Each year, right around the time when the Rolling Thunder motorcyclists make their way into the nation’s capital, I roll out of town with a bootful of books, migrating back to Burque for the summer. This time I journeyed back with my history buff and computer geek son, who is (as they say) “transitioning” from high school to college. Here are our observations and impressions, taken state by state moving south on Highway 81 to West on I-40.
Virginia
Roadkill: Possums. Lots of possums.

Roadside flowers: Bright red Memorial Day poppies.

Rolling green hills, more military academies and colleges than any other state, and an excellent George Marshall Musuem at (the infamous) VMI that will depress you if you make any comparisons re: rebuilding Europe to “rebuilding” Iraq.

Son requests that we try eating our way home by stopping at Mexican restaurants in each state. I nix the idea, reminding him of the sweet green “guacamole” sauce with sausage that we he ate at a Mexican restaurant in Berlin. We stop for lunch at Chili’s in southwestern Virginia anyway, since our options are fried, fast food, and “southwestern”.

Tennessee
Roadkill: More dead possums. A few dead deer.

Roadside flowers: We see more colors here than in any other state; red and orange and purple and pink and white and yellow. I can’t identify any wildflowers from 75 mph except the poppies; this is the only state posting signs labeling wildflower fields and admonishing people NOT to pick the flowers.

There are scads of crosses in all sizes and just as many churches – the ratio of churches to dead possums is 1:1 until we get to Knoxville and stop counting. From border to border, we see way too many Stars and Bars for our Yankee tastes, and find this deeply unsettling. While feeling drowsy on the Music Highway between Nashville and Memphis, I switch on the radio and hear my deaf friend Michael talking about music on NPR. Son and I agree that Memphis radio plays better music than all of the other major metropolitan areas on our trip combined, even though we can’t get a good signal on the 24 hour Elvis station once we leave town.

Arkansas
Roadkill: Most variety! Raccoons, turtles, possum, deer, armadillo, rabbits, one snake.

Roadside flowers: White yarrow and one largish clump of lovely pink wild climbing roses. Or perhaps these were once domesticated roses blooming on a home site claimed by highway eminent domain?

There are more Christian fundamentalist billboards on I-40 here than any other state, including some Authored By God. Gas stations sell Pork Cracklings with verses from the Hebrew Bible printed on the bag. On Sunday evening, ZZ Top plays Little Rock and the whole state is downtown, thwarting our plan to check out the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum and USS Razorback submarine. Before leaving town on Memorial Day, we stop by Central High School. It looks tranquil today – it is hard to believe it was the site of so much hatred fifty years ago.

Oklahoma
Roadkill: Not so much - a few turtles, raccoons, armadillos, and a lone deer - plus a vintage Zenith television set with rotating knobs and rabbit ears.

Roadside flowers: More yarrow and a stunning-orange-something that looks like a cross between penstemon and Indian paintbrush.

I cannot get the sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s opening verse of “OOOOOOOK- lahoma out of my head for at least an hour. This is especially annoying since NPR is unavailable on this stretch of road and when I try to tune it in I hear sentence snippets that include “most popular praise music’ and “mark of the beast”.

Texas
Roadkill: Bloated armadillo fragments, but no whole carcasses, leading us to speculate they must explode in the heat. Son notes that we’ve seen at least one dead deer in every state.

We approach an interesting cloud formation due west on the horizon, which turns out to be a scary wall cloud parked above the highway during a tornado watch. We follow the sparse traffic (composed solely of vehicles with license plates from places outside Tornado Alley) and drive under the swiftly rotating cloud; son videotapes it for posterity and YouTube. Shortly afterwards, we see the biggest cross in the western hemisphere - seemingly purchased from the same source used by the folks who put up gigantic crosses in Tennessee. Apparently descansos are too small and folkloric for southerners, but after our encounter with the monstrous wallcloud, I begin to understand why size might matter to Texans.

We cheer when we see the first sign marking off 311 miles to Albuquerque, just east of Amarillo. We wonder why Texans say Am-are-RILL-low, guessing at residual resentment per the pummeling at the Alamo. West of Amarillo is very very very flat – so flat that I get a glimmering of what it might feel like to be agoraphobic. Of course, there’s nothing here that remotely resembles the agoura – Socrates wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in Texas.

New Mexico
Roadkill: dos coyotes. No deer.
The terrain begins to look like home about 17 miles east of New Mexico – mesas, buttes, arroyos. My brain switches to Spanish, translating English language road signs, and stumbling on restareas, which I cannot make sense of in Spanish. We get to Tucumcari in time for a late breakfast, look for Del’s with the Guernsey cow on top of the sign, and find out they are closed on Tuesday morning at nine o’clock. Jonesing for green chile breakfast burritos, we cruise down old Route 66, settling on Rubee’s Diner, which isn’t quite Del’s, but it does the trick.

Back in Burque, we head south on I-25, exit on Lead, turn into Barelas, and breathe.

Views: 3

Tags: Arkansas, Barelas, I-40, New_Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, travel

Comment by Eckleburg and Grumblecake on May 28, 2008 at 4:19pm
Welcome home!
Comment by Rita on May 28, 2008 at 6:10pm
Having made that same I-40 road trip starting at I-77 in WV I can feel your pain. It isn't all bad, however, just so very long. Memphis is always a good place to crash for the night, then you get extra time with that Elvis station...Glad to know that you made it home safely.
Comment by Barelas Babe on May 28, 2008 at 9:20pm
Thanks for the comments!

I'm done with the laundry from the trip and smiling now - green tea in my mug, sitting on the front porch, and enjoying the wind and the clouds...mmmmmm...it is great to be home!
Comment by Edith Grove on May 29, 2008 at 9:03am
I'm amazed you didn't see armadillos in Arkansas as well. Little Rock Central High - that's my alma mater. Go Tigers. It was like going to high school in a castle. A castle with metal detectors and security guards. Disney filmed a tv movie about the Little Rock Nine at the school while I was there.
Comment by Barelas Babe on May 29, 2008 at 9:17am
Edith - just checked with my son and we DID see armadillos in Arkansas. So I'll make that correction. :) A Little Rock Nine movie? Any chance you might remember the name of it? I'd love to show it to my kids AND to my ethics class.
Comment by Edith Grove on May 29, 2008 at 9:21am
I like armadillos - they're much cuter alive than on the side of the road, though. The movie is called The Ernest Green Story. I was an extra in it - not that you'd be able to find me based on my DCF profile photo!
Comment by zoodeb on May 30, 2008 at 2:57pm
I loved your recount. I lived in Baltimore for 15 years and made that drive many many times. I can almost see the roadkill before my very eyes. I definitely can picture that endless space throughout Texas, indeed agorophobia-inducing. And hooray! Back to Barelas! Have you discovered the Church of Beethoven yet? A very cool and rewarding event, every Sunday at the Filling Station on 4th St. Hope to meet you there!
Comment by Izquierdo on June 9, 2008 at 8:14pm
I notice you are a fan of road kill. Ever make any roadkill red chile? It's great, the hotter the better, especially if its heavily laced with armadillo. One of your blog posts indicates you are a prof at Gallaudet. Are you in any way involved with sports, specifically basketball, there?
Sounds like not, but I'm just checking. On the Alamo, I think the locals still call it by its original name, Valero. Mission Valero. At least that's what I've been told.

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