Tuesday, July 12, 2011

And I Keep on Trekking Westward

As night falls on Salina, Kansas, I sit nearly 700 miles closer to my first major destination (Colorado Springs) than I did yesterday. I wasn’t planning on getting this far into the Sunflower State today, but I got an earlier-than-expected start. Maybe because I slept in the car, I was up and ready to go this morning at 6:30. 

The sleeping-in-car experiment worked well enough that I’m going to give it another try tonight, although it was not without its hiccups. On the one hand, it stopped raining so that I could open the windows and get some air circulation. On the other hand, the blackout zebra-print fabric my mother used to make window sheets (I guess you could also call them curtains, if you want to be technical) was not only light-proof, but it was breeze- and ventilation-proof, too. By 1:30am, I had had enough of fighting with the 80 degree ambient temperature (Yeah, have you heard? My entire route west is in a record-breaking heat wave! But more on that later…). I just decided I’d put aside my (very small) fear of carbon monoxide in this wide-open parking lot, turn on the engine, and sleep with the AC running. I was asleep in 10 minutes, and no, not because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Over the 6 or so hours that the car ran, it only appeared to use about a gallon and a half of gas, and that was $5 well spent. One part of working at Kutz that I definitely don’t miss is waking up in the Suite in a pool of sweat. Anyway, on to today’s festivities:

But first, America, we need to talk. You have a major corn problem and I worry it may be taking control of you. What is with all this corn? From eastern Ohio yesterday through Kansas City today, I only saw 2 things out my side windows: cornfields, and cornfields lying fallow, preparing to grow more corn. Personally, I don’t think I eat all that much corn, and I can’t imagine that there’s someone out there who’s making up for me and the minimum of 10 normal people I know who aren’t eating their weight in maize. I’m sure this has something to do with farming subsidies and the fact that any substance can be made from corn byproducts (can a seed pod really have byproducts?), but 1,200 miles of the stuff? Maybe this is why every piece of human excrement or vomit produced in this country has chunks of corn in it. Actually, on that note, maybe it’s time for another topic.

Despite the common corn, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas presented the same dichotomy as yesterday’s states. The first two were more of the same – gently-rolling hills covered in ever-growing farms. The morning drive east of the Mississippi was pleasant. At one point I started counting billboards imploring me to accept Jesus (How about we make a deal: you guys accept female priests, homosexuals, and the idea that women have the right to manage their own reproductive care and then we’ll talk. K?), but in the end I found this huge-ass cross and decided the game was over and it had won.

Big-ass cross

Around lunchtime, I arrived at my first mini-destination, the St. Louis Arch. I parked the car ($5 max for a whole day! Hear that, Joslin Diabetes?) and began fighting my way through the 112-degree heat index to the Arch, which, thank you Jesus (hey wait…), was air conditioned. I bought my ticket and got in line for the “tram” to the top. When the doors opened for us to enter the compartments of this inclined-elevator thing, my first reaction was that if Lady Gaga’s egg from the Grammy’s had a bathroom, this is how it would look. With all white with seats that were oddly reminiscent of 1960’s-era futuristic handsomely backlit toilets, I and 4 strangers wedged ourselves inside for the 4-minute ride to the top. Now, I know that Americans have gotten fatter since the Arch was built, but that still doesn’t explain why there was about half a foot less headroom than even the shortest person needed. It’s not like they didn’t have the space, since the thing’s 630 feet tall. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not complaining. After all, if I had just taken an escalator to the top, what kind of story would that have made? Not one that could fill a blog paragraph, I bet.

St. Louis was the turning point of the day. Although I still met no traffic resistance as I crossed the rest of Missouri, the next part of that drive was nowhere near as pleasant as the morning leg. As the car’s thermometer soared past 100, I blasted the air conditioning, to the point where I struggled to hear music and phone calls over the noise of the blower. I was no longer worried about frozen fingers.

Ignore the questionable musc and instead focus on the temperature in the top left corner.
I hit Kansas City, my intended destination for the day, around 5pm, much earlier than I had expected. It didn’t make sense to have dinner and sit in the car for all that time, so I kept going, thinking that maybe I’d make it to Abilene tonight, giving me a head start for tomorrow. Then the procrastinator in me took over. I couldn’t stop in Abilene because if I went more than 18 hours without getting off the Kansas Turnpike, they’d charge me $30 for the toll. But then, if I stopped after getting off the Turnpike I’d still leaving a long drive for tomorrow, negating the extra distance covered today. So I’d get within 600 miles of Colorado Springs, then I’d stop. 600 eventually turned into 500 which turned into whenever The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell was over (so I could listen to Rachel in the luxury of my parked car eating a sandwich).

In the course of making it 1/3 of the way across this giant state, I accomplished one of my big goals for this trip – to see a real-live Great Plains thunderstorm. While I didn’t get any wall clouds or supercell formations, there was a point where I was able to see packets of rain out both sides of the car, as well as the front.

View to the left

View to the right

View straight ahead

Apart from the ADD kid and the thunderstorm junkie in me going a little bit nuts, I was struck by just how expansive and how seemingly empty Kansas is. When the iPod decided to play me Two Step from the Dave Matthews Band Central Park concert – a version which starts with an ad-libbed introduction about how mind-blowing it was to be performing before 100,000 people with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop – that was when I first had the notion that I’m not in Kansas anymore. Well… actually I am. But you know what I mean. The landscape here is different from anything else I’ve seen so far – much more vast and wild than the Midwestern states. I’d been warned by many people that driving through Kansas makes a person liable to die from boredom. Maybe to people who’ve seen the Plains before it’s boring, but that certainly wasn’t my experience here this afternoon.

But so far, I have to say, my favorite part of Kansas is that thankfully, our corny national nightmare seems to have abated.

Now we move onto wheat. 

1 comment: