Posted: 03/19/15 00:42
by Dave Mindeman
I just got back from a road trip. I always kind of regretted not embarking on a "see America" type car driving road trip right after college. Back then, I did the "proper" thing and went right to work. So, I guess I can now officially check this off my bucket list.
11 states, 8 days, 4200 miles.
Its different to be on the road, chalking off each mile...in a car, listening to CDs of your favorite groups, and eating road food. Flying is much more efficient, quicker, and frankly, less expensive. But it is the kind of different that really sees "America" up close.
I headed straight south - zipped through Iowa. A brief stop in Missouri. A boring drive through southern Kansas (I hit a toll road which led me on 100 miles of no exits, no gas, and no food)...and ended up in Oklahoma City to wind down the first day.
Just in time to hear about the racist frat video catch all the attention. Oklahoma is a different sort of place. You see oil pumps right close to the road. No fencing and no supervision. This is real conservative, independent country. And although the University cracked down hard on the frat house and the individuals, you still get the sense that the average Oklahoman thought the punishment was a little over the top. Race relations have a different context in Okie. They don't like the idea of being described as racist, but the underlying general temperament is not very far from the definition of the term. Nobody questioned the university action at first, but as the controversy grew, defenders for the frat house began to surface.
Outside of Oklahoma City, you can drive for miles without so much as a small town. Ranches are big and cattle is king.
Soon I was in the Land of Enchantment - New Mexico. Lots of desert, lots of Native Americans, and lots of open space. I found Albuquerque to be a heavy population center. Very modern and some interesting museums about the history of atomic fission. Santa Fe is the capital city, but has a very old feel to it. Lots of adobe type houses and a number of museums regarding the Navajo Indian tribe and Indian culture as well as tributes to the Old West and the Pecos Trail.
There were a number of mentions of how Navajo Indians were recruited to work the uranium mines during the atomic bomb development. As you might expect, the cancer rates among the Navajo increased exponentially and the Navajo leaders finally got a bill through Congress that banned uranium mining on Navajo property forever.
After more driving, I got to Arizona where I got to one of the main reasons for the trip - Cactus League spring training for baseball. A lot of the teams center their operations in Phoenix and its suburbs. And the local city governments have accommodated with a number of good size ball parks.
The major league clubs get to dictate most of the terms. They get extended facilities and training areas, and even the workers are senior citizen volunteers - who work for free in return for free entrance to the games. (Which they never have time to actually watch).
Phoenix is a nightmare to navigate during this time. Traffic jams are common and last hours. Streets are difficult to figure out and left turns are prohibited during morning and afternoon rush hours.
It so happened that President Obama was in town while I was there. He was making a return trip to the troubled VA facility here. The times of events weren't published, but I went down to the area to see if anything was going on. I came across some protesters on the corner (only about 8 people) with signs that said "Support Veterans, not Illegals"....you know, the usual Arizona stuff.
Across the street from the VA is a strip club. The owner had his sign say, "Welcome Obama - Have a Beer - And a Dance". Quite the advertising campaign.
Moved back up to Northern Arizona and went through the Petrified Forest and a scenic drive that included a forest of Joshua Trees. Beautiful scenery but somewhat desolate country - few towns along the way.
Had to take a quick swing down the Las Vegas strip - went early on a Sunday morning - while most of the visitors and residents are sleeping off the night before. Casinos run the city - (and all the bathrooms outside of the casinos require a key).... But the city has a lot of union workers, so it has been reliably Democrat in recent years.
Next I went back to the Arizona - Nevada border to see Hoover Dam. That is a marvel to see. It is hard to imagine this magnificent structure was built in the 1930's - and wages were 60 cents an hour (although that was a living wage at the time). It is classified as one of the top 20 engineering feats of the 20th Century. It required hard and dangerous labor, but it also provided jobs for thousands of workers. And it provided a method of making the Colorado River a productive source of water and energy. It took some skilled negotiations by Herbert Hoover (thus the name) to get the involved states to sign on to the project. (Arizona actually held out until 1944 - always the trouble maker).
The rest of my day was sitting in traffic for 5 hours to get through a mountain pass. A semi-trailer had a horrible accident that allowed only one lane of traffic, on the shoulder, to get around the carnage. After I got past that, I saw another semi that rammed a median near Flagstaff. I suspect overly tired drivers were involved. Trucks are a constant on these Interstate highways and the lifeblood of commerce in the Southwest.
Moving on to Colorado and those beautiful mountains. While watching the news, I caught a public service announcement about marijuana. It said that driving was a risk (no kidding) and the animated segment told me that marijuana should be kept hidden and out of the reach of children. The cartoon father hid a bag behind a book on an upper shelf. Now if that was me, my kid would probably find it about 20 years later, because I wouldn't remember where I put it. But anyway, it was interesting to see that type of commercial.
Heading home through I-80 in Nebraska has to be one of the worst driving experiences around. Straight across the state - flat as a pancake - with few towns of any size. Kind of quirky too - I stopped at a Subway for a snack and they were "out" of roast beef. Really? After about an hour, I decided that Nebraska must be the safest place on earth - because if you are there, who the hell is going to want to look for you?
I hit the Interstates for the most part, but occasionally I would stop off at some of the old Route 66 sites. Route 66 is probably lost on the current generation, but it is iconic to the older crowd. The Burma Shave signs, the pink flamingos, the Harleys are all still out there and the states tourism agencies are trying to ramp it up. Great nostalgia.
Well, anyway, I had my road trip. I met some nice people, some rude people, and some very independent people. But there is definitely a difference between that America and the America that the political pundits what us to think is out there.
Life, there, is not extraordinary but it is real. They prefer the simple opinion rather than a complex one. They want things to work and not get complicated.
That's what you see on a road trip.