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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Driving across the country

I was in a little bit of a hurry to get from Connecticut to Santa Barbara, so didn't really have time to stop to really observe some of the natural wonders of our country. But on the way back, I intend to fully appreciate such phenomena as:

The world's largest rocking chair. I want to see it up close, to take in its wondrous dimensions from only a few feet away, and think about how big someone would have to be to do it justice.

The world's biggest saddle discounter. I don't have a horse or anything, but still, once I get inside the store, I'm sure some of those deals will be hard to resist.

A "Cherokee trading post" with "100,000 gifts and novelties." Out of that many, there surely must be at least a few hundred that I would be interested in.

On the New Mexico/Arizona border, a Navajo trading post offered blankets for $4.99. Hmm. I know people will be expecting gifts when I return to Connecticut; I wonder if any of them would like a blanket.

I searched hard for evidence of cultural differences across the land. I did notice that the motel in Wytheville, Virginia served Raisin Bran for breakfast, whereas the motel in Maumelle, Arkansas, only offered Frosted Flakes. (Aha! That explains regional differences in body build.)

I also noticed that west of the Mississippi most gas stations don't offer 93 octane. So while the humans get supercharged (and super sized), the cars are put on a diet.

Speaking of the Mississippi, one of the most impressive things I saw -- on a more serious note -- was the power of the river. I had to drive close to a hundred miles west of it before I saw anything even remotely resembling a hill. This means that in the past, the floods have been so powerful that they have simply flattened everything in their path.

On an even more serious note, you see a lot of real poverty from the highway. In the past, I've driven through Compton, California, known as a poor area, and been struck by how nice many of the smallish -- but not tiny -- houses were. I've also driven though poor sections of Detroit, and while some of the areas are rundown, the houses themselves were obviously nice middle class homes once upon a time. I've also seen plenty of inner city housing projects, and structurally at least, they just look like every other large apartment building.

But driving through Oklahoma and New Mexico and Arizona, you see a lot of houses that look like tarpaper shacks. Some of them have the look of places which have been long since abandoned, and it's only the car parked outside or laundry hanging on a line next to it that makes you realize that they are occupied. The most extreme example of this was probably Henryetta, Oklahoma (not to be confused with Henrietta, Georgia).

Henryetta advertises itself as the hometown of Troy Aikman, former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Anyone who grew up in the crowded shantytown that I saw (and admittedly, nobody who can afford to live elsewhere will live near a highway) could only have developed a throwing arm by tossing the football back and forth across the interstate.

If Ivy League colleges were truly interested in helping the disadvantaged, or in true diversity, they would recruit American Indian students from places like this. But they never seem to.

The other interesting thing I saw -- and I seem to be the only person who finds this interesting -- was watching how the temperature changes as the altitude changes. The coldest place I drove through on the trip was Arizona (I-40 passes through Flagstaff, altitude 7000 feet). Sometimes you can see the temperature drop (from the reading on the dashboard) as you go up a mountain.

Whenever I've pointed this out to passengers in the past, they react as if I'd just pointed out, "Wow -- it's exit 149!" or "Hey -- I just saw a sign for a Days Inn!" ("Dad, will you please shut up" seems to be one popular reaction.)

But there's nothing wrong with being able to keep yourself entertained.

In fact, if you're going to drive across the country, you sorta have to.


Gilbert Ratchet said...

"If Ivy League colleges were truly interested in helping the disadvantaged, or in true diversity, they would recruit American Indian students from places like this. But they never seem to."

Actually, one does: Dartmouth was (allegedly) founded to educate Native Americans, and even if it was just PR in 1769, in the late 1960s the College decided to take this mission seriously. There has been a fairly large Native contingent ever since (well, compared to other Ivies, at any rate).

John Craig said...

Gilbert --
Interesting, thank you. I stand corrected.

Did you go there?

Anonymous said...


Considering Native Americans comprise just over 1% of Dartmouth's student body, I don't think you should feel a need to be corrected much. Although, like Gilbert said, compared to the other Ivies, Dartmouth stands tall. Now, if they could just get the Tuck school's admission down from over $50,000 ...
I don't follow that Oklahoma has a lot of shacks. I use to live there. I'd stay out of the Detroit city limits period.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you. I stand uncorrected. (I'm easily swayed.) Sorry Gilbert.

As far as the shacks, try taking I-40 through Oklahoma sometime. I promise, you'll see a lot of shacks.

As far as Detroit -- Dontay's Inferno, as I heard it referred to recently -- that was a long time ago..... Though I was thinking about hitting Ciudad Juarez on the way back.

Anonymous said...

I certainly wouldn't describe Henryetta as a wealthy town -- they largely missed the TX/OK oil boom and the average income in Okmulgee county probably isn't half that of Connecticut's. However, to write it's a "crowded shantytown" and that the "most extreme example of this was probably Henryetta" with "this" being "houses that look like tarpaper shacks" is not representative of the town. The town doesn't consist of a crowded bunch of dwellings made of unpainted plywood with corrugated aluminum roofs. It's a very small town but you shouldn't be able to see much of it from I-40. When traveling on the highway, a tree line blocks most of the view to the south while a trailer park and the industrial section are mainly what's seen when looking north.


John Craig said...

Art --
It sounds as if you know the town, so I'll defer to you. And admittedly, all I saw was what could be seen from the highway, which is never the nicest part of a town. But what I saw from the highway looked awfully dismal -- even if "shantytown" is an exaggeration.

Also, please don't lose sight of my larger point, which is that people who live in conditions like that are more deserving of a helping hand than people who grew up in inner city projects or places like Compton.

Anyway, thanks for your even keeled response.