Week TWO

There are cows everywhere.
An array. It's very large.
Ted Nugent? Seriously?
Also... "United Sportsman?" Sportsman? United with what?

Day 8. Ate breakfast at the Truck Stop Cafe on old Route 66. Drove through Petrified Forest National Park, where the brochure warns that local animals "may carry bubonic plague, the hanta virus, or rabies." Forest okay, but has real trouble measuring up to the bar set by Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Stopped for gas in Datil, New Mexico, where the sticker above the restroom reads: "Due to a shortage of paper and wood products, please wipe your a** on a spotted owl." Yes, the s's are actually marked out on the sticker. Visited the Very Large Array, 27 satellites 82 feet in diameter each. The VLA site is an open range, and a baby cow walked in front of our car; it's also surrounded by what looks to be a herd of pronghorn antelope. The visitor center sells postcards on the honor system– just put your money in the box when you take a card.

Stayed in Socorro, New Mexico, at the Sands Hotel, the worst hotel I have ever been in. You know how when you built a shower, you carefully cut holes in the tile for the shower knobs, run the pipes through the holes, then carefully seal around them with silicon before putting the knobs on the pipes? Not at the Sands. At the Sands, you just smash a hole in the tile with a ball-peen hammer and stick the whole shower knob through it. At the Sands, the window over the shower is boarded up, but has a moldy brown curtain anyway. The curtain hangs from a length of yellow electrical wire. The floor mat is made of non-absorbant paper. The mattress firmness is Flinstonesque. The "pillows" are just smaller, harder mattresses. And your evening entertainment is thoughtfully provided by the local inbred delinquents drag-racing just outside. If you decide to stay in an unknown hotel that isn't a national chain or AAA-approved, I seriously recommend you ask to see the room before you give them your credit card information. Sometimes "motel" is just code for "seedy dump where itinerant drunks go to die on the bathroom floor." This is a hotel fit for El Paso.

The worst place on earth. [Note: This caption was written before we'd been to St. Louis. —Ed.]
Yes, that's an add for laser eye surgery, right there under "Paul's Pet Grooming" and across from "Foxy's."
El Paso would like you to have some clam juice with your tequila.

At 11:00 on a Friday morning in Socorro, New Mexico, there are more people drinking in the bar of the El Camino Cafe than there are sitting in the non-smoking section. We took the interstate down to southern New Mexico (through Truth or Consequences– a town fairly unremarkable for anything but its name– but do visit Ken Merrick's pottery store when in you're in T or C!), and on to Las Cruces. Then, like a couple of idiots, we decided to go check out El Paso, Texas, as if being close to Texas somehow makes going there a good idea. The words "festering cesspool" doesn't do justice to this terrifying crime zone of urban failure. I had hoped to take a picture of the Rio Grande, but had to give up in disgust because of the uberslum that El Paso has managed to build all around it. After failing to find a restaurant in town that didn't have barred windows, we finally fled to the suburbs– and still ended up having dinner in a steakhouse across the street from a gentlemen's club ("All nude 11am to 4am") called Foxy's. By the way, f you're nearsighted, short on cash, and in El Paso, you'll be happy to know that you can get laser eye surgery at the strip mall across from Foxy's for only $1900. Our waiter was quite nice, but for some reason ended everything he said with "okay?" whether it was contextually appropriate or not. If you ever have to go to El Paso to say, buy a kidney from a man in an alley, I recommend you try Yung's Asian Bistro off the Hunter exit. We didn't eat there, but it looked really nice, and it must be hard to push high-class Asian cuisine in El Passhole.

On the other hand, Las Cruces seemed like a lovely place, and the Century 21 Motel was clean, comfortable and very reasonably priced; also, it's right next to a 24-hour Whattaburger. Highly recommended for the traveller on a budget when staying the the Las Cruces area.

White! Bright! Bright white! Ow!
Who wouldn't?

