A Six Thousand Mile Journey…….#256 (the 90’s)

Leaving Orlando on I – 75

The 24 ft. rental transport loaded,  the late afternoon finding the couple and Sammi,  Fran’s Deer Chihuahua who wasn’t use to riding in a  car, let alone a truck as Fran didn’t drive, all three prepared to proceed west.  With the exertion of moving, the lateness of the hour and Gary’s aversion to driving at night in unfamiliar surroundings  it was decided to get a bite to eat and spend a final night in the Orlando area.  A morning awakening at the Best Western Mt. Vernon Inn in Winter Park  a suburb of the Orlando Metropolitan area,  the 24 ft. rental truck discovering Interstate 75,  the north- south central corridor of Florida.   As the hours passed Gary not fathoming the length of the sunshine state,  the drive finally intersecting Interstate 10 in the Florida Panhandle providing  a westward turn.  The Budget rental truck with its 55 mph governor,  the sun beginning to wane in the west, a day long drive about to be completed,  Mobile Alabama  designated for the nights stay.  Gary taking notice of the seaside products of Mobile,  a panoramic view from the Interstate,  having never before viewed any part Alabama let alone historic Mobile.  He soon discovering the distance  to travel across Alabama in this part of the state amounted to about 50 miles.   From the interstate the  only scenic sight of note was that of the bay,  its ship loading capabilities and a view of the modern high-rise of the city giving a projection of the new, the view of  the bay  a remembrance of the past.

George C Wallace Tunnel, Mobile

Modern Day Mobile

Modern Day Mobile

The threesome once again traveling west on Interstate 10, the 70 mile sprint across the lower part of Mississippi at 55 mph,  Baton Rouge and the  state of Louisiana looming ahead.  The highway and traffic consuming  the driver’s attention, Gary determined to make Houston estimating that eight hours of  travel remained.   An early arrival at the junction of interstate 45, the truck able to travel north of Houston,  the travelers deciding to park it for the night in the very quaint town of Conroe Texas as the eventide darkness settle in.  A feeling of home, the congenial lady behind the motel counter addressing him with that slow Texas southern draw, Gary having traveled for many years in Texas from his band playing days,  recognizing the commonality of these gracious people.    The couple spending their second night on the road before resuming their trip north on Interstate 45,  Gary appreciative of Fran’s knowledge diversity, there being no lack of conversation because of subject matter.  The driver with the pedal to the metal or a reasonable facsimile , happy to be back on familiar turf as they journeyed thru Dallas,  boarding interstate 35 towards the Red River with  Oklahoma looming ahead.

George C Wallace Tunnel Mobile

Approching Houston

Approaching Houston

The Budget rental truck arriving in Oklahoma City, a surrogate  home to Gary for almost twenty years.  The drive to  3019  S.W.124th Street was second nature,  his daughter Marlo’s family  sharing the rental half of her mother’s duplex.   Gary ringing the doorbell, not receiving a response  stepping next door, Marlo’s mother coming to the door.  Kaye somewhat startled to see her ex husband at the door presuming that he was still in California having no idea that he had journeyed to Florida and was now married.  Gary briefly explaining the situation that he had detoured to Oklahoma City so Marlo could meet Fran before continuing on.  Kaye briefly saying that Marlo, Chris and the Kids were at a house they had purchased in Moore,  giving him directions.  Gary thanking her and asking if you would care to meet Fran who was sitting in the truck, her answer was blunt, “I think not”.  Upon arrival at the Moore location, discovering his daughter and son in-law Chris had purchased a storm causality home, a victim of the May 3rd  F5 tornado with winds of 318 mph that destroyed over 1780 residential homes.  Gary being no stranger to Oklahoma weather he had witnessed time and time again that the homes on either side could be destroyed but missing one in the middle, this was the case of his daughter’s purchase.  Gary at a loss for a means to communicate his unexpected marriage in a way to initiate some understanding from Marlo, but she brushed aside his words without any acknowledgement, instead directed the conversation to the talking  about the deluge of damaged homes and all the devastation caused by the tornado. He had hoped for a better introduction but realized it was futile ending the visit, they still had long trip ahead of them.  Gary having planned to continue northwest to Kiowa, his home for 20 years and to introduce Fran to some of the special Kansas people he had worked with, but because of the lateness of the hour there was a change of plans,  deciding to spend the night in Oklahoma City.   A passing thought crossing Gary’s mind about calling Marlo, telling her about remaining in the city for the night and a possible get together  but decided against subjecting Fran to his daughters contemptuous attitude.

