I’m writing from a hotel in Amarillo, Texas. I’ve reached the halfway point on my 2,000-mile journey from Atlanta to Salt Lake City. It’s taken three days to get this far, with about fifteen more hours of driving to go. The first day, my wife and I were dodging downed power lines and traffic jams as a result of a tropical storm that hit Atlanta very early that morning. I’ve heard recently that parts of the city are still without power, four days later.
In Jackson, Mississippi, we stayed at a Hilton hotel that reeked from a combination of mold and some kind of Clorox COVID disinfectant. The hotel had been at least half empty since the outbreak. Fortunately, we were able to move to a slightly better room. Apart from a very tasty takeout pizza and salad, that gave us some momentary joy, we were mostly glad to get out of town.
Last night, we stayed at a really nice Hyatt Place hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. I had researched yet another high-end Italian eatery, and the late-night dinner agenda, again, was pizza and salad. After a second very long day of driving, we both drank our fair share of wine, and I passed out quickly. I was struck how aggressively the folks in Dallas/Fort Worth drive. At 80+ miles an hour on I-20, pushing ahead constantly, weaving and tailgating in multiple lanes, whether in trucks or cars, it reminded me of New York City’s frenetic pace.
Yesterday, we took, at least at first, an easy, uneventful 5-hour drive on U.S. Highway 287, from north of Fort Worth up to the Texas Panhandle. The weather was glorious, though the landscape, at least to Wichita Falls, were somewhat bland. About thirty minutes after a rest stop there, we suddenly had to pull over to the side of the road due to an aggressive patrol car that was responding to an accident a little ways up the road. His approach to controlling traffic to one lane to protect that accident on the right side of the highway was really ambiguous. After subduing the cars behind us, he circled in front of our car, since we had dribbled a few hundred feet ahead before deciding to pull over, as we saw the cluster of cars do behind us. The cop, in dramatic fashion, got out of his vehicle, walked briskly towards us, asked me to “roll down” my window, after I gestured submissively with both hands, and said, pointing furiously to the left-most lane of the divided highway, and with a loud, testosterone-laden voice, “Drive in that lane, drive slowly, and pay attention!” It was the closest anyone without a face mask had breathed on me in many months.
The road northwest to Amarillo is dotted with old, grim and grimy, mostly desolate small towns every thirty minutes or so, whose fortunes, if they ever had them, have long ago passed. Empty storefronts, piles of rubble and scrap metal, and impoverished homes, if not already completely deserted, were everywhere. We wondered what, if anything these folks do.
Sometime along the way, I got a voicemail from our Amarillo hotel, asking me to call them. They had some kind of “mechanical trouble,” and, because of that, “moved us to another hotel across the parking lot.” Fortunately, COVID is not too rife here. Both hotels, it turns out, were fully booked because of some local hockey event, and members of the team were staying at our hotel. Who attends these events during a pandemic?
We’re off to Santa Fe in a few hours, only four hours away. We’ll get a little bit of a break from the drudgery of driving, and unpacking and repacking our loaded Volkswagen. We’ll stay there two nights. I’ve always wanted to visit both Santa Fe and Taos, so it will be a welcome, scenic reprieve from the monotony of driving through the Plains. I just learned that Santa Fe is at 7,100 feet. I had no idea.
As for my Pepper Adams work, obviously that has been put on hold as I relocate. I did give a memorable remote lecture to Jim Merod’s Ellington and Armstrong class a week or so ago at Soka University. Before this road trip, I was supposed to get a copy of Philip Roth’s novel Indignation so I could look for some coloristic descriptions of the Korean War and its effect on the servicemen who fought there to ideally bring a little more life to my chapter on Pepper’s military experience. That book never made it to my local library before I left town. My able reader John Gennari suggested three upgrades to Chapter 10, only one of which I was able to address before I left, and I’m awaiting Brian Priestley’s reading of Part Two (“Dominion”) for his assessment. Both Merod and M.L. Liebler will be reading the manuscript soon, too, so there might be some more tweaks. I still need to make improvements of my own to Chapter 10, and to 7 to much lesser degree. Then I can focus on formatting it for publication.
I just learned that Amarillo is the 14th most populated city in Texas, With a population of about 200,000 people, it’s surprisingly high in elevation. I don’t remember climbing at all on the drive up here. Maybe it’s because I was too busy stuffing my face with the two burrito bowls that I bought at Chipotle? At nearly 3,600 feet, it explains the cold nights, and snow that landed a few days ago. Rock salt was strewn about on the front walk of the hotel.
We’re off to more striking vistas. I’ll circle back in a month. I hope everyone in the U.S. has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m especially looking forward to it, finally being reunited with my daughter after a two year hiatus.