Archive for World Tour '08

First steps

I’m not sure if I’m even going to be able to make much of a trip this year, but I have finally gotten around to setting aside the vacation time.

And it’s not in July, for once.

More as things develop.

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From the “Who knew?” files

Whataburger World Headquarters is barely a mile and a half from my (brief) childhood home in Corpus Christi, Texas, the only place I lived as a kid that I haven’t since revisited.

I think I’ve finally found an excuse for a road trip.

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One star, no waiting

So my next day at work is, um, the 30th.

Obviously this gives me a lot of time to Do Stuff. On the other hand, having just discovered that Gwendolyn doesn’t even flinch at $50-plus fillups, I’m in no mood to take off for Saskatchewan: not only is it a heck of a long way away, but it’s a whole other country, fercrissake.

And, having said that out loud, I thought of a place that merely is like a whole other country — even says so in the brochures — and it’s just on the far side of the Red River.

I may be biting off more than I can chew here: Ann Richards once said, “I thought I knew Texas pretty well, but I had no notion of its size until I campaigned it.” Typical World Tours run two weeks or so and traverse a quarter to a third of the country; I figure it will take me nine or ten days just to get through Texas, and not anywhere near all of it, either. I am still in the data-gathering stage, so suggestions, here or in email, will be welcomed.

I must point out here that my ongoing sleep issues have not been satisfactorily resolved, so I undertake this mission with more than the usual amount of trepidation. However, it seems to me that if I don’t go, the terrorists will have won I’ll just make matters worse for myself, and Trini seems to think that the limiting factor is my own bedroom: once out of there, the condition might clear up. This is way out of her area of expertise, but I have to admit, I don’t have any kind of counterargument other than “Sez you.”

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The official WT08 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 10 June, and continues for about two weeks, though there will be a two-day break near the end.

What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you’re not leaving the States or anything?

Two things: it’s awfully damned long, and much of it is through relatively unfamiliar territory.

How long is “awfully damned long”?

I expect somewhere between 3200 and 3600 miles.

You’ve done this several times before. Why do it again?

Because I can. More to the point, it’s good for me to get out of town, and it’s good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.

Will you be blogging every day?

That’s the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. (The 2006 version ended in semi-tragedy.) I have Wi-Fi capability, I carry a spare CAT 5 cable, and if all else fails, I have a dial-up.

What’s the shape of this year’s route?

An irregular polygon with a narrow loop sticking out of the top of it. More specifically, a counterclockwise traversal of Texas (vertices include El Paso, Corpus Christi and Austin), after which I come back home and recuperate, then head up to Kansas City to see the young’uns.

How much of this is copied from previous World Tour FAQs?

Rather a lot, actually.

Is there any chance you’ll say “Screw it” and not go home?

I would have to be extremely fortunate, in the winning-lotto-ticket sense, or extremely smitten, in the “I’ve been waiting for you all my life” sense. Don’t count on either of these actually taking place.

How come it took so long to post this?

I am the least decisive of persons when it comes to producing an actual itinerary.

Will you be meeting with readers along the way?

If they’re so inclined.

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Route advisory

As long ago as 2004 I was talking about driving the length of US 62 some day. Well, some of that length is about to be driven: I have decided to begin the route by taking 62 from here to El Paso, which looks like around 800 miles and therefore a two-day trip. The obvious stopping point in between would seem to be Lubbock. The highway leaves Texas and slides through southeastern New Mexico before returning to the Lone Star State, which I’m inclined to count as bonus points, since the last time I set foot (or wheel, anyway) in New Mexico was way back in 1988, and besides I get to avoid I-20 altogether. Besides, as Sarah once said, “big, flat, empty, dead” has a lot to recommend it.

As always with these little jaunts, things are subject to change without notice.

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Road to be hit

We’re looking at a 9:30 departure from the palatial estate at Surlywood, once all the loose ends are tied up (at least, all the ones I remember to tie up). It’s foggy and 62; I can expect absolutely nothing like that once I reach Texas.

Next report this evening.

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Low acceleration

Lubbock, Texas — 397.2 miles

I’ve been to this town only once, and I can’t remember what for: I was married then, and I’ve blocked out a lot of that time frame. I remember shopping at Sakowitz, which was to Houston what Neiman’s was to Dallas, mainly because I couldn’t figure out why there was a Sakowitz in Lubbock. (And of course now there isn’t even a Sakowitz in Houston, except for the fur salon. Then again, Wikipedia doesn’t remember a Lubbock store at all.)

