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Friday, May 5, 2023

An Adventure I Didn’t Need

Adios, las Dos!


The car was packed, dog exercised, and the fact that the U.S. road atlas had gotten buried beneath all that great packing didn’t upset me much because my planned route would be a familiar one, a trip the Artist and I had taken more than once, one Sunny Juliet had done last spring, and our first planned overnight stop in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a town the Artist and I stayed in many times. (Sunny and I had been there last year on the very same date, May 1.) There was a little glitch when my credit card was declined in Santa Rosa – for absolutely no reason -- but after I paid cash for a room and made a call to straighten out the problem, the card was “re-set” so it would work again. 

Santa Rosa sunset

I used the card in the morning (at the pump) to fill up with gas, and we were on our way again.


Route 54 is the same as I-40 between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari, but at Tucumcari I got off the “superslab” (there’s a long David Grath story associated with that term, a story for another time) for my smaller road. Somehow, though, not taking the Business 54 direction, I found myself on old Route 66, following along beside the superslab. Well, okay. While not my intention, I remembered being on I-40 and looking over with longing to the old Mother Road. Now, here I was! Serendipity.

Click to enlarge for full effect.

Shoes on fenceposts

Tuesday's flower of the day

Old Route 66. Two-lane road. Right down in the landscape, not on a conveyor belt keeping me at arm’s length. So I was happy. Free to stop, to pull off the road, and photograph interesting sights, such as what I called my “sign of the day,” three different kinds wildflower, and a fence with every post topped by a shoe. Don’t ask me what was with the shoes, but I chose the Indian blanket as my “flower of the day,” so perfectly New Mexico, even as I remembered from the previous day all the beautiful blooming prickly poppies, or “fried eggs,” as the cowboys call them, along the road on the Alamogordo side of the San Augustin Pass.

San Jon probably doesn't have many tourists.

Arriving at little San Jon, New Mexico, I took what at first I thought might be a new two-lane north, only to realize quickly, from familiar scenes, that the Artist and I had traveled that road before. We’d been on I-40 and gotten off in search of a gas station, then taken 469 north to Logan. Maybe I’d even photographed this intriguing abandoned ranch house before, but don't you think it was worth stopping for again? 

Again, click to enlarge for full effect.

Logan, New Mexico, presented another irresistible photo opportunity -- and this isn't the last you'll hear of Logan, either. 

Wouldn't you have stopped for this shot?

Then, Nara Vista, the last named town before the Texas state line, emptied out by changes long ago, but with some lovely old buildings, albeit abandoned and ruined. Besides the attraction of the ruins, I remembered vividly the drive east in 2020, the plague year, when the Artist and I stopped in an empty parking lot in Nara Vista to walk our Sarah. When I presented the Artist with a plastic cup of “fruit cocktail,” the ubiquitous 1950s accompaniment to cottage cheese, he was delighted to have something other than jerky and granola bars and congratulated my “brilliance.” So Nara Vista, sad though the place would be to the eyes of almost anyone else passing through, holds a happy memory for me, invisible to the rest of the world. I’d been lazily snapping away with my phone camera but got out the real camera for a couple of long shots.

(Formerly) Ira's, #1

Ira's, #2

Ira's, #3

Most of Nara Vista looks like this.


Across the road


Next, Texas panhandle, Oklahoma panhandle – and I barreled through those two states nonstop, aiming for Liberal, Kansas, another place the Artist and I had stayed many a night, enjoying dinner at the Cattleman’s Café. Gas prices were pleasingly low in Kansas, and I was ready to gas up again.


Photo taken for a Kansan friend transplanted to Arizonan.

That’s when terror struck! My billfold was not in my purse! I’d used it in Santa Rosa but not since. Now what?


Did I drop it at the gas station in Santa Rosa? Found their phone number on the receipt and called. No, no one had turned in any lost items that day. At the rest area on the staked plains? No luck on that possibility, either, when I called the New Mexico State Police. No, no personal items turned in at all so far that day, other than a gun. (Really! Someone lost a gun? Not me!) What to do?  This unexpected challenge was not at all the kind of adventure I’d been looking for on this trip.

Pajarito rest area in eastern New Mexico


The problem was that I’d developed the habit of sliding the billfold into my left front jeans pocket occasionally, rather than putting it in my purse. Easier to grab that way. But the jeans pockets weren’t all that deep, and it could have fallen out – almost anywhere!!! I’d been in and out of the car, photographing (as you've seen) all manner of random, rural sights. 


