The $50 Hotel with Walk-in Maid Service
It's hard to expect much from a $50-a-night hotel. If the sheets and shower are clean, the carpet has fewer cigarette burns than the television has channels, then you've received adequate compensation for your money.
We awoke in the Big Texan Hotel at 8:00 AM - not when the alarm went off (you have to pay the hotel $10 extra for an alarm clock) - but when the maid walked into our room unannounced. When another maid walked in at 9:30, Burqa Boy and I gave up trying to sleep. When the third maid threw the door open wide half an hour later, she caught Burqa Boy fully naked standing in the bathroom doorway and he lost his mind. "Go get 'em!" he ranted as he shoved me toward the office.
I have, from time to time, been described as assertive. Some people hold this negatively. I feel the opposite. The hotel manager was an admirable opponent but relented in the end - generously offering us a 10% discount on our $50 stay. "That'll teach them!" Burqa Boy muttered triumphantly as he spent our bounty on Diet Mountain Dew and a Bullriders Gone Wild! magazine.
Let's Paint Cadillacs!
After a stop to buy spray paint, we headed to Cadillac Ranch. Ten Cadillacs are buried nose-down in the middle of a wheat field just west of Amarillo. It's a public art installation where visitors are encouraged to continuously repaint the vehicles. Armed with three cans of paint, a set of rubber gloves and a camera, Burqa Boy and I set to work.
Shortly after we began, a woman approached Burqa Boy and asked if he had an extra can of paint. Certainly, he replied. Right over there. Good, says the woman. I'm going to go graffiti your Smart Car.
Turns out Ms. Clenched Jaw 1953 disapproved of our spray painting the Cadillacs. Not because we weren't supposed to do so - but because we weren't from Texas. It just wasn't right.
We finished our work at Cadillac Ranch, handed off our partially used cans to a gaggle of recently immigrated children (also probably not from Texas) and headed across the Texas panhandle.
A Spiritual Experience Like....Um....
Texan's like to claim they do things larger, which usually means oversized fly swatters, family vehicles the size of road trains and beer bellies sufficient to obscure trash can lid belt buckles. Texans also built the largest cross in the western hemisphere and surrounded it with the largest religious-park-in-a-wheatfield in continental United States - at least that's what the signs say.
The owners of the giant cross promise a spiritual experience like no other, and I suppose the statue of Jesus holding an aborted fetus and crying brass tears might do that for some people. Others might be moved by viewing a "genuine replica of the Shroud of Turin" or laying in a recreation of Jesus's "tomb". None of this worked for me - until I discovered the Wal-Mart size Christian souvenir shop stocked "Dorm Room Scent Deodorizer." Who knew Jesus liked the scent of horny teens and dirty socks? I was moved.
Let's Get Healed!
Burqa Boy couldn't leave the cross fast enough and we headed to nearby Groom, Texas, for a lunch at the Blessed Mary Amer-Tex-Mex restaurant. Groom, Texas is a dusty town with two grain elevators, one police car, and a faith healer known for providing cures over a plate of handmade hamburger enchiladas.
The Blessed Mary was empty save for the owners when we arrived and we found our way to a plastic covered table named for Saint James. The proprietress moved with the help of a rolling cart and acted as both waitress and cook. While she labored silently over our lunch, her husband the faith healer approached us. I won't record the entire conversation here - this is a summary what we learned:
- George W. Bush was anointed by God and his departure from government is a shame upon the land. The faith healer had been invited to go to Washington to bless W. during the first inauguration but hadn't gone because he didn't have the right clothes.
- Barak Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist.
- There is a Miraculous Staircase in Santa Fe, New Mexico (how did we miss that?) built by Saint Peter himself. The wood used to make the staircase was found nowhere in the United States and the staircase was built without nails or visible support. The power of the miraculous staircase is so great that a visit can send goose bumps up your arm.
- Many faith healings had occurred at the very table we were sitting at.
I pondered asking for a healing just to see the process, but I'd left my video camera in the car and it's hard to get good footage of an appendix restoration.
A Difference Kind of Grace
The next day we arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, and considered a visit to Graceland. I pictured Graceland as sprawling mansion dominating an expanse of well tended lawn. In reality, Graceland is Fat Elvis hiding behind a graffiti-covered wall beside a busy and filthy street. Elvis' retired airplanes hunker behind a strip mall as traffic roars by in either direction. There is no sparkle left, just the scent of rapidly fading stardom drowned out by the heavy bass of passing cars.
Several hundred miles east of Memphis is Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains and - more importantly - Dollywood. Alas, Dollywood was closed, but the attractions of Pigeon Forge were not. Pigeon Forge is a happy Christian themed city/amusement park where all the rides are owned by different operators and there is nothing overtly un-Biblical to soil your soul (except gluttony and the Cupid's Corner Lingerie store). Burqa Boy was thrilled to ride the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride ($17 for 15 minutes) which includes both lots of dinosaurs and - side by side with a giant pterodactyl - three werewolves. We managed to fit in some go-carts too, but we missed "The Miracle" - a show billed as "Broadway comes to Pigeon Forge" and "a stunning musical recreation of the life of Christ...featuring live animals".
As we headed toward Winston-Salem, we drove through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I'd never thought of visiting the mountains and this detour was a last minute decision. How can one describe the natural beauty of places such as the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns or Yellowstone? The Smokey Mountains were equal to all of these and unique in a way that must be experienced. Fortunately, you can do so without having to go very far for moonshine as the park rangers carry it in their canteens.
That evening we met up with David of PlanetSoma and Did You Bring Bottles fame. David, who is the consummate tour guide, gave us a tour of nighttime Winston-Salem including a Shell Station actually shaped like a Shell.
The following day we paused in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for lunch with a long time friend, Becky, who I met over the Internet a decade ago but had never met in person. It was fantastic to put face to name and spend an hour with this Southern Belle.
The Great American Road Trip 2008 is nearly done. We're just south of Washington, D.C. and headed to Maine before we go home. Come back next week for our final entry from the road - and our announcement of the winners of our Road Trip 2008 contests!
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