I’M STILL NOT SLEEPING RIGHT, but it’s getting better.
I wake to the sound of an infomercial blonde hawking a new kind of bed, and the Jetta and I are back on the road at four o’clock in the morning.
Barely half a mile into my day, a heavy duty muscle car barrels onto the interstate and all but sideswipes me off the road.
“Wonder where the fire is?” I ask. The Jetta doesn’t answer. The muscle car is already away, blazing a trail out of Little Rock
Oklahoma City rush hour is a fistfight. Sitting bumper to bumper between a silver Escalade and a dark blue Ford truck, I have ample time to consider my next decision. North to Wichita, or west to Amarillo and beyond? Despite my ignorance of Middle America, both names resonate with cowboy meaning. I wouldn’t mind a Stetson or a pair of boots.
Las Vegas is west.
I’m driving through American history. The interstate to Amarillo used to be Route 66 and the Texas Panhandle is channeling Grapes of Wrath. This land is pancake flat and dry as dirt. You can see for a thousand miles but why would you want to? The emptiness has a starkness, a desolate beauty that puts you in your place and encourages reflection. Possibly meditation.
My thoughts are full of blood and death and sorrow and loneliness. I don’t regret the killings – they all needed to be dead – but I could do without a year in exile. Maybe I should have stayed and fought this in the courts. Maybe no one else would have tried to kill me.
A giant radio mast appears to the right of the road. It’s a rare landmark and I stare as I approach. As soon as I’m past, I miss it and seek it out in my mirrors. Judging my progress west by the rate it disappears. Hoping this silence and solitude will be good for my soul.
Somewhere in front of me – I have no idea how far – I can see the next landmark taking shape. It’s tiny at this distance, but I’m betting it’s an office block, maybe ten stories high. Oil money at work, I suppose.
A water tower tells me the next town is called Britten. The tower is falling over, leaning into the winds. Probably been that way since they closed the truck stop behind it.
A road sign overrules the water tower. The name of this town is Groom. Maybe the truck stop was Britten’s, I don’t know.
My oil company office block becomes a tight-knit huddle of rusted grain silos. I’m not sure why but I’m disappointed.
Something much more interesting appears. There’s a giant cross on the horizon.
If I was religious, I’d probably stop. That’s probably their plan.
If I was religious, there are things I wouldn’t have done.
The skinny Chinese woman at the next gas station tells me their famous cross isn’t the biggest in the world. “Really? It has to be twenty stories high.”
“Yeah. But someone built a bigger one up near Chicago. I hear there’s an even taller one somewhere in Florida.”
That must be Saint Augustine. Now she mentions it, I recall I saw it years ago on a family vacation. It may have been taller, must have been, I guess, but it was narrower and less impressive. Watching this cross grow as I drew nearer had been hypnotic. Weirdly so. Almost dangerous.
“You like that kind of thing,” the woman says, “when you get over to Amarillo look out for the Cadillac Ranch.”
“You’ll see.” She grins and shrugs. “Or maybe you won’t. It’s a blink and miss it kind of thing.”