Wandering Soul

You know how they say that there’s a “whole lotta nothing” in the American Midwest? Yeah, well they’re not kidding. The sky above, the field below, and a straight shot of paved road and power lines is pretty much what awaits you if you so choose to venture there as I had. I stretched my legs across the warm pavement. They were still pretty stiff from the car ride. Looking over at my companion sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, she gave a disapproving head shake. For almost 10 minutes solid I had managed to amuse myself by sitting smack in the middle of highway route 70 in Colorado, my progress uninterrupted by any cars or vehicles whatsoever.

Slowly but surely memories of how I managed to be in such a situation flooded back to me. Memories of how for almost two months prior I had slaved away the bulk of my summer in the kitchen of a restaurant washing dishes to afford a new camera.

Two days ago, after almost nine months worth of planning I set out with my travel partner, Samantha McClay, in her packed Honda Civic on the 2,500-mile journey west to Santa Fe to meet with 16 other students and two professors to study in the American Southwest for a semester. For a guy who’s never gone beyond Washington D.C., this was a pretty big deal.

The journey thus far had been filled with cigarette perfumed hotel rooms and roadside curiosities the likes of which would make any voyagers being shiver with excitement. The overwhelming obstacles of East Coast traffic were now far behind us (I had learned to drive standard all of a week before and already had one too many encounters with state police in New York).

America’s largest cross greeted us as we entered Ohio, and though we settled into the town of Mentor for the night, we were still brimming with energy. The hotel clerk greeted us enthusiastically when we finally checked in.

“Let me know if you need anything!” she said with a chipper tone while handing us our room key.

Half an hour later after hauling and unpacking most of our car, we were forced to switch rooms as our microwave, phone, and fridge all malfunctioned. The clerk’s facade of helpfulness quickly dissipated once we told her this.

Miles later we crossed the mighty Mississippi River, sadly bypassing the St. Louis arch in favor of less traffic. Later we would finally reach Kansas, our greatest test of endurance yet taking almost a day of our time to pass through. The monotony of endless corn and wheat fields were remedied by pit stops such as Nostalgia Town, a retro shop where you can find any form of paraphernalia you can think of from the 1940s through the ’60s. Walls brimmed with three stooges and John Wayne posters. An entire section was strictly dedicated and organized just for Elvis, and another for retro candy like clove gum.

Following Route 24 through the behemoth, oasis towns like Manhattan, Kansas quickly became our favorite thing with an “I-wonder-what-the-next-‘big’ town-will-have-in-it” mentality adopted among us. Should you ever find yourself in this particular abode you may feel inclined to stop at a small hole-in-the-wall diner aptly named “Bob’s Diner.” Be forewarned, EVERYTHING comes with butter on it.

One minor delay of an hour ensued as the result of a windmill farm spotted in the distance. Never a chance in hell that I would ignore my photographer’s instincts for something of this magnitude.

Now past the windswept great planes, sitting in that road, the two of us after four days of driving were still eager for more. Ahead of us, the great Rocky Mountains rising out of the desert like an unreal goliath, Dust-devils rampaging through the Colorado step, and eventually a not so welcoming sign for the New Mexico border riddled with bullet holes.

Some important advice for the greenhorn traveler looking to imitate this endeavor: One, if the GPS doesn’t think that St. Louis is a real place, you have a problem. Two, every gas station has its own special flavor to it. And three, speeding in Kansas can and will always occur no matter how hard your compatriot may try to prevent it. Just watch out for tractors.

My journey west is still going on, and every day feels more like a week, especially now that there are more people with us. Sometimes sitting on a road is much more comfortable than you’d think it would be. It helps to familiarize yourself with a new house once you’ve moved in.

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