Big Sky Country, Coronavirus, Kansas, Nebraska, normal Americans, Oklahoma, pronghorns, road trip, Texas, The twilight Zone, We don' need no stinking badges!, windmill farms, Wyoming
Despite the best efforts of D/S/C politicians, life in America goes on…
Mrs. Manor and I, at about 0230 one dark Tuesday morning, ventured out on a viral road trip, cross-crossing America, South to North, from North Texas to Northeastern Wyoming. We arrived at our destination at about 2130 the same day, which is pretty good, keeping in mind Wyoming is in an earlier time zone, so we gained an hour, which oddly enough did not transform, the long, long drive into a casual afternoon jaunt. We made this journey in pursuit of finding a retirement home in Wyoming. Uh, not a nursing home, but a house–new to us–where we’ll spend our retirement years. We’re not quite ready for the scrap heap. We’re retiring, finally, at the end of this benighted school year. I thought a sort of not quite blow-by-blow description of the state of really middle, deepest, darkest, flyover country America might be interesting.
Driving through Fort Worth on I35 was instructive. Even at about 0300 on just about any night, there is usually considerable traffic, often causing vehicles to occasionally come to a near-standstill across four lanes of traffic. Not tonight. Traffic was light, and I was able to maintain the speed limit. In fact, I was careful—very careful—to maintain the speed limit throughout the entire drive. The police, you see, aren’t maintaining their usual number of traffic citations, and they were out in force, hopeful of running up a score. The drive through Texas was uneventful, and traffic remained light.
It should be noted that our starting point is a bit over 900 feet in elevation, and our destination, well over 4000 feet. It was a constant and noticeable climb, reducing our normal gas mileage. And as we climbed, so did gas prices, beginning at $129.9 to $199.9. I’ll miss that, and much else, about Texas.
The only relatively nasty weather we experienced hit in Oklahoma City, which takes quite awhile to drive through under any circumstance. It appeared to be a bizarre mixture of rain and snow, but not sleet, which for a short stretch reduced visibility suddenly and drastically, but that eventually abated, and traffic remained sparse.
Rolling into Kansas, it appeared the Kansas Highway Patrol must be hiring where everyone else is laying off. I’ve never seen so many police cars hanging out on highways looking for unwary drivers. They mostly drive Dodge Chargers, mostly white, mostly unmarked. There were no lightbars on roofs, and most had no badges on doors—“Badges? We don’ need no stinking badges!”–though all had the ubiquitous spotlight mounted on the driver’s door pillar, which is a tip off if you’re paying attention. I didn’t see any of them getting lucky as I passed them.
Fearing gas station closures, I stopped whenever the tank dropped to nearly ½, which produced about 150 miles—small tank. There was no shortage of truck stops and quick stops, all manned—or womaned—and all the clerks were wearing masks of one kind or another. They were all cheerful; many blessing us. Not formally, with the sign of the cross and all, but with heartfelt admonitions for our well being. Bathrooms in every truck/quick stop were open and seemed unusually clean and well-stocked, no doubt due to heightened awareness of disease transmission. It’s also interesting to note all the state-maintained rest stops were open, and I’m quite sure, better stocked, cleaner and better smelling than I’ve ever experienced.
Speaking of trucks, there seemed to be an unusually large number out there, which is not surprising. I’m not sure if there merely seemed to be more as there were obviously fewer vehicles of other descriptions on the roadways, or if truck traffic was really unusually great, but they seemed to be everywhere, going everywhere, for which we should all be grateful. A truck driver’s photo in front of his or her truck should accompany every dictionary definition of “essential employee.”
Americans really do pull together in difficult times. Even the employees of fast food restaurants, instead of being distracted and surly, were unusually friendly and efficient. Perhaps because they’re grateful to still be employed? It’s good for us all to be reminded, upon occasion, of our daily blessings. Which brings me to fast food on the road.
When traveling, Mrs. Manor and I usually get out of the vehicle when we eat, stretch our legs and relax a bit over a hot meal. Nothing was open for sit-down dining, so we ended up munching out of take-out paper bags in our little SUV. Everyone I know misses the occasional meal out. When we’re allowed liberty again, restaurants—those that could survive—are going to do gangbuster business, and I suspect new ones will find unusual success. That they will rise on the ashes of the dreams of others is tragic.
Kansas is kind of like the Twilight Zone. You drive on and on. Passing out the window is an endless vista of farms and fields, green, brown, tan, green, brown, tan, layered with farm roads, trees, and more and more of the same. It’s a near-Groundhog Day experience, but eventually we made it through, bidding a fond farewell and good luck to the last KHP vehicle we saw, this one with a KHP logo on the doors.
