That evening, the Perron house happened to be the host for Jerry’s Barber Shop Quartet rehearsal. They were gearing up for a competitive run to the Championship Round in Albuquerque in the near future. I told Jerry, “My second-cousin John Farris is in a quartet. He lives in the Duke City. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if you two happened to meet in the finals?” While the rehearsal went on downstairs, Paula and I had time to talk up in her computer room. I had sent the Perrons a bunch of my watercolor prints (her favorite was Mt. Ranier since they had lived in Tacoma), so Paula started grilling me on my techniques of aquareling. After running the gamut of the way I approached water coloring, Paula just had to say, “I did a watercolor of a dog that’s hanging in the hallway.” I took a look at it and said, “My gosh, this is great. I had no idea you were so talented. And all that time you were asking me how I watercolored. I feel like you were teasing me.” But, she wasn’t. She was just interested in how I did my thing. The three of us retired to the outside deck for a late-night chat in the chill air. It had been a most enjoyable day. As I reclined under the covers in Ol’ Blue parked safely in the driveway, I thought, “This is what traveling is really all about – seeing friends and family. All that scenic beauty had to take second place.”
I was very grateful for a morning shower. The night before, Paula kept insisting I not use the turquoise towels for some reason which I never quite understood. I complied with her wishes, but had to say in jest, “Now, what color towels was I not supposed to use?” We both had a good laugh. Then it was off and running south on I-25. As usual, there was a steady stream of traffic between Denver and Colorado Springs. I would tolerate the interstate no farther than Pueblo. I headed east on U.S. 50 and saw the Rockies slowly vanish in the outside mirror. That was always a little sad. I stopped in Lamar where cows outnumbered humans at least three 3 to 1 (because of the huge feedlots there) and photographed one last train depot (it was an AmTrak stop). I said goodbye to Colorado (another sad moment) and a hour and a half later I pulled into the familiar rest area between Garden City and Dodge City. A year ago almost to the day, I was in the very same spot watching videos of the WTC disaster. Tonight it was Monday Night Football. Ominous dark clouds were approaching from the north portending an advancing cold front. I felt protected next to the scraggly cottonwood.
Not surprisingly, I awoke to a wintry scene with the temperature at 53 degrees and a slight drizzle. It was going to be a good day to drive with no glaring sun and a north tailwind. I passed the Garden Spot of Kansas – the Ingalis Feed Lot where a scenic overlook gave you a panorama of future Big Mac’s and Whoppers. At Dodge City, I took a new route due south on U.S. 283 into the Sooner State, passing through Laverne, the proud home of Miss America in 1967 (I can’t recall her name, but it was probably something like Ida Mae Fern). Then it was Shalluck with its marvelous collection of windmills right off main street. By Oklahoma standards, it was actually a somewhat scenic drive, particularly through the Black Kettle National Grassland. I was impressed. As I got closer to the Red River, I realized that I had outrun the cold front, and I could feel the temperature and humidity steadily rising. Umm, that did not bode well. Off to the northeast, I could see some dark foreboding clouds with a “tail” drifting down, kind of like a tornadic embryo. It was scary-looking. After all, I was in what was commonly referred to as Tornado Alley. It turned out to be nothing more than a “teaser”. Looking down the road (on the map), I could see no rest areas within a comfortable driving distance. And it was getting warmer and warmer. So, I gave in and checked in at the Best Western in Altus, Oklahoma. After twenty-one pleasurable nights in Ol ‘Blue, I really didn’t feel like “roughing it” on the last day of the trip.
As I crossed into Texas (the Drive Friendly State) and approached Vernon, I realized that I had driven about 300 miles on U.S. 283 from Dodge City – another new highway in my annals of travel. I felt “back at home” as I headed east on of U.S. 287. At Decatur, I took Hwy 380 to Denton which turned out to be a little unnerving. The oncoming traffic was full of those abominable gravel haulers that practically blow you off the road. And that was just the beginning. I still had I-35, LBJ, and North Central to look forward to. Welcome back to the Metromess! That was the inescapable price I had to pay for all those 4,000 miles of unmolested driving. At least I had the smooth sounds of cool jazz to sooth me on the home stretch back to my “homebase”. And I thanked the Good Lord for one more safe trip.
- S.: An 8 1/2 X 11 clasp envelope was in my stack of mail which my neighbor Candice West had faithfully collected. It was postmarked “Winslow, AZ”. What do you suppose was inside? That’s right, my torn and tattered wallet from atop the payphone. Of course, it was sans cash, but at least my driver’s license was intact. That was a relief. It had been retrieved and mailed by a police officer. My distaste for the Arizona Gestapo had suddenly turned to a feeling of gratitude. THANK YOU, OFFICER DAVIS!