Sunday, September 11, 2011

American Gods and Roadside Attractions Tour: What Am I Looking For?

That was the question he asked me a day into the trip.

It was a question Acr0nym was inspired to ask after we'd listened to the This American Life roadtrip podcast...something Ira Glass asked at the beginning of the episode. What is it that people are looking for when they set off cross country.

Acr0 and I have been in liminal time for the last 3 1/2 days, logging easily 1500 miles on the Intrepid and smoking more cigarettes than either of us care to admit. My lips are a little chapped...not from a lack of moisture in the air but from the travel-induced dehydration that seems to always get me...I should be drinking water now. Instead, I'm drinking wine out of a plastic cup provided by easily the best motel we've stayed in and, in fact, have now stayed in twice over the last 48 hours.

We rolled out of Denver on Thursday afternoon, hitting the interstate at 4:31 p.m. with the queued up Road Trip playlist blasting. We had a few specific destinations in mind when we set out. We'd made one motel reservation for the first night even. The rest we were playing by ear.

I'd never considered US highway 36 as a viable travel option outside the stretch that runs between Denver and Boulder, also known as the Boulder Turnpike. Turns out, it's a pretty little two-lane highway stretching across extreme northern Kansas and beyond. At least, I believe it goes clear across Kansas. We got off it to turn north...eventually.

We City Folk take an awful lot for granted. We learned this early that first night as the sun was setting just as we crossed over into Kansas. The road was peppered with tiny towns and communities you can't even see on Google maps unless you zoom way in. Most of them don't have gas stations or convenience stores or restaurants. If they do, they are, most of them, dark by 8 p.m. Last Chance, CO didn't even give us a last chance frankly. There didn't appear to be anything to the town except, perhaps, a Co-op. There certainly wasn't anything to suggest a corn dog or tank of gas to a couple of foreigners who'd gone looking for America.

We weren't discouraged though. We had plenty of gas and snacks and smokes. We had good company and good tunes. We had water and gourmet salt (an Acr0nym-ism). And yes, we had liquor if it'd come to that.

We pulled into St. Francis, KS (and I only know this because I asked the cashier where we were) and the [Circleless] K Store  just before 10...the last store open and full of townies making last minute runs for corn chips and video rentals.

The gas pumps were the old ones that'd never seen the likes of a pre-pay card swipe gadget. Instead, there was a sign taped half-heartedly to it stating, "Please pre-pay gas after 6 p.m". I thought this was both hysterical and a sad statement of the times. This was a town that still trusted people in the daylight, a community whose doors were unlocked and smiles friendly until the sun went down. And then no one was to be trusted. Not neighbors. Not friends. Certainly not strangers. This would be a theme that would carry over into the next day...but that comes later.

Not too far out of St. Francis, we pulled off onto what was probably a private drive, turned the engine and lights off, and got out to see if we could catch a good glimpse of the night sky.

Standing there in the dark, listening to the night, I heard a sound I hadn't heard in years but a sound that was oddly familiar. Not crickets. Not cicada. What was it? I couldn't put my finger on it at first. And then, all of a sudden, after I'd shooshed Acr0nym, I remembered...

FROGS!!! Those were FROGS ribbiting in the night!

This made me happy and excited enough to post it on Facebook (which, even out in Nowhere, KS, I still had solid 3G access on my droid gawd bless America). This made me love Kansas. There were frogs - several by the sound - and I was getting to hear them. Out in the middle of the darkened rural heartland. This is what I'd wanted...

Something different.

Something...not Denver and my life...just for a little while.

Something neat if only to me.

I think that's what I was looking for.

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