Monday, August 20, 2007

Portland to DC day 4: Denver, CO - Kansas City, MO (603 miles)

Departure time: 11:45am MST
Arrival Time 11:00pm CST
Penske trucks: 6
Dead deer: 1
Wish I had brought: The cast of Live Wire

Our pattern of setting a ridiculously early waking time and then not waking up was well established by now. Besides, driving on no sleep isn't such a great idea. So I wasn't surprised when I woke up around 8:00 and Traci was just starting to pack up the box she forgot to pack up the day before. I took my time showering, getting dressed and doing a very thorough search for anything I had brought. With a whole house to roam, I had left things laying in every room. Not very smart, but I managed to get it all.

We wedged the last few items into the truck and then headed to Traci's friend's house to drop off her car. There was visiting and showing off of the dog, the cat, the kid and the jeep. It was getting close to 11:00 when I just stood up and declared that we were leaving. We still had to stop for breakfast, which we did at Denny's.

I had been warned by several people about the utter tedium of the drive ahead of us once we left Denver, and I wasn't disappointed. The land stretched on in unending flatness where the most exciting thing to be seen was miles of corn. My music wasn't helping me so I put on my podcast of True Stories, a performance hosted by Courtenay Hameister who also hosts the Live Wire Radio theatre show. The stories were as twisted as I've come to expect from Courtenay and her friends and kept us laughing all the way to the Denver border. (If you do nothing else this week, download the podcast and listen to Jim Brunberg's performance of "One Night

We stopped in Burlington to see the Kit Carson Carousel. As we pulled into the fairgrounds we saw a sign that said, “Rides 25 cents.” We figured maybe it was leftover from the historic beginnings of the carousel but the rides were actually 25 cents! Sweet. Rides happened every thirty minutes and we were right on time to catch the next one. Traci picked a row of giraffes. I wasn't expecting much excitement since the animals didn't go up and down but that little old merry-go-round had some speed! We got up to ten miles per hour, enough to feel a few g's and sway towards the outside.

After we rode the carousel, we paid a dollar (a dollar!) to go into the museum and check out the history of the carousel, the restoration and the story of the theft and subsequent return of three of the animals in 1981. There was a cut out of a carving in process and a demonstration of how a pipe organ works. Very cool.

That was pretty much the most excitement we had all day. We crossed into Kansas and made our usual stop at the rest area visitor's center. Our welcome to the Midwest was cemented when a girl in the bathroom asked one of the cleaning workers if she had anything to get the permanent marker off her back. Soon the woman was enthusiastically scrubbing the girl's back with orange degreaser which seemed to work pretty well. I didn't get to see what the writing actually said and I can only imagine how it got there, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was alcohol involved.

This was also the point in the trip when I noticed that every rest stop contained toilets that flushed automatically. I have no real complaint about that, it's certainly nice not to have to touch it, even with my feet—but every time I go into airports or other places where things are automatic, I get the feeling that in another hundred years, we'll have so automated everything in our lives that we'll completely lose all motor function. We'll be a lot like that Star Trek episode where Kirk and the gang beam down to a planet where the inhabitants are just big brains sitting in huge jars of formaldehyde, or the 21st century equivalent.

We moved on and for the rest of the day it pretty much just looked like this:

The road through Kansas

Late in the afternoon we went through Topeka, a place I've made many jokes about (I'm sure the next CSI is going to be set there), but never thought I'd see personally.

I ended up driving the last shift and for once I was feeling really awake. Traci was fast asleep which left me to listen to music and think, which wasn't necessarily a good thing. Whenever my brain has free time, there's a good chance thoughts of mom will wander through.

When I finally reappeared in my math class after the funeral, my classmate LC made the analogy that grief is like walking along the edge of the ocean—your feet are always wet and then every so often, a big wave comes up and takes you out. I really liked the analogy even though I hated the annoying therapy voice she used when she said it. When I went to Hawaii I rented a boogie board and spent the afternoon riding the waves and I made the mistake just once of turning my back on the ocean. One minute I was standing there happy-go-lucky with my board hand—the next second I was eating sand. Grief does indeed feel just like that.

I hadn't had a big wave in a few weeks and driving along highway 70 through flat Kansas country, I had too much time to think about how fun it would've been if mom had been with us and remember fun things we did do, taking road trips to California to see the family just about every summer of my entire childhood.
The music wasn't helping and I had to skip carefully through the Ipod shuffle for upbeat songs. It really would not do to start crying while driving at high speed on a strange highway at night.

I managed to hold it together and soon I was distracted with the city itself. Kansas City was much larger than I expected. We couldn't see much besides the lights of buildings and the massive stadium home of the Kansas City Chiefs which we could see the inside of pretty well from the road. But the sheer density of the city and the fact that it took forty-five minutes to get through it, made an impression.

Our hotel made an impression as well, unfortunately not a good one. When we walked down the hall to our room, there were seven or eight kids playing in the small hotel pool with no parents in sight. Our room was grungy and dirty, especially after the bright clean Comfort Suites in Ogden. But the final straw was when the kids got out of the pool and went on to amuse themselves by running up and down the hallway yelling. It was after midnight at that point.

I called the front desk and asked if they would say something to the kids and/or parents.

Desk clerk: Where is the noise coming from?
Me: We're in room 112.
DC: And where is the noise coming from?
Me: They're running up and down the hall.
DC: Do you know where the noise is originating?
Me: That would be in the hallway. Outside our room. Room 112.

I wasn't hopeful but I wasn't getting dressed again to go out and yell at them. I went to bed and eventually fell asleep.

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