DSC01318The thought that I could be home by noon woke me up at 5:00 am in Tehachapi, California. After three restful days with relatives in Flagstaff, I hit the road on Saturday morning. Six o’clock on this Sunday morning, I stopped in at Starbucks. It was open. Opening time during the rest of the week is 4 am. I’m in trucker territory — although, come to think of it, I always pulled out of the trucker motels where I stayed earlier than any truck.

The drive from there to Tehachapi took longer than I thought. I’ve never driven across high plains and seen three distinct, simultaneous weather systems. Dark slate clouds and lightning to the left, sheets of rain in the distance to the right, blue skies ahead of me. By 10 am, I realized that the closer I got to home, the more tired I felt, even though I haven’t felt tired at any point during the trip.

One stop at my local grocery for supplies and then home. It took me half an hour to unload the car. It’ll take me several days to put everything back in order. I flopped on the couch and fell into a deep sleep for an hour. I’m home.

As I’ve already said to a couple of friends, I feel extraordinary lucky — maybe even cheated — that the worst I can say about any part of my trip is “been there, done that.” I’ve seen so many sites that I’ve always wanted to see and talked to so many strangers, visited much loved friends and family, that I’m afraid of the let-down in the days ahead.

Furthermore, I have also been highly conscious of how peculiarly American my trip has been. Perhaps it’s only the America of baby-boomers, to whom Route 66 means something and the price of gas is not intimidating. Every country has variegated cultures within its borders. Other countries, like Russia and China, have ethnic complexities of their own equal to ours. Unlike them (as far as I know), we have a romance with car travel. The vastness of this country means that it requires effort to sample a swathe of them. Our sense of distance is as relative as Einstein’s time/space continuum. Five hundred miles? No big deal.

Oddly enough, now that I’m home, the strongest urge I have at the moment is to get another dog. In other words, this trip helped me work through a restlessness that emerged after my last dog died two years ago. Now I’m ready to put down roots again.

Thanks to all of you who have read these posts. I’m ready for bed.

DSC01315What a relief to leave the oven that Phoenix is and head north to Flagstaff. Whenever I drive this road, I forget how beautiful the view is from the summit around the turn-off for Sedona. The temperature  plummeted. After a short rest at my family’s house south of Flag, we attended a wine dinner at Tinderbox, a very good restaurant in the city center. All the BBQ ribs and brisket I ate over the past month were nothing compared to the cold corn soup ladled over a piece of smoked butterfish and a scallop; the pea-shoot and arugula salad with beets and blue cheese; the mushroom and duck confit risotto with crispy thin onion rings; the thick slices of balsamic-fennel crusted lamb sirloin, roasted broccolini, and pan-sauteed new potatoes. Stop! Mercy! we fifty diners cried. Kevin Heinonen, owner, and his cousin, Scott Heinonen, the chef, really have something special here. I’ll never forget the fried housemade-baloney sandwich I ate there three years ago. The Jersey girl in me was in heaven.

Tehachapi on Saturday, home on Sunday.

DSC01307Twice in an hour emergency weather alerts buzzed and rattled our phones lying on the coffee table. “Emergency: Dust storm approaching. Do not travel.” We looked out Margaret’s tall south-facing windows overlooking Phoenix’s downtown. Maybe the sky looked a little pinker in the southwest corner, but, naah, nothing serious. Time to drive to dinner. I’d been looking forward for days to dining at True Foods in the Biltmore shopping. Vegetables, at last!