In the middle of Gould, Oklahoma, there was this yacht. Really. It was being hauled by truck, and the truck was parked along the street. “Tiger Woman,” Marina del Rey, California. Hope it makes it okay.

The winds have been fierce, and given my direction, they cost me some gas mileage. (First tank: just over 26.) I was baptized into the Church of the Four-Buck Gallon by an Allsups/Fina in Lorenzo, Texas, which was happy to relieve me of $4.199 for each of the fourteen gallons dispensed.

I hadn’t eaten out all month, so today was my first encounter with the Great Tomato Scare: Whataburger wouldn’t slap one on your burger no matter how much you asked.

And the radio is set to KDAV 1590, because if there’s one thing I want from an oldies station, it’s an occasional song I can barely remember. They seem to have a lot of them. I did catch them out on Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” though: they were playing the stereo mix, which is missing a horn part. (No, my AM radio isn’t stereo.)

More when/if I can coax more than 2.0 mbps out of the Wi-Fi. Tomorrow night: El Paso.

Addendum, 5:45 pm: Were I less of a dumbass, I would probably have seen the CAT5 jack right behind the desk lamp. Sheesh.

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Technically, it blows

The wind, I mean. It’s a constant presence in west Texas, as it is in Oklahoma, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the American Wind Power Center and Museum is here in Lubbock. For that matter, I wasn’t surprised to see ten big wind turbines along the eastern leg of Loop 289. (Inscrutably, only nine were turning.)

On the way back from dinner last night, I passed by a construction site right when a not-too-huge gust blew up, creating an Instant Dust Storm. Weird to behold on such a small scale.

Oh, in case you haven’t seen it yet, Kirk is mapping the Tour, as he did last time around. Here’s the link.

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A hundred and something

El Paso, Texas — 777.6 miles

After 99 degrees, I figure it doesn’t matter. Then again, this is El Paso, where the humidity is practically negative — if I need to sweat, I’ll have to bring a container of liquid or something — and with 99 degrees and a dew point of 26 (!), the heat index is exactly what it would be in Oklahoma City with 90 degrees and a dew point of 66. (Ninety-four, if you care.)

Note to future travelers: There is no gas to be had between Carlsbad, New Mexico and the eastern edge of El Paso, around 150 miles. And you will burn up most of what you have: once you cross back into Texas, the speed limit is mostly 75, and while it’s slowed down a bit through the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, there are enough downhill grades to threaten your placid, law-abiding nature. Not that I’d ever admit to doing 95 through there.

Actually, I did find one station, a little cash-only outfit south of Dell City, but (1) they had no premium, or even mid-grade, and (2) they were closed.

Speaking of closed, Rosa’s Cantina is apparently open only for lunch today, and I missed the deadline, even allowing for the fact that this part of the world is on Mountain time.

I spotted a billboard in southern New Mexico for a fellow named Greg Sowards, who was running for the 2nd District House seat currently held by Steve Pearce, who hopes to replace Pete Domenici in the Senate. Sowards made two pitches: that he’s short, bald and honest, and that he doesn’t want your money. As they say in Minnesota, “That’s different.” It didn’t play so well among New Mexico Republicans, who nominated Ed Tinsley, owner of K-BOB’s Steakhouses, instead.

And El Paso looks like southern New Mexico, only more so: you get the feeling that the town was built a zillion years ago, volcanoes or plate tectonics or something caused the land to buckle, and they decided to leave everything where it landed.

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Table for six, sir?

Texas picnic table

One of those ubiquitous picnic tables you see along Texas highways. I saw this one on 62/180 in Gaines County (I think), on the way into New Mexico. (More sizes here.)

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The great 62 debate

Part of this route, you’ll remember, was to get to the west end of US Highway 62. Trouble with that idea is, while the maps say it ends at the Mexican border, signage doesn’t reflect that:

According to official TX DoT route designation files, US 54, US 62, and US 85 were all “relocated” in 1974. That basically means their routings were changed, and here’s how I interpret that: US 54 was redirected to the 2nd border crossing (known variously as Cordova, Bridge of the Americas, BOTA, and/or “the free bridge”. You can view a photo from there on my main US 54 page). US 62 was rerouted along Paisano, then Stanton and/or Santa Fe, to a new endpoint at the original border crossing downtown (the former endpoint of US 54). US 85 was also rerouted onto Paisano, and it joined US 62 to end at the downtown port-of-entry (in other words, this is when US 62 and US 85 were changed to their present routings). Today, traffic from Mexico comes in at the El Paso St. crossing, but doesn’t encounter any highway signage for about eight blocks — almost to Paisano.