Having reached the low point of our trip early on (see: El Paso), we were free to relax and enjoy the next eleven weeks. It was a lovely day in Las Cruces, the sun was shining, the humidity was in the single digits, and we joined every single other person in Las Cruces at the local Denny's for breakfast. By this time, both my skin and my lungs were allergic to the heat and the sun, so I spent most of the day teetering on the brink of dying of exposure. Naturally, our next stop was in the most blinding desert in the country: White Sands, New Mexico. And when they say white, they mean white. You could take your sunglasses off, but only at the risk that your eyeballs would shoot straight backward, through your pituitary gland, in a frantic attempt at self-preservation. It's very very lovely there, though; the sand dunes are like huge snowdrifts shining in the desert sun. (Interesting note: Route 70 between Las Cruces and White Sands is also the Bataan Memorial Highway- as in Bataan Death March.) White Sands draws an interesting crowd; one big, beefy twenty-something fellow at the visitor center had a pierced neck. Yes, I said neck. Back of the neck, about the fourth vertebra. Now that's style. We moved on and had lunch in Alamogordo, at the Pizza Mill & Sub Factory, where Dirk scored 711,000,000 points on the Attack from Mars pinball machine. Further east, Route 70 turned into the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, where we passed signs that said things like "Good Junk" (at a junkyard) and "Try Our Fried Chicken" (on a dilapidated and abandon roadside shack). We even passed a field of wild turkeys (note to our Alpha Sig friends: there's an actual bird by that name- not just a drink). We arrived in Roswell, New Mexico just in time, and got one of the last three sanitary hotel rooms in town. We could have stayed at the Zuni Hotel with the crazy Falun Gong lady and her Amazing Bathroom of Filth and Disease, but we kept looking and got lucky. Seems that Memorial Day weekend is a tough time to get a hotel, even in Roswell. It was all worthwhile when we got to dinner, though, because Bobby and Gilbert, the mariachi guys at Tia Juana's Mexican Cafe, sang "Margaritaville."

In Roswell, not only do the street lamps have alien eyes, they glow green!
Sure, Texas has a lot of land– but there's nothing on it.
At the Cadillac Ranch with our new biker friends.
Yes they do.
When I have time, I'm going to put up a page full of things you never see on the Peninsula, so all our Bay Area friends can experience them. One of those things will be the Church's Chicken sign advertising "Livers & Gizzards 6/$1.99". When in Roswell, you can visit the UFO Museum (relatively high-budget, lots of factual information about the Roswell incident), or you can visit the UFO Research Center (one old guy with a voice like Tom Waits selling T-shirts and paranoia). Try both, see which one you like. It was while we were at the Research Center that Mr. Waits said to us, "Hey, d'ya hear 'bout that bridge?" He had the news on the television, which was going on about a barge destroying the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River. Naturally, my first thoughts were, "Oh my god! That's terrible! Simply awful! OH CRAP! We're supposed to take I-40 tomorrow!" Well, turns out our route was going to leave I-40 in Oklahoma City regardless, so, the show goes on. Still, that sucks for the people on the bridge. You just don't expect something like that. We made some small purchases at the UFO Museum gift store, where I was charmed to notice a boy of approximately 3 to 4 years old, standing next to his mother and clutching a disposable box knife, complete with its full complement of snap-off disposable razor tips. There's a kid destined to make it to adulthood. Leaving Roswell, we hit our first midwestern thunderstorm, but it cleared up soon enough. As we were driving, I couldn't help but notice New Mexico's preponderance of "Package Store & Lounge" places. See, around there, "package" is apparently another word for "booze." So the next time you're in a New Mexico bar and notice a man drinking an especially golden, frothy beer, just sidle up next to him and say, "Hey man, nice package." He is sure to appreciate your friendly gesture.

Amarillo, Texas. Someone has been known to say that Amarillo is a pit. I have some friendly advice: Emily, whatever you do, stay away from El Paso. Amarillo is a heavenly golden dream come to Earth compared to El Paso. It has self-esteem issues, sure: even in the Amarillo hotels, all the tourist brochures are about Oklahoma City. But otherwise, a fine if unremarkable middle-America place. Texas as a whole, now... well, as I write this, I've been to eleven states in two weeks, and Texas is still the only state that has signs on its (very badly marked) highway on-ramps notifying people that "animal-drawn vehicles" are not allowed on the freeway. It is also the only place I have yet been with large notices in every restaurant warning people not to carry unlicensed guns. Carry all the firepower you like, just make sure you have a license. We went to the Cadillac Ranch, which is a collection of 10 Caddies from the 1950's and 60's buried nose-down up to their (missing) windshields in a field outside Amarillo. The point of the ranch is to spray paint on them (yes, it is not only allowed but encouraged), so a certain Bay Area rock band I know is getting a little north Texas publicity now. (I also got fluorescent green spray paint all over my spray-painting finger, and a week later it's still coming off.) The Cadillac Ranch seems to be quite big with travelling bikers, and we met the nicest group of Harley Davidson (of the Bergen County, New Jersey chapter) riders. Dirk took their picture for them, and they were able to recommend "the best pizza in New York" (John's on Bleecker Street). They had ridden all the way from New Jersey, on their way to the West Coast; we'd come from California headed for the Atlantic; and there we met, smack in the middle of the country, on a smelly piece of farmland, in front of ten half-buried Cadillacs. What a world.

This work of art was seen at the Elk City, Oklahoma, Farm & Ranch Museum.
Every town on old Route 66 thinks
they can make a name off of it.
Oklahoma City: it was kind of rainy.

