Sunday, October 3, 2010

Road Trip, Days 4-6

Day 4

Seen from the interstate highway system in west Texas:
--Incredible frontage roads that allow one access to nothing and go nowhere.  They just run along the edge of the sparsely traveled interstate and then stop. 
--Abundant, beautiful black-eyed Susans.  (At least, I think they’re black-eyed Susans.  I never know about plants.)
--Just outside of Odessa, the second largest meteor crater in the country (and the sixth largest in the world).  Weird.  Glad we stopped.

--Also outside of Odessa, a billboard reading, Nancy Pelosi—Two Heartbeats Away From the Presidency: This is a Joke, Right?
--Vast oilfields under dark, low clouds.  The air smelled faintly of gasoline.  Surreal, ugly.  You can’t help but wonder what’s in the water.
-- Signs in Midland to The Presidential Library.  (This is a joke, right?)  We drove on.
--Several large wind farms in and around Abilene.  T. Boone Pickens?  There is certainly a lot of wind.

In Abilene, we got off the interstate and wound our way through west Texas back country.  Spectacularly beautiful.  Well-paved two-lane highway through charming Albany and Throckmorton.  Texas drivers are much better behaved than their California counterparts.  Green hills, cottonwood trees—which I only know because of a sign for Cottonwood Road—happy cows, hay bales.  Huge horseflies, but otherwise, really idyllic.

And then, quite accidentally, we drove into the next little town and decided to stop at the Dairy Queen for a Blizzard.  It was hot, so we parked behind the sandstone (maybe?  No better with rocks than plants) courthouse and got out of the car to sit on a bench.  I wandered over to a War Veterans Memorial and was taking a picture when I noticed a book store, Booked Up #4. Puzzled, I crossed the street.

I have never seen a bookstore like this in my life (across the street from the public library!).  Enormous.  Rows and rows of 12-foot-high shelves packed with used books—some leather-bound, some just old—extending the full length of the very long space.  I was the only person in the store; there were no other patrons, nobody at the front table, behind which a sign directed you to “Bring your purchases to Booked Up #1, on the other side of the courthouse.”  I browsed a little, but truthfully, I was afraid that if I started, I’d never stop. I felt like a soap bubble on the edge of an open drain, about to be sucked away.  I do remember a few random books: a compilation of ancient Turkish texts, an examination of 1950s Broadway musicals, and the autobiography of Mary Pickford.

I left the store and went back to Robert, who was still sitting under the tree, not feeling well.  “Where the hell are we?” I asked, and in the next breath said, “I could live here.”

It turns out that we were in Archer City, Texas, home to one of the premier rare and antiquarian book collections in the world, owned by the town’s most famous native, Larry McMurtry.  Here’s one of the articles I found online:

Now, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy something.  But I’m so glad I stumbled on the town.  I don’t think I will ever forget that store.
This is why it pays to take the back roads.  And stop for Blizzards.
The only other thing I have to report is that on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, I noticed a turnoff for Anadarko.  And it occurred to me that in Saving Grace (the recently wrapped TV series starring Holly Hunter), the lead character’s name is Grace Anadarko.  Maybe a geographical joke?

Still reeling from Booked Up.  Now watching the Forty-niners/Saints game.  One minute 20 seconds left.  Robert may have a stroke.

Day 5

Oklahoma City’s National Memorial is located downtown, near other Federal office buildings.  It’s a moving, quiet, heartbreaking place.  Two tall, black, stone (marble?  Jeez.  Not sure) arches on either end of a shallow, rectangular reflecting pool.  Inscribed on one arch: 9:01; on the other: 9:03.  The attack was at 9:02; the inscriptions refer to our last moment of innocence and our first moment of grief and, ultimately, healing.  Tiered stone benches on a grassy rise overlook one side of the pool.  On the other: 168 chairs, each bearing the name of a victim.  Nineteen chairs bear the names of children.

It is shocking to remember the day of the attack, how naïve we were, how ignorant of what was coming.  Sickening to realize that fifteen years later, we are still a nation where zealots and freaks among us can procure weapons easily and with impunity, under the guise of exercising constitutional rights.  As Chad Ochocinco says, Child, please.

