We spent the night in Gretna, Nebraska just outside Omaha off I-80. Janet Chavez Santiago, my Oaxaca goddaughter is traveling with me. I drive. She feeds me orange slices and bits of smoked turkey jerky. The sun is shining and we move from the flatlands of Indiana and Illinois, crossing the Mississippi River and onto the rolling fields of Iowa crossing over into Nebraska. Today, we will drive seven-and-a-half hours to Denver and do a bit of sightseeing before landing in Taos, NM on Sunday.
We pass an Iowa road sign, Montezuma it says, exit here. Why Montezuma? We are out in the middle of rural Iowa where silos and neat red barns dot a landscape of slender trees with bright green leaves flow with the horizon. Look it up, I say. Montezuma, Iowa, population 1,338 (2019), It was first established in 1848 when local veterans of the Mexican-American War named the city after the last Aztec Emperor of Mexico.
Next to our motel is a Walmart. It is the only place that is walkable and we need a stretch after our picnic supper on a green patch beyond the parking lot. At the check-out, a young Latino is in front of us. He looks at Janet and smiles at me. Where are you from? Our interchange is in Spanish. Mexico, he answers. Where in Mexico? I continue. Campeche, he says. Do you like Nebraska? I ask. Yes, very much, he says and waves goodbye.
When we left Durham, North Carolina, on May 6, we drove eight hours to Columbus, Ohio, to spend two days with friends we met sixteen years ago in Oaxaca. Frances has a nickname. It’s Sam. Her husband is Tom. They are photographers who taught workshops with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator in Teotitlan del Valle and have a collection of Chavez Santiago family rugs. Making art is in their DNA and we immersed ourselves in what I call Sam’s Art Camp, making book covers. Tom became an outstanding woodturner and makes amazing turned wood vessels. You can find them on Instagram at Birch Mountain Crafts.
Our next stop was South Bend, Indiana, a short five hour drive from Columbus. This was the place I lived for almost twenty years, raising a child, opening and closing a cookware shop and cooking school, starting my professional career in university continuing education, marketing, communications and development. Lifelong friends still live there. Who knows when I will get there next.
So, here we are. On our way west. The time changes. The air is dryer. The cooler is filled with food. I have my mezcal. It is a passage overland to what is next.