Remembering the road, day 19

Day 19

Today we fled New Mexico and sped through the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, stopping for the night in Missouri, a couple hours short of St. Louis.

We’ve mostly driving along I-40 which allows us to bypass the wildfires near I-70, but it also means we have to cut back north if for no other reason than I-40 is stopped at the Mississippi thanks to the barge that knocked out a bridge there. Besides, our destination is north of here, so that’s a good reason too.

Driving along I-40 means that we were frequently coming into contact with the history Route 66, the first highway to the West. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles (I think), Route 66 boasts many diners and motels, and various tourist traps to lure drivers into pulling over for a rest and a laugh.

In north Texas we streaked past the Cadillac Ranch where a series of Cadillacs are partly buried on end so that they appear to be growing from the ground. Shortly past that is the World’s Largest Cross (in the West). And indeed it is a big cross, surrounded by many other smaller crosses. It crossed my mind that the proprieters of the cross might become cross if someone were to write their name on the cross with a Cross pen. Perhaps that’s an issue that could be debated on Crossfire or become a plot point on Crossing Jordan.

Hours later we stopped in Elk City, OK, at another Roadfood eatery: Billie’s. Billy is the owner and cook. His specialty: onion burgers. Although I detest onions with every fiber of my being, I ordered a King Size burger along with fries and shake. After scraping off most of the onions, I quite enjoyed the burger, along with the enormous shake and the fries. Billy, meanwhile, let the phone ring while he made our order and the orders of people who came in after us and pulled up to Billy’s drive-through.

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Once things cooled off a bit, we had Billy sign our book and asked him about his business. He said that for 42 years he ran a dry cleaner across the parking lot, but then OSHA cracked down on him, so he started up the burger joint instead. I don’t know what he did to get OSHA on his case, but with double-size shakes and meaty fries, he gets my support.

While we ate, I looked through the Elk City Eagle, the local paper in town. For 50 cents you get 8 pages filled with one or two locally reported stories, plenty of AP news, Family Circus, Marmaduke, the Bible Quote of the day, a page of around-the-town photos, and classified notices, such as “Guinea Pigs, $30 each.”

Once we finished our meals, we bade farewell to Billy and continued east through Oklahoma. The scenery in Oklahoma isn’t anything to sneeze at, but, in all honesty, it just isn’t as interesting as high snow-capped mountains, rippling rocky canyons, or lengthy vistas of natural beauty. No, it’s mostly rolling hills of small trees and bushes dotted with billboards, fast food restaurants, plain houses, and warehouse-style shopping depots.

So, to pass the time we’re playing games, listening to audio books and music, and trying to find amusement in the billboards. For example, at an Oklahoma toll station, the sign warned of a $103 fine. Who comes up with numbers like these? Was this debated in the state legislature? “I propose a fine of $100!” “One hundred dollars, that’s not nearly enough. I demand $103!” “Here here!”

Another good sign announced free 72-ounce steaks. What’s that? A free 72-ounce steak? Absolutely! You just have to eat the whole thing within some time limit and if you don’t finish it, you have to pay for it. By the way, how big is a 72-ounce steak? That’s four and half pounds, baby!

My nephew Truman is again with us today and he’s spent much of the drive planning our evening accommodations. By plotting out our course and our hourly progress, he has figured out where we will be likely to be when we’re ready to stop driving. Then we crosschecks that with a AAA book listing hotels and motels. By reading up on the options and looking at alternative locations he picks out a clean, inexpensive place to bed down for the night and have a free continental breakfast when we awake. He definitely has a future as a travel agent, or a NASA engineer.

I’m particularly enjoying the drive back as we reenter the land of humidity and low altitude, meaning I can breathe again. I had thought the dry air of the West would help me to breathe easy, but that proved to be wrong. How good it is to be able to breathe. Ahhh…

Tonight, as we drove through Missouri, we noticed that the gas gauge was getting a little low. Our goal was to get to Rolla, MO, and when we were about 120 miles away, we had less than 1/4 of a tank. Near midnight, when we got about 80 miles away, the light came on. When we approached the 60-mile barrier, Cyn encouraged me to get gas. Twenty miles later, we pulled into a gas station that was closed. When we were just 25 miles away, I assured Cyn that I was pretty sure we could make it to Rolla. We turned the A/C off. We hoped and prayed. Then a glowing neon sign beckoned us to pull over and gas up. Reluctantly, I did so, and Cynthia sighed a huge sigh of relief. Our tank holds 15 or so gallons and the pump pushed in 14.2 gallons. We had about 20 miles left to Rolla. It would have been close, but now we’ll never know.

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