Monday, April 15, 2013

Come Ride... Day 2

With no alarm going off, I slept in to the ripe old hour of 6:47 AM. It was enough.

Motel breakfast was the usual disappointment. How do I carb thee? Let me count the ways.... 2 processed dried cereals, sugar, orange juice, waffles, toast & jelly, powdered and cinnamon sugared donuts, mini muffins with frosting - or were they cupcakes? Another trip to Mickey D’s for my usual. Gas was reasonable at $3.35, but the station caught the strong south wind and the mostly empty trash can tried to make its escape into the next county, getting as far as obstructing traffic. At least it wasn’t boring.

The interstate morphs into tollway from Emporia to nearly the OK border. There are three center facilities islands during that stretch, and I visited all of them. Make a note: other than the one neatest OK, the gas prices are actually cheaper than in Emporia. I’d have thought otherwise, captive audience and all that.

The restrooms are great. They are also a place for some interesting conversations, however brief. One mother of two was commenting on having to push the soap dispenser. The toilets flushed automatically, the water ran automatically, so her expectations were set for this too. Nope. However, I reassured her that the automatic hand wrinklers were fully functional, inserting my clean hands underneath to watch the show. Bless Xlerators! I have no patience anymore for the old standby slow dryers. I thought about trying to wet down my hair again to tame it, but the wind was still as strong between me and the car as it was when it gave my damp hair its stir fried style earlier. At least it was warm, about 54.

Yesterday’s green grass gave way to mostly dead and dried, except for low spots. This area is called Flint Hills (they had a sign) and is rolling and eroded. Trees are spare, again found in low spots around even temporary water. A few ponds had been formed by building an earthen dike over a channel. As the miles rolled by I could envision herds of bison and plains horsemen hunting them centuries past. Would bison have fallen and been injured running where the earth dropped off or were those spots more an artifact of the destruction to habitat made by cattle? Was it always this dry, notwithstanding last year’s drought, or is climate change contributing to its inhospitibility?

The sole exit not requiring payment to return to the tollway was the site of pens and chutes for loading cattle for transport. Having to pay to get to it, though, must have made it very popular with the truckers.

The road wandered all over this landscape, not necessarily where I’d think to place it.  Why not between hills at some locations rather than over the tops? The boredom of long drives gives way to imaginings like conversations between the engineer attempting to lay the best route and whoever had the funds to demand this path instead. One high point provided a view way in the distance of rocky outcroppings on the horizon, a tease of what was to come later, after a whole lot of Texas, to name one state, to get through first. As the road wandered, the wind also tried to push me all over in (mostly) my lane. With my zigging while the road zagged, we mostly made out OK.

El Dorado Lake is a surprise the first time you view it. Obviously somebody dammed a really big-for-Kansas river. It’s chock full of dead snags, from stump to full tree height, remnants of what lived there before flooding. Water levels now show drought, with shorelines deeply recessed and numerous sandbar islands showing where a few years ago was just water. One of these way back from the road sported a huge flock of pelicans, likely grounded by the wind. It was well past morning feeding time.

I could suggest a few changes to the signs in the area. “Whitewater River” is highly optimistic, on both counts. How about Dry Mud Crick? El Dorado itself was nothing like a city of gold, unless you count black gold. Pumpers were busy all through the area. Maybe we should change the signs to El Dorado Nigre?

The landscape started greening up south of there. Wichita showed that large amounts of trees can actually survive in Kansas. Who knew? About half of them were beginning to leaf out. And pines and cedars were added to the mix.

Another note to self: the toll for that stretch has been raised. Starting last February, it went from $6 to $6.75 for a car. It’s still worth it, though. Gas prices at the first station past the OK border are low, then the rest are higher than KS. Weird.

I hit Oklahoma at 9:45. Two things stood out. First was that I was again in a state that believed in wind farms. (Why not Kansas? They proved they have just as much wind.) Second, trees were showing off purple flowers. I had no idea what they were, but one of those restroom conversations gave the answer. I’d stopped for gas in OK City. While washing hands, I asked the middle aged woman next to me if she was a local. She cited the town she was from. I’m really good at looking as puzzled and stupid - uh, uninformed - as I am, so she went on to explain it was near Tulsa. I told her that was local enough, and asked what the purple flowering trees were? Redbuds, the state tree. She suggested I should enjoy them as the blooms would only be around another week. I told her I had been, and thanked her for the info.

Even with short sleeves, the AC had been turned on by 10:25. Just another reason for bad gas mileage, adding to the 70-75 mph speed limits for guzzling. Not that I was going to turn the AC off to save money. Occasionally yes, when it got chilly, it’d go off a few minutes until it was too warm again. Something to do. Like counting Wendy's.

