As soon as I exited Colorado, Kansas flattened out like the proverbial pancake. It was another one of those uncanny transitions from the Mile High State to one of its neighbors. Each little town was punctuated by the ubiquitous, towering white grain silos. I do believe Kansas has more grain elevators per capita than any other state. I tuned out the world for awhile (clicking off the radio), and drove for countless miles in a state of euphoria with the sun behind me, accenting the endless rows of corn, ready for harvest. I felt so far, far away from all the turmoil, still removed, in a state of numbness.
I stopped for gas outside of Garden City and had to wait in line to the pumps. While I was waiting, it dawned on me that these people were in a state of panic, fearing there would be a sudden petrol shortage. I couldn’t believe it. What was next? Price gouging? I used the pay phone to call a old friend, Ann Brown, in hopes to have someone to talk with about what all had happened. To my chagrin, there was no answer. Bad timing, or was it? Twenty miles down the road, I pulled off at a rest area just in time to see a cobalt-blue sky meld with the red-orange glow of the sun setting over the Kansas prairie. What a sight! I nudged Ol’ Blue under the only tree, a scraggy old cottonwood. I felt safe under its panoply of scrawny branches and wind-torn leaves. What was it about always wanting to be next to a tree?
As I sat in my “easy chair” with a soft, cool breeze wafting through the van, and zillions of stars starting to appear overhead, it suddenly dawned on me why there was a sense of safety next to that tree. I was remembering the childhood game of “Tag”, when you were “safe” if you were touching a tree. Well, it made sense to me. That’s what sitting out in the middle of Kansas can do with your mind. Then I started thinking about my two close friends, Carolyn Meinhardt and Glenn Garrison, who both lived in lower Manhattan. I wondered what they must be going through. I couldn’t resist turning on the TV, and to my utter horror, I saw a video of the airliner plowing into the South Tower. That was enough to make me realize what had actually happened. I just sat there in total disbelief. All I could think about was those poor souls in that plane who knew they were going to die. I had had it. I turned off the TV and crawled into bed, thanking the Lord I had arrived there safely. This had truly been a Day of Infamy!
I woke up the next morning trying to disengage myself from what had happened the day before. The pleasures of driving along the rural roads of Kansas somehow assuaged my unsettling memories of September 11th. Fortunately, I picked up a station out of Goodland, Kansas, which really put me in the otherworld. They were playing classic comedy routines from the early 1950s, like The Jack Benny Show, Father Knows Best, and The Bickersons. There were also selective serials, such as The Shadow and The Lone Ranger. The chestnut “A Blast from the Past” was an understatement.
It seemed every little town I passed through had an abandoned track which I had to slowly rumble over. I’d look down the tracks as they vanished under an overgrowth of weeds and grass through a tunnel of oaks and elms. It was all so bucolic, as I tried envisioning a steam locomotive chugging towards me. Geemonee, I’m such a crazed sentimentalist.
Later down the road, I stopped for gas in Wellington (no price gouging, yet). There was an old geezer resting on the curb with a two-cycle, one-and-a-half gallon motor scooter (not motorcycle) with a wire basket on the back, packed with groceries. I said to him, “Hey, you look like a man after my own means. Look over there (pointing to the back of the van). I’ve got the same thing, except it takes a little leg-power. But, you’ve got the right idea.” He replied, “Yeah, I can see you use your bike the same way I use my scooter. Good idea.” Now, that was one fun time with a “stranger on the road.” There was no other way to go south but to engage I-35 through Oklahoma. What a drag! To alleviate the boredom, I thought about all the happy faces back in Santa Cruz, and what a grand time it had been revisiting that special part of California. Gosh, it seemed like a far, far away place. I breezed through Oklahoma City, which happens to be one of my least favorite cities outside of Mobile, Alabama. I pulled off at the Holiday Inn exit in Norman, and parked next to a RV for the night. I was just thankful it was cool enough to spend one last night in the comfort of Ol’Blue. As I reposed, I thought about how dependable the old van had been over the past 20 years as the odometer was closing in on 200,000 miles. I took care of her, and she took care of me. It gave me pleasure figuring out approximately how many motel fares I had avoided. I guesstimated it averaged out at close to fifty a year. That rounded off to about 1,000 nights at a compromising $50 a whack. Go figure. All those savings had paid for Ol’ Blue five-fold! Hey, the money was inconsequential. Would I be $50,000 poorer now if I hadn’t fabricated my own “motel-on-wheels”? I don’t think so. It all boiled down to having that feeling of independence. It was simple as that.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I gave a hand salute to the hotel and said one more time, “Thanks again, Holiday Inn.” It was southward on I-35, and as I neared the Red River, there was an exit sign to Lake Murray. That place will always have a special place in my memories. It was back in the Summer of ’56, when Mom, Dad, and I, along with my highschool sweetheart, Joyce, and her parents, all spent a summer weekend of pleasure and innocence. “Yeah,” I thought, “those were the days when we had not a care in the world.”
I was tuned-in to my favorite WBAP, and fortuitously heard a very relevant traffic report: “A major back-up in traffic is now in progress just north of Lewisville on south-bound I-35.” A piece of cake. I hooked a left at Gainesville, and headed east on U.S. 82 through rolling hills and pleasant farmlands to Sherman. From there, it was just a matter of the home-stretch on U.S. 75, a.k.a., North Central Expressway, through the blandness of Plano and Richardson. Oh, how I was missing those memorable days along the Pacific Coast. Boy, did they feel a long, long away, a half a continent away! As I pulled up to Apt. 415, thirty days and 4300 miles later, I patted Ol’ Blue’s dash and thanked her for one more beautiful journey. I just sat there for a few minutes, breathing a sigh of relief and thankfulness for a safe trip. And to think, it all started with an invitation to a wedding, many, many months ago.
William C. Early © 2001