6,000 Miles to Go

Seen and heard on a summer road trip—6,000 miles across America and back:
• On the radio, a 14-year-old evangelist whips the congregation into a tearful whirlpool of repentance.
• Roadside signs: "One Kansas farmer feeds 92 people."
• Turnoffs for Mexico, Brazil, Paris, South Vienna, London and Scotland—all across the central Midwestern states.

• Rhode Island and Connecticut. Villages with signs announcing incorporation dates of 1786, 1782, 1789. Roadside Coney stands with neon signs in primary colors flashing "Hot Wieners."
• Spray-painted overpass graffiti, Pennsylvania: "I love mad cow burgers."
• Boats grounded on the side of the road, filled with rainwater, dumped from trailers around Scranton, Pa.
• Lyrical place names from the upper Shenandoah to southern Appalachians in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee: Lords Valley, Blooming Grove, Promised Land, Falling Waters, the Misty Mountain Motel.
• Walton's Mountain Country Store in central Virginia. For lease. The clerk discusses her divorce over the telephone as she rings up my John Boy postcards.
• Best country music radio station: WSLC AM 610, Classic Country from Roanoke, Va. Freddy Fender, Merle Haggard, Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison in the same half-hour.
• Between tiny towns in the Appalachians, metal and asphalt shopping pods where one can buy a satellite dish, stereo or television; a prefab home; a suntan. Signs rise over them with economical names: Video Tan, Movie Tan.
• Everywhere: grocery stores and supermarkets called "savings center" and "food outlet."
• Billboard just west of the Mississippi River: "Prepare to meet thy God." — Amos 4:12.
• In Arkansas, mist rising from the road. Air so thick with moisture it is tinted green. Soft-edged trees and hills.
• In eastern Oklahoma, billboards announcing a free 72-oz. steak for anyone who can eat it in an hour, at the Big Texan steak house in Amarillo, more than 500 miles away.
• Rest stops with concrete and steel picnic shelters shaped like teepees.
• White cattle egrets perched in the limbs of trees overhanging central Oklahoma ponds. White egrets sitting atop a bored steer's wide back.
• The Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere, at exit 122 off I-40 near Groom, Texas. A 190-foot-tall column of concrete and steel, covered with aluminum siding. The gatekeeper, a lovely blue-eyed man in a straw hat tells me last night's winds reached 110 miles an hour and the cross was "rockin' and rollin'." I ask if he was scared. "Never prayed so hard in my life," he replies.
• In New Mexico and southern Colorado, clouds as white as bleached bone boiling upward from behind stark mountain backdrops. Landscapes with sharp orange edges. A sign announcing: "Next rest stop, 32 miles." A sign announcing: "Next rest stop, 70 miles."
• Everywhere: Kind folks who question the wisdom of a woman traveling alone, but generously offer directions, suggestions, assistance. At every juncture, something familiar, something mysterious, something old, something new. Around every corner, intimations of home.


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