The Great American Road Trip II - 26 - Deep in the Heart of Texas
After breakfast, we re-packed our bags and headed out of Santa Fe bound for Lubbock at 10:35. We gassed up before exiting Santa Fe and took I-25 northbound (but the section we were on confusingly took us southwest) before exiting on US-285.
This drive was the epitome of boring. While one lane in both directions, passing other vehicles was incredibly rare due to the deserted nature of the route. We've gotten to the foothills of the Rockies now, with the mountains of previous days turning into hills that slowly roll along until there's nothing but flatness.
Everything we saw from Santa Fe to the Texas border consisted of mostly the same scenery: ever-so-slight hills covered in scrub brush. Similar to facial hair in an odd way, I dubbed one of the flatter areas as we descended "the Valley of the Five O'Clock Shadow."
As the hills stopped the brush became much less prevalent, due either to lots of grazing or the overall aridity of the region. We then merged on I-40 - the road we practically lived on for the first half of last year's trip - for a little ways. The section of I-40 was designated as "Historic Route 66" but I'm pretty sure the rapidly deteriorating frontage road that paralleled the highway was 66. (I can't be sure, though.)
After the I-40 jaunt, we exited onto US-84 which took us all the way to Lubbock. The nothingness continued, but somehow it turned into more intense nothingness. After going through that section of New Mexico I'm pretty sure I now think of nothingness as a tangible thing - something that one might even be able to package and sell. ("Look, honey, it's pure New Mexico nothingness!")
This bleakness was broken up by tiny little towns that generally consisted of a church, grain silo for the train, and a few houses that looked to be on the verge of collapse. We eventually made it to the small town of Fort Sumner, the site of Billy the Kid's death and grave. We didn't visit the grave - it was too far off the road - but we heard that they had a cage around it after the Kid's footstone was stolen (and safely recovered) twice. I'm not sure of what a footstone is, but I'm pretty sure it has to do with his status as a criminal.
After a few tens of miles more of nothingness we arrived at the last town before the Texas border - Clovis.
I pity those who live there. It's so bad that the windmills don't even bother moving, and the good part of town is indistinguishable from the bad part to the point that I'm not sure if there even is a good part.
We entered Texas with little fanfare, and then - a little before 3:30 - we saw an image that embodies the United States of America more than anything else we've ever seen: two McDonald's located on the same side of the road no more than perhaps 100 yards from each other. As it turned out, they were actually building a new one, but the image of two McDonald's in this tiny town near Lariat was priceless. (And also probably tasteless, but that's just my opinion.)
The road - which was four lanes (but not an Interstate) all the way to Lubbock - was rutted very badly in the right lane - but they wanted you to stick to the right lane except to pass and to do 75 MPH there. We ended up in the left lane, as that was the only way to prevent our bodies from being vaporized by the intense shaking that the right lane provided.
Little towns were dotted along the farming landscape as we called you. The landscape did not change much but there were huge - and I mean huge - swaths of land where cattle would be grazing in massive stall banks and enclosed areas. They stood somewhat proudly atop massive piles of a substance I didn't want to identify, and the smell did not disappoint. I don't think it's in my shirt, but how it avoided embedding itself into everything within a ten-mile radius is a miracle in and of itself.
After navigating the worst of the stink, we saw pecan tree orchards and soon entered Lubbock, which has the dubious distinction of having the single most messed-up road system of any city in the entire world. Obviously I have not been to all of the cities in the world, but I do not have to, as nothing - and I mean nothing - can be more confusing than the sheer labyrinth that is Lubbock.
It's not like other cities. Other cities have messes of one-way roads due to their old systems being overtaken by faster roads as their metropolitan areas expand. Lubbock, I firmly believe, was intentionally designed by a team of sadistic traffic scientists who broke out of their padded cells and teamed up to create its road system.
A lot of cities have loops around them - usually an even three-number Interstate spur. The loop around Lubbock is not an Interstate but hangs off of the end of Interstate 27 as, technically, state highway loop 289.
Let's just say that this is a circle evocative of Dante's Inferno.
The loop is split into an inner and outer loop - the inner loop is an Interstate-quality limited-access highway, while the outer loop (technically also a part of loop 289) parallels it, but has stoplights and serves as a frontage road for the inner loop.
The problem lies in the fact that the frontage road is one-way. You can only go one direction while on either ring of loop 289, and if you miss your exit - as we did - you have to get on the one-way frontage road and try to work your way back via other roads. In addition to this bizarre road setup, throw on lanes that merge without warning, a distinct lack of accurate road signs, and ever-changing directional signs for the loop, and you've got a good idea of the terror that is the Lubbock road system.
We finally got to our hotel, where the manager greeted us at the front door. All of the employees wear ear-sets which evoked my dad's now-running joke about them being Secret Service agents assigned to put him under house arrest. After the haul to Lubbock and surviving the Lubbock roads, we were none too keen on getting back in the car. We went downstairs to eat at the hotel ... it seemed nice, we could not get served and waited around for fifteen minutes for the one and only waitress to come over and get our menus.
The bottleneck was due to the fact that the bar was open and the only waitress was also the only bartender, and her attention was focused on making the drinking crowd happy. Realizing how slammed the place was, we left and went back to our room to figure out something. My mom went to the guest laundry to do a few loads while we decided to scout some food out on the town. As it turned out, the folks at the front desk - who are incredibly helpful and may or may not be under the impression that we're incognito hotel inspectors - recognized us from earlier but soon found out that we hadn't eaten. The kitchen was not busy at all, as no orders were getting through to the chef, and really not wanting to go out, we acquiesced to their pleas to order room service. (They even called before the room service even got here to see how it was and thought it was "unacceptable" that it hadn't yet arrived.)
Tomorrow: we try to escape Lubbock for San Antonio to see the Alamo and the famous River Walk.