Take a hot, sunny day, a small trailer towed by a Subaru Outback, a camera that can’t quite keep focus, and a two-lane road that stretches along the top of Kansas from one side to the other. What do you get? Two days of seeing rural America way off the interstate highway system.
Most of the sporadic traffic on Route 36 is big rigs, screaming by me in the opposite direction, on their way to somewhere at the highest speed they can go without being noticed by the few police who patrol this long stretch of pavement. I don’t have to worry about speed traps, as I’m mostly going 55 miles per hour in this hellishly hot weather, and I’m keeping an eye on my engine temp, oil temp, and tire temps and pressure as I go.
Ever so often, as slow as I’m going with trailer in tow, I get to pass someone else. Like this guy. Yeah, he was going WAY slower than me.
Saw two cropdusters in one morning, both bright yellow, climbing high, banking into turns, and then diving down over fields. This one had finished and was heading home at low altitude before the day got any hotter.
Route 36 is a series of very small towns separated by miles and miles of rolling farmland, mostly corn and soy, with some hay growing thrown in there. All the bales of hay on the sides of the road means the phrase “making hay while the sun shines” becomes a constant repeat in my brain at some point.
The corn and soy are still growing, and several times I saw tiny tractors on the horizon, streaming clouds of dust behind them as they moved through the fields.
Older silos are tall and narrow, while newer ones are steel that shines like a beacon in the bright sunlight. No two installations are the same in construction or setup, and I see dozens of them across my two days of driving west.
Where there are farmers, there is a John Deere or a Kubota or some other dealer selling farm equipment. Seems like every other small town has one.
Some businesses thrive, others adapt or turn into something else completely in the battle to make a living out here.
I honestly can’t tell you want the missing letter is but I certainly know what my bad brain instantly put in that space…
Some people have survived, some have not, where the population is small and scattered and the work is hard and long and constant. I saw many abandoned storefronts, gas stations, and other businesses. Hollowed out would be a good phrase to describe some of the places I drove through: a few blocks long, no stop lights in most of them, and the occasional Dollar General.
The trains come through this part of the midwest, but few and far between. This one has sat for a while, probably seeing about as much action as that Brooks Motel.
Even out here, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, politics can intrude. I feel like this sign might have it backwards as far as noting who did what on whose soil.
Some people call Kansas and much of the middle of America the “flyover states” because that’s how most people see them, peering down at the vast spaces from the windows of jet airplanes 35,000 feet above the ground.
Driving the roads, though, you see a different view. This is a place with no fast food restaurants, two-pump gas stations in small towns, clerks happy to chat about the weather as you buy a soda at the counter inside the gas station, and you buying that soda just to thank them for having a clean toilet and a cold fridge. It’s hard-working people out there in the noonday sun even when it’s 95F in the shade because that’s how they make a living. This, too, is America.
Take the back roads instead of the highways.