Week 9: Kansas

Locations: Albuquerque, NM; Oakley, KS; St. Louis, MO; Columbus, OH; Hartford, CT; Boston, MA (The locations are fairly arbitrary, but represent (a) places I did something other than sleep, eat, and fill up the car; and (b) places of particular note for other reasons.)


Dates: 10/13/96-10/19/96

Sunday, Rob left for California and I lazed around. Decided to try out a new dialup ISP, EarthLink, since it provides faster access than YVV for not much more money. (Both are among the few ISPs that have local dialups all over the country. A couple of the big long-distance companies do as well, but you have to have a home phone that uses their service or it's prohibitively expensive if it's even possible...)

Late Sunday night, I heard a car stop out on the street, and then several screams. Opened door to investigate, and a young woman on a bicycle scrambled up the front walk. She'd been stopped and accosted by two threatening men in a car who pulled up in front of her and wouldn't let her by. I ended up walking her to her destination, just a few doors down... I was impressed that she'd scared off the potential attackers (and relieved that the situation was resolved before I got there; I'm pretty much useless in an emergency). But an upsetting and scary situation nonetheless (for her far more than for me, of course). This kind of thing shouldn't happen. And of course it's nothing compared to what goes on all the time in some places... Sigh.

As a side note, after offering her a ride I discovered that my car's battery was dead, again. So on Monday I got a jump start and went and bought a new battery. Figured while I was at it I'd have my tires rotated, only it turns out they're very worn down and I should get new ones. On the way to get the battery, I slammed Rob's front door, and the glass bowl around his front porch light leapt to the ground and shattered. I then proceeded to almost lose my checkbook and the directions to where I was going by leaving them on the roof of the car... Meanwhile, the EarthLink connection gave me lots of trouble, and reaching their tech support line would've required waiting on hold for half an hour. I did manage to get a SWAPA 'zine out the door (forgetting it was a mail holiday), and installed and played with the new FrameMaker (which filled up my hard drive), but didn't manage to get packed. A frustrating day.

Tuesday I got new tires, had my car alignment fixed, and did the tourist thing (finally got a dreamcatcher for my car mirror so I can be like everyone else). So I didn't get back to Rob's 'til almost 5, so I decided to stick around one more night. I did get packed, though. Also discovered that EarthLink doesn't suit my purposes as an ISP. Ah, well.

Wednesday I packed, did dishes, ran errands, packed up the car, and finally hit the road around 2. (I may be slow, but at least I'm consistent in my slowness.) Considered visiting Santa Fe, decided to save it for a future trip when I can spend longer there. Headed east on I-40. When I reached Tucumcari (or whatever it's called), I switched to 54, traveling northeast into Texas. I spent most of the time listening to tapes and recording any comments or thoughts that came to me... I've neglected to mention thus far that I brought along a Walkman-sized tape recorder; I clip the little microphone to my seatbelt, and put the recorder on the passenger seat, so whenever I want to record a thought for posterity, I can just reach over and press record and start talking. With all windows closed and the stereo off, the car is quiet enough that the tape is clearly comprehensible on later listening. Some day I'll transcribe some of it...

Avoided hitting what appeared to be a large family of small dogs that ran back and forth across the highway; decided there wasn't much of anything I could do to keep them off the road, so continued on, but with disturbing thoughts about responsibility and helping out beings in need. When I passed a hitchhiker a little later, I started thinking the same sorts of things I thought when I passed them on the way to ABQ: It's too dangerous to pick someone up, it's getting on toward dark, I've got most of my most valuable possessions (both financially and emotionally) in the car and I don't know what I'd do if someone stole them... And I drove on by, as I always do. But then I saw that he was an older guy and looked harmless, and I pulled over a quarter-mile past where he was standing. Backed up along the highway shoulder as he ran forward—ran pretty well for someone of his apparent age.

To make a long story short, I dropped him off in Texhoma. For details, see the sidebar.

Abandoned house, KS
Abandoned house, KS

Spent Wednesday night in Garden City, KS, having skipped the opportunity to see Dorothy Gale's house in Liberal, KS. At the rate I'm skipping tourist attractions, they're gonna take away my traveler's license soon...

Oh, and I stopped at a Stuckey's back in NM just to see if they were as tacky as the parody in Sam & Max. They're not—just ordinary roadside tourist traps.

Wednesday morning I drove to Oakley, KS. I wrote a story in college which I set in that town; I've been looking forward to actually visiting the place and seeing what it's really like. Seems a nice enough small town. I particularly recommend the library (surprisingly spacious and well-stocked given the size of the town) and the attached Fick Fossil Museum (lots of cool stuff, including a mastodon tusk and a turtle skull). I then headed back south to the Monument Rocks, way-cool outcroppings that figured prominently in my story 'cause I believed they were right by the freeway. I'd missed them on the way north 'cause it turns out they're several miles off the freeway, along a couple of rutted dirt roads and beyond several rises. And the sign pointing the way to them was missing and hadn't been replaced.

Monument Rocks, Kansas
Monument Rocks, Kansas
Monument Rocks closeup
Monument Rocks closeup

Then north again, back through Oakley to I-70, which I reached around 4 pm. Proceeded east, despite a strong-winds advisory (I heard a truck had been blown off the road the night before). The primary thing I noticed about Kansas was that it's nowhere near as flat as I'd always believed, at least not in the northern and western parts. I mean, it's fairly flat, but it's not one wide endless prairie; lots of low hills and shallow valleys.

