Yesterday morning I woke up in Amarillo, Texas having spent a surreal evening at the Big Texan Steak Ranch and decided to go for breakfast. I went to the Stockyard Cafe, which had been recommended to me by a local and several websites. Great huevos rancheros. When my waitress came by to see if I wanted more coffee, she asked if I was there for the auction, the cattle auction. Well, why not?
So I stuck around and went to the cattle auction. Everybody there was about as friendly as could be and happy to explain to me what was going on. Then I sat down next to a group of Amish people and chatted with them. Turns out, they were on a road trip, too. They were on their way back to their home in Indiana from California and thought they'd stop at the Stockyard Cafe for breakfast and to take in the cattle auction. We talked for a bit and it was interesting and fun - and yes, some Amish do drive cars, not only horses and buggies.
Then I headed east and stopped at Bug Ranch - the Volkswagon Beetle answer to Cadillac Ranch farther west down the road. Then I stopped at "the largest cross in the Northern Hemisphere." I had lunch in a place that would have been a burger joint if the guy who founded it hadn't decided he wanted to do something other than burgers, so he opened a steak sandwich place to stand out from the crowd.
Then I spent the evening visiting writer pals in Norman, Oklahoma.
A lot of what I drove through was hours of grain silos in the flat distance, and cattle crowded around water wheels and I loved every single moment of it.
There are undoubtedly those of you out there reading this who are thinking - so what? Who cares? All that empty space.
I feel sorry for you. This is the country you miss when you simply fly over it to get where you're going. This is the country that is interesting and human and hard working and honest and fun - the place that makes me very happy to be an American. You can find this America in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago if you try hard enough, if you get out of your neighborhood and your comfort zone, but it's very much in your face when you drive across the country.
The great thing about this country has always been the journey, not the destination - the big, wide in-between spaces and the people who inhabit them. I feel most connected to it when I'm in those places, the vast midlands that people on the coasts wonder what the hell I'm there for, or the places that "nice" people are afraid to go, where they think menace lies around each bend - which is what some of my friends seem to think about the South, where I'm headed next.
Anyhow, just wanted to get that off my chest. Now I'm in St. Louis, at Bouchercon, surrounded by mystery writers and readers and staying put until Sunday when the road trip resumes. Here's some pics from yesterday: