There's nothing amazing about the fact that I'm planning to see the entire United States coast to coast back roads only in the next 5 days. What is amazing is that I was able to navigate the streets of Lubbock, Texas without a phone or GPS and come back with a delicious sack of Cane's Chicken Fingers, thanks to the kind recommend of the gentlemen at the front desk of the Hampton Inn. We are so used to putting our lives in the hands of a piece of technology. What fear I felt getting lost between the east and southbound 289 loops without my iPhone to get me home. What joy I took putting my dinner in the hands of a kid named Henang. The chicken was delicious. Sometimes it's good to deal with humans.
That said, I haven't seen a whole lot of them since getting off the road at Las Cruces. When you go up into the mountains of southern New Mexico it is like a national park, pristine green trees etched against a brilliant blue sky. As the road descends from 9,000 to 2,500 feet you blend into gentle waving grasslands. Then within a matter of moments the smell of petroleum hits you. Eastern New Mexico industry blends with West Texas oil and the cattle enter the picture. There is nothing unusual about seeing an oil rig pumping next to the water hole where the cows have come to roost.
In Artesia, NM I was the last person at the lunch buffet at La Fiesta. Patty, the owner's daughter, has never been to New York. She works too many hours covering for her parents to take the time and business is not reliable enough to hire others, she said. We talked about the hard work of roasting sack after sack of green chilis from Reza's farm a few miles up the road while cooking and serving shifts and raising her children. La Fiesta has been there for 40 years. I asked her what people do in Artesia. She said not much. But it's a good place to raise a family. We laughed a lot about our sports-obsessed sons and she refused to let me pay for lunch. I left her ten bucks. It was nice to chat with someone over green chili stew. America was feeling pretty darned good to me.
I'm making this drive because I wanted to feel the wheels beneath my feet and see real things and meet real people. No need to recount the day's bad news. I'm heading into day 3 of my journey and no one has spoken a word of politics. I've seen a cowboy pulling barbed wire on the side of a Texas farm road and driven through a town called Hope that was completely boarded up.
Outside of Denver City, Texas I laid my Rand McNally on the hood of the car to map out my route for the last few hours of the day to Lubbock. The warm sun beat down on my head. A man in an old minivan full of young kids paused before he climbed in. "I haven't seen one of those in years," he said staring at my atlas.
"Yeah, I'm just kinda picking my way across the country," I said.
He scratched his chin and cocked his head at me. "A road map. Man!" he said. "Well y'all have a good trip."
"I will," I said. "I am."