Category Archives: Highway People

A good watermelon adds to the pleasures of good Interstate road trip

When traveling all of America’s Interstate highways on a 49,072-mile road trip, a good way to quench your thirst is to buy a watermelon out of the back of a pickup truck.

I bought mine from 74-year-old Kenneth Taylor, who during the summer season parks his melon-loaded pickup just off Interstate 30’s Exit 162b, near Mt. Pleasant, Texas.

Taylor doesn’t raise the melons himself, but buys them from a local grower, currently a retired schoolteacher who has about 35 acres. “Something I been doing since 1956, when I was 14 years old,” he says. He’s been in his current spot since about 1995.

Almost all of his customers are motorists pulling off I-30 for gas or a meal at one of the exit’s half-dozen fast-food restaurants. “Fifteen people is a slow day, forty is good, Labor Day is the best,” he said.

Wanting to encourage Interstate entrepreneurship, I bought a 30-pounder for $6, hoping to use it to make new friends at the nearby KOA campground where I was spending the night.

“These are the sweetest watermelons in Texas, right?” I said, lobbing him a softball aimed mostly at teasing a few more words out of him.

“No sir,” he answered. “You’d have to go to Plainview, up in the Panhandle, for that. “

Sunshine and water, but far less water than you’d think, is what makes a watermelon sweet, he said.

The watermelons allowed him to get by, he said, but it wasn’t like in the old days. “Used to be you just threw the seeds on the ground, and they grew. But now everything has changed. Soil. Climate. A fungus.”

A good thing, he said, is that the season, which used to end at Labor Day, has grown longer. “An early frost can kill melons, but with climate change the frosts are coming later,” he said.

I recalled that Labor Day had been almost two weeks ago, saw from my iPhone that the local daytime high was 92 degrees, and was pleased — for the watermelon world, anyway.

Filching napkins wholesale at a McDonald’s on I-40

At a McDonald’s on I-40 in Kingman Arizona, I talked with a retired couple who were filching napkins from the restaurant in wholesale quantities.

The man, who wore a frayed green t-shirt labeled “Lake Havasu,” twice removed a foot-high stack of the napkins from the amenities table, then casually returned to a booth where his wife just as casually dropped them into a canvas bag.

Their booth was next to mine, and the second time the man returned with the napkins we made eye contact. But etiquette doesn’t allow you to ask the questions that come immediately to mind in such situations, so instead I asked if they’d ever been on I-15 North, up to where it connects with I-70, the highway I was going to take across the Rockies.

“All the time,” said the man, who was also named Bob. “We lived in Denver until it got as bad as L.A. That’s when we retired and came down here.”

I pictured gangs. But the problem was air pollution, which because of something to do with ozone had moved the city up to the eighth most polluted in the U.S. It had gotten so bad, Bob said, that they had been unable to breathe without oxygen.

“But tell him about the peaches,” said his wife, whose name I didn’t catch, even after asking her to repeat it, the difficulty perhaps being that she was, she told me “from the Old Country.”

The peaches, from Palisade, Colorado, just off I-70, and perhaps just in season when I would be driving by – like tomorrow – were reason enough to stop, Bob said.

I just might. And even if I don’t I doubt I will ever be able to look at any peach again without wondering what that couple were doing with all those napkins.