You haven’t noticed any mention of Wendy’s yet. That’s because there haven’t been any signs. As far as I can tell, OK has 1, located in OK City after you hit I-40 heading west, at exit 136. And to save you all the breathless wait, Texas has 1 also, in Amarillo at exit 67, where there’s also a Phillips 66 I like to stop at because it has the cheapest prices in the state at, today $3.27. So far only New Mexico has prices above $3.40, but they still average cheaper then home where Shafer has the best price for Minnesota I’ve found at $3.43. Last week I saw anywhere up to $3.65. What’s up with that, Minnesota? What makes us so special?

So, westbound at 11:30 for the rest of the day. My first time of the year in short sleeves and even through the glass I’m picking up sunburn. After a couple hours I notice the pink tint and wind up with an unfolded napkin draped over that arm, cumbersome as it gets for driving. The hands are fine, exposed year round, but this sun is fierce for a half-Scandinavian  who just left snow country. Another thing I forgot to pack: sunscreen. I realized this morning that I also forgot my body powder. 2 dozen cans scattered between Minnesota and Arizona and not one in the car. Why 2 dozen? I can only find my brand online, and apparently hit the buy button twice. It’s cheap enough and I’ll use it, but each location has an actual drawer full. Q-tips came up on the short list as well, but I did pack fairly carelessly, except for the pottery.

The best part of being on I-40 through OK is a pair of tourist traps called Cherokee Trading Post. I try to stop every trip, and sometimes even buy something. Back when I was driving a car down or back for my folks while they flew, I found them. It's become a tradition. Pottery-wise, they have all the usual junk for the tourists. But behind the locked glass is the real deal, traditional styled pueblo pottery. Before I got that far today I saw the Navajo pitch pots. Mine, a wedding vase with corn appliques, is more detailed than those offered here. Their corn is barely three-dimensional.

The building layout is like a sea star with the locked case behind the central check-out at the first one, mile 108. Looking over the selections, I recognized the work of a couple potters, aided of course by a sign giving the artist’s name. I have his work, love it, not interested in more. But a couple things are on my short must-have-someday list, in terms of design. One was a darling pot the size of a coffee mug with the deer-in-its-house design. Unfortunately the price tag was $900. I couldn’t even afford to ask the artist’s name. Another jug with a finger loop handle had the Laguna rounded-tailfeather bird - parrot -I’ve been looking for. $400. I thanked the clerk for showing me the pots. Another trip, perhaps. More likely another potter in another setting without quite the overhead.

While at that exit, I decided to try the Indian Trading Post on the other side of the freeway. I never had. Walking in, their selection of tourist pottery is right by the door. A couple styles were new to me and I looked them over. One piece caught my eye, at a sign labeled Navajo Etched Pottery. This one was a bear effigy, the standard curved back, in turquoise with etched places showing red clay, meaning copper colored. The pattern was a bunch of Mimbres fish, and the price only $33. Turning it over, wondering who the Navajo potter was, it declared its source to be Acoma Pueblo. It stayed in the store that couldn’t even properly label its pottery. While I still like it, the place just turned me off on it. I did wander to be back wall where their locked cases were. A couple pieces impressed me, including a tiny seed pot, and I do mean tiny! The clerk saw my interest and informed me that these were the owner’s personal collection. Oh well.

The second CTP is at exit 71. I though I’d try that as well. The building also features a mocassin and boot store, which formerly took up 2/3 of the floor space. Now when you walk in, the beams are exposed but a sign points you to the left saying Gift Shop Open. That was what I wanted anyway. The good stuff had caught my eye as I parked, displayed at the front window, so I didn’t waste any time hunting around. Two pots caught my eye. First, a huge wedding vase with my wanted bird pattern ($300), and at the other end, something that looked suspiciously familiar. One potter I’ve seen so far in all my research and eBay shopping has two unique characteristics in her pottery: a yellow slip, as opposed to tan, red, white, black or brown, and a narrow neck with a stopper, topped off by a stylized turtle. Could this be?

Elizabeth Medina! I longed for one of her pots, watched one for a while on eBay. Way out of my league. Well, till now. Her pot sits in the back of my car, in an ugly box looking like just another piece of junk, exactly the way I want it. And the price? Nevermind. I’ll just say it’s not the most expensive pot in my collection. Just close.

While basking in the euphoria, I called Motel 6 and booked a room in Albuquerque for the night. $33 plus tax, still totaling under $40. Time to be cheap. I’ve done my splurge. Time to roll!

Texas was next. Like Thelma and Louise, I’d like to avoid it.  It’s flat, boring. Most trips I arrange to go through at night. In the dark you don’t lose any of its charm. But this wasn’t night. Very minimal entertainment is provided. The eastern end was roadkill central. There were several incarnations of Bambi in various stages of fresh, bloat, and dessication. I also noted coyote, possum, and my first ever real live (well, recently anyway) armadillo! At some point along 40 you notice a certain familiarity in the county line signs. Gray. Donley. Gray. Donley. Gray. Donley. Gray. Donley.  The road didn’t seem that crooked. What on earth are those county borders like? Somebody have a turf war? Groom has an old water tower right next to the road, tilted like the next puff of wind will knock it over. The northern legs of it are off the ground. Good thing it’s a south wind. However, it’s been this way for years, and I could see no reason it hadn’t fallen yet. Maybe there’s nobody to sue as an incentive to take it down before it does crash on somebody. Look for it just before you get to the monster white cross you can see from miles away. Texans!