Geez. I may end up a full-fledged roadgeek before all this is over.

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Way out west

Fort Stockton, Texas — 1112.9 miles

Actually, the general direction today was East, but that’s not the point.

I plunged into downtown El Paso this morning to see about this business of highway terminuses (termini?), and discovered (for future reference, perhaps) that it’s probably easier to navigate Sun City without resorting to Interstate 10. That said, I eventually got back on I-10, just to get out of town, and got as far as Van Horn, where US 90 begins.

Old 90 isn’t quite dead yet: there’s some small amount of traffic, and the Border Patrol has a checkpoint thereupon. (I passed, I think.) As is often the case, there’s a rail line running more or less parallel to the road, and it was pretty busy today. I landed in fabled Marfa, Texas a tad after high noon.

As a tourist destination, Marfa makes a pretty fair small Texas town, albeit in better repair than most. As you might expect, there’s an ornate courthouse:

Presidio County Courthouse

And outside that courthouse, a list of the town’s honored war dead:

Outside Presidio County Courthouse

And various repurposed buildings, including this nicely-redone theater:

Palace, Marfa TX

But if you come in from the west, as I did, the first thing Marfaesque you encounter is this:

Prada Marfa

Thirty miles west of town, in fact: it draws your attention because, well, there’s nothing else there. (The white sedan reflected in the glass? Mine.) This is why it’s there.

From there, I proceeded to Alpine, the last home town of H. Allen Smith, and an artsy place in its own right, due to the presence of a fair-sized state university. I followed 90 to Marathon, where I picked up US 385, one of the roads I’d always been curious about, ever since I was a kid with a shoe box full of road maps. The road is 1200 miles long, and yet it manages to avoid major cities whenever possible. The segment from Marathon to Fort Stockton runs 58 of those miles, and for about twenty minutes I saw no other vehicles at all.

I did, however, catch a sign, at the Pecos County Line, to the effect that the road tends to flood and I should be careful. And they weren’t kidding:

Flood gauge

Although I doubt the water ever got this high:

Flood gauge

Which, incidentally, is right across the road from that flood gauge, near Panther Mesa (elevation 4206 feet).

I pulled into Fort Stockton around 3:10, and reported to the hotel desk, where an implausibly-beautiful woman (the owner of the place, if the signage is to be believed) regretted to inform me that the place had been open only three days, and they were still working on getting the elevator working, and all the available rooms were on the second or third floors. Fine, I said, stairs won’t kill me. As is my wont, I checked the room before schlepping up my stuff, and apparently housekeeping hadn’t gotten to it yet. I informed Miss Universe, who gave out with a look of genuine anguish. By coincidence, by the time they got the placed cleaned up, the elevator guys were finished, so I and my two and a half bags got to christen the new lift. I suppose I could whine, but I got this room for free by saving my frequent-driver points or whatever, so I may not even mention that none of the electrical outlets on the east wall seem to be connected to actual power.

As usual, you can see these same pix, only different, at Flickr.

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We interrupt this program

Today, it’s a straight shot (I-10/US 290) to Austin, where I have scads of family; I’ll be hanging around there at least for two days. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but by now they’ve all been warned.

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Congestion charge

Austin, Texas — 1468.1 miles

An equation for which I was not prepared: 78705 – 78704 = 90 minutes.

Of course, when you squeeze 720,000 people into a space a third the size of Oklahoma City, traffic is going to be hellish at best. And tonight, it wasn’t at it’s best.

More later after I’ve regained some composure. And meanwhile, a bleg: I am looking for one Katherine Hughes, who attended Edmond Memorial in (probably) 2005-06, and who may at one time have lost her student ID. (Because, of course, I seem to have found it.)

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Getting there is 3/8 the fun

And now to fill in the blanks left by yesterday’s cryptic report.

Interstate 10, at least where I was, had a speed limit of 80 mph (trucks are limited to 70), so getting down the road was a fairly speedy operation. (Aside: This speed limit, I suspect, reflects the reality of this road: I punched up Gwendolyn’s cruise to an indicated 81 mph, and scarcely anyone bothered to pass me. The Texas Highway Patrol, meanwhile, is ready to make sure you don’t abuse the privilege.)

