Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend in the Heartland

It's been quite a... time. A month? Two? This whole year so far? I can't keep up. I feel like I'm running in place on a sheet of ice, like the one I park on every night. My driveway is in the shade of a giant pine tree that spits sap and sheds needles and prevents the sun from melting the deep snow that falls there, so it compacts daily and since it's a low spot, all the water from the sunny gutter pools in my driveway and nightly freezes smooth as a mirror. I dumped non-clumping kitty litter all over it and it's a little more navigable, but I'm suddenly worried that the neighborhood cats are going to recognize that sweet, sweet perfume and do the unthinkable all around my car, in the moonlight, yowling a ritual medley from CATS. I can always blame it on the neighbors' dogs and make the kids clean it up. Actually, it seems to be repelling the dogs, so yay.

Jeffie, who is famous for pushing so hard with pens and pencils that he breaks the tips, finally got fed up with the needle-thin lead in mechanical pencils and bought these bizarre imitation Pentech pencils that are basically real wooden ball point pens with a vial of reportedly erasable liquid graphite inside. They blob like a pen and if you're going to erase, you'd better do it before the stuff dries, because then it's just like ink. I picked one up the first day and experimented on the same sheet of paper on which Jeffie had been doing what everybody does when they want to experience a new writing instrument: signing his name. I instantly did a scarily precise forgery of his signature, which, with the two 'f's, is very fun to write. Without having seen what I was writing, he said, "Are you gonna sign my checks now, A?" I held up the notebook and all three guys went, "Oooooo." Let me know if you need some forging done. I'm apparently good at it. Later Jeffie couldn't tell which writing was his and which was mine.

Our weekend trip to Ogallala was, for the most part, just lovely, with dry roads all the way there and back and unanticipated gorgeous T-shirt weather while we were there. In the respectable-sized chain hotel we frequent we got the same room we had on our first trip, which was just like coming home. We were settled in no time and had nearly three blissful days to enjoy the charms of our little freeway hideaway, which are numerous. We like to kill time strolling among the headstones in the graveyard, driving over the dam, chomping Potato Olés at Taco John's, and tromping around the lake shore when we're not holed up watching movies.

We took a nice long walk around downtown Saturday and decided simultaneously that we long to climb the weird hollow grid structure that surrounds both the courthouse and the sheriff's station next door. We got yelled at by three separate carloads of local hooligans at different times, window shopped at a music store, and ducked into the Ben Franklin craft store and found enough specialty yarn, buttons, and art supplies to satisfy even me. We stood on the overpass looking down at the tracks as a train roared full-speed underneath, and if you've never done that, you
must before you die. It's quite the sensation. We had wanted to walk Friday night but kept hearing shotgun fire along the riverbed where we were heading, so we went back to our DVD collection and our stash of junk food.

We like a decades-old native diner called Hokes for breakfast; the family-owned "wormhole to the Eisenhower administration," as Brent likes to call it, serves coffee and hot, salty comfort food faster than you can whistle the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show. Our second visit this weekend was mid-Sunday, where we found most of Ogallala's older demographic enjoying a post-church buffet that offered, among other appetizing fare, barbecued pork ribs and a glistening carrot cake sprinkled with nuts. We ordered our respective favorite breakfasts and took our time emptying the coffee pot to enjoy the scene, the bustle and friendly greetings and clinking silverware and fragrant steam.

We had a rather odd experience at the midwestern pizza chain Valentino's when we popped by for a late lunch just after noon (OK, yes, it was breakfast) to find the weekend Italian buffet in full swing. The wholesome teenaged hostess assumed we were there for the chow line, but we refrained. She brought us a menu to share and, looking apprehensive, swung into the kitchen, where she said (clearly audible to us and the six other customers), "I think they're going to order from the menu!" Someone said, aghast, "They are?" We feared retribution (seriously, we worried they'd spit on the pizza) so we agreed to the buffet, which was, in a word, meh. Possibly feh. So all weekend we exclaimed at appropriate times and in appropriate tones of dismay, "Not the menu!" or something like that.

I made some observations on the 14-hour round-trip commute about the truckers who dominate the freeways in this part of the country. You can tell what kind of driver you're coming up on (or about to be passed by) by the way he (or she, or they, and aren't couples who team drive just the cutest thing, providing you can tell which one is the Mrs.?) maintains his cab. I love the cabs that are immaculately painted and chromed, with the driver's name in loopy, airbrushed script (complete with sparkles!) on the door or over the rear fender. I love hood ornaments, the lean, graceful swans on the Kenworths and the dense, aggressive bulldog on the Macks. I wish new passenger vehicles still came with hood ornaments. Why did they ever disappear?

There are company drivers (like Mayflower and Allied and Schneider) who are generally good sports, rarely pulling out to pass when you're speeding up behind, company trucks with cab IDs and "How's my driving?" invitations on the trailer doors. And then there are the unmarked tractor trailers that frighten me because they almost always do something irresponsible when I'm passing. Probably they're trying to pee in a Snapple bottle, which has to be hard when you're driving; on the way home it was easy to pick out the most appalling kind of trucker trash littering the highway: bottles of urine sparkling amber in the evening sun, because they lose time and mileage if they stop to use the restroom. I told Brent I wish the Wyoming legislature would pass a law that drivers caught tossing bottles of urine into the sagebrush are to be lynched from the nearest telephone pole by any witnesses. I guess he thought I was kidding. But I've done highway clean-ups with Morgan and Kelly and the Evanston Jaycees, and I'd gladly install a winch on Puck's front bumper if it meant I could heft over a crossbar any offensive jerk disposing of a biohazard out the window of a moving truck.

Other than that I enjoy the scenery on this drive, pump jacks and crazy metal scrap art in the desert, truck stop compounds glowing like spaceports, stockyards and corrals and glittering cornfields, very occasionally a meandering, icy creek labeled "______ River," and once in an even greater while a tree or two or five.

I didn't mean to babble this far. I'm going to run down to the library and see if I can find a copy of Lonesome Dove on book or DVD so people will stop pestering me when I say I've been to Ogallala. All I know about the story is what Jeffie has told me, and his plot summaries never make any sense at all. I seem only to recall that as the protagonists journeyed up the Overland Trail, someone was lynched in Ogallala. Probably they tried to order off the menu.


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