A little known fact about me: I can drive for hours and hours and hours. I don’t necessarily love every minute of it, but I can do it. Of course, it helps if I’m driving along highways and byways that I’ve never traversed before. I can remember the twelve hour trip to my big sis’s just outside Asheville, North Carolina from New York City just flying by the first time I did it. By the third or fourth time? Well, as awe-inspiring as the Shenandoah Valley is, it gets old eventually, for sure. The same can be said for the relatively short four hour drive I make down to South Florida whenever I’m in my home state for any length of time. At this point, that drive feels like ten hours to me, but those interminable hours are well worth it for the welcoming faces on the other end.
This is all to say that I wasn’t nearly as blow-my-brains-out-bored as I anticipated being during the two solitary days I drove from Austin to Chicago earlier this week and I think that’s probably because I was crossing through terrain that was new to me. What’s between here and there? A whole lot of “God’s Country,” as the Bestie so aptly labeled it during one of the many check-in calls (hands-free, I assure you) I had with friends and family from the road: Texas. Oklahoma. Kansas. Missouri. Iowa. Illinois. God was busy. Seriously, “Nice job, God.”
Now, the last thing you want to do, dedicated readers, is relive that two days with me in excruciating detail. So here are some highlights, in no particular order:
If you ever find yourself passing through Oklahoma City, you should visit the National Memorial there. It’s powerful. Really powerful. Take the time to bear witness, you guys. You’ll be glad you did.
If you ever find yourself passing through Oklahoma City and you stop at the memorial and, upon returning to your car, you discover a screw imbedded in your left back tire, you should visit the Discount Tire on Shields Avenue. The six mile drive there will be a real nail-biter (“Is this tire going to blow and leave me stranded on the side of the road next to one of the several pawn shops I’m driving by as I try not to burst into tears in this city I’m unfamiliar with, radio off, the only sound in the car my own voice repeating my mantra — “I am grateful for this day” — over and over again?”), but you’ll find the fellas behind the counter to be super kind and attentive and maybe one of them will mention to you that he just moved to Oklahoma City from Austin and he’ll proceed to tell you where to find “the best tacos ever” on South Lamar while he simultaneously offers you a bottle of water and tells you the patch on your tire will be no charge.
The Flint Hills of Kansas, coming off of the drought ridden brown brown brown hills of Texas and Oklahoma, are a sight for sore eyes. They’re wondrous and even better when paired with Kansas Public Radio’s three hour block of classical music. Yes, it is possible to sing along to Mozart, in case you were wondering. Beethoven, too. Bach, not so much. Oh, and Osage County is in Kansas, by the by.
Did you guys know there’s a National Teacher’s Hall of Fame? Well, there is. And it’s open to the public as early as eight in the morning, which is when I stopped on a whim in Emporia, Kansas with the hopes of buying a tee shirt for Carrie, my token teacher friend. Mission accomplished.
Lastly, there are a lot of opportunities to stop at famous people’s birthplaces when you’re on the open road, chances to wander through this and that bold name’s childhood home. I’m not sure what it says about me that I passed up several that were within spitting distance of the Interstate (Jesse James, Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan) in favor of one that was a twenty mile detour (Marion Robert Morrison, or “John Wayne” to you amateurs), but I can tell you what it says about me in relation to my mom: I love her. She loves John Wayne. No way was I going to miss the chance to see his place of birth in Winterset, Iowa, smack in the middle of Madison County with its famous covered bridges (or miss the chance to buy a load of souvenirs for MJR at the gift shop, to be doled out slowly on important holidays for years to come).
But all of this – Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa (did I mention that I’m a huge fan of Iowa now? Huge fan) – it was all a prelude to the big event: Chicago, Illinois. Which is where I am now, settled at the comfortable table in Linda’s kitchen, listening to music, washing an unbelievable load of clothes (good friends with washers and dryers… Bless them), recovering from the blissful evening I had last night (a live taping of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell me followed by a delicious meal with good friends), and, as I wait for my old and dear and cherished pal and her beautiful girls to get home and join me, I’m also thinking about how lucky I am to have people in my life that I would travel miles for. People I’d hop in the car at a moment’s notice and endure road trip food and gas station bathrooms and even flat tires for. Twelve hours, four hours, twenty-three hours. “Bring it on,” I say. God’s Country is beautiful and welcoming and breathtaking and wherever my friends and family might settle within its borders, I’ll always find them. They’ll always be a short drive away.
(California, New York: I’m coming for you next.)