Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Heartland

For all that the scenery is the same every day brings new emotions on the road across the middle of America. As we finished off Wyoming the predominant emotion was annoyance. We had a date with Danette in Denver and it was clear we had no time to stop not least because she was at work and we couldn't spend enough time stationary to meet with her. We had miles to cover, and I have to confess the distances were a bit daunting.The good news was we soon would be out of Wyoming and I could stop calling my dog State Capital.We met a few of these going the opposite way and it took several of these trucks to illuminate us as to their load. Finally we figured out they were wind generators! May their numbers never grow less.This is a Wyoming Interstate Rest Stop. Makes you wish you were there doesn't it?Let me be completely honest here; faced with grassy plains for hundreds of miles in all directions State Capital walked on the grass. She showed interest in some cows nearby but they retreated across the horizon and she gave them up for spoilsports. And that was about a interesting as it got for a while. This next picture is historic in nature. Cheyenne in Cheyenne. She declined to join me in the 108 degree heat. We turned south and aimed our Ford Fusion at Denver, the Mile High City. This water pump is an icon of the Far West in case you haven't been keeping up with your westerns. Much better to see it in a film, frankly.
Colorado came and along with it more flatlands, stimulus roadworks and for a change we got some rain which did very little to clean the front of my long suffering car from it's extra load of dead flying insects.I have seen bison in North Dakota but around here that was as much roaming buffalo as we got to see. I have a travel gene in my DNA, and I always have had it, even as a child on a bicycle. In a country addicted to various medications my addiction is seeing what's over the horizon and I don't much care if, in a conventional sense, that which I see is new or different or conventionally exciting. I just happen to be one of those people who enjoy the journey.
Many times people say to me how much they envy my life spent seeing the world, and where I see vast gaps (never been to the southern hemisphere for example) they see the bits I have filled in. And when I tell them they could too their eyes glaze over and they enumerate all the reasons why it is impossible to take off. I completely understand someone (like my sisters for instance) who love to stay at home and for whom a journey to Rome, the Eternal City, 90 minutes from home is a journey too far. The ones I don't get are the people who have a yearning to go and who are prepared to be buried without having that yearning fulfilled. Right now we are entering a period of retrenchment and economic contraction from which we may not recover in my lifetime. Yet the past thirty or more years of wild spending and indebtedness produced thousands of expensive motorcycle toys, granite counter tops and extravagant TV shows. In my world it was a chance to get out and see some of the world, and now, as I sit at home and listen to the pundits tell us all will be "normal again" soon, I replay the movies of places I've been and things I've seen and it satisfies me much more than any chrome addition to my Bonneville or counter top in my over valued house. And so it was, in setting off on this road trip we deliberately said to each other, if this is the last one for a while let it be good, and all these miles of America were great.
Okay, so there were a few exceptions. Limon, Colorado was one such. These trailers represent a portion of the housing stock in a town kept alive, as far as I could see by the presence of a Correctional Facility. Indeed, as my wife scoured the iPhone for a meal between Cheyenne (the city, not the dog) and any place in Kansas Limon looked a likely spot.
"For some reason," my wife sounded puzzled."There aren't many reviews of places to eat in Limon." She pronounced the city's name as though it were a Spanish fruit. I was pretty sure it was pronounced "Lie-mon", not "Lee-mon" as she was saying it with the emphasis on the second syllable. When we arrived we discovered a Middle America in decline.
The British novelist Evelyn Waugh, not my contemporary but a former inmate at the same English boarding school where I was educated, wrote a number of novels satirizing British society between the World Wars. You may well have heard of Brideshead Revisited, made famous by PBS. Another of his titles is Put Out More Flags, a book that comes to mind when I see desperate people or places flying flags to cover their crumbling descent. Limon had no more room to out out more flags, so many were there flapping in the oven hot wind. I felt bad for them, as they seemed to have not one place worth stopping in. We gave up the search and ate 5,000 calories from the Arby's by the freeway. The curly fries were excellent and we left Limon with gladness in our hearts. I love to travel but these plains were making me sleepy. My wife took the wheel for a while as I was afraid I might doze off. There was insufficient cell signal to browse the Internet on her phone so I amused myself with the camera for a while before taking a refreshing nap.
