Cattle Country

Interstate 40 sign

SHAMROCK, TEXAS

Just west of the Oklahoma line, we pull off Interstate 40 to find a room for the evening in this middle-of-nowhere town on the old Route 66. We are exhausted and I just want to crawl under the covers and commune with the backs of my eyelids. I am glad that the clerk is so matter of fact, as I don’t feel like chatting. Thank you, Mr. Desk Guy, for not asking about our entire itinerary like the clerk in Quincy, Florida did. There, at another nondescript crossroads in another state’s panhandle, the motel clerk’s desk, behind a Plexiglas window, contained a model of the hotel’s shower setup. I was treated to a demonstration of how to turn on the water and how to switch the spigot from tub to showerhead. I must have registered a look of disbelief, as the cheerful clerk asked “Should I show you again?”

Here in Texas, I am grateful that all I need to do is mumble the magic words “we need a room,” upon which the clerk takes care of the rest without fanfare or foofaraw. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate in the lobby in the morning. I try not to roll my eyes. (I don’t know about you, but what I need in the morning is food. Most hotels have at least a free continental breakfast, a bagel and juice or something. Haven’t you heard, Mr. Desk Guy?). No, we don’t have any children or pets. I grab the key and go.

As conscious as I am of animal welfare issues, I am glad that I don’t have a pet in this place. As soon as I pull up to the door of the room, I notice a gray and white cat, probably feral, sniffing around. And when I begin to unload the bags, I am greeted by a pair of black cats who walk right up to me as if this is their standard routine. In the gathering dusk, I almost don’t notice them in their pitch black fur, but the shining yellow-green eyes give them away. I hope they don’t end up running into our motel room and under the bed while we are unloading. Let’s just say that my wife does not care for cats. At all.

This is cattle country. Perhaps the most prominent feature on the featureless landscape of north Texas is the herds of beef cattle and the enormous feedlots filled with thousands of cows just off the freeway. “This is where the steaks and hamburgers of America come from,” I announce to my wife, the disdain in my voice totally obvious. Indeed, as we traverse western Oklahoma and then approach Amarillo in Texas, the billboards become more frequent, announcing a free 72 oz. steak to anyone who can eat all of it with the accoutrements and fixin’s within one hour. The perfect combination of excess consumption, gluttony and the murder of innocents without a second thought.

The plains stretch out before us, and in the orange glow of the 9 pm sunset, we can see so far out to the horizon that I feel as if I can almost discern the curvature of the earth. Back in Maine, the husband of my wife’s friend was recounting tall tales of his military service in Montana. The terrain was so flat, he boasted, that a soldier going AWOL could still be seen for three days.

I now think I understand what he meant.

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