Pratt, “Gateway to the High Plains”

is the slogan from the chamber of commerce, which sounds much better than the “crossroads to nowhere” or worse, “home of the only Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pratt County.”  

It’s 6:45 AM and I emerge from a familiar penumbra; midway between a hallucinatory dream, bare consciousness, and the realization that involuntary drool is wetting my beard and a rental pillowslip.  

The Days Inn clerk, having sensed my impaired hearing, was kind enough to assign us the handicap accessible room # 113, high ceilinged, ten foot drapes, a garage size door opening to the loo and stainless steel safety bars, everywhere, within easy grasp.  

“Get a grip”, I tell Jack, “we’re skipping town”.

The high plains are a haunting landscape.  Imagine the earth surface as an aged cantaloupe covered by an inch of stale snow; brownish, gently rolling, no rare sliver of green. Treeless to a horizon with no corners, and an occasional pockmark on a rolling low hill, resembling an adolescent acne scar, no doubt the result of a teenage meteor some 100,000 years before.  In the distance, utility lines of tall erector set children, motionless, tethered by guy wire, as if on a kindergarten field trip. 


Less than a hundred miles out, the icy road has reared its ugly head….a head-on collision resulting in a fatality, and the KHP reroute is a detour over miles of gravel ranch roads. We are in a line, following a semi with a mirrored-finish, quilt-patterned rear door.  The complementary mud flaps depict a chrome pin-up girl in a seductive seated pose.  The near blinding reflection from the early morning eastern sun is a distorted, grimy Chevy Silverado with an old man at the helm and a little black dog posing as a dashboard GPS.  Not pretty, reminiscent of an Edvard Munch painting, without the scream. *


Our objective is to cross over two panhandles (OK and TX), without once sliding off the road into a ditch, and reach Albuquerque by nightfall. 


A panhandle cowpoke taking aim at another trainload of Chinese crap 


Forget the Cadillac ranch, hello Beetle lovers


I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.

Panama, Suez, or Erie…

Dredging a canal can be weary,

    Driving cross country to boot,

    With a canal to root,

Can leave the driver quite teary.

Enough of the limerick, but take your pick for the pain.  Traversing the great plains for six dismal days during an arctic surge, or, having a root canal on a lower right first molar (#30 to you dental students out there), which would be worse ?

No decision necessary, I am doing both.  


Two hours in the dentist’s chair, commencing at 7 AM, the novocaine began to wear off by noon.  Aware that the post-procedure trauma might be substantial, we ( dog Jack, and I ) opted to head out at 1 PM, aiming for St. Louis by dusk, powered by ibuprofen, vicodin, and Willie Nelson in concert.  Traveling a capella, we had decided to leave the trailer, winterized for the season, at the farm in Indiana.   


View from the kitchen window 


A reluctant Jack posing as a reindeer

The Weather Channel promises daytime highs in the low 30s, teens and lower at night.  The prospect of having no water on board, plus only the seamiest of commercial campgrounds available the week between Christmas and New Year, prompted the decision to enjoy the downscale ambience of Motel Six.  We’ve stayed in so many, it seems like Motel 48.

Strange how one can accept stale odor, limp towels, bars of Ivory soap the size of a milkbone biscuit, and carpet made during the second Reagan administration for $39.99 night because they left the light on for you and your dog.

We awaken the next morning in Florissant, MO, to two inches of fresh snow and 26F. Traveling I-70 west, arguably the most billboarded highway west of the Mississippi, we reach Kansas City.  Torn between invitations to become upscale gentlemen at local XXXX clubs, the wild west, and religious salvation, we are awash in a triangle between unsavory, Calvary and Calgary.

With the lap-top for guidance we have reached a bifurcation (translation: Yogi Berra fork) in the road.  Our options are to continue west toward Denver, where we might make a left hand turn toward Albuquerque, or, hang a left now to Wichita, and take the long chance across the prairie of the grapes of wrath.

My only counsel, Jack, a small terrier of suspicious ancestry, is puzzled when I ask, “From the north pole, an arctic cold wave, blowing and drifting snow is predicted; from the south pole, a blast of moisture and freezing temps across the Gulf of Mexico has left Dallas, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City in a blizzard standstill…which way should we go ?”

Jack, being bi-polar, cocks his head sideways, in stoic silence, eagerly awaiting a dog biscuit and the joy of peeing on real grass in warm weather.  We opt to head on a southwest path toward US 54, between the buns of two major storm fronts through rural Kansas.

“Black ice, white ice, thin ice, who gives a spit”, I announce loudly and positively, “we’re taking the window of slopportunity old buddy, let’s hit it !”

He responds with his favorite ‘Blues Brothers’ bark.  He always wants me in the role of Jake, so he can be Elwood and play the harmonica.  Destination, Pratt, KS by five.     


Blitzen, after the Christmas rush, near Kingman, KS