The transition from arid desert scrub to Texas Hill Country isn’t exactly abrupt, though eventually I noticed that the bare spots of earth were diminishing, and by the time I got to US 290 the scenery was, if not exactly lush, certainly a lot greener in the #00FF00 sense.

Fredericksburg was about twice its usual 10,000 size, owing to some sort of Germanfest along Main Street the Hauptstrasse and the presence of a few thousand bikers, likewise on the way to Austin.

I managed to arrive around a quarter to three, and reported in to Cousin Linda, my usual first point of contact in the ATX. News updates followed, and about five-thirty, hoping that I’d missed the worst of the traffic, I decided to go check in at my hotel, which, said the Web oracles, was a matter of 4.6 miles.

So I climbed up 32nd Street, and upon reaching I-35, I noticed that neither level (it’s a double-decker sort of road at that point) was moving. Fine, said I, I’ll duck through downtown. Bad mistake. Not only had I reckoned without the 40,000 bikers — bikers, at least, don’t block traffic en masse — but I had run headlong into the Austin Pride Parade, for which some of the one-way streets in town had been redesignated as no-way streets. The trip up Brazos Street from 1st Cesar Chavez Street to 7th took 52 minutes. (The usual mob along 6th Street was nothing compared to this.) I finally arrived at the hotel at seven, and in the flurry of activity that accompanies my arrival at a hotel, I managed to drop my cell phone into the black hole under the passenger seat of my car.

Now the front-back slider on this seat, it turns out, hasn’t worked in some time. (How would I know? I don’t sit there, and it’s extremely rare when anyone else does.) I could not reach the phone from front or back. Eventually I hit upon an expedient: I would use the monstrously oversized Rand McNally road atlas to push the damn phone back a couple of feet. I poked ‘n stroked ’til my wrist got numb, and finally something appeared at the back of the seat.

It wasn’t my phone. It was, in fact, a little change purse presumably owned by the aforementioned Elizabeth Katherine Hughes, containing the usual teenage-girl detritus: pictures of friends, old movie-ticket stubs, an unopened Cracker Jack surprise, and her Edmond Memorial student ID. Inasmuch as I haven’t given any rides to teenage girls, it had to have fallen there during the period when this car was owned by someone else.

The phone showed up after another couple of minutes. Linda came by at 8-ish, and in response to my dinner request — “non-chain Mexican and/or Tex-Mex” was the objective — she came up with El Mercado, its original location on please-God-let-us-be-the-next-trend South First, which dished up a tremendous amount of really good stuff for not a lot of money. Worth the trip if you’re coming to town.

There will be a small-scale family reunion this evening. Beyond that, I haven’t a clue what’s going on here.

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The classic Mixed Bag

Good things about my South Austin hotel:

  • So far, the service has been splendid, and while one could argue that for $116 a night it damn well ought to be, there have been places where I’ve paid more and gotten less.

  • The A/C is new enough that it hasn’t developed weird noises in the night.
  • Each room has a lovely little balcony.

Not-so-good things about my South Austin hotel:

  • The login procedure for the Wi-Fi dumps you onto a page with a Java applet which never quite loads.

  • About that balcony:

Don't even think about going out there

I’ll be here through Monday morning. Be sure to tip your server.

Addendum, Sunday night: Dock ‘em a point for recoding my room keys for a third night — except that they didn’t, and I found myself locked out.

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Last night at Threadgill’s

I’d made noises earlier about a family reunion of sorts here in Austin, inasmuch as not all of the far-flung Balagia clan was flung all that far. Given the fact that most of the children of Charles and Hortense Balagia were girls, there are rather a lot of us who are part of the clan who have very un-Balagia-like names these days, and I’ve long since given up on keeping track of everybody, especially since “everybody” is growing at an exponential rate, four or five or six generations down.

Still, the volume doesn’t affect an individual’s ties to the family. My mother’s been gone for thirty years, but she’s nowhere near being forgotten. One of the busier wings of the family bears the surname Guerrero, and you’ll see it here and there in the city:

Guerrero Park

Roy G. Guerrero was married to one of the Balagia daughters, Beatrice, universally known as “Tootsie.” That’s their daughter Linda holding up the sign.

