When one writes these vacation travel blogs, perhaps it is a great idea to take a cleansing shower before hitting the keyboard. The water, rushing down your body, washing away the grim of the road, or from a scorching summer day, will also clean one’s thoughts before committing to eternity.
I WAS going to rant and rave about what we learned about hotels and motels, secretly hoping to communicate directly with the various hotel/motel owners on how to improve our stays with them.
I was going to admonish the lower-end entities (ones with numbers in their titles or whose rooms were slightly bigger than the normal closet at home) about making guests use postage stamp-sized towels with the consistency of sandpaper; or putting handicapped people on the second floor of a two-story property when there is NO elevator employed; or ignoring calls to the front desk seeking plungers for stopped-up commodes and never getting a response after 45 minutes; or making sure that plenty of signage and directions exist to point the weary traveler in the proper direction (both on the highway and online through websites); or making one wait to register for 10 minutes while the front desk girl ate pizza in the back with the tattooed boyfriend.
I’m NOT going to do that; it just spoils the magnificent memories of a splendid two weeks on the road – seeing the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Saguaro National Parks, lots of baseball, two rainbows over right-field fences during game action, spending time with family, sampling terrific cuisine and never-before-sampled menus; gazing at sunsets over purple mountains and their majesty; enjoying a great tribute to The Beatles in Las Vegas and simply being together in a mode of total discovery.
But I am here to tell you “it’s good to be home.” And in a few days, life will return to its state of normal craziness. However, when things go slightly south, and the heat is making all of us nuttier than Corsicana fruit cake from Collin Street Bakery, we now possess new thoughts to cool us down – of oceans of sands and visions of tumbleweeds rolling past the highways.
We can remember seeing an elk foraging along the roadside as we slowly drove the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We can remember the collective beauty of huge Dale Chihuly blown glass orchids, by the score, on the ceiling of The Bellagio main entrance.
We can remember having the best Chinese meal of our lives in The Mirage in Las Vegas or the best burrito in an old hotel (The Weatherford) in downtown Flagstaff.
We can remember laughing and crying (with joy at how mature my youngest daughter, Kelsey, has become) and standing with our mouths wide open at the first sight of the Grand Canyon.
We can remember all the good times over the past two weeks … and it should help deal with whatever happens from this point forward.
Yes, it’s always good to take a refreshing shower …
We made three longer-than-a-fill-up stops during the 14-hour drive from Albuquerque to Plano. A sidenote: you need to have your brains checked thoroughly to make that lengthy of a drive in one single day. My checkup revealed nothing … which is the amount of cranial wattage I possessed most of the way …
First, we visited one of the nation’s top souvenir stands at Cline’s Corner, New Mexico (an hour east of Albuquerque). Once upon a time, anything and everything Route 66 was available there, but times have changed like every place else and visitors want different articles of cheap value.
Still, it was one final moment to enrich the New Mexico economy and take a photo beside a cigar store wooden Indian (we gladly resisted). Others did not.
Second, we visited the famous (and completely unmarked) Cadillac Ranch, along Interstate-40 in Amarillo. Despite not a single sign, marker or notation on any map, people by the hundreds appear daily on the frontage road on the city’s west side to see where millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 buried 10 used Cadillacs in the Panhandle ground.
They’ve been there since 1974 (although the original site is two miles from the current spot), at the same angle as the Cheops pyramids, Marsh once said, and honored the golden age of American automotive making (from 1949-63).
Not only do people take thousands of photos, but many of them come with cans of spray paint to add their marks to the cars. Marsh doesn’t seem to mind; in fact, he probably encourages public participation in creating “public art.”
At least one person was slightly disturbed by the defacing – Jodie!
“It’s upsetting,” she said after walking back to the car. “Why would people do that?!? They wouldn’t do it to their OWN cars.”
Finally, I had promises Jodie a special dinner on her birthday but since it was a few hours away, I decided to keep the promise – in spirit. We turned the Escape off Interstate-20, west of Fort Worth into the tiny, tiny town of Strawn – where they play a mean brand of six-man football.
However, Strawn is BEST known for Mary’s Café, home of what many regard as the best chicken fried steak in Texas. Period. And since Jodie had New Mexico’s version a few nights before and found it seriously lacking in quality, it was time to make up.
In this one intersection town, with two other competitors, trucks and cars were three-deep in the parking lot on a hot Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. When we entered, you could hear the sounds of laughter and love – the kind of love that comes from silverware clanking against dinner plates and appetites being severely satisfied.
I am here to report that Mary’s serves up one outstanding chicken fried steak; the batter clings just right to the solid piece of quality meat. Instead of potatoes (both mashed and fried are made from fresh cut spuds, not frozen), I had a side order of nicely prepared pinto beans (not overcooked). The cream gravy was made from scratch because it was thick (you COULD eat it with a fork) and just the right touch of lumpy – the sign of a well-delivered covering.
The “medium” steak, “listed” at 8 ounces, covered most of the platter. Melinda, the waitress, said the large would have overlapped the plate. When I glanced at those who went with the grande size, I knew I had made the correct selection. My stomach could NOT have challenged such a meal.
Finally, on something akin to autopilot, we pulled into our alley and slowly eased our vehicle into the garage – some 4,800 after the initial start.
We immediately ran (not walked) to our respective sleep units and hit the hay as they say. I awoke 11 hours later; Jodie rose after 14 hours of sleep.
Today is her 49th birthday and it will be an impromptu birthday celebration with a few of her former work colleagues. Tomorrow will be a day for laundry, grabbing a few groceries, retrieving the boarded dog and cat (individually, of course) and one final night’s sleep before resuming life in North Texas when it is 104 degrees in the shade (the Sonora Desert has nothing on the plains of North Texas).
And as I wrote before, somewhere in the back of my demented mind, I will begin planning for another vacation: perhaps back to New Mexico to see the OTHER sites (Carlsbad, Las Cruses, Roswell, Los Alamos, Farmington, Silver City); perhaps to Colorado and Utah to see more national parks; perhaps to Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee to see Civil War battlefields.
But life without future prospects (for fun and love and family) is simply not much of a life worth living. Don’t you agree?
Until then … when we decide to visit America on one of its different routes … love, peace and happiness (where ARE the Chambers Brothers anyway?) … and shalom!