We woke to a violent storm. The sky the color of slate. Thunder rumbling low, and breakfast in one of those enormous mid-western diners where everything is super sized: the people, the waffles, the ice-cream scoop sized dollops of frosting on every cinnamon bun. I can’t quite capture the disappointment on the boy’s faces realizing that, “maple syrup” in the middle of the country means something made corn syrup and flavoring. Crestfallen, they both disdainfully opted for jelly on their waffles instead.

We looked for better coffee for the road, and found it at a little Blue Star Cafe, and good chai too, then merged onto the highway, winding out of the Omaha sprawl. Mega churches, and strip malls. Fast food franchises. Gas stations with signs so high you can see them for miles, and then wheat fields. As the morning wore on, the rain stopped. The sun showed up somewhere above the prairie, flirting with clouds forever huge. The kind of clouds you can’t help falling into with your eyes. The kind that keep you awed at the window, as the world rushes past.

75 mph speed limits. 3-container big rigs. Field after field, widening and warming till the air wind-whipped and sweet. At a rest stop by a small pond we ran loops laughing. The boys, all three of them perched on the top of a metal gate at the edge of a field, so I could snap a polaroid picture (one of just a few we took along the trip, tucked into the glove box for safe keeping.)

My bangs like Farrah Fawcett’s, in the unending wind. Crucifixes at gas stations. Cowboy hats at tourist traps. Every conflicted feeling about Buffalo Bill’s fort, with it’s 20-foot tall statue of some Native American chief. Oh this big country and the history that made it. The buffalo that were lost to greed almost as soon as we arrived; the first people soon after; their way of life forever obsolete. You don’t believe it quite from a text book, at least not the way it’s real suddenly, crossing the way the first settlers did through the wide belly of the country. Seeing the landmarks that kept them on course, and imagining the people who lived in this big country before them, walking with silent feet and eyes that could read the language of the clouds.

Now there are statues and arrowheads at gift shops and an ache in my throat I can’t explain.

Later, when it’s my turn to drive, the sky darkened again, and a cold, whirling dust storm barreled down upon us. The sky became violet then snow-gray. The car rocked back and forth as we passed semi trucks, both hands on the wheel, Wilco’s drummer Glenn Kotche playing a wild set on Radio Lab. The temperature kept dropping until along with dust, there was sleet. Wyoming up ahead, and at the next rest stop word that past Cheyenne the interstate was closed because of weather.

Onwards. Arriving in Cheyenne around dinner time and wondering at the emptiness of it. The presence of Oil. The predominance of pick up trucks and freight trains. Mexican for dinner, the first authentic tacos in ages, and a Corona; then smuggling the dog into a non-dog friendly hotel in a quilt. Giggling. Jumping on the beds. Doing laundry. Dreaming.

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