A handful of astronauts are from some of the smallest towns in Kansas.
It makes sense. The view is the same, no matter what direction you face. If you can ascertain an entire state in 360 degrees, and in a fraction of as many seconds, you're bound to start looking up.
Bland landscapes and tiny towns that you can drive through in several breaths make you feel like you're on a treadmill with an old movie set backdrop slowly winding by. It's disorienting until you open the window and a hot blast of air confirms that the waving grass is multidimensional and more than an arm's length away.
It's always easy to orient yourself at the local flea market.
It was my second summer driving back south to see family and the ocean. I settled into the traffic flow and turned on Car Talk, the only podcast worth listening to.
On the show, a caller was rebuilding a ball valve. According to Wikipedia, a ball valve is "a form of quarter-turn valve which uses a hollow, perforated and pivoting ball to control flow through it. It is open when the ball's hole is in line with the flow and closed when it is pivoted 90-degrees by the valve handle."
Yeah, I don't care either.
The call was a bit ho-hum until one of the Magliozzi brothers -- Tom, I think -- latched on to how many car parts the caller had rebuilt or replaced since he got the car. He brought up the Ship of Theseus identity paradox: if Theseus' ship had been slowly rebuilt one component at a time, was it even the same ship that first set sail?
I looked around me, at the same beat up old Toyota hurtling down the same stretch of I-70 with the same small suitcase thrown in the trunk.
Not much had changed since last summer's road trip, save for the electrical tape holding my antenna in place. And a new set of tires, mandated by my mechanic. And the passenger side window, which was shattered to smithereens for no apparent reason by someone I don't know but certainly don't like.
Huh. In another couple years, I'd have a new car after all, in some way or another.
Another few hours went by and I asked Siri where I was. It's easy to lose track when you're smack dab between Abilene and outer space.
She told me the name of a town I would immediately forget, and how many miles away i was from Kansas City. (A great many.)
The third Airstream trailer that day sailed by me like a shining rocketship and I smiled, happy we were all on the road, hurtling through time and space under skies unknown and trying to get to our own somewheres.
I thought of what was ahead of me, relaxed my hands on the wheel, and picked up a little speed through the land of the astronauts.