It’s hard to find something good to say about Texas, but here’s a few.  Amarillo was where I picked up my Wendy’s chili for supper. It was early, but I’d let it cool enough to pour in my mouth straight from the cup when it was eating time. From just west of Amarillo to mile 29 a huge wind farm extends across the landscape on the north sice of 40. At mile 16 the ground suddenly falls away in front of you and you descent into some actual terrain! New Mexico spiled over the border just a tad. I’m happy to be crossing at the panhandle, because the best thing of all is seeing it in your rear view mirror!

Apparently New Mexico understands how we feel. It’s the only place I’ve seen a humungous yellow banner across the freeway welcoming us to a different state! The Land of Enchantment! And still 207 miles to go before bed! Damn good thing I’m used to this! It’s 5:52, now 4:52 with the time zone change. 1145 trip miles so far, 1356 by nightfall. If you think the numbers don’t quite add up, there’s a reason. There was just this tiny little snafu at the end.

But that was later. Before getting to Albuquerque, I had to drive west for miles and miles directly into the sum. I mean it was setting just over the end of the road. I already had sunglasses on and the visor down, and held my hand up for as long as I could to provide additional screening. Each time the eyelids closed huge spots glowed back at me from retinal fatigue. That's the fancy name. I just think of it as blindness. I will never understand how other drivers managed it. I suddenly found myself with a way off the freeway and took it. I had no idea where I was headed. Everything that wasn't road was black. No signs were readable. Where I ended was a parking pull-off where semis spend the night for their enforced down time. It was empty other than for a dumpster. I parked crosswise, finally not looking at the sun. While waiting for it to finish setting I enjoyed a snack of peanut butter and crackers.

If you've never been to Albuquerque from the east, the approach is very deceptive. It looks like a low ridge is ahead of you. You know there's a pass there - there has to be, right? - but the road starts winding and you can't quite decide which low spot might be where you're heading. After Moriarty the road starts heading down, and down, and somehow you're passing on the south side of a mountain. Your downward trek keeps going and going, through towns and open spaces, until finally a city surrounds you. You're still heading down.

In my case, my exit comes before I reach bottom. If this were daylight and I were heading straight through, I could turn around after starting the long climb up from the river valley and see just how high a mountain that "little ridge" actually is. It delighted me my first trek through.

But this time I have a Motel 6 to find. My only instructions were the name of the exit and the reassuring words that "you can see it from the freeway." Once in the exit lane for my stop, I do see the sign. My lane keeps going and keeps going after that until the actual exit. I do a u-turn a block over and head back up the hill. I keep going and going and going - I knew it was there! -until finally I wonder just how I managed to miss it. I need gas anyway, and stop for directions with my fill. I'm just two blocks away!

When I start checking in, the desk clerk asks me if I was given a confirmation number. It happens I wasn't. She couldn't find it under my name. Thinking it was a truly stupid question, I asked just how many hotels that branch had for that exit?

It turns out there are two. She gave me directions to the other, which, by the way, you can't see from the freeway. (You got that, voice on the other end of the 800 number?) She also explained that this wasn't the only location with two so close, only in the other case they were across the street from each other. And this has happened before, a fact which doesn't make me feel less stupid for some reason. But that's part of the reason for the mileage not adding up in real life to what the signs claim.

It was nice enough. Wi Fi? Sure, for an extra $3. For some reason my inner cheapskate picks that moment to kick in again and I decline paying for it. I don't know where it was when I was buying Elizabeth Medina, but it was alive and well now! At any rate, I can type this as ordinary word processing and copy-paste it to the blog. I proceed to do that until my eyelids turn to sandpaper, around 11:00, and turn in.

The pillows are a pair of pancakes. I can make do with them, if that were the only issue. But the walls are paper-thin, and I have some very interesting neighbors. The ones who parked their car outside my door like to play with the electronic door lock. Beep Beep. Every ten minutes or so, Beep Beep. Beep Beep. Somebody else likes to run up and down the sidewalk. Several doors down there's a singer. Not a good one, just enthusiastic. Upstairs a pair of dogs break out in loud snarling-barking fits every so often. It's accompanied by the yelling lady. I can't hear all of what she's yelling, but at one point she's challenging somebody to just go do it then, whatever "it" is. Over and over. She's obviously talking to another person, but the other partner in the argument is much quieter. They all settle down for a few minutes, and either she or the dogs start in again. One of the dogs sounds like a little one, the other full sized and deep throated. Eventually I just want to add my suggestion to the ruckus: why don't you just feed the little dog to the big one and they'll both shut up!

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