Thoughts from the Robbers Roost Motel in Green River, Utah

(written two nights ago)

Kansas gets a bad rap.  It’s supposed to be the most boring of states to drive across, possibly rivaled by Nebraska.  This may be true, but since when was boring such a bad thing?  Driving across Kansas, I could point the car straight, lean back, listen to music or a book, and just relax.  As soon as I entered Colorado, all hell broke loose.  The roads were so steep at times that my poor, beleaguered Hyundai topped out at 60 mph.  They were so steep in the other direction that I started to worry about my brakes catching fire.  Any state with a “Runaway Truck Ramp” can’t be fun to drive across, especially in the rain, as I had to.

For those who haven’t seen these marvelous products of demented invention, a Runaway Truck Ramp is a big dirt path with a sharp incline.  When the road goes left or right, the Ramp goes straight.  They stick them periodically in the mountains of Colorado so that when the downhill sections of road become too much for the brakes of a tractor-trailer to handle, the truck can safely careen up a dirt hill, where, presumably, the driver can stop the truck.  I’m not so sure that’s possible.  Some of them looked so steep, that surely the truck would stop for a moment at the top, then roll back down into oncoming traffic like in a cartoon.  I suppose that’s a safer possibility than what seems likely with some of the other ramps, which weren’t as steep, but which appeared to lead directly to cliffs.  If nothing else, Colorado is funnier than Kansas. 

…but not as funny as the Carolinas.  Signs in Colorado would remind drivers that “speed is monitored by aircraft.”  This is a troubling notion — they could catch me speeding at any time! — but not nearly as intimidating as South Carolina’s insistence that speed limits are enforced by aircraft.

Another Colorado bonus was getting to see Vail.  A long sliver of a town, Vail rests along I-70, in a shallow valley between two mountain peaks.  It’s a terrible place for a town, and Vail helps prove that point by measuring a few dozen miles long and maybe half a mile wide.  As far as I could tell from the elevated Interstate, the only way to get from one chunk of town to the next is by the elevated Interstate.  There aren’t any major local roads.

The town seems to exist as recreation for rich people.  There are many hotels, a few ski lodges, and a shopping mall or two.  Richest-feeling of all are the mansions.  The first I saw was built on the hills and surrounded by trees.  Clearly it was built for seclusion, an impression that’s shattered only by the fact that there are 200 others in the near vicinity just like it.  The houses still have the personal touches and stupid architecture that let you know its owners have money, but the only thing that remains of their intended individuality and ruggedness is that they’re inconveniently located.  I’m not sure why one would go to all the trouble of building a house 6000 feet in the air just to have a new set of neighbors to ignore, but it wasn’t the strangest thing I saw…

The strangest came immediately after I left the mountain roads and found myself in New Jersey.  Stretching out all around me – actually just to the left – were grassy fields, trees and shrubbery.  Just like home!  Except none of what I was seeing was native to Colorado.  It was manufactured by the people who live there.  I almost stopped in to let everyone know that while property taxes in New Jersey are quite high, surely paying them would be less trouble than creating your own Garden State on the other side of the country.  Where did all the water come from?  Is that why the Colorado River was so much smaller than I expected?

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