We planned for six or eight or maybe even ten. We got a couple of dozen, including all three surviving Guerrero children, two of the original Balagia daughters (always “Aunt Nena” and “Aunt Frances” to me), and various cousins: Sharon (Frances’ daughter), Jamie (Frances’ son), Melody (Nena’s daughter), lots of grandchildren, and, schlepping his way from the metropolis of Creedmoor, my turned-Texan brother James. I noted that it had been seven years since I last showed up in Austin, and I was warned about Dire Consequences should I not show up again before 2015.

Anyway, that was the night that was, and we wrapped it up just in time to keep from drowning out Hank & Shaidri Alrich on Threadgill’s stage.

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The last piece of the puzzle

Corpus Christi, Texas — 1866.9 miles

The original World Tour, back in 2001, began as basically an excuse to attend a chat-room party in New Jersey, and only incidentally get a glimpse of the most desirable woman on the planet. (Or so I thought at the time, and, well, while nothing ever came of it, I was not disappointed.) But when I added up all the potential side trips, I discovered that these little jaunts would be ideal for revisiting all my old childhood haunts. And inasmuch as my father was in the Navy at the time, there were lots of locations that qualified. Over the years, I eventually got to all of them — except one.

Which explains why I’m in Corpus Christi today: visiting that last haunt. We weren’t here long — 1960 and the first half of 1961 — but plenty of memories remain even now.

My mother was an Austin girl, so there were plenty of trips back and forth between here and there. Interstate 37 did not then exist, so to get to Austin from Corpus, we took US 181 north to Karnes City, jumped on Texas 123 to San Marcos, and then north on US 81 into Austin. One of the enduring family myths of that era was the inevitable stop for Dixie Cream Donuts, which I remembered as being somewhere around Beeville. It’s not entirely mythical, of course:

Dixie Cream Donuts

But maybe it wasn’t exactly around Beeville:

Dixie Creme Donuts

This store, in fact, is in Taft, much closer to Corpus Christi, and given the fact that three children screaming for donuts wears on the parental mind, I suspect it was this one we patronized.

The very first place I hit in this town was our old house in the Koolside district. I took no picture because (1) the street is very narrow and I would have had to climb into his yard, or the yard across the street, to get the picture, and (2) I got the distinct impression that this would not be a Good Idea, as it’s tricky to do this with any amount of discretion. Still, this sort of report demands a picture, so here’s the overhead shot from Microsoft Virtual Earth:

Koolside homes

I was unable to check out my old school, which, as previously noted, was torn down to make room for more shopping. With the kind assistance of the Corpus Christi Public Library, I learned that the last school year at Fraser was 1983-84, after which the school district disposed of the property. It occurred to me later that I might have been able to deduce this from alumni lists, but hard copy still impresses me a little more than a bundle of links would, and the library had pertinent clippings from the Caller-Times newspaper. (Disclosure: My mom briefly worked for the Caller-Times, though obviously not in 1984.)

Oh, if you’re wondering what I did on my last night in Austin, two of the Guerrero siblings and I wandered out to the Texas Roadhouse, lavishly furnished with Willie Nelson memorabilia, exactly what you might expect from a restaurant group which began in Clarksville, Indiana. Damn fine steak, too.

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Random memory bytes

Things which I recall from that brief period when I was actually living in Corpus Christi:

  • The intersection known as “Six Points”: Alameda and Staples and Ayers (oh, my!).

  • A fellow across the street from us had a gorgeous ‘57 Chevy Bel Air with, he said, a “Corvette engine”: I’m guessing at this late date that it was the 283, which was offered in the Bel Air but not in the lower-trim models, and which did power Corvettes from this era. One day we piled into the back seat and watched him try to peg the speedometer, and he did indeed manage to hover around an indicated 120 mph. I have never actually driven this fast myself, you should know.
  • Some places (like Oklahoma City) have North and South Broadway; Corpus Christi also has Upper and Lower.
  • Our neighborhood was bracketed by supermarkets with screwy names: Jitney Jungle (along Staples) and Handy Andy (near the Airline/McArdle intersection). In case you thought “Piggly Wiggly” was funny.

I still don’t know why they spelled the next cross street “Dorthy.”

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Almost out of Texas

Denton, Texas — 2310.6 miles

Not that our supply of Texas is running low (there seems to be quite enough Texas for everyone, with the possible exception of Denton drivers), but I’m only a county and a half away from the Red River, and maybe three hours and odd from home.

