United States Stories and Tips

Albuquerque to Tennessee

Close-up of bug Photo, Amarillo, Texas

I’d checked online about following the old Route 66, and it looked like possible most of the way to Amarillo. But I didn't have detailed directions, so I settled for taking a few I-40 business loops that were also Route 66. I also took a short loop, as advised, as in the small town of Glenrio on the New Mexico-Texas border, to see the ruins of Route 66 businesses. There wasn’t much there, and the road turned into a dirt one right past town. Later, I found a part of Route 66 that was the frontage road and drove on it for a while. There were no other cars, so it gave me respite from passing and being passed by the 18-wheelers on the interstate. But it was slowing me down, and I was right next to I-40 anyway, so I got back on after ten miles or so.

Trying to follow Route 66 was my undoing in Amarillo. When I reached the downtown, the Rt. 66 signs disappeared. I was still on the I-40 business loop, so I thought I could find a cheap motel before leaving town. But the ones I passed were too cheap even for me—the neighborhood didn’t look good—and the road didn’t rejoin I-40 until well past the end of town.

So I went on another 10 or 15 miles and stopped in Conway at a small motel (see review).

The sunset was stunning. I walked over to the field next to the motel to photograph it. I also saw…half a dozen old VW frames upturned and half-buried. The poor man’s answer to the Cadillac Ranch in nearby Amarillo—the Bug Garden?

The next day was Sunday. When I got on the road, most of the radio stations were playing church services. Most of the traffic was semi trucks; I wondered if everyone was at church and, sure enough, many more cars appeared in the afternoon. I heard two anti-abortion talks, and one preacher who went on about how gambling and cohabitation are sins. I passed a turn-off for a tourist attraction—the biggest cross in the Western hemisphere—and passed the Blessed Mary Café. Between the church stuff and the patriotic stuff, I wasn’t too comfortable in Texas, so I skipped the sightseeing and just tried to make time.

Oklahoma wasn’t much better, but it somehow seemed a little friendlier. I stopped at the Cherokee Trading Post and Restaurant. The food must be good, because it seemed to be where all the locals went after church, at least on Mother's Day. I remembered to call my mom and ex-mother-in-law.

Soon after I crossed into Oklahoma, the land went from dry and deserty to green and then greener. At one point, I started to feel humidity—there’s a definite sensation to it, and a smell as well. Lots of roadside wildflowers, and then lakes.

After my speeding warning in Nevada, I'd tried to stay closer to the speed limit, but I’d relaxed about it by Oklahoma. The limit was 70, and I got into a few groups of cars and trucks going about 80. But I was going a little faster when I rounded a corner and saw several police cars watching for someone like me. One of them pulled out and soon caught up and pulled me over. Unlike the one in Nevada, this cop was a nice guy. He told me I was going a little fast coming down the hill. I played it (and it was true) like I was not paying the best attention because I was tired from driving for so long. He chatted with me about where I was going, and wrote me out a warning. I stayed within 5 mph of the speed limit for the rest of the day.

By the time I got to the Arkansas border, I could tell I was out of the Southwest and into the South. Though Arkansas is deep South, it somehow felt more progressive. Almost immediately, I saw an SUV with a Re-elect Hillary bumper sticker.

I stopped for the night at a Motel 6 in Little Rock. In the morning, I had a sad surprise. I knew that hundreds of bugs were dying each day on my car; that's always a given. But doesn't it seem like birds manage to fly away in plenty of time when you drive up to them? Well, they don't always. I had to pull out the remains of a small bird from my car's front grill. It wasn't easy, and I was sad. Poor little thing.

Before I left. I asked a maid where the ice machine was. I've wondered about regional accents, whether they are dying out as television and chain stores homogenize the country. Well, I could barely understand the girl's answer, and I lived in the South for 12 years. Then she added something else that I couldn't understand at all--I'm glad it wasn't important. And I'm glad that regional dialects are alive and thriving.

When I got to Tennessee later that day, I stopped at the Memphis welcome center (see review). Then I drove on to my friends' place (and my old home) in central Tennessee, where I would spend the next week. And so ends the first leg of my travels. I will write about the rest of them in later journals.

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