Onward, north.  Kansas interstate is bordered by yellow flowers (that are not black-eyed Susans) and lush prairies.  The Flint Hills are hills in the same way that I am a blonde.  If it were snowy and you tried to ski on them, you would come to a complete stop halfway down.  The gentlest of slopes.  Grasses that shimmer in the wind.  Vast and nearly treeless beauty ornamented with the occasional billboard: ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST AS YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR AND REPENT Or You Will Regret It.

You know you’re not in California when you are listening to a radio station broadcasting Walter Brennan singing about a mule.

Now in Kansas City’s Westport district, a Midwestern version of Noe Valley.  A tense moment at the front desk of the hotel while I waited in line behind a group of five middle-age men to check in.  One of them graciously allowed me to go ahead of them, and when I said thank-you, there was quite a bit of talk about me buying them dinner and them drinking vast amounts of beer and Joe needing to be careful because “uh oh, she’s got a camera!”  Very relieved when Robert came in with the suitcases.

Later, we walked down the street to the Jerusalem Cafe.  I meant to have fried chicken or a steak in Kansas City, but frankly, I’m sick of meat.   Yummy gyros on a balmy, breezy night.

And now it’s almost midnight.  Robert is sleeping.  Outside our window, the night is yellow with parking-lot light and occasional flashes of lightning.  The thunder cracks and roars, and the rain on the window is sizzling like something roasting on a spit.  I have never known a man who sleeps like this.

Day 6

Drove through the Kansas City neighborhood where Mr. and Mrs. Bridge lived (in the Evan Connell novels Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge, two of the most significant books I read growing up).  Fun to see Ward Parkway and signs to the Plaza.  Then found Swope Parkway and drove to a more modest section of town, where Robert spent summers at his grandmother’s.  The house is still standing, although he says it looks smaller.  His grandmother was the light of his young life: the kind of grandmother who made hot breakfasts for fifteen people, had a freezer full of popsicles that could be eaten whenever you wanted one, and baked the best lemon meringue pie he has ever eaten.  (His older brother used to beg Grandma to make “one of those women meringue pies” when he was little.)

Left leafy Kansas City and drove south.  Narrowly missed running over a tortoise crossing the highway just outside of Harrisonville.  Stopped at an Amish store with “FUDGE” painted on the wall facing the highway in Rich Hill.  (Honestly, all any roadside business needs to do is advertise “fudge” and I will pull over.)  As we parked, two ladies in drab-but-patterned street clothes and black snoods were leaving.  Inside, we found locally made jewelry, jars of locally made chow-chow, eggs in pickled beets, mustard eggs, eggs in pickled jalapenos, butter “made from first cream,”  bottles of traditional Amish wedding ciders, and various kinds of candy and nuts.  We bought honey-roasted pecans, a taffy-like candy called Mary Janes (Robert loved them as a kid), and homemade peanut-butter fudge.  Passed on the pickled eggs, but with regret.

In Joplin, we picked up Interstate 44 heading east.  I’ve just finished a manuscript that takes place in a mythical town between Joplin and Springfield, and I wanted to check out the town of Mount Vernon, whose chamber of commerce website and real estate listings were useful to me as I researched the Ozark area.

Mount Vernon is home to Turner’s Calico Corner, a general store selling candy, fabric, notions, country kitsch, religious paraphernalia (passages from the Bible ran on the electronic neon crawl in the front window), homemade fudge (which I nobly resisted, still so full of Amish fudge that I could barely walk), and country/cutesy signs (“Chocolate, men, and wine are all better when they’re rich”).  I bought something called “MeeMaw’s Recipes” just so I could talk to the woman at the counter to hear her accent.  Then we went to the Red Barn and Grill.  Robert had a huge slice of lemon meringue pie (not as good as his grandma’s, but pretty close); I had a ham and cheese sandwich.  More talking to the waitress, so I could get the accent right.  Not quite southern, but not California-newscaster, either.

Now we are holed up in Springfield.  Too fat to eat a real dinner, but I had a salad downstairs.  Our waitress was a cranky woman in her seventies who lived in Santee, California for many years.  “Do you like it in Springfield?” I asked.  “I hate the winters,” she said, which made me think we were smart to plan this trip for September.

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