In the vernacular of youth: OMG! However on closer inspection these Kansas palm trees were not real. Amazingly enough they were made of metal and supported by guy wires. I wanted to ship them a couple of spare coconuts from my yard. I have plenty.So here I was, awake from that refreshing nap, and actually in Kansas for the first time in my life. I have skirted the state so many times, via Nebraska to the north and Oklahoma to the south that I wanted to add the place to my list. My wife was making puerile jokes about being in Kansas now to Cheyenne, but I was concentrating on getting to Wichita where we had a date. You hear about signs like these from travel writers who find America weird and then you see them yourself and you wish desperately to stop the clock and check it out.
This is a much better way to drill for oil. However as Dr Hubert predicted in the 1950s to general disbelief, the US would peak in production of home grown oil in or around 1970. Since then we have been keeping the house of Saud supplied with gold bath faucets.This looked like a Martian Embassy from a distance. From up close it was a Natural History Museum created by the University. Flying the Darwinian flag in the face of Kansas's well known propensity for preferring to bet the farm on prophesy rather than reality.I barely got a taste of Kansas as i drove across and I wanted more. From the Interstate it looked nothing like what I expected. Certainly I had not expected it to look like some European village. The billboards were as much entertainment as I could allow myself, though a place that claims these two as honored descendents is a bit off. I rather liked Bob Dole the Senator when he was a proper Republican but then he became a wild eyed radical in an effort to win the presidency representing the hard core radicals in his party and he lost his authenticity. That and the third person thing ."Bob Dole thinks..." he said, speaking of himself as though he was a ventriloquist's dummy. That, followed by the ghastly Viagra sell out, grinning into the television like a Kansan on meths. Arlen Specter suffered a similar identity crisis trying to keep up with the mad right and losing his sense of self as he floundered across the aisle in the Senate.This one blew my socks off. How much fairly friendly yarn (where is the friendliest store?) do you have to sell just to pay for the advertising?My wife got annoyed with me when I referred to Salina as "Sal-eye-na" where she thought it should sound like John Steinbeck's California home of Salinas, pronounced with a long "i" and no "s".
"How do you know these things?" she asked in frustration when the local NPR voice agreed with my pronunciation. I shrugged, I just have a capacity for useless information.
Then we got to the whistling in the dark part of the state. If he were real would you need a billboard? I never saw one saying "The Sun Is Real" but there were lots of these.
And just to confirm my analysis we got a few of these, showing himself represented as though the savior were a Kansas farm boy in drag. I can't understand why Christians think these mis representations of history do their beliefs honor. Jesus was, by Biblical account, a Palestinian carpenter and I would bet dollars to doughnuts you could comb the West Bank for decades without ever finding a carpenter, even a hallowed one, looking white like Wonder Bread.Then the other brand of snake oil sales appeared rather circumspect along the roadway. Eternal bliss above and temporal happiness below.Find happiness with a DVD and a dildo then go to Church on Sundays and in between curse skeptics like me who troll through the land expressing confusion at the contradictions. God Bless Everyone, No Exceptions. The countryside started to look lovely at long last, rolling valleys and woods and streams, we were entering the Promised Land.How much more Kansas than this mower? If cash crops are ever replaced by local food for local people, the people of the Mid West will come into their own again.We arrived in Wichita across an elevated road that resembled nothing quite so much as a seven mile bridge of less reknown than the one in the Keys but equally impressive an engineering feat and we took a room at La Quinta. Then we went to see Jim and Jayna up the road from the hotel. Cheyenne behaved disgracefully and jumped up on the couch next to me. we;'ve only had her seven months and the constant changes on the road were jangling her nerves. That and the three cheerful dogs who also occupied the house...We talked up a storm but the one thing I forgot to do was ask CPA3485 where he got the blog name from. Mine was given to me when I joined a motorcycle forum years ago and it has been a useful appendage ever since. His is not so self explanatory. I have a habit of putting people to the test when I first meet them. Life, in my opinion is too short to be wasted on people who either don't share my sense of humor or who think that I am an idiot, so when I prodded the CPA on line a few times and he gave as good as he got, I knew Wichita was an obligatory stop. Fortunately it worked out perfectly.
