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.
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
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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.