“Don’t forget the cows,” Tizi says.
How could I? If I think Iowa, I’ll think corn; in Nebraska, it will be cows. Since we crossed the state line they’ve appeared on hillsides, in fields, standing, sitting, lying. A few lucky ones, wading. It’s hot. There’s a hurricane in in the Pacific—Hilary, weather people are calling it/her, a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s just been downgraded to a “tropical disturbance.” Well yes, I imagine 12 inches of rain in Los Angeles would be plenty disturbing. Here in the Midwest they’ve issued an excessive heat warning. It will be 114 in Des Moines tomorrow.
Most of the cows are black. They dot the hillsides. Where they congregate, I’ve noticed, a mob mentality takes hold. Lead cow indicates: I’m turning my back to the Interstate or I”m facing that scabby tree by the pond, or I’m walking up this hill, and they all fall in line. There’s not a non-conformist cow among them. Like birds on a wire: Guys, perch looking West. And they do.
I won’t forget the cows.
There’s a lot I want to remember as we burn up the road. We’re in no great hurry, but there’s a great distance to cover. Everything flies by. There is a too-muchness about it all.
I don’t want to forget crossing the Platte River, which, Google tells me, trappers used and both the Oregon and the Morman Trails followed during the westward expansion. (Mystic rivers! A couple years ago we floated the Snake. The year before that, when we crossed the Missouri River, leaving Minnesota entering South Dakota, I was tempted to pull over. Along Interstate 70, the Colorado River calls to you. I’m history. Slow down, you dolt.) In Nebraska the Platte reminds you it’s there, branch after branch.
I don’t want to forget the names of towns. Welcome to Friend, Nebraska. Have you been to Montezuma? How about Happy? In another life, if it were a very long one, we would take the exit in Milford and check out the giant covered wagon, spend a little time at the Plainsman museum. Strategic refueling helps. If you stop, make it count. Yesterday we refueled in Waco, Nebraska, at the scuzziest gas station I’ve ever set foot in, with a pothole-filled drive I thought I might bust an axle driving over. And where was Waco? No town in sight. It must have been down that neglected two-lane one way or the other. There was no telling, and I didn’t ask.
Once in a while, I pick up my phone and record a detail. I take a note, voice to text. “The blond cows look like rocks lying in the fields,” I say, and it’s saved for future contemplation. But at 81 mph, even on a long straightaway, I don’t like touching my phone. It’s dangerous. Coming soon, I hope, an app for that. We need an iThink app that records your thoughts. Thought to text. You think it, the app writes it. I could be journaling as I drive, capturing every passing curiosity. A town called Funk, a town called Wynot. It would be messy, I know. Thoughts are chaotic and multi-directional. You wouldn’t want the app to record everything (“let not light see my deep and black desires”). You would need commands. This thought, not that one. “Hey, Siri, I’m thinking…” A command like that and bingo! Thought capture. “Hey Siri, I thinking the stick man face I saw in Laramie.”
A lot of this time in the car, we ride in silence. Alone in our thoughts. Long periods of meditation and reflection, broken by observations. “I wonder if Frank will take that job.” “When will Gabriel have those teeth pulled?” “That place we stayed in Oklahoma City was nice.” We’ll chat a few minutes, then return to our thoughts. I know we could be doing something—listening to books, listening to music, tuning in podcasts. But the idleness is full and rich.
We get snippets of NPR. Radio reception waxes and wanes, mostly wanes. Tizi suggests podcasts.
“Let’s get that going, she says. “We could listen to Rachel Maddow.”
Well, yes we could. I’m interested in what she has to say. But that will be the end of the enticing blackout. What will that mean? How will that feel?
“You know we tried this once before,” I tell her. “The first time we took the long drive, we were coming into St. Louis, and I tuned in a podcast I had saved.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“It was a bust.”
Today we’ll drive across Wyoming and into Utah, finishing the day in Nevada. With Rachel Maddow and who else? I predict this too will be a bust. There will be too much going on outside, streams and rivers, more cows, and horses, and mountains and desert, historic names and places to be savored in silence.
Hey Siri, keep things quiet. Just us and our thoughts.