Nothing is worse, however, than driving more or less lengthwise across Nebraska. It’s more Twilight Zone than Kansas. While there was no precipitation, and the weather was mostly sunny, the winds were more horrendous than usual. We had to drive carefully when we were anywhere near semis. The vast, flat sides of their trailers served as sails, and more than one suddenly wandered across several lanes, doubtless provoking an adrenaline cascade in their drivers. We passed them with a burst of speed, which wasn’t much greater than the speed limit. Fortunately, we saw only one overturned in a ditch, and were amazed that was all we saw. The Nebraska Highway Patrol was out, but in not nearly the numbers of the Kansas troopers, and their vehicles were more obviously marked.
I should mention that as the elevation increased, so did the temperature decrease, eventually reaching slightly below freezing.
We saw quite a few windmill farms—of sorts—on our journey. In some places, they don’t work. The winds are just too weak or too strong and will tear them to pieces in seconds. Elsewhere, for every ten or so we saw, at least two weren’t working at all, or were partially dismantled. The others were turning, but pretty lazily. I shuddered to think what life would be like if we had to rely on that kind of technology.
Finally, we crossed the border into Wyoming, which changed from rolling farmland and gentle hills to the high desert. Welcome too, was the change to the 80 MPH speed limit. Montana is called “big sky country,” but that applies nearly as well to Wyoming. The horizon goes on forever over the high desert that is most of Wyoming. The view is breathtaking, and satisfying, a balm to the soul.
Wind is a given in Wyoming, and while it provides “good training” when we ride our trikes, it’s not normally of the dangerous variety we encountered in Nebraska. We had a little snow here and there, but for the most part, clear, dry roads and fair sailing all the way to Mrs. Manor’s sister’s home.
We did find a very nice home, built in 2015. It was the first one we were shown, in several ways. Back in February, we engaged a Wyoming realtor and send a list of requirements. She sent a link to photos of the home, and we agreed it looked good, but as we later discovered, such photos, if not deceptive, often don’t tell the whole story. In any case, we weren’t going to be buying until mid-April, so we put that out of mind, particularly a short time later when we learned it was under contract.
Surprisingly, when we arrived to start house hunting, we learned it was pretty much back on the market as the deal, contingent on the buyer selling their home, had mostly fallen through. In person, it was exactly what we wanted, requiring minimal repair and modification. We viewed seven or eight others, which on the surface looked promising. They weren’t, dear oh dear, they weren’t. In all my years in police work, I was in the homes of innumerable people, usually when they least expected it and at the worst possible times in their lives, so they weren’t at their best and neither were their homes. These people knew they were trying to sell their homes, and if what we saw was their idea of what would be enticing to prospective buyers…
Actually, we experienced something like that when we sold our home, which went for full asking price, cash, within an hour of formally going on the market. Just looking at the photos of other homes on realtor’s websites left Mrs. Manor and I shaking our heads in amazement. Our home looked like a model home one used to find in magazines devoted to such things. That wasn’t because it was high-dollar or full of girly frou-frou window treatments and such; it was neat, clean and uncluttered. So many others looked and smelled—well, let’s just say not only less than well maintained, in many cases, less than sanitary.
Checking on our flights back home on Saturday, we discovered our United Denver to Dallas flight had been canceled. After about an hour on Travelocity, we managed to find a flight on American Airlines. Fortunately, our original United Airlines reservation was refunded, but we were slightly amazed to find that our American Airline’s ticket prices did not include seats! We had to shell out extra for those. I was surprised we weren’t assessed an oxygen fee, or had to pay for toilet tissue by the square should we have to use the bathroom inflight. But I get ahead of myself.
The flight from Wyoming to Denver on a Canadair regional jet had only six souls on board: the pilot, copilot, flight attendant, Mrs. Manor, me and one other passenger. None of us wore masks. It’s rather nice to fly in such a quiet airplane. The flight was smooth, the landing, relaxed.
Denver’s airport is huge and usually a madhouse. When we arrived, it was all but empty. All of the restaurants, with the exception of a McDonald’s, were closed, though a few quick shops were open in the sprawling complex. Our flight, in what appeared to be a brand new 737—six seats on each side of the center aisle–was far less crowded than normal. The plane was about half empty, and the flight attendants announced the Coronavirus caused them to alter their in-flight services by providing no in-flight services, except of course, to First Class passengers. Only about half the passengers wore masks of any kind, and everyone was more quiet and subdued than on any flight I’ve ever flown. It was almost as if by avoiding acknowledging and speaking with others, they were somehow biologically safer.
The aircraft, as I mentioned, appeared brand new. I’ve never seen such a clean and fresh looking plane. The flight was marred only somewhat by the landing, which was the most jarring I’ve ever experienced. I suspected the pilot was former Navy, reliving the glory days of carrier landings in high sea states.
The Dallas airport was somewhat less busy than usual, but almost all of the restaurants and quick shops were open and apparently thriving. There were more people present, and they were more gregarious and outgoing, which is common in Texas.
