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Armadillo Highway

Driving on US 44 in Missouri (Miz-oo-rah – emphasis on the RAH) late in the afternoon of our third day driving west, armadillos lying feet up on the breakdown lane. Poor creatures, they must walk out to the road at night seeking the remaining warmth of the asphalt. There they sit on the side of the road … minding their own business until …  SPLAT! Hundreds of them along our path.

Headed west for new horizons

Our first stop was Springfield MO to visit Anne’s brother Dave and sister Joan. We had left Connecticut behind, way behind.

East-Coast-Boy-that-I-am has just sorted and sifted through decades of stuff. I shredded old papers; gave away whatever possessions I couldn’t sell. We patched all the picture-hook holes in the walls of the sweet house we had called home for almost a decade. I had put a big dose of my shamanic mojo into that place; a piece of my soul here, a pinch of my soul there.

On the last day, we sat on the deck in our Adirondack chairs, a deflated blow-up mattress abandoned in the bedroom. How much stuff do you need? I felt a deep satisfaction with what was left  – the color of the walls, the hardware, and the floor – as it radiated a satisfying glow.

Further down the road heading for Kansas City up Route 13

It wasn’t the armadillo that littered the side of the road; it was the marsupial, the nocturnal opossum. So we’ll call Route 13 “Possum Highway” and leave it at that.

The miles wore on … me driving the 16-foot U-Haul with Annie’s Tribute in tow. Anne took up the rear driving my pickup loaded with rocking chairs, patio furniture, garden tools, flowerpots … on top of the rack our two red kayaks. We weren’t going very fast, so we had plenty of time to soak up the scenery.

All trips have highlights

Mine happened in Salina (Sa-lie-nah) Kansas – the dead center of the country – the Wheat Capital of the US of A – about 6 miles off I-70. When you are plunging down the interstate, each mile gained is a mile closer to the end. But this road trip was flying by too quickly … definitely time to find a little local flavor.

It was a good-things-happen-in-bunches moment when we chose a lesser-known hotel near town. The advertisement claimed it to be a true “Country Inn and Suites” hotel; and it was true to its word. In fact, a gem. We found ourselves in a spacious room with a well-maintained pool and spa a few paces away. Just what the doctor ordered after a 10-hour highway sprint! Annie reveled in the water as refracted rainbows danced on the walls of the pool house in the late afternoon sunlight. She felt as though she was in the movie “Cocoon” soaking up the life source of the pods.

Beyond the Food Desert …

Fast food offerings surrounded our tidy inn. But we wanted SLOW FOOD! Our appetites demanded a leisurely meal so we asked the front desk for a recommendation. The clerk seemed confused by the question and replied, “There’s lots of places to eat right on 9th Street. Most of the guests eat at the steakhouse right over there,” pointing across the entry road. No thanks.

We wanted “local.” We headed away from the highway and the parade of chain food holes toward downtown to a family owned Italian restaurant on Main Street called Martinelli’s that I had read about in a guidebook.

Winding our way through the tree-lined neighborhoods of Salina made me realize how much of American is nowhere near the interstates. This was flat-as-a-pancake Kansas – in all its middle-America glory: neat lawns, brick facades, temperate colors, the red, white and blue fluttering on every front porch.

Getting closer to city center, there were some interesting buildings that dated to the 1920’s, including a huge Masonic lodge. Oh the stories those walls could tell! Salina boasted lots of limestone buildings; the stone carted all the way from the great quarries of Indiana to build schools, banks, and town halls.

It was a sleepy Tuesday night when we found the intersection of Santa Fe and Main. Wouldn’t you know it … Martinelli’s Italian Restaurant sat proudly right there on the northwest corner. Across from the restaurant stood a classic-marquee theatre with a billing for a Joan Baez concert coming up at the end of the month. Wheat farmers listening to “Diamonds and Rust”? Cool.

Having recently arrived from the Great American Food Desert, we walked right in enticed by fragrant aromas of garlic and fresh bread, the wait staff moving briskly between the tables.

Our waiter was Shane, a native son just itching to chat. We ordered a couple of Fat Tires as we perused the menu. Martinelli’s served its food family-style. What fun! We ordered a Caesar salad plus pasta entrees, bread and butter. “We were off to the races” as they say!

Shane grew up in Salina. He had a fine, big mind. Our brief excursion into the world of the spiritual came fast and strong as he delivered our meal. Shane had become an Eastern Orthodox Christian while visiting in the Ukraine as a student. In between his attentive service, Shane shared, “It’s pretty lonely here, being a liberal … no one to talk to …” You never know where you will find Like Minds on your journey … through life … or through Kansas.

After dinner, Annie and I walked the length of Main Street peering in display windows …

The town seemed prosperous enough, but I suspect whatever disposable income you find in the “Wheat Capital of the USA” ends up in the pockets of the Yum corporations, Wal-Mart’s, and Denny’s out by the highway. Even though we saw quilt shops, a fencing academy, a couple of gift and consignment stops, there were too many empty storefronts. Main Street America – the face of America that is slowly evaporating in the infection of multinational enterprise – is suffering.

No possums or armadillos on the roadway that night – just small-town Salina welcoming us within its boundary. On a Friday night after football, or a Wednesday night after bowling league, or a Thursday after bridge, I am sure Martinelli’s is hopping. The food was great and worth the detour. I highly recommend it!

When Shane heard we were heading to Boulder, I got the feeling it wouldn’t be too long before he hit the road as well. Good luck Shane! And thank you Sal-EEN-a Kansas. You sure looked good that night!