The last time we drove across the continent, from east to west in the summer of 2002, I ended up with ooey-gooey feelings of love for the whole country. Maybe all those peanut butter sandwiches on Wonder bread gummed up my brain, but I swear I loved every mile of highway as we threaded our way from New York through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois... Even the places routinely deemed boring by East and West coasters—Iowa, say, or Nebraska; "So flat!" "Nothing but cornfields!"—struck me as exquisite in their own right.
And damn if I didn't find myself falling right back in love again today as we drove through Texas and Oklahoma. And I defy you to round up 10 people who will extol the beauty of the Texas panhandle.
There's just something about how the landscape of one state eases into the topography of the next—the red plateaus of New Mexico flattening into harshly beautiful Texan ranchland—that makes me happy, giving me a touchy-feely sense of the interconnectedness of everything, while appreciating each state's distinct sense of place.
Where else but Texas, for instance, would a quirky millionaire decide to plant 10 Cadillacs nose-down in the middle of a field just west of Amarillo? Or to let them become a community art project, so that the spray-painted Cadillacs change color and design hourly?
The Cadillac Ranch we went looking for (in fact, we missed it on our first pass and had to double-back from Amarillo to find it). But its little buddy, the 5-car VW ranch down the road in Conway was one we happened on by accident while looking for a restroom.
Maybe it's because the land is so flat there in the panhandle, but the folks in Texas just can't help sticking things in the ground that stand up tall for all to see. Like the "Biggest Cross in the Western Hemisphere," in the town of Groom.
But as we crossed into Oklahoma, I had the sense of the sky coming down to meet the earth. It was a great big swoopy sky, and the cars on the highway with their headlights illuminated looked like tiny shooting stars streaking through the Oklahoma galaxy.
[photo by my Beloved]
Over dinner at the historic Cattlemen's Cafe in Oklahoma City's Stockyard City district (where I had a tiny twinge of guilt over tucking into one of the cousins of the fuzzy-faced moo-cows we'd driven past all afternoon), we talked to our young waiter about life in and out of Oklahoma. He's a native, but has lived in Los Angeles twice and hopes to get back there again "so I can play golf all day." He's also been to New York, and loved it. He'd happily go back there, too.
"We're here in Oklahoma," he said. "You want to go one place or the other."
As I looked at him, I thought of friends in L.A. and New York who would have swiftly agreed with him. But I found myself wanting to raise a little defense for his home state. And I thought, how odd is that?
My Beloved says of driving across the country, "You can drive east, into the country's past, or you can drive west, into the country's future."
To me, it's all a present.