Monday, June 13, 2016

Rolling Through Kansas

Drive from Kansas City to Denver, and you'd better have a generous supply of road music. The iPod needs to be loaded up, the tapes need to be at arms reach, or the CD's ready for insertion. Five hours is a long time to be staring at the land of wheat with no grooveable music on the radio -- if you can get anything on the radio.

I didn't feel the full effect of that reality given the hazy memories of my first couple of trips into the west. It hit full force though in that 1987 trip, where the dearth of civilization was compounded by the Royal Father's decision to split off westbound I-70 in Oakley, Kansas and take a secondary highway into Colorado Springs.

"There's not a lot of services," I remember the AAA agent telling us when she was putting together the TripTik, that paper instrument that helped get you where you were going before GPS devices. It didn't matter to Dad.

As you would expect, the barrenly spacious roads lay scarred with cracks and potholes. They apparently were so sparsely traveled birds sat on the pavement, not flying away as we approached unless we honked the horn. Ahead of us along the horizon, the Rocky Mountains materialized as we slowly closed in on them. The car held up, the gas sufficed, and we were in Colorado Springs without the need for emergency aid. On the way back, we took I-70 all the way in from Denver, giving us better driving conditions and no bird hazards.

Western Kansas is one of those places you fear a breakdown in the depths of your soul. Included on the list are most of south central and western Nebraska, western Texas, I-10 in California east of Indio to the outskirts of Phoenix, and parts of northeastern Missouri. The list isn't longer only because those other barren lands are places I have not personally motored through or been in the back of a car to witness.

During the great Texas to Tucson move of 1999, the cassette player in my battered Chevy Celebrity barely worked. I relied on the radio, which spun in an endless seek loop for a large stretch between Kerrville and El Paso. I got lucky and hit a station from Midland along the way, but I felt I was in a space capsule returning to Earth from a moonshot during the radio-blackout phase. I counted at least two cars broken down on the side of the road. We gotta get through this, I thought. Let's just gun and run.

My anxieties eased up once I hit Van Horn, Texas for a fuel stop. By then I felt well enough to eat from a bag of snacks I'd shoved to one side by the stack of dirty laundry in the front seat.

The back-and-forth between Tucson and Los Angeles requires similar preparations. Radio silence is prominent from outside of Phoenix to outside of Quartzite and again from west of Blythe, California to the Indio area. I can't even use streaming apps on my smartphone because data isn't available along these stretches. No, I'm not paying for satellite radio. Time to hit the phone's music stash.

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