Sunday, February 1, 2009

I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Toto...

But we were for part of yesterday afternoon. The last 24 hours have seen us driving through North and South Dakota, Omaha, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. A nice detour into a sunnier climate than Edmonton, which was the initial destination this week. I was fretting a little with regard to writing about another cold, miserable, boring drive across the Prairies; preparing to tell you all about the relatively small excitements of taking another truckload of mail along a different road through Saskatchewan and fuelling up in the kind of wind-chills that generate frostbite on unwarily uncovered bits of person, when the next load assignment came through to head south to Texas. Which leaves your intrepid correspondent swanning about a truck stop in Dallas, waiting to deliver a lot of barrels of honey tomorrow morning. The sun is out, the breeze is warm and we have just done that most un-American of things, gone out for a walk. I am in a T-shirt and sawn-off trousers with pink baseball cap keeping the sun from my eyes, which - when you consider that we left Edmonton on Thursday in a blizzard and that I nearly lost a bit of finger on the frozen metal of a diesel pump due to a small gap in my fleecy gloves - is a bit like being on a small holiday.

We have made several discoveries this week. Firstly, I can report that there is another road sign in Saskatchewan to be marvelled at. The road less travelled, a little to the north of the TransCanada Highway, introduced us, nay welcomed us, to Canada's Badlands. Now I love this country, you may have noticed, but occasionally the silliness gets overwhelming. What on earth happens in Canada's Badlands? Does the girl in Timmies deliberately omit to say 'you're welcome'?

We have discovered that a truckload of honey is pretty damned close to the maximum weight allowed on five axles; that it is possible, by checking everything really carefully, to get border crossing paperwork right and that South Dakota is far enough South for biscuits and gravy but not far enough South for grits. Which I have yet to try, although when the chance finally does come I might chicken out, I seem to be getting less adventurous with my food. I was almost tempted to try out the 'Biscuits and Gravy Elite' which included something odd to do with sausages but then got all conservative and went for my usual veggie omelette instead. The server smiled a big beaming South Dakota smile, and asked me 'wheawhysurdohryroriscuit?'

It took a moment. I had a flashback to the same question on a memorable trip from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, Washington some years ago. We went to America for the day, partly for shopping and partly to be introduced to a breakfast of biscuits and gravy since I couldn't imagine what this might be like. Picturing digestives and Bisto wasn't helping, I seem to recall. Having observed the object of my interest from a respectable distance, I opted for the veggie omelette on that occasion as well, and was asked this incomprehensible question. My great pal and guide in all things American, Joe, had to translate for me back then. 'She wants to know what sort of toast you'd like.' So this time, I was right on top of things after a moment's double-take, and had the presence of mind to ask for rye, just in case my luck was in and it would turn out to be a marble rye establishment. Which it did. Yum.

The stop for fuel and brekky in South Dakota was our only break; otherwise we have hammered all the way here driving ten hours at a time each, in order to arrive in time for a legal 36 hour break before starting our logged driving hours again tomorrow morning. The rules relating to driving hours differ enough between Canada and the US to make managing to stay within both sets of legalities somewhat complicated. I did collapse a little after driving through Thursday night and beg for some night-time sleep on Friday, so we stopped the truck for a few hours and began again at 4 o'clock Saturday morning for the more interesting part of the journey, as the land became progressively less covered in snow. The drive got quite jolly as we crossed from Kansas to Oklahoma; I sang out 'I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Toto' just as Neil was beginning the opening bar of 'Oklahoma'. Driving with another Brit has its amusing side; we seem to think of the same songs as we pass the names of places that ought only to exist on telly.

And what can I tell you about Texas? Not a lot really, apart from the weather, as most truck stops are fairly generic and this one offers disappointingly little local wackiness. I can report however that Texans have accents easier to interpret than Georgians and seem to be a lot friendlier. The honey (lots of) will be offloaded tomorrow, and then, presumably, something else will be shifted from down here to up there. We are hoping to see a new bit of the US on the way back, there are clearly more films to quote and songs to sing. And, much though I would like to be heading home now (the words 'oof' and 'knackered' come to mind) I will be wearing the pink baseball cap for another day in memory of the brief bit of warmth, before clambering back into fleecies, woollies and sundry other furry layers required for a Canadian winter.

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