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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 10

Submitted by on April 4, 2010 – 7:49 AM12 Comments

People notice the car, and because they notice the car, they notice the plates. Mostly, they comment that they can’t believe I drove a Tupperware container all the way from New York City, but now and then, they say something like, “Must be quite a change,” or “This ain’t what you’re used to.”


It ain’t, but not for the reasons they think. The main thing I notice as I make my way between stops or cities is the way the towns end — what “the edge of town” means. The town I come from is a smallish town, but in that part of the state I come from, all the towns form a kind of megatown, and they fit together like puzzle pieces, with rivers and roads for the cut lines. The edge of town is also the edge of the next town, and you just step over it.

The rest of the country is, for the most part, not that way. The towns trail off into unincorporated areas, farms, fields, municipal land. Where I’m from, the border is between “town” and “next town.” Here, it’s between “town” and “not town.” New York City takes forever to get out of, before you see even a single tree on the interstate or feel like everyone who ever lived is not within the sound of your voice. Little Rock came up on me out of nowhere and then in ten minutes it had disappeared again; it can take three times that long just to get through the Bronx.

arkviewYou can get anywhere in New Jersey from anywhere else in New Jersey in about four hours, but it isn’t the size; it’s the distance between. I turned off a state road in Arkansas and followed signs for a café, but when I got there, I found it boarded up. Nothing else around, birds that looked like hawks overhead, my little car seeming even littler in the dusty driveway, and I thought, I have no idea how far it is to the nearest human being. Probably not more than a couple of miles to a logging depot, or one of those roadside churches slapped into a trailer, but I don’t know where, or what direction.

This isn’t a bad thing, which is often the implication, I think — not that my conversation partner thinks so, but that I must, that I feel disoriented and bereft without some New Yorky thing or another, bagels or crowds. Yeah, I miss New Yorky things — things at my house. Things named “Bunting.” Felines. My other beige bra that doesn’t suck (I mistakenly packed the back-up beige bra, and I’m so over it, I’m under it…literally, at times). Yeah, the road is boring at times, but boredom is not a bad thing; my mind gets a lot done by drifting, given the chance. Yeah, it’s different, and thank God. I’ve eaten bagels and I’ve knifed through crowds and I’ll do those things again. Right now, the job is something else: finding a cup of coffee somewhere on this two-laner without bumbling into Texas.

Several hours post-coffee (I don’t think I went to Texas), I ended the day in Nevada, MO. Nevada, MO is not the scent encounter you hope for after ten hours in the car. I’ve come across that stench before, in Pennsylvania’s mushroom country; the “looks like a Currier & Ives print, smells like a diaper” dichotomy is only funny for about three minutes anyway, and those three minutes already occurred on a previous road trip a decade ago. At the restaurant near the hotel, everyone seemed beaten down, perhaps by the relentless odor — patrons, waitstaff, even the kitchen had stopped caring, sending out my omelet in the oops-well-fuck-it shape of a stepped-on hat.

The hash “browns,” evidently prepared with a curling iron, were also disastrous, but then there came the flawless pillowy toast! Perfectly even browning; perfectly subtle buttering; perfectly balanced between softness and crunch. Championship wheat slices, on the edge of a town that smells like poo. Damnedest thing.

Next stop, still KC MO.

Editorial note: it takes me a day or two to get entries up; where I say I “am” is more like where I just was.




  • Ilana says:

    “the “looks like a Currier & Ives print, smells like a diaper” dichotomy”

    I almost lost it just from reading this…

  • Lamoshe says:

    Sars, you have perfectly described a reverse version of my childhood spent visiting relatives from the east coast. I grew up in NM, although I have now been an (upstate) New Yorker for 3 decades (!), and when my family came east for the summer, my in-car convos with Grammy went something like –

    Me: Where are we now?
    Grammy: Nutley.

    Me: How about now?
    Grammy: Clifton.
    Me: How do you KNOW? There’s no space between them!

    I grew up in places with a LOT of “not-town” in between towns, and New Jersey just. baffled. me. In fact, it still does. Heh. I have a friend in Little Falls, and every time I drive there, I am reminded of those long-ago drives with Grammy.

    Then, there’s the whole “I can’t see any distance because there’s a tree or a hill in the way” claustrophobia I suffered after the w-i-d-e open spaces of the high desert of NW NM…but that’s a different story.

  • Stormy says:

    The weird thing is that if you talk to the locals they will tell you how much everything has grown and how there are so many people there now. My grandparents lived in Hayden Lake, Idaho. The people from the big cities (Usually LA or Portland) moved there because it was so quite and rural–you only heard 2-3 cars go by an hour. People like my Grandparents complained because there were cars going by every hour.

  • Tracy says:

    Having lived in the west my whole life, the East Coast is very odd to me in terms of how long it takes to get from place to place. My brother and I once drove from Rhode Island to Virginia. The 7 hour trip took you to 7 states and D.C. On driving trips as a child, we could drive 7 hours and still be in the SAME state (and see absolutely nothing notable). One one cross country trip I refused to take I-10/I-20 through Texas, because I could not fathom the idea of spending 14 hours driving across a single state.

  • heatherkay says:

    In these parts, in those small towns, that smell is the smell of money. It’s hard to escape, especially if the wind is high, but I think the locals get used to it. Hogs are bad, turkeys/chickens are worse — not sure which variety you experienced in Nevada.

  • Rachel says:

    The only rule of road trips that my father managed to instill in my brain – don’t get off the highway for a restaurant unless you can see it from the main road ’cause otherwise you really have no idea what the hell you’re getting yourself into.

  • lsn says:

    I have no idea how far it is to the nearest human being.

    Interesting – we drove from Las Vegas to Los Angeles via most of Arizona last year, and what surprised me was how many people there were around. I was expecting long stretches of emptiness, which there sort of was, but with more buildings and traffic than I thought there’d be. (It was June, so maybe school holidays had an effect?) We’d be out in what looked a lot like the boonies and there’d be a road crew here, a couple of guys getting stuff from a building there, and always cars in sight. Now I’m curious to drive what I’ve always thought of as a more heavily populated part of the US and see whether that feels emptier or fuller. Or, more likely, just different.

  • Lisa says:

    Dude, Duuuuuuude, you drove right past my house! You didn’t stop at the Clinton Library or Heifer Project?

  • Amie says:

    @Tracy – I’m from New England, and in college a friend from Oregon would talk about the hours upon hours of driving to get to another state, or to go to the coast for a beach trip. I resolved to do an “in-your-face-I-can-visit-all-of-New-England-in-a-single-day” road trip … it has been 10 years and the actual trip has never come to fruition, but the concept lives on.

  • Vaughns says:

    We moved from NY to the midwest, and until we actually started driving across the country, I had no idea that there WERE spaces between cities. Like, areas that didn’t belong to ANY city? How did people know where they were? They weren’t in a city? But…where were they?

    I felt a lot better when I found out that counties filled that conceptual gap.

  • Tisha_ says:

    The center part of Oklahoma is getting more and more… here’s one city, take one step and you’re in the next. It was NOT like that at all when I was a kid. If we wanted to go to Moore (which is the city just to the South of Oklahoma City, OMG it was like a day trip! Now you can’t tell when you’re in Moore and when you’re in Oklahoma City. It’s so strange.

  • Stormy says:

    Aime: I grew up in a very small town in Oregon (435 people). Our school sports trips took between 4 and 7 hours.
    To give people some idea of how isolated the west can be, our 7 hour trip took us to Crane High School. It is a public boarding school that has students from Oregon, Idaho and Nevada–some from over 150 miles away, because it is the nearest school.

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