Made it through Kansas City that night, and on to Columbia, MO, where I slept at a Motel 6. The next day, on to St. Louis, where I stopped at the Arch on a whim and ended up spending over an hour. (Also managed to make the garage attendants think I was a terrorist by taking a photo in the garage.) Then I found a Chevrolet dealership and obtained a pair of push-in retainers to reattach a particular piece of cowling to the underside of my car; I suspect (and hope) that the piece being loose was both the cause of the strange noises I'd been hearing and part of why my mileage had dropped to a little over 40 mpg.

St. Louis Arch 1
St. Louis Arch 1
St. Louis Arch 2
St. Louis Arch 2
St. Louis Arch 3
St. Louis Arch 3
Contradictory exit signs
Contradictory exit signs

Crossed the Mississip, drove on through Illinois to Ohio. Reached Columbus around 2 am and found that no motel rooms were available. Headed north on 71; stopped at a rest area for a couple hours' sleep, then at another for a couple more hours' sleep.

Got a cup of coffee, a half-frozen banana (the weather had turned very cold during the night), and a danish from the marvelous half-frozen volunteers at the rest area. I'm stunned that these folks would sit in that cold at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, a few hours north of anywhere, just to provide free coffee and food to travelers. How about a round of applause?

Headed east on I-80 into Pennsylvania; somewhere around the border, it started to rain. By halfway to State College, it was snowing. I took it very slow, and was very glad for the new tires and windshield wipers. Snow (and accompanying slush on the road) alternated with rain until State College, where I stopped to call various Bostonians to let them know my plans. After that rain alternated with more rain. Winds grew heavy enough to push the car around (heavier than they'd been in Kansas, certainly). Deer-crossing signs abounded, as did "bridge may be icy" signs. Then there was the falling-rock zone...

At Scranton (or was it Altoona?), I took 84 northeast. The weather, if anything, grew worse. The terrain became less level. I crossed into New York, where the statewide speed limit is 55 (not that I was going much more than that anyway, given the conditions), and then into Connecticut, where the roadway became a narrow strip between sheer rock walls and steep dropoffs (so I could no longer reassure myself that even if I went off the road it'd only be onto grass or into snowbanks) and the wind grew much gustier. "At least there's no fog," I said to myself. I rounded a corner and saw a sign which read "FOG NEXT 12 MILES."

And then it got dark, as I headed toward Hartford. 84 south of Hartford has no reflectors on the road to help show lane markings. When the bright overhead lights reflect off the cascading water in the road, and the new windshield wiper streaks the glass with every stroke, it can be damn near impossible to determine where one's lane is.

I stopped for food and gas, got back on the freeway, spent twenty minutes on poorly marked surface streets after an accidental exit (from following the dimly visible right-hand lane boundary) with no associated reentry ramp, and finally made it out of that benighted place. Once through Hartford, the reflectors came back and the rain let up ever so slightly.

Crossed into Massachusetts around 8:30, switched to 90 east. Finally arrived at Steve & Bhadrika's place around 10 on Saturday night (barely qualifying this week as part of the Boston section of the trip). I'd been driving for 14 hours, after four hours of sleep preceded by another 12 hours of driving. I'd been in rain (or snow) almost constantly from the OH/PA border to Boston, somewhere around 500 miles, and was thoroughly sick of the weather. (When I was last here, in 10/94, the weather was fabulous.) I nearly headed for the airport to take the first plane back to CA.

But fortunately I was too tired, so I went to sleep, and when I woke up in the morning, I felt a little better.

Movies, Books, etc.

Disappointing considering that it's from the people who gave us Shallow Grave. I didn't like it nearly as much as others seem to; too raw for my tastes, though I have to give it bonus points for a realistic portrayal of drug use.
Dead Calm
The talented leads don't make up for the fact that this is a fairly generic psycho-bad-guy thriller. I'm not impressed.
The Sure Thing
Sweet and funny, but far from the best of Reiner's films; would be better if Cusack's character were a little less of a jerk. Minor but fun roles for Tim Robbins and Lisa Jane ("Big Easy") Persky (showtunes!), but my favorite character hands down is Viveca Lindfors as the English professor.
Powerful but badly lit. Chris Cooper is particularly effective as a union organizer; Sayles does his usual fine job of portraying a fascinating set of characters.
Sweet Italian film about soldiers marooned during WWII; some great (and funny) moments, but nothing terribly special.
The Hot Spot
Sharp script, good acting in this sordid but stylish tale of—well, a wide variety of crimes and antisocial behaviors, but listing them would spoil the surprises. Lots of violence and cheesecake, but what would you expect from a film directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Don Johnson? (Note: soundtrack includes Miles Davis, Taj Mahal, and kd lang... Further note: the author of the novel this is based on also wrote the novel Dead Calm.)
The Lurking Fear (and other stories), H. P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft is pretty tame by modern standards; he spends lots of time talking about Nameless Horrors, then when he finally shows them to us they're just not that horrible. Kinda boring, really; way too much lead-in for way too little payoff.

(Last updated: 21 October 1996.)

2 Responses to “Week 9: Kansas”

  1. Kat

    Your Arch pix are gorgeous and I’m tempted to snag them as wallpaper. Also EEEP on the tired and underslept driving. I was to chide twenty two years ago Jed, even as I admit that twenty two years ago Kat did similarly reckless things.


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