Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Road Trip, Days 13-15

Day 13

Mount Rushmore is amazing in the same way that an elephant is.  It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the pictures—the first time you see it up close and in person, you are awed.  There is shock in realizing that something whose image is so familiar, so pedestrian, still reeks of majesty.  You stand there and think of presidents and history and why this flawed country and its strident, self-serving, uneducated, small, stupid people are still the world’s best hope, and it’s only later that you realize you didn’t think once about whether the couple whose picture you took were Democrats or Republicans.  And that is what you—I—came away with: that for once, it didn’t matter.

The Black Hills are thick with evergreens and what I think are birch trees: trunks as thin and white as bones beneath gold, syrupy leaves.   The hills dump you into the Buffalo Gap National Grassland and then, in Wyoming, Thunder Basin National Grassland.
It really is an awful lot of grass.
The high point of the afternoon was lunch in Lusk, Wyoming.  The café where we stopped was fully decorated for Christmas: plastic garlands were tacked over beams and doorways, and a lit Christmas tree, topped with a white cowboy hat, winked in the corner.  A sign near our table warned, No Firearms.  A really scary looking guy—gaunt, unsmiling, chinless—sat at the next table watching a TV show about some NASCAR driver’s 12,000 sq. foot house.  He didn’t smile or speak until an older woman came in and said, “Well, Ed, how you doin’?”  Then he beamed.  She sat down and they talked about hunting.  I distinctly heard the word “varmints.”  The cashier told us that next weekend, the town would be mobbed.  “Huntin’ season.”  “What do you hunt?” I asked.  “Lots o’ antelope,” she said.  “They gits in my yard, they bug my horses.  You wanna take ‘em out?  Go right ahead. Fine with me.”

(Right over the South Dakota border, but no hint of Scandinavian lilt.  This is cowboy country.)
Now we are in Casper, which is where Robert went to live after high school.  We found the post office where he worked as a mailman, and his first apartment.  (The post office is next door to the Dick Cheney Federal Building.)

He has had a life experience that is so different from my own.  He moved a thousand miles away from home when he was 17 and has supported himself ever since.  No help from anyone.  I am so proud of him.  And so happy to share Wyoming with him, even though Wyoming is practically my least favorite state in the country.  Cowboys and hunting and Dick Cheney and grass are just not my things.

Day 14

I’m tired.  I want to go home.  I don’t want to work out in a hot little hotel gym.  I don’t want to haul my suitcase and my laptop into the elevator.  I don’t want to eat roadhouse food anymore.
Today was more Wyoming.  Wyoming is too big.  There are no trees, unless you are in Yellowstone, which we are not.  There is no place to have lunch, except Cappy’s, in the town of Rawlins, which wins the award for Saddest, Most Beat-Up Town on this trip.  I will say that I ordered a Philly cheese steak at Cappy’s, which is highly out of character for me, because I have a thing about thinking that nobody outside of Philadelphia knows how to make one.  And it was pretty good.  The people at the table next to us prayed quietly before eating their enchiladas.  It was nice.  I decided in my own head that I was going to pray when my food arrived, but I forgot to.  It is a bad idea to attempt to become devout when you’re hungry.
I would like Wyoming more if I could ride a horse through it.

Now we’re in Salt Lake City, visiting Robert’s sister and her three adult children.  Her two daughters are friendly and giggly and beautiful, like “The Odd Couple”’s Pigeon sisters, only not British.  Dinner at a brewery downtown.  The Temple is hardly visible amid all the new construction.  I miss it.  The city without its severe, pinched silhouette is just any old city on an interstate, lit up with chain-restaurant signs.

Day 15

Salt lies on either side of I-80 in Utah, mounded and white.  Beyond it, the desert extends in all directions, drably beige.

Lunch in Wendover (or, as Robert calls it, Bendover, which is apt).  It’s just over the Nevada border, where all the Utahns go to gamble.  The marquee outside The Nugget advertised a Deer Widow Weekend special outside the Subway where we got sandwiches.  Chippendale dancers were involved.

More desert, although some industrious Nevadan planted lush, yellow-flowered plants along the highway and in the median.  We drove past Pumpernickel Valley and, two hours later, the Rye Patch Dam.  CDs of Itzhak Perlman, the Everly Brothers, and Billie Holiday alleviated silence but not weariness.  Pink mountains ringed the desert, looking like the carved end of a roast.   (I think I wanted to describe the mountains as meat because the valley and the dam made me think of sandwiches.)

Fifty-minute traffic jam outside of Fernley.  Weather : 94 degrees.  Boy, are we tired. 
Home tomorrow, after dinner with my mother.


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