Less than 24 hours after I quit my job a few weeks ago, I did what all newly unemployed workers do: I packed my disgruntled family into the car and drove 1,088 miles from my home in Colorado to a Super 8 Motel in Indiana.
OK, maybe not everybody reacts that way to being out of work, but that’s how I reacted.
Anyway, we saw some amazing sights during our 18-hour road trip.
Ok, maybe “amazing” is too strong a word.
Let’s try interesting.
We saw some interesting sights.
OK, maybe “interesting” is too strong a word.
Look, I’m going to be brutally honest here. Large parts of America—the vast, flat and virtually uninhabited plains between New York City and Los Angeles, for example—are really, really, really boring. But we saw some curiosities that helped keep us awake during the drive, and that’s what’s important. I didn’t get bored and fall asleep at the wheel, only to crash and burn in the middle of some Godforsaken cornfield 108 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart, which, believe me, would be a long way from anywhere because Wal-Mart will build a supercenter anyplace there are more than two houses and a gas station.
So, just in case you’re homebound or your boss won’t give you some time off to let you take your own road trip through the Midwest, here’s the best of what we saw on our trip:
Cows – Americans love cows. Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say that Americans hate cows, but love beef. We saw millions and millions and millions of cows. So many, in fact, that even my teenage son, who rarely looks up or speaks out loud anymore unless he’s hungry or his iPod runs out of power, told us how flabbergasted he was by the sight of all those cows. I just hope the cows never get angry and decide to take over the country, because we’re badly outnumbered and they’re a lot bigger than us. Most of us, anyway. In a strangely ironic twist, those of us who eat too much beef might be large enough to put up a decent fight.
Christmas Lights – We saw a 75-foot-tall Christmas tree made entirely of lights in the middle of nowhere. We also saw a cute little farmhouse sitting all alone in a snow-filled prairie, bravely lit up like an award-winning float Denver’s famous Parade of Lights. But our favorite holiday display was the one in western Iowa, where an enterprising rancher used thousands of white Christmas lights to create a 3-foot-tall, 60-foot-long sign that read, “Merry Christmas! Eat Beef!”
Kum & Go Stores – Kum & Go is the nation’s 21st-largest chain of convenience stores and it’s headquartered in West Des Moines, Iowa. We were too scared to stop at one, but they do sound mighty convenient.
The World’s Largest Truck Stop – Opened in 1964 in a small building in a cornfield due west of the Mississippi River, the Iowa 80’s new multimillion dollar Super Truck Showroom houses more than 67,000 square feet of accessories for truckers, such as tires, beer, hemorrhoid ointment and, presumably, hookers. According to Iowa 80’s press department—yes, it has a press department—it’s also home to 24 private showers, a library, driver’s den, movie theater, barber shop, dentist, chiropractor, laundry and food court. Plus, and I’m quoting the actual press release here, it features a third-floor “balcony where drivers can overlook the Super Truck Showroom and bask in the glory of all that is chrome and lights.” It’s enough to make one weep.
Gas Stations – In the opening line of his great novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Much the same could be said for America’s gas stations. The happy ones are all the same; they’re well-stocked with critical provisions like beef jerky, Cheetos, cigarettes, hot coffee and soda; the staff and patrons are tired yet polite; and the restrooms are relatively clean. But the unhappy ones—well, let’s just say I strongly advise against stopping for gas at the Pudge Brother’s Conoco near the intersection of I-80 and Shelton Road in Nebraska. If you’re on empty and absolutely have no choice, at least stay away from the “bathroom.” Something evil happened there, and it lingers.
Rest Stops – Sure, they might not seem remotely interesting to you right now, sitting in the comfort of your office or home just a few feet from the nearest bathroom. But guzzle a 64-ounce Big Gulp and then drive for three hours with nothing to think about except cows, truck stops and your bladder. As soon as you start desperately searching for a tree to pee behind in the middle of a treeless state like Nebraska, then consider taking a leak on the open highway in front of thousands of cackling motorists, that’s when—and only when—you’ll fully appreciate the Holy Shrine of Blessed Relief motorists call the “rest stop.”
I’m sorry to report that’s about all we saw during our trip to Indiana. But at least we weren’t crushed by a semi-truck along the way. And I’m sure we’ll see something more exciting on our next road trip, which will take us from Colorado to Texas by way of Oklahoma.
Oh, who am I kidding?
There’s nothing to see down there except desert and dust. That’s why almost everybody who used to live there moved to Los Angeles back in the 1930s.
Maybe we’ll pull into a few good rest stops, though.
Thank God for rest stops.