Destination: Tucumcari, New Mexico

Jan. 19, 2011

I awoke in Shawnee to a blanket of fog so thick that I couldn’t see my car out my hotel room window. I have taken to parking my car somewhere I can keep an eye on it; everything I own is in that car. All the parking lots have signs that say “Hotel not responsible for stolen goods.” Not very reassuring.

I took my time leaving, waiting for the fog to burn off. Yesterday, when I left Memphis, I had the same fog problem. On the way out of the city, I passed a horrible car accident that had probably been cause by the fog. Six lanes of traffice came to a dead stop (no pun intended) for an hour. When we finally drove past the accident site, they were loading up the wrecked vehicles and it was clear that people had surely died in them. So I was not anxious to venture out until this blanket of mid-western fog had burned off.

This gave me a chance to work out, which felt wonderful. (I have a problem with my hips and lower back, and I had really worried that it might impact my ability to drive several hours each day. It’s a minor problem that responds well to medications, physical therapy, and exercise. But it requires constant oversight to manage the pain. So far, happily it has not been a problem.)

Driving through Oklahoma and Texas today was boring, brown, and endless. I never made a single turn for 400 miles, even driving at 70 mph. Why in the world would anyone live here?? This was worse than Atlanta. Oklahoma City was much bigger than I thought it would be; it seemed on the scale of Atlanta.

The scary part were the billboards, lots of them with Biblical or politically conservative messages. Quite shocking to see a huge billboard on a major Federal Interstate reading: Where’s the Birth Certificate? Or quoting Bible verses against homosexuality. Other messages condemned abortion as murder, on and on. I couldn’t wait to get out of this part of the country. It didn’t feel safe in this place where Timothy McVeigh had felt justified in committing terrorism.

I also passed smaller signs that said: “You are now leaving Kickapoo Territory” followed closely by signs that read “You are now entering Shawnee Territory” or the “Seminole Nation.” Small reminders that Native Americans still reign over parts of this state. It was like gangland territory markings. Also drove through a wind farm in OK –real windmills!!

Get me out of Texas

For 400 miles, there was nothing to do but read the road signs, strange as they might be. I kept the car on cruise control, set to 70, the posted speed limit. Even so, shortly after I entered the great state of Texas, I got stopped by a TX ranger for speeding. I couldn’t have been going more than 2 or 3 miles over the speed limit since I was using the cruise control. I saw him approaching on the opposite side of the interstate and instinctively, I hit my brakes to slow down. Sure enough, in my rear view mirror I saw him cross the median and come after me, lights flashing. At first, I couldn’t believe he was flashing his lights at me but he was. I pulled over and started getting my driver’s license and registration. He approached on the passenger side.

“M’am the reason I stopped you is because of your excessive speed. Is there an emergency?”

“No sir. I thought the speed limit was 70 mph here?”

“It is, can I see your license and proof of registration?” He was scanning my car for contraban and starting to realize he had just stopped a little old lady with no ill intent.

“I was using my cruise control, officer, so I don’t know how I could have been speeding.”

“Where you headed?”


Then he asked to see my proof of insurance, and as luck would have it, I didn’t have my most current proof of ins in the car. In GA, we’re not required to carry it. He let me off with a warning on the speeding but I got a citation for the insurance – it could be easily resolved, he said, by calling the judge and mailing in my proof of insurance when I had it. What a scam! I saw Texas state troopers over and over stopping cars along the interstate. I slowed down to 60 mph, 10 mph BELOW the speed limit, and let everyone pass me.

Then I arrived in New Mexico. They have a wonderful “Welcome” sign that stretches over the Interstate. I was so glad to be out of TX. Like Thelma and Louise, Texas has never been good to me.

New Mexico wins the prize for best welcome center. It was large, beautiful, and staffed by super enthusiastic volunteers, one of whom stalked me as I left the ladies room, and started telling me about all the great things to do in NM. Apparently they don’t get to give their pitch to many travelers who just run in and run out to pee.

I had been making it a practice to stop at every state welcome center, at least to use the restroom, stretch my legs, and check in with my ex. She was also stalking me, and crying every time I called her. What’s up with that? I was so confused.

As I drove through New Mexico, I watched the outside temperature gauge in my car go from 23 degree F to 68 degrees F in two hours. Nice.

Ghost Town, New Mexico

Finally arrived at Tucumcari, NM, or as I dubbed it, Ghost Town. Directly off the Interstate, the road was DESERTED. Not a car to be seen for miles in either direction. Strangely, there was a string of hotel chains on the street, but again, they all appeared to be DESERTED. No cars, no people, no lights– no signs of life at all. I started to get a weird feeling.

I spotted my Hampton Inn at the end of the long string of hotels and at first I thought it was out of business. My mind immediately went into Plan B mode; now what would I do? I pulled into the empty parking lot of the dilapidated Hampton Inn, and got out just to stretch my legs and decide what to do next. I didn’t even think the front door was unlocked. But I decided to check and, lo and behold, the door was open. I tentatively walked inside. It wasn’t quite covered in dust and cob webs, but it had a rustic Western décor that could be mistaken for such. I went to the check in desk and called “Hello?” planning to bolt if Lurch or someone just as scary showed up. But a young, attractive woman came up. She was native American, and looked like I had just interrupted her sexting with her boyfriend. Hesitantly, I checked in. But I swear, I was the only guest in an otherwise normal Hampton Inn. Very creepy but quiet.

I need to eat something. Without my ex around, I realize I have skipped a real dinner every night since I left Atlanta. But, I’m afraid to venture out into this deserted town, so again, I skip dinner.

I slept well. Strangely, I have slept well every night, even though the steady time change as I cross the nation is throwing me off. It’s strange driving through the time zones – 2 days in central, 2 days in Mountain – each night I get sleepier earlier and struggle to stay up later.

I have a watch that has two time settings, so I have set the time for Eastern and Pacific time. While I was in Central or Mountain time, I never knew what time it was. I can only keep up with the time zone by checking my faithful Blackberry, which I have come to cherish: phone, email, Internet, and time zones anywhere in America as long as I keep it charged!

There are several things that made this trip much easier. The national Interstate system (signs, rest stops, weather updates), the Internet (map quest and hotel reservations, which changed a few times), the proliferation of free (although unsecured) Wifi, and my Blackberry. And my awesome car, with heated seats, lots of storage space, XM radio, cruise control, and other comfy perks.

Hotel Review: Hampton Inn, Tucumcari, New Mexico

What can I say? It was empty and scary. But it was really just like other Hampton Inns. No fitness center or pool. Room was big and comfortable, with a fridge and microwave. Excellent television reception and MSNBC!! Breakfast was, well, it was hot. This place served a breakfast burrito thing. As it turned out, there were two other guests here and we all met at breakfast. Bed and pillows were adequate, linens were adequate. I did have a lovely view of the western sunset from my hotel window.

Grade: B-

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