We left Texas, gladly, because the whole place smells like cow poop. The rest of the country is covered in cows, but we're talking about ten, thirty, maybe fifty cows spread over several acres of rolling meadow. In Texas, we're talking about several thousand cows crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in a metal pen on a tiny patch of dirt (well, 10% dirt, 90% cow poop). Feeewwwweee! We entered Oklahoma on Old Route 66, and almost immediately Oklahoma started pushing hard for a name as the Road Kill State. By 5:04 pm, not even counting the usual squirrels and raccoons, we'd passed two dead armadillos, one large dog, two deer, and a full-grown elk. (We never saw armadillos in Texas; just those two dead ones in Oklahoma). The soil in all of western Oklahoma isn't brown, but a deep, rich red color; I believe this is because every acre is colored with the blood of a thousand dead animals. We went to the Route 66 museum in Elk City; good thing, too, because those lazy bums at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton took the day off, as if it were Memorial Day or something. A pickup truck full of budding young hoodlums in Clinton, ages 14 to 17, liked our car. One of the things that set Oklahoma apart almost immediately from the states in the earlier part of our trip is that Oklahoma actually has water in its streams and rivers. (The southwest has something called a "wash," which is where a river should be, except there's no water in the state.) We stopped at the Holiday Inn Express in Oklahoma City; when the desk clerk, a pretty, blonde, pregnant young woman in her early twenties heard that we were from a place called Redwood City in California, she sighed: "That sounds nice... why are you in Oklahoma?" before she returned to reading her heavily annotated Bible. We had dinner at the Bricktown Brewery, where they were out of every dish I tried to order, but nice about it; and since it seemed appropriate for Memorial Day, we went down to see the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which is what they call the Murrah Federal Building bombing memorial. We were far from the only ones there. It's a lovely memorial, with a giant reflecting pool; there was a duck floating serenely in the middle of it.

Big Brutus rises from behind the trees like a mighty colossus. Those are full-grown trees there!

Lucky Day 13 was spent driving from Oklahoma City to Kansas City. Rather than going the fast (interstate) route through Wichita, we went via Tulsa so that we could drive fifty miles out of our way through the backroads of Kansas to see a big shovel. Make that a gigantic shovel. Make that, in fact, the second-largest-ever, and largest-still-standing, shovel in the world. His name is Big Brutus and he stands 160 feet tall and 660 feet wide. We're talking about an eleven million pound shovel. Wouldn't you go out of your way to see a shovel that can lift 135 tons of dirt at a time and moves at the blistering speed of .22 mph? Besides, eastern Oklahoma and Kansas are both surprisingly scenic, and if you stop in Fort Scott, Kansas for dinner, you can eat at Opie's Pizza, where they have an autographed photo of Tony Orlando. We even paid admission so we could climb a series of nauseatingly steep metal stairs (safety improvements?! Bah!) most of the way up the 150-foot boom– but not all the way, because at a certain point the brain revolts at the idea of looking down at whole flocks of passing birds. Ah, if only the good people of Ohio had been able to save the only shovel ever to dwarf Brutus: Big Muskie once scooped earth 325 tons at a time, with the power that only a twenty-seven million pound shovel can wield.

Apparently, California is the only state in America whose economy isn't at least one-third fireworks based.

My lungs were finally starting to recover from the lack of humidity in New Mexico, little suspecting that they were to spend the forseeable future in climates with humidity upwards of four thousand percent. We enjoyed lunch at Arthur Bryant's on Broadway in Kansas City, where they serve some of the finest barbeque known to man. We even absorbed some culture at the Kansas City Museums at 18th and Vine. The car continued to make friends; on Rte 70 East, we passed a jaunty fellow in a convertible yellow Oldsmobile 4-4-2 (which is an excellent car) and he gave us a jaunty wave; we passed him again, on the same road, when he stopped to put the top up in the face of oncoming rain; and he was even kind enough to give us a jaunty honk just a little down the road when we also stopped for top-raising purposes. You just meet the nicest people when you drive a muscle car. Route 70 was not all fun and games, though... danger awaited us. The left lane was closed for resurfacing, leaving us with only one lane to drive in and... nowhere to go. Without warning, a wayward asphalt roller knocks a pylon into our lane! And no, not one of those wussy little cone pylons, I mean the big, 30-gallon-drum sized pylons that you really don't want to run over in a mid-sized car. Anyway, we lived. Dirk even cleared the road of excess pylonage, and the 18-wheeler behind me was kind enough not barrel over us, the pylon, and everything else in his way. Little did we realize that after a day in St. Louis, we'd be wishing for the happy times we spent screeching to a halt on the freeway to avoid runaway construction accessories. Oh, and I also made an astonishing discovery that day: did you know that Hardee's is just another name for Carl's Jr? They have Hardees out here instead of Carl's Jr, but it's the same restaurant! When did this happen?