland sections. U.5. 50 took me 53 miles east to Dodge City where I couldn’t resist seeing what concoction the city fathers had contrived in a downtown strip called “Historic Front Street”. Not to my surprise, the city’s main tourist attraction was a tawdry collection of clapboard-sided buildings “reconstructed” in that desperate imitative style of the “old west of yesteryear”. I stepped inside a simulated saloon, just to reassure myself that the facades were not some Hollywood props held upright by a battery of diagonal 2×4’s. By the way, the so-called saloon was a sham anyway, because Kansas was as dry as a six-to-one martini. So much for histrionics.
I headed due south on U. S. 283 into Oklahoma where I eventually found a very convenient diagonal route (U.S. 183/270/281) to I-40, which led me to OK City, probably my least favorite metro area outside of Mobile, Alabama. The town that time forgot did furnish me with one last restful night behind a Holiday Inn.
The last 200 miles were the dregs of the drive – flat, monotonous, and searingly hot from a September sun. I crossed the Red River into Texas, and recalled an old slogan: “The best thing to come out of Oklahoma was I-35”. Har-de-har-har. Through the metromess of North Dallas Forty, I finally rolled up to Apt. 415, under the sheltering arbor of my giant red oak. I laid my forehead on the steering wheel, and gave thanks to the Lord for getting me home safely, once again.
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