The most important items in the lost billfold from a practical point of view were my credit card and my driver’s license, but there was also a scrap of paper with the Artist’s last written words on it. Illegible those words had been to me at first, but I’d finally deciphered them and did not want to lose that precious note. 


And yet, I had to be practical -- thus my Tuesday thanks list:


➡️ Thanks to the UPS driver I flagged down there in Liberal, who helped me find the police station. Note: Washington Street in Liberal has two discontinuous stretches, and there is a 325 on both pieces of the street. 


➡️ Thanks to the dispatch officer at the police station, who told me I should cancel my credit card and explain the situation of the lost driver’s license, should I get stopped on the road for any reason, and then file a report from my home back in Michigan upon arrival. 


➡️ Big thanks to the pleasant, very helpful young woman at the visitors center, who did not have any Kansas state maps but printed one out for me from her computer. I knew I wanted an east-west road to a certain town but didn’t remember either the number of the road or the name of the town. U.S. 160 to Winfield. Good!


Two hours were “lost” there in Liberal, but back on the road again I felt pretty calm. With cash from an ATM in Willcox, AZ, on my way out of town, I was confident I could make it to Illinois, where I’d write my sister a check and get more cash for the remainder of the trip. I also had dried mango slices, Kind bars, beef jerky, and rice cakes for that night's dinner, along with foil packets of chicken for Sunny Juliet, plus the last of the rice and green beans from our cooler to mix with her chicken. 


So we spent the night in Winfield, Kansas, in the same friendly motel we had stayed in the year before. No time this trip for the dog park, though. We arrived too late in the evening (after sunset) and left too early in the morning. But my dog girl is a seasoned traveler now. Last year, less than five months old, she wanted to play in the evening when we arrived at a motel, when all the momma wanted to do was crash. This year she seemed to understand and settled right down. 

Sunny settles down.

Day 3 got us to my sister’s in Springfield, Illinois, after a 600-mile drive (maybe my longest driving day ever), and I slept all night, not waking once. Exhausted.


Oh, but on the way through Missouri (determined not to spend a night in that state), I had stopped again for gas in Wheatland, across the road from a little motel where the Artist and I had stayed once with Sarah. Maybe we stayed there once with Peasy, too? Wheatland is the home of the Lucas Oil Speedway (the Artist swore by Lucas products), as well as the Lucas Bull Ranch, and the Sinclair station sells much more than gas. They have seed & feed, baby chicks, nursery plants, groceries (including fresh produce), and of course anything you might need for a car or a truck. There’s a café attached, where the Artist once bought us a fried chicken dinner.

Why, other than general reminiscing, do I mention all this? Because since my New Mexico loss, I was traveling only with cash, remember. And when I went inside to prepay, I told the woman behind the counter that I wasn’t sure how much the tank would take -- I knew it would take twenty, but would it take twenty-five? -- and she said, “Why don’t you just go out and fill up and then come in and pay?” “I can do that?” “Sure.” Stranger in a strange place, and I was not made to prepay! When I went back inside to hand her a $100 bill for my $23+change purchase, I mentioned having lost my billfold back in New Mexico and not realizing it until Kansas, and she commiserated, saying how much trouble it could be to lose credit cards. I shrugged then and told her, “My husband died a year ago, and other problems that come along now --.” She interrupted to say, “I know what you mean. I lost my husband this past October, and everything else is ‘small stuff.’” “You go on, but nothing is the same, is it?” “Certainly is not.” Loss of a credit card made for kind of an “adventure” I would not have chosen, forcing me to rise to an occasion imposed on me and to improvise, but that was peanuts compared to losing the love of my life. A stranger and I had that in common.


How many strangers heard the story of my lost billfold? And yet, I didn’t share it with friends or family before arriving in Springfield. Why worry them needlessly? Once in Springfield, I wrote my sister a check, which she deposited in her bank the next day, handing me cash I knew would be sufficient for the rest of my trip back to northern Michigan. We went to the dog park. Sunny was the only dog there, but we exercised her pretty thoroughly with tennis balls, a Frisbee, and agility stations provided. After that it was on to the doggie wash to rid her of months of desert dust! 

Sister Deborah helping with Sunny Juliet's bath. Easier with two!

