2003 Road Trip Diary: Chapter 2

Kansas gets a bum rap. Everyone I talked to before the trip warned me that it would go on forever and bore me to tears. Applesauce. The night before I had hit Topeka just as the sun was going down, and watched the shadows dance across rolling grassland. Central Kansas was no less enchanting, with the morning sun burning the fog off of the meandering hills, revealing a unique and surprising beauty. Kansas may not appeal to most people the way oceans or mountains do, but anyone who dismisses it out-of-hand possesses an unreasonably narrow definition of scenery.

Not that I planned on spending any time there. In fact I hauled it across Kansas, keeping the cruise control at a steady 90-95. The only hitch was a 15-minute conversation at a rest area with a fella by the name of Bob Rhodes from Roanoke, Virginia. Bob was about 70, with thinning gray hair, faded and watery blue eyes, and what seemed like a desperate need to talk to someone. He hailed me as I was leaving the restroom, using our eastern license plates as an icebreaker. Sensing that he was lonely, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to talk for a bit.

Bob was on his way to Fort Collins, Colorado, where his granddaughter was to be married the day before Easter. Bob’s wife had passed away three years ago, though judging by the way he looked as he mentioned this it may as well have been yesterday. Bob’s son wanted him to come live with him in FortCollins, but he said he just couldn’t get his mind around the idea of leaving the home he shared with his wife for nearly half a century. According to him, he was just going to stay with his son’s family for a month or so after the wedding to see how it felt. I looked over at his van as he told me this and saw that it was loaded to the gills. As I said goodbye, I was certain that Bob Rhodes was never going back to his home in Virginia again.

Back on the road, I saw an ambulance pass by me going east, but thought nothing of it. A few miles later I passed a horrific accident scene where I-70 and US 40 diverge just east of the Colorado border. A semi had plowed violently into the median and came to rest on its side, the tractor mangled. Judging by the skid marks I guessed that the driver fell asleep and drifted off the right side of the road, woke up, jammed on the breaks, and over-corrected to the left. By the looks of the tractor, the sheer number of police cars at the scene, and the fact that that ambulance I had seen, while flashing its lights, didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry, suggested to me that the accident was fatal. Between Bob Rhodes and that scene I never felt more mortal in my life.

I got off of I-70 for good in Limon, Colorado, stopped for gas, and called my legal recruiter who had left me a couple of messages when I was out of cell phone range. Mary was the disembodied voice that put me together with my new firm when I finally decided to leave back in March. She also stood to claim her five figure fee the day I started work at the new place, so she was understandably worried when she tried to call me at my old firm the day before and was told that I had already left and was, to the best of their knowledge, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains by then. I had forgotten to tell Mary that I had decided to change my planned 30-day notice to a two weeks notice. Fact was, I had been slacking off so much in recent months that I didn’t even really have two weeks’ worth of work to wrap up.

I chatted with Mary long enough to assure her that I hadn’t flipped out and that I had every intention of returning to start my new job in a month. I also made it clear that the legal profession was thousands of miles away for me at that moment, both literally and figuratively, and that in no way was I prepared to talk about the new job yet. The call was nothing but cordial, but even a business communication as superficial as that one unsettled me, so much so that I had to sit on the hood of my car in the gas station parking lot for a few minutes to gather my thoughts. Thoughts gathered, I eased onto US-24 towards Colorado Springs.

Eastern Colorado looks a lot like Kansas until you’re about 15 miles west of Limon. There, just after you top an innocent looking hill, you’re greeted with a sprawling valley, beyond which you can just make out the Rockies. I was behind a Cadillac – also with Ohio plates – when I saw those mountains for the first time. Typical Midwesterners, the Caddy and I pulled over simultaneously, cameras in hand.

I made it to Colorado Springs just less than an hour later and cut across town to Manitou Springs, the little historic/tourist district at the base of Pike’s Peak. After a brief drive down the main drag I stopped into a friendly little bar called The Keg for lunch and a couple of beers. I wrote in my journal and watched people as I ate my lunch. As the beer took hold, the people-watching started to win out over the writing.

Most of the Keg’s customers seemed like regulars, which makes sense considering it was a Tuesday afternoon before the tourist season. The star of the show was the waitress. Built like a linebacker, but as bubbly as a cheerleader, Beth efficiently served beer and burgers while telling her regulars dirty jokes she had heard the night before. She soon came over to me.

“Did you hear that one?” she asked, her tone somewhat guarded, as she tried to get a sense of whether or not I was a prude.

“No,” I and my two pints of beer said, “but it sounds like I wanna.”

“Okay, then. How do you make a woman scream twice?”

“I dunno.”

“First you fuck her, then you wipe your dick on the curtains.”

I guess that would do it.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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