My stomach growls, but I want to make it through the congestion of Kansas City and Topeka before stopping to eat. It has been five hours since I feasted on bacon and eggs in St. Louis at Homer and Bebe’s, whom I’d stayed with over the night. Homer was my grandmother’s brother and the relative that lived the furthest west. I am now on my own. After saying my goodbyes, I had only stopped for gas and to pick up a new map at the Kansas welcome center.
This is unfamiliar territory, but ahead of me is a strangely familiar car, a ‘55 Buick with a red body and black top, travelling just a little slower than me. I turn on my blinker and moved into the left-hand lane to pass. When I’m beside the car, I look over at the driver who has his elbow sticking out of the window and holds the steering wheel with his right hand. He’s wearing a white tee-shirt and a beige hard-shelled pith jungle hat. I quickly take a second look. Is this an aberration? The car is identical to the first that I remember riding in and the man driving looks like my dad. I remember as boy fishing in Dunk’s pond with my dad, him wearing that same style of hat and a white t-shirt. I wonder what had happened to that car and to dad’s hat as I drive on around the man. As I speed down the highway, I keep glancing back in my rear-view mirror, thinking about my dad and wondering about that man who could have been his twin.
I decide to stop at the next intersection with a place to eat, but after passing a few with nothing, I decide to gamble on the next town and pull off at Paxico. There’s nothing at the interchange, but I followed the signs across the Southern Pacific railroad and then, paralleling the tracks, into a small town with a decisively western feel. Stepping out of the car, I realize that the air is hot and the humidity is building, but I need to stretch my legs. I walk the length of the commercial district, the few buildings that still exist each having an awning over a wooden sidewalk to shade those passing by. There’s a old country store that, according to the sign, has been in business since 1901, an antique store and a few other places. I walk out by the tracks and old depot and watch west-bound freight rush through without slowing down. Finally, I head back over to the bar and grill. It’s dark and cool inside and takes my eyes a few minutes to adjust and my sweaty shirt feels cool as I take a sea and order a hamburger. A radio blares country music between advertisements for farm implements and reports on crop prices. At the bar, three men in overalls drink beer and discuss the weather, hoping they’d get some rain out of the storms in the forecast for later in the day. I eat and take it all in.
Thirty minutes later, after paying my bill, I’m back in the car heading west. With each mile that I rack up I feel freer. Later in the afternoon, I watch in fascination as clouds build on the horizon. I had dreaded this drive across Kansas, but I’m intrigued by these gentle rolling hills and rich dirt. As the clouds become darker, I notice a bolt of lightning and then another and then it hits. The wind is tremendous and I hold on to the steering wheel with both hands. Then comes the rain, racing in sheets across the prairie. Soon, drops pellet the roof with such force that it drowns out Steely Dan tune playing on a cassette in the car’s stereo. I slow down and as I drive under an overpass, notice a group of motorcyclists seeking shelter. But soon, it’s over and steam rises from the highway. As I pick up speed, I see the car again, up head, the ’55 Buick, and wonder if I’m really alone on this journey.