Life, gentle readers, in normal America, goes on. Americans are law-abiding, rational people, but anyone thinking they can be manipulated by fake hysteria is in for a rude shock. I suspect Normal Americans, come November, will remember well who has caused them unnecessary trouble, and who has done their best to alleviate it. As for Mrs. Manor and me, we’ve found our retirement home, and we’re looking forward to the wide open spaces and Normal Americans of Wyoming.
Congrats on finding your retirement place. I think Wyoming will be a good fit for both of you.
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks! We’re looking forward to it.
Glad you and mrs Manor are safe.
Eager for articles of the both of you on your recliner (recumbent) trikes again.
Mike McDaniel said:
The trikes are in the shop this week, getting an overhaul. No recumbent shops where we’re going. However, there is a good bike shop, and what I can’t handle, or just don’t want to mess with, they can do. I’ll loan them my repair stand whenever necessary. I’ll probably write on that topic this summer after we get a bit settled and have some time for rides at 4000+ feet.
The Smarter Half and I have covered much of the same territory and have reached many of the same conclusions. I-70 through Kansas is BORING … but the road food is excellent. Wyoming winds, particularly in the highway cuts, are most “entertaining.”
Nebraska State Road 2 through the Sand Hills is beautiful AND it parallels the BNSF right-of-way. A railfans delight. The only bad thing about SR2? No Runzas!
March Hare said:
Last summer, Hubs and I took I-70 in the other direction: from Kansas through Missouri. What this California girl noticed was the lack of mountains on the horizon. It was a bit disconcerting at first.
Kevin M said:
Congratulations on finding your retirement spot – I hope it’s everything you are looking for. I’ve got at least 4 more years to go before I can escape the Democratic Peoples Republic of Massachusetts. I know why Wyoming is on my list of possible destinations – I would love to hear why you and Mrs. Manor settled on it.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear Kevin M:
We lived most of our adult lives in WY. We love the peaceful, open spaces, the wildlife, and the live and let live attitude of the people. WY government pretty much leaves folks alone, and politicians that get differing ideas in their thick heads are quickly set right. There is no state income tax, just like Texas, but my car and home insurance are going to be considerably cheaper in WY, some $200 a year on car insurance and $600 on auto insurance. Property taxes are going to be about half what they were in Texas. Car licensing fees are initially high, but yearly renewals are low, so that pretty much balances out.
As long as you live in or near one of the population centers–Cheyenne, Casper, Gillette–medical care is on a par with anywhere else. If not, you’ll be doing a bit of traveling, but that’s a plus, considering the kind of traveling across open, beautiful country. Living in Mass, you’re used to having seasons and winter, so that’s no different.
And of course, there is the history, and all of the extraordinarily beautiful places to visit in the region. I particularly like Thermopolis, a geothermal active area where they have wonderful hot pools with water coming up out of the ground already perfectly heated. It particularly nice to be in one of those outdoor pools when it’s snowing.
Gas prices are generally higher than elsewhere, but it’s a relaxed place to be.
Kathryn of Wyoming said:
Born and raised in Gillette and my heart is still in the prairie. I’ve lived in western Wyoming for nearly fifty years and still haven’t gotten used to those mountains. Kansas sounds like the Twilight Zone road from Shoshone to Casper x 1000. Welcome back!
Mike McDaniel said:
We lived in Gillette most of our adult lives, moving to Texas for teaching jobs, now we’re coming home. Texas was good to us, but Wyoming is home. We’ve been to Western WY of course, and drove that road as well.
Congrats on landing that Wyoming home, pard! As a Colorado native, I’ve always loved our sister state to the North.
Since CO has gone hard-over “blue,” it’s now a clone of California, and getting “stupider” every day the legislature is in session.
May Wyoming stay free!
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks! We purposely avoided Colorado. Didn’t want to be arrested for “Driving While Non-Infected.”
Mike H said:
Living on the left coast is driving me nuts! I’ve been hunting in Wyoming for years and have enjoyed every minute of it. Now if I can only convince my wife!
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear Mike H:
You’re welcome I’m sure, just as long as you leave California politics in California! Oh and hunting in the Bighorns or Tetons?
Have spent time in Cheyenne building the uplink at Camp Stool Road and time in a corn field in Home Kansas (it was a multi visit IPTV build, ended up dragging my 5th wheel from CA!) I love the description of the journey, all the best to you and Mrs. Manor!
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks! The same to you and yours.
Glad you found your dream home. You will adjust to the altitude just fine. Here in Edmonton we are at about 645 m (2100ft), our “retirement place is in Lethbridge which is 945m or 3150 feet. We transition between the two locations quite often and have for the last 35 years. You just adapt, and the locale being what you want really helps overcome any niggling problems.
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks. I’m sure we’ll adapt. It is, after all, going home.