Chris, Garrett, Allison and Marlo

Damage from the May 3, 1999 OKC tornado

The morning finding a  journey that Gary had made numerous times for more than 22 years,  a sense of  melancholy filtering in,  his explanation was knowing that it might be a long time before traversing this roadway again.   The drive thru Kingman, Dover, Hennessy and Waukomis, crossing the Cimarron River, the dampness bouquet of the  pasture land,  the many memories all being way-stops in road of life.   Crossing the Stateline, the water tower marking their arrival in the 12 square block community of Kiowa,  the driver proceeding, showing his bride  his past place of residences then halting at the Kiowa Hospital.   The two entering the medical facility,  Gary greeted with smiles,  introducing Fran to the staff,  giving  notice to special friends, Glenda Holdaway,  Gay Farney and a pillar of healthcare, hospital Director of Nursing Sharon Ragan.   Having spent seven years of his life titled as a Plant Services Manager  and additional 16 years on the Kiowa Ambulance Service,  Gary experiencing a loss almost like he was departing family.   Having made a prior phone call to his daughter Sandra who was in Kiowa, making arrangements to meet and have a lunch at the Ranch House restaurant.  Sandra was the exact opposite of Marlo,  Gary choosing to remain somewhat silent during the meal, witnessing Sandra’s acceptance of Fran as family, the two carrying on a conversation like they had known each other forever.  A two lane Oklahoma blacktop drive awaiting, saying goodbye to his Princess was difficult.   The road was unfamiliar, the rental truck pilot having never traveled the southwest rural route to intersect Interstate 40 from Kiowa, their late afternoon goal was to attain Amarillo before dark but noticed a marquee, We Accept Pets,  at the Irish Inn at Shamrock Texas deciding they had traveled enough for one day.

Glenda Holdaway & Gay Farney

Sharon Ragan Director of Nursing

Gary’s daughter Sandra

The Ranch House Restaurant – Kiowa


Famous Amarillo Steak House







Spending the night, the August Texas morning sun in Amarillo greeting the voyagers, canine Sammi finally comfortable with riding in a truck.  It was  the beginning of another long drive on the Interstate, saying goodbye to Texas entering New Mexico,  skirting metropolitan  Albuquerque on the Interstate 40 bypass, Gary remembering 37 years ago when old Route 66 traveled through the downtown business section.   Traversing the high plains of the New Mexico, the dry expanse of seemingly endless four lane Interstate, Grants then Gallup, the small citadel still remaining a one side of the tracks town.   Crossing into Arizona they could see the cumulus clouds building giving notice of a desert thunderstorm, Gary hoping that it would pass, not looking forward to driving in the rain.  The echoing sounds of thunder and the accompanying lightning from the darken aura of the circular accumulation in the sky giving notice of  the storms presence.  The wind buffeting the truck, the wipers having difficulty in adhering to their job, Gary debating whether to continue or to stop and wait out the downpour.  His indecision  was answered as the cloud cover and rain-diminished and like the lifting of a blind the sun appeared reflecting on the glistening pavement.   The twilight in the west beckoning them into Winslow Arizona before dropping below the horizon, the way-stop of a town in the middle of nowhere was given a nationally known address by the iconic Eagles Band with their song Take It Easy.  With the nightfall calling a halt to their journey the weary travels stopping at the Winslow Inn on the west side of town.

The High Plains of New Mexico

An overnight stay at the Winslow Inn

A Winslow morning and breakfast, the couple once again on Interstate 40 and the incline to the elevated scenic city of Flagstaff.  Most travelers associating the mile high domain with  the setting for many episodes of the Bonanza television series with its  ponderosa tree-lined summit,   but Gary a novice student of astronomy always associated Flagstaff as the home of Lowell Observatory.   A historic premier observatory built in 1894 and named after its founder Percival Lowell, the observatory marking its place in history with the discovery of the planet Pluto in 1930.   A brief stop in Flagstaff , a panoramic view of the San Francisco Peaks before  beginning their  downhill trek.   The couple enjoying the tree-lined descent when something that sounded like hail began hitting the windshield, its intensity briefly rising in volume and as sudden as it began it stopped.  It was then noticed,  the evidence of its cause,  below the bottom of windshield and pasted on the hood were the remains of numerous bees, apparently a swarm of bees  crossed the highway,  their pelting impact sounding just like hail,  a new experience.   Crossing the California Stateline passing through Needles,  a stop at the fruit inspection station and entering the  expanse of the 54,000 square miles of the Mojave Desert which stretches north and east thru four states.   Continuing on to Barstow, departing  interstate 40,  progressing on CA. 58 now in a northwestern direction,  the barren flatness of the Mojave desert still providing flora,   cactus, and renown Joshua trees, a beauty only perceived by those with an inward recognition of nature.

Flagstaff scenery from I-40

Needles California State Agriculture Inspection Station

Not the only ones to traverse the Mojave


Runaway Truck Ramp

The desert soon giving way to the rise of the Tehachapi Mountains and the notorious highway pass once known for runaway trucks, often made famous in the cinematography productions of a past era with scenes of  truckers losing their brakes a reflection of the past remains, the highway still dotted with turn-off’s as a precaution.   The 24 foot rental discovering highway 99 at Bakersfield, with the sun waning and a 4 1/2 hour drive yet remaining to Columbia,  a decision to halt for the night was made to late, Gary not wanting to turn around and go back to Bakersfield.  Continuing on, the familiar beckoning signs of motels once again began appearing,  the weary travelers would spend the night in the small town of Delano.   The morning finding the couple resuming the remaining 240 mile trek north, first through Fresno, and Merced, turning northeast on State 59  to its junction with  Highway 108 into Sonora.  The journey about to experience closure,  the final five miles of travel to Columbia coming swiftly,  the furniture laden rental truck traversing up his sister Nancy’s drive,  Gary and Fran’s 6 day 3189 mile journey coming to a conclusion.

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