Within the time it took us to reach the garage, the sky took on an apocalyptic hue. Our trip to the restaurant turned into a race against the dust storm that was rolling right over the city in the same direction in which we were heading. Daylight almost disappeared two hours before it was scheduled to. The high winds buffeted cars on the road from side to side. The dust beat us to the corner of Camelback and 24th. We weren’t able to get inside the restaurant before the sand started, but we missed the sheets of rain that soon followed. Capacious flashes of lightning illuminated the tawny air like klieg lights on a movie set. I swear I saw a horizontal streak of electricity whip down the length of the parking lot. An earnest waiter, speaking in a soft funereal tone, gave us his spiel about how healthy and “non-inflammatory” and adaptable the menu was to patrons with all kinds of dietary restrictions. From our table, we had a clear view of Nature’s hissy fit while we ate a scrumptious meal (a good kale-lemon-parmesan-bread crumb salad with a woodsy mushroom-taleggio thin-crusted pizza). By the time, we headed to the car, the air was clear.

The True Food franchise, owned partly by the Tucson-based holistic physician Andrew Weil, has now reached southern California and Colorado. It would be nice to think they’re just teasing the healthy eaters of northern California by keeping us waiting.

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Eerie day. I drove off the interstate to explore Roswell’s Main Street. The city hall building was the most impressive structure between Arizona and Louisiana. No wonder extraterrestrials landed here. That’s quite a dome. The rest of the city looks dead, even for a Sunday morning. No human being in site except for this guitarist, case open,  strumming on a street corner.

 

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An hour later I crossed a mountain pass and saw in front of me the White Sands Missile Range. Somewhere not far off to the left of the photo is Trinity Site, where the first atomic device was detonated. Tonight, Las Cruces. Tomorrow, Phoenix.

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DSC01288I feel secure in my prediction that I will never move to Lubbock. A stroll through the aisles of the local Sprouts market reinforced the grim impression I had of the place when I drove into town. However, I could not resist one last stop at a BBQ place, Tom & Bingo’s Hickory Pit BBQ (call me conflicted). At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the two youngsters who owned the place were slicing up the last of the day’s brisket. I asked for just a few slices. “Well,” Bingo said, looking at her husband, “normally we don’t sell it that way, but we’re closing soon.” So they wrapped some slices in foil and I carried back to my desolate motel. It was pretty good. Juicy, good flavor, not as good as Franklin’s, but I’m prepared to believe they’re the best in town. Once I’m back in Arizona, where I will be among family and friends who eat well and healthily, I will breathe a sigh of relief. I’ll be almost home.

Tomorrow, back to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Now there, I may finally get to try some Hatch chilies.

DSC01285For baby-boomers of leftist-liberal backgrounds, two places in the United States stand out most clearly in our cultural landscape: the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and Dealey Plaza in Dallas (where were you on those days?). I visited the former almost twenty years ago. Today I visited the latter. Ground-Zero Conspiracy Theory America, I salute you.

The site is smaller and more banal than I imagined it would be. It is also macabre. A painted “X” in the roadway, the grassy knoll (with a large sign on the grassy knoll that reads “GRASSY KNOLL”), and the plinth on which Abraham Zapruder stood while he filmed the motorcade were for the first time stitched together in my imagination to form one large, three-dimensional image. It’s not an iconic site, because prior to today I did not have a clearly formed idea of how the many photos of the assassination I’ve seen fit together. I watched people run into the street during lulls in traffic to have their pictures taken at the spot where the limo was when Kennedy was hit (in the photo, the book depository is to the left).

DSC01280On top of the knoll, a man sat in the shade at a table covered with stills from the Zapruder film and with gruesome color headshots of the dead president on a hospital table. The Texas Book Depository now contains, among other businesses, the Sixth Floor Museum. I skipped it. But I could not resist stepping inside the JFK Assassination Gift Shop and Café. The cashier called the parents and their kids who stepped up to pay for their souvenirs “sugar” as if it were her job to console them. No one here looked in need of consolation.

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IMG_1319I did not take a photo of Little Rock, Arkansas, so you’ll have to settle for the Parthenon, a life-size replica of the original set in a city park in Nashville. I thought it rather awesome in a sober, humorless way. It conveys the imposing size of the Greek temple without any whimsy. No white gleaming marble, no gaudy paint (as it would have worn back in antiquity). A folly? Too glum, I’d say.

Tomorrow, Dallas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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