The sign along interstate 70 said: "Taco Bell, 106 miles." It's not the kind of sign you see in New Jersey. For that matter, you won't see that kind of sign in most parts of the country, and I didn't particularly want to see it now. It reminded me of how much I hate driving across Kansas, how far I had driven from New Jersey, and how far I still had to go to reach my Colorado mountain home. A few other states fall into the "monotonous" category: Nebraska (Interstate 80) and South Dakota (I-90) come to mind. Some parts of Oklahoma and West Texas are also really boring, but in my opinion, Kansas ranks right up there as one of the worst.
What makes driving through Kansas so boring is the lack of visual variety and stimulation. Any one scene is, in and of itself, a powerful representation of the Great Plains of our nation endless miles of rolling, treeless plains where pioneers had to build their homes out of mud and burn buffalo chips for fuel. The area is rich with historic tales of wagon trains moving west and great cattle drives arriving from Texas and Oklahoma. For any boy who grew up on western movies and TV shows, names like Abilene and Dodge City evoke visions of the Wild West. I was one of those boys. However, those shows and movies never portrayed the monotony of driving across Kansas. As I headed west, I tried to imagine what the trip would have been like in a wagon train. I think that if this were the 1800's I would have stayed in New Jersey.
About 8 years ago I was driving this same stretch of road when a Kansas State Trooper pulled me over for speeding. He said I was going 78 and the speed limit at that time was 65. I think he was either being generous or I had slowed down. From my perspective, you can't drive too fast in this part of Kansas unless you are on a back road hauling a load of hay.
The previous day I had driven across Missouri and part of Kansas from Illinois where I had spent the night in Troy. You can't drive all the way across Missouri and Kansas in one day and still keep your sanity, so I had planned to spend a night in Manhattan, Kansas before heading on to my destination in Colorado. A female friend in Manhattan named Jennifer, whom I had never met in person, and whose last name was unknown to me, was suppose to have found a place for me to board my horse for the night.
I met Jennifer on the Internet about three years ago when we were both active on an equine bulletin board. We traded horse stories and shared experiences on and off during the interim. Now she was a doctoral student in equine science at Kansas State, majoring in equine reproduction. She had E-mailed me her photo and she had seen mine on my web site, so our tentative plan was to meet in Manhattan. At least I thought that was the plan. When I called her from Illinois the day before my arrival, her roommate answered and said Jennifer had left for the weekend without any message for me. In fact, her roommate didn't seem to know anything about me.
As I drove toward Manhattan, I reflected on all the e-mail conversations I had had with Jennifer over the last several years. At one point she expressed a desire to visit me in Colorado, and she recently talked about visiting this summer with at least one of her three horses. Perhaps our Internet relationship had just been a fantasy for her and, when faced with the reality of our meeting, she started thinking about all the horror stories you hear about Internet contacts and ran for cover.
Jennifer is not the first woman to run from me, but she certainly gets the award for doing so before she even met me. It continues a long and discouraging trend in my life. I had a momentary vision that there were women all over the world who had never seen me, never talked to me, or never heard of me were running away.
Thanks to my cell phone, I called my friend Kate who already knew me and knew I was harmless. Kate lived in Lawrence, Kansas where she was a student at Kansas University. She eagerly agreed to make the one-hour drive over to Manhattan and we would go to dinner. It's not that I can't spend a night without a woman around quite the contrary. I actually prefer to spend most nights that way, but when plans fall through I feel abandoned. Not only did I feel abandoned, but also I was burned out from driving all day, and I didn't have a place for my horse to stay for the night.
Through a convoluted sequence of last minute events I found a place for my horse prior to my arrival in Manhattan. To accomplish this I called John, my stockbroker, in Plano, Texas, knowing that John had once lived in the Manhattan area. John called a friend of his in Manhattan, who called his vet, who called... Well, you get the idea. And it was all done on my cell phone while heading west.
My stay in Manhattan was salvaged, enjoyable, and even memorable thanks to Kate, John, and a number of other intermediaries whom I shall never know. But I will always wonder about Jennifer, what happened, and what might have been. Our lives can easily ricochet in new directions by such encounters, and as I continued heading west toward Colorado, the "what ifs" captured my imagination until I saw the sign: "Taco Bell, 106 miles." Damn, it's a long way to Colorado from New Jersey.
Post Script: Jennifer and I finally met the following summer. She never did visit me in Colorado, but we did buy a place in Southern Illinois together (partnership). The Deal