The idea of a Corpus Christi-to-Denton run makes sense only if you have some reason to be in Denton, and I did: a meetup with Gradual Dazzle, who bloggeth at Anywhere But Here. She, the spousal unit, and a brace of replacements met me at the Texas Roadhouse (!) for dinner. (Aside to Linda G: Despite having the same floor plan, this one has more than four actual tables.) By prior arrangement, we did not discuss squirrels.

The trip up from the Gulf — I-37 to US 77 through Victoria and La Grange and up to Waco, then onto I-35, eschewing Dallas’ version in favor of Fort Worth’s — was relatively uneventful, which is the way you want it for an eight-hour run, although there was some actual semblance of rain towards the end, which dropped the temperature from the sweaty 90s to the slightly-less-sweaty 80s.

Victoria has a nice little Historical Section in the middle of town, and a few auto-related oddities: a place that rents tires and wheels, and a Toyota dealer promoting the Tundra as “the only truck built in Texas.” I pulled in at the Dairy Queen for a cone because, well, that’s what I do.

And in the town of West, Texas, I passed an eatery called Jack and Diane’s, owned by, I suppose, two American kids who grew up in the heartland.

The last hotel on the route is a bit on the dumpy side, but it’s got better Wi-Fi than some of the fancier places I’ve stayed lately.

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The bucks stop here

Dustbury, Oklahoma — 2487.5 miles

And after eight days of of high-level spending, I figure that’s quite enough. Anyway, I got home, stared in disbelief at the yard — there’s been about 2.5 inches of rain since I left, so if there’s an infragreen color, that’s what things are — and decided it would be less unproductive to just go ahead and unpack.

I am, for statistical purposes, not including the loop up to Kansas City in the World Tour numbers, since there’s going to be more than a two-day gap. Therefore, it ends here.

Toll report: Zilch.

Fuel consumption: 94.7 gallons; 26.3 mpg. (Tanks ranged from 22.8 to 30.7, the worst of which was a result of running around, or sitting still, in Austin.)

Total expenditures: $1,361.11, including all cash spent, all charge slips signed, and $399.05 worth of gas. I had guesstimated $1,500, so this wasn’t too awful.

Thanks to everyone who made this trip necessary possible.

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The view from Kansas City

(This is not properly part of WT08, but I couldn’t think of a better place to put it.)

A couple of observations from the road:

  • Of three Emporia, Kansas gas stations visited today, only one pumps any actual premium gas. They stock unleaded regular (87 octane) and something called “unleaded plus” (89), which I presume to be E10 — 90 percent gas, 10 percent ethanol — which was a few cents cheaper. Gwendolyn being finicky about her diet, I didn’t give her any of this stuff, although I am not averse to an E10 blend if it makes it into the 90s.

  • Where I-470 turns from eastbound to northbound, somewhere in deepest Lee’s Summit, Missouri, somebody’s truck bed wasn’t properly packed, or something: I found dozens of cinderblocks in the middle of the road. A couple of folks were retrieving them and pitching them to the shoulder; farther up, it looked like some poor motorcyclist had been caught in the barrage and had spun off the road. Fellow bikers were stopping to lend a hand. I didn’t see any mention of this on two local news sites I checked.

I’ll be up here through Tuesday morning. Incidentally, this is the second hotel this month at which I’ve scored a free room — and, like the first one, its elevator is broken. Timing is indeed everything.

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Stretching out a bit

My children, who used to live about 25 miles apart, now live about four miles apart, which simplifies the logistics a little, but only a little: daughter works nights, son works days, and so it’s generally expedient to do two separate visits than a single combined visit. (Somewhere in between is my ex and her current spouse, so she’s there to slap ‘em down if they do things as dumbly as their old man used to do things. I am more grateful for this than you can possibly imagine.)

As you might guess, what matters here is the simple fact that a distended family remains a family, and it therefore never occurs to anyone to hash, let alone rehash, any old woes; life has presented us with some odd cards, but we play what we’re dealt.

Four hundred miles (more or less) tomorrow, and I can put away the suitcases for another year. Right now I’m just happy to have gotten through all this in one piece with minimal difficulty. Gwendolyn gets a spa day on Thursday, followed by a new license tag. (You didn’t think I was going to drop $85 on plate updates before a road trip, did you?)

Oh, and the hotel elevator has been repaired, although it sounds like hell. Then again, I sound like hell after climbing the stairs from the first floor to the third.

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