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Friday, August 12, 2005

LET Day 2 and 3: Las Cruses to Abeline

La Quinta, a hotel chain I am now on conversational terms with, claims to be Spanish for many things. In our case, those things include continental breakfast, close proximity to Denny's, and FREE WIRELESS. Almost worth the only room remaining being a smoking.

The past two days have been a little more stressful than either Stef or I would prefer, as Operation Driving Standard is not quite the smooth transition we'd hoped it'd be. Thus, we spent our extra day in New Mexico (Day 2) driving around in circles and trying not to stall out; this morning consisted of more of the same, before we came to the conclusion that it was time to shit or get out of the car. So to speak.

Really, as long as Stefanie doesn't freak out and remembers to accelerate, she's fabulous at driving stick. The combination of these two things, however, could be more present.

Stef is handling most of the driving. Okay, all of the driving. But I'm in charge of navigation and snacks and everything else that's important. A key part of my own learning curve is learning not to point and say "Go there!" This sort of direction-giving appears to be difficult for the driver to comprehend, given that most of her attention is focused on getting the car into third.

This evening, we barreled down the Texas freeway at 80 mph, five miles away from the exit that would fill our gas tank with precious fuel, and like a benediction from God my cell phone discovered two bars. So I called world-renouned manual driver Asa. "We're in the middle of Texas, we need gas, and we don't know how to downshift!"

And lo, he explained what he knew, and lo, Stefanie seemed to understand what he was saying, and lo, we refilled.

So that was the driving. What about the land we drove through? I'd forgotten how vast Texas seems, and the hugeness of the sky and the flatness of the land, the slight attempts at mountains, is overwhelming. I keep having to repeat it out loud. "I'm in Texas." I haven't been here since I was seven. No wonder we never came back.

Abandoned buildings, left and right. Aching. The first gas station we stopped at had no gas, but a diner. Drivers were stopped there, hanging out, as if the gas was just late by hours, not what was clearly days. Half of the convenience store section was just empty; clean in theory, but ground down into the dust nonetheless. One of the empty shelves bore a big box of religious pamphlets. Those were free. Folks are big on Jesus here. And breastfeeding. Saw a billboard for Breast-feeding: Best For Mom, Best For Baby Given that I was reading Bust all afternoon (and night, too -- best $5 I've spent so far!) it made for a surreal moment. Why does the government want me to breastfeed? No clue. And the first motel we stopped at tonight had two copies of the same picture of Jesus hanging on the walls. Next to the one behind the counter was a piece of paper reading: "Hi, My Name is God. I'll be solving all your problems today. You don't need to help. Just let me in."

We woulda stayed at that motel, but it wasn't near the Denny's.

I've been writing down the amusing traffic signs we've seen; it's still in the car, but I'll have you know that Texas is big on road construction signs that say "We're Working for You: Give Us a Brake!" And so far, the best is "Trenton, Texas: 3000 Friendly People and A Few Soreheads."

Wicked cool lightning storms all evening -- flashes so close that I kept checking my arms, seeing if the hairs were standing on end. Rain, too, but mostly lightning. Sharp and clear. Made me realize why I know so much about lightning, given that California isn't really big on it. All of the fun facts stored in my brain are totally the product of day care freak-outs and Mom's special brand of "If you understand it, then you won't be scared." Count between the light and thunder and you know how far away the storm is. We couldn't hear the thunder inside the car, though. Which had me a little concerned.

Been taking lots of useless pictures from the side window; may try to post some tomorrow morning, before we leave. It's beautiful country. Dust storms, raining from the ground to the sky. Fluffy white clouds. And did I mention the land? So flat! There's a horizon! I mean, the sky meets the land! There're no buildings or nothing!

I keep drawling, and it doesn't sound authentic but it keeps popping out anyways. Oh well. Stef is used to me sounding like an idiot.

Tomorrow's a short drive, as we're only three hours away from our next stop, in Dallas, where we'll crash with Stef's friends from high school for the night. And then Sunday we drive until we can find Jesus Elvis. That's right! Graceland! I just have to figure out how to get to it.

Bizarre, how it doesn't really feel like it takes too long to drive across the country. Even though there sure is a lot of it.

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