Air travel is a strange thing. You step on the airplane in place A, buckle up, consider buying a $60,000 lava lamp water bed from Sky Mall, drink a ginger ale, and step off in place Z. How you get from place A to place Z is by and large a mystery to you. You have no idea which state or country you flew over once you left the airspace of place A, or the last one you flew over before arriving in place B. In a way, flying is more like teleporting than traveling. It doesn’t feel like your body actually moves through space. Distance is measured in hours, not miles.
I had occasion to think about this – and many, many other things – during the 7 days Melissa and I spent driving from New York to Utah. I don’t know how many times I’ve flown this route during the years I lived in New York; maybe 50? And yet for all of those flights I took I never had a clue about what places I was flying over. I mean, I knew I was flying over the middle of the country, and I might have glanced at the little map that shows where you are, but I never gave it much thought. It’s hard to describe how much I enjoyed putting together – state by state – the route I’ve flown over so many times. It’s like looking at a picture of a person for years and years and then finally getting to meet them. I loved experiencing the gradual change in geography and scenery as we drove North to South and then East to West. I loved experienced the change in accents, cuisine, and body mass index. I loved it all. Here’s the route we took:
New York: I’ve said enough about the Empire State. We were sad to leave, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get a little misty when we plunged into the Holland Tunnel. But just as soon as we emerged on the other side my sadness dissipated and was replaced by excitement for our new life in Utah and the trip we were taking to get there.
New Jersey: There are parts of New Jersey that are really very gorgeous. They just didn’t happen to build any freeways or highways by those parts.
Pennsylvania: Melissa somehow talked me into stopping at an outlet in Hershey that was only about 300 miles off our path. Outside of its outlets, Pennsylvania is one of the prettiest states in the nation, and it doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves.
Maryland: I’ve spent enough time in Maryland to feel confident that I more or less had the state and its people pretty well pegged. It only took one stop at a Chick-Fil-A in Cumberland to blow that confidence to ashes. It’s like marrying a debutante and coming home to find her lighting blue darts with your buddies. Cumberland marked the first place on our trip where all the local women looked at me lustily for being the skinniest man in town. I felt like a regular runway model. Melissa and I were clearly the only people at Chick-Fil-A who were not known to the other patrons, as nobody made any effort to hide the fact that they were staring at us from the moment we walked in to the moment we departed.
West Virginia: I’m not exaggerating when I say that the night we spent in West Virginia felt like the opening scene out of a horror movie: the clueless couple from the big city rolls in late at night on a foggy road, gets lost, sees the gas tank hit “E,” loses cell phone coverage, fade to black. Oh, and we stopped at a gas station where we felt like we were about to be attacked by a band of meth zombies. And I woke up every 20 minutes all night to make sure the meth zombies weren’t breaking into our moving truck. Long night. On the plus side, West Virginia – the actual land – is stunning, and it’s impossible to eat a meal without at least three items being doused in gravy. We overcame the lack of sleep and the river of gravy and went for a a great little day hike in the cranberry glades of the Monongahela National Forest.
Virginia: Like Maryland, I thought I knew Virginia. I used to live in Virginia. But not this Virginia.
Tennessee: Braden was the only DDDT commenter who was kind enough to offer us a place to stay, so we took him up on it and spent a lovely evening with him and his family. It’s hard to describe where they live, but it was one of the prettiest, quaintest areas I’ve ever seen. We had a great meal, played kickball, and stayed up chatting. We bid them farewell and headed into Nashville to take in the sights of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I don’t know why, exactly, but this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It turns out that country music – before it was taken over by guys in Ed Hardy button-up shirts with frosted tips – was actually pretty good. We enjoyed some BBQ and headed to Memphis, where we ate fried pickles and chicken at Guss’, checked out Beale Street, and hit Graceland. Graceland is awesome.
Arkansas: Our time in Arkansas was brief and consisted of a visit to the Clinton Presidential Library (where I guess the exhibit on the impeachment was at the cleaners?).
Oklahoma: I had my heart set on eating a steak at Cattlemen’s, but we didn’t roll into Oklahoma City until 11 PM. So we had steak for breakfast. Along with eggs, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy. I don’t care what you think. I’m not sorry. It was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life, and I often find myself staring out the window, remembering its taste and texture. Melissa’s cousin and her husband were our gracious hosts, and I’ll definitely drop by and see them next time I fly out to visit Cattlemen’s.
Texas: We drove straight from Cattelmen’s (sigh) to Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside of Amarillo for a great hike. Great and hot. Very, very hot. We ate in Amarillo, where Melissa – with varying degrees of success – tried to compare everyone we saw to a character in Friday Night Lights. After a stop at Cadillac Ranch we headed for Santa Fe.
New Mexico; I don’t have much to say about New Mexico. We walked around Santa Fe for a bit, and later I ran the truck into the roof of a drive-through restaurant. Nothing to see here. (I’m hoping forensics don’t link me to the bent rain gutter in West Virginia and the dented sign pole in Arkansas).
Colorado: The country between Santa Fe and Durango is some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. In particular, the the area around Pagosa Springs is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Honestly. I’m obsessed. We ate lunch in Durango, got stopped for speeding in Dove Creek, and then crossed into Utah.