The RAV4 is, at last, in Claremore, ready to be driven by my mother when she comes to town next month. I have to say I felt really happy driving up Sandra and David's driveway. The grass is really high along the road. I don't think I've seen it this thick since I was a kid. I tend to see little snapshots of Claremore at various different seasons, so that's hardly surprising.
Last night when I drove to Limon I had no idea what it looked like, because it was a dark, moonless night, and there isn't much to Limon outside of the truck stop. It's green and flat. Not much to it, really. But it was interesting to see a dra shi turn into a dun shi.
Dra shis are mental pictures that you form of an object (e.g., a town) based on what you've heard; dun shis are what you actually see when you go to the place. My dra shi for Limon was pretty vague, so even though the dun shi wasn't very impressive, the time at which it arrived made it fun - normally you get the dun shi right when you arrive, not the next morning.
It would be tempting to give the standard travelogue of Kansas, which is that it's flat and lasts seven hours if you don't stop too often. But actually that's not a very accurate description. Last night Andrea tried to find some alternatives to Limon where I could stop. One of the towns she found was Flagler. Flagler, on a map, looks like a dot in the middle of a flat place, and you'd expect the place to look a lot like that, since it's in Kansas. (Technically, it's in Colorado, but Kansas really seems to start maybe fifty or so miles east of Denver, even though the border's another hundred or so miles away. Sort of the way Courmayeur seems more like Chamonix than it does like Aosta).
However, for some reason Flagler really charmed me. I only saw it from the highway, so possibly it's filled with grumpy people who swear at outsiders as they pass, but it really seemed quite charming. Neat, not unkempt, with a nice auto repair shop, green lawns, trees, that sort of thing. Your mind does that when it's been quiet for a while - it starts to see things differently. Even the little noname motel in Flagler seemed like it would have been a nice place to spend a night. I'll probably never know for sure.
Unfortunately, as predicted, one of Flagler's virtues was not a *$$. However, it turned out that there *was* a *$$ across the border in Colby, Kansas. Sadly, though, this *$$ seemed to be populated by people who lived two hundred miles from the nearest other *$$, and had no idea what the drinks were actually supposed to taste like. Hint: a 12 ounce triple latte should taste strongly of coffee! And it shouldn't be so full of milk that it spills - there should be some foam. Oh well, I probably needed the protein, since I didn't eat until I got to Claremore.
If you reject the cynical view of Kansas, it begins to reveal its virtues to you. It's really not flat - it's more like an endless stream of rolling hills. You start to feel that the world is a bowl, and you are at the bottom of the bowl, and the world is shifting around you so that you always remain at the bottom, admiring the ever-(so slightly)-changing imagery. A creek rolls under your wheels. Some cows look up at you as you pass by. A whole field, maybe five or ten acres, of sunflowers swoop by.
I think my favorite thing is the various drainages, creeks and hollows. You pass over them very frequently. They aren't generally full of water, but obviously water runs there when it rains, so they have some real bite to them - they aren't smooth - they're rugged. Sometimes rocks are exposed. Frequently there are trees - never entire forests, nor even long rows, but just clumps every once in a while. Sometimes there's a windmill. It feels very raw.
One thing I noticed is that my idea of what wheat looks like in the field wasn't accurate. Or maybe it was. I saw a lot of plants that I could only guess were amaranth, because they had a big red head on top, but I think they were actually either wheat or millet. But if it was millet, it was a *lot* of millet - I saw a huge number of fields of this plant, whatever it was, and that's why I think it must have been wheat. The plants were stockier than I thought wheat was, though. But I've never seen wheat in the field at harvest time, so all bets are off. If I was near a good Internet connection, maybe I'd look it up. Tragically, all I have is my trusty cell modem.
I was expecting to get gas in Salina, which is where I-70 and I-135 meet. I hadn't bargained on the RAV4's gas gauge, which drops from a quarter tank to empty in about thirty miles. So one minute I'm cruising along without a care in the world, and the next minute I'm wondering whether I'm going to make it to the gas station, and anticipating the coughing of the engine as the tank runs empty. To top it off, for some reason I'm fussy about gas stations, so I passed one up before I really started to panic, and then on top of worrying about running out of gas, I also worried about how stupid I'd feel having passed up a perfectly good gas station and *then* run out of gas. And then it turned out that all the gas stations I was *expecting* to stop at were at exit 252, two miles *east* of exit 250, which is the exit for I-135. So I had to decide whether to chance that there'd be something on I-135, or make a two-mile detour past my exit. Fortunately, there was an exit just south of Salina on I-135, and I pulled in with nary a cough of the engine.
Wichita looks like a very nice town. I had been hoping to eat in Wichita, but it seems like the highway goes through a residential part of town, so I was south of Wichita before I knew it, unfed, and with little hope of being fed, since I-35 and US 412 essentially connect the middle of nowhere to Tulsa and Oklahoma City, so if you turn off of I-35 onto US 412, you don't see any population centers until you're nearly in Tulsa, at which point you're on I-244, which is the bypass around downtown. I wound up getting off at the Port of Catoosa exit on I-44 and eating a black bean burger at Chili's. Which hit the spot just fine despite once again not being the Blue Corn Cafe.
Now I'm at my cousin Sandra and her husband David's house in Claremore. I kind of showed up unexpectedly, so they're entertaining guests downstairs while I type this. It was David's birthday today. I didn't ask how old he is. I'm guessing he doesn't want to talk about it. Tomorrow promises to be a treat - I get to see my grandmother and aunt, and then head for the airport and undo all these many hours of driving (twenty-four, anyway) with about three hours of flying.
Oh, I just asked Sandra - he's 42. He's done a lot with those years - two wonderful kids (well, maybe Sandra gets all the credit for them - I don't know), a lovely wife, a nice home, successful business, a pillar of the community. Happy birthday, David! May your next 42 be as good as the previous ones!