-- And now, another unexpected development --


I was relaxing with maps and snacks, not fretting, when a call came on my cell phone. Traverse City. Not a number I recognized. Didn’t pick up. A few minutes later another call from the same number, so I answered. It was my credit union. They’d had a call from the sheriff’s office in Logan, New Mexico! My billfold had been found and turned in! I should call and tell them where to send it. Hallelujah! 


What can I say? Is there a moral to this story? Not panicking, I guess. You just do what needs to be done, what you can do, and hope for the best. Do I wish I’d stayed on expressway and not taken the road less traveled? No way! Credit cards can be replaced. A driver’s license can be replaced. My memories, though, and the familiar scenes that evoke them are irreplaceable. And how many pleasant, friendly, sympathetic, helpful people I met along the way!


Occasionally the Artist called on a phrase to describe this or that person whom he failed to find congenial: “He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Maybe that’s the moral of my story, the difference between price and value, between the replaceable and the irreplaceable.  

Random Illinois squirrel, just to break up the wordy stuff.

Officer Slate from Logan told me, when I asked, that whoever found and brought my billfold to the sheriff's office hadn't left their name, so I have no way to write and thank them. "There are still honest people in the world," he commented. Since I couldn't thank the finder, I offered profuse thanks to the woman at my credit union and the policeman in Logan, the people on the phone who made my day.

Another moral? It isn't only bad things that happen unexpectedly. Good things happen, too. An even better happening was a three-sisters get-together, but we all agreed the pictures taken would not be made public. We were not looking our best but were happy to be together.

So expect good things to happen, I say. Because they do. And HUGE thanks to the anonymous stranger who found my billfold and took it to the sheriff's office in Logan, New Mexico -- and to people everywhere who do kind things for strangers every day! You make the world of other people a welcoming place for us all to live.

This girl is sometimes naughty, but always pretty, especially after a bath.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful adventure, you did so well.! Love

Dawn said...

Amazing story. How did you have an ATM card when your wallet was missing?

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Marolyn. Life is full of challenges! Dawn, I had the wallet +m cards when I left Arizona, which is when I got what cash I had between there and Illinois. Did you know, though, that it's hard to get a motel room with cash? I guess that's because if someone trashes the room, the owners have no way to bill the customer. Luckily, I had enough for a deposit on Tuesday night -- and the owner remembered me, and he and his wife were very kind.

Karen Casebeer said...

What a trooper you are! So glad you got supportive help and someone found your billfold. Safe travels the rest of the way home.

Anonymous said...

What a story! I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt like I was riding along with you.💖

Anonymous said...

Similarly, I lost my wallet in Portland en route to a job in Greenville SC - but didn’t discover its loss till Utah! I had stashed enough cash in the car to make it most of the way. And a son wired me money In Wyoming…thankfully. I also had an expired driver’s license I’d saved in the glove box which worked for motels. After loosing my husband it was small stuff. Hard but no one died that day. Glad it came together for you. You are a strong woman!

P. J. Grath said...

Improvisation added to preparedness. "Who carries cash any more?" people have asked in my bookstore. People who want to be prepared for the unexpected!

Thanks to you all for riding along --

Anonymous said...

Such a happy ending. I have a similar story, too long for here, but maybe I'll email you or tell you in Northport. Glaf you amd Sunny are safely home!

Angie said...

Girl, what a story!!! What an adventure!! What a trip down one of your memory lanes!!! Delighted it all worked out so well for you, and oh goodness, do I admire your intrepid spirit and pursuit of adventure. Sunny Juliet is the perfect travel companion for you, me thinks. BTW, my Marlee said ‘see you later’ to me this past Wednesday. I am beyond lost without her. Enjoy your beautiful shiny Sunny Juliet. And thank you for sharing your your journeys and adventures with this armchair traveler.

P. J. Grath said...

Angie, I am so, so sorry that Marlee is gone, having some idea from the similarities in our experiences how much she was to you. I hope a successor to her will come into your life. Not a replacement, of course, but a new comforting companion. Please let me know. Hugs!!!

Angie said...

Yes, my sweet girl saw me through some truly harrowing events, and was so loved for almost 14 years. Some day I’m sure there will be a successor; I haven’t lived in my house without at least one dog, sometimes more, for at least 30 years. She started out as very much Daddy’s ‘girly girl’ but when he left us, she became attached to me like with Velcro. It will take a long time to learn to live without her little soul and spirit here in the house with me. Thank you for caring. Hugs to you also.