Sleeping dogs everywhere, each with a story and each deserving much more attention than I could possibly give them. However the famous Kansas key chain Croc made an appearance and I have no doubt that Bobskoot will wind his way down here to get his own. It fit my finger quite nicely.
I snagged a crappy picture of Jim and his Sym 200 which he calls Max and i rather envied the garage and the space for his other scooter, a Subaru wagon. He was as taken aback as I had been when I told him my newly discovered intelligence that such cars are actually the preferred wheels of lesbians. The possibility of a whole new life blossomed in his eyes at the news.
Luckily, like me, he has a more grounded wife. Wichita is a city about which I know nothing and which deserves an essay all it's own but I feel the need to get home with this blog and return to it's title so I am going to share what I learned about Wichita here.
It is and has been an industrial city founded in 1870 which Jim says makes it a young town. Most of the 19th century activity in the Kansas territory occurred to the north with trekkers heading west, then railroads and stuff cruising through Topeka and Kansas City. Jim says the northeastern part of the state is the prettiest so I know where to go next time.
Cows and steel. Apparently this city is a hub of aircraft manufacturing and Jim says the workforce here can do anything you want to a piece of metal so you'd think their future is assured. Not really, in the continuing drive to wreck this country their union jobs are scheduled to go overseas and a generation of workers faces an uncertain future. Jayna thinks it is an unavoidable reality. I wonder how it is Italians and Germans work in factories, make decent wages, get health care and produce vehicles that the whole world buys, while we sell our heritage to the Indonesians and Chinese. I am not a globalist. Perhaps because I have traveled too much and have seen the reality of the mud hut competition.
I liked this motorcyclist, ready for work in slacks and dress shoes, he was riding conservatively and enjoying the day. It seems to me the determination to wear armored space suits for every single ride detracts from the functional value of a motorcycle as a simple means of transport. In keeping with his spacious home in a tree filled street Jim works (he says) in a magnificent relic of the last Great Depression. He says this palazzo has a basement pool though I was disappointed to hear it had no water in it. I wish the Key west Police department were housed in a building such as this.I am going to bet these were the first pink Crocs seen in here. Bobskoot must be getting to me because I actually thought about this anomaly for a while.
Across the Arkansas River, pronounced I was told rather sharply "Ar-Kansas" with no "saw" in this state lies a neighborhood of formerly ill repute with history as deep as your knees. I knew of a Delano in California's Central Valley, but here was another one home to cows and whore houses. In the bad old days i hasten to add, not know. Or least the cow found here these days comes on a plate.
I followed Jim's lead as I was overwhelmed by the menu and he did not lead me wrong, brisket, hot links and the best fried okra I have had. Fried okra can be horrid but the good stuff is superlative.
My wife hit the ribs which were perfect and an unusual pasta salad which I rather hogged, with a spicy vinegar based sauce.
We talked and talked and talked leaving nothing to say for a future visit.
My people photography sucks as usual when I am involved with them and not just observing. Jayna cracked me up, I was rather afraid she might resent the whole blogging idiots in a room together but she has a mixture of tolerance and not putting up with fools gladly that matched my wife's so it all worked out.
They went back to paper pushing and we got back in the car for another round of chase the motel room. A quick last look at Wichita's extraordinary palm trees, symbol of happiness and joy.
I wondered if this lot could keep pace with Leathermaster on Appelrouth in Key West.Like the man said,bring them metal and they will work it.
Cheyenne spent lunch here, with the windows down and she seemed to do fine. there was a pleasant breeze blowing and the usual one hundred degree heat seemed less oppressive. I don't understand why snowbirds come up here to spend their summers when they could be at the water's edge in 90 degrees in the Keys...people are weird.People in Kansas are tough. Jayna told me about tornadoes and how they get a thirty minute warning siren if they are lucky and then they have to dive, like Judy Garland, into a tornado basement. It sounded much more intimidating than a hurricane which gives days of warning.
Besides these people live in brick buildings with minuscule air conditioning amid tremendous heat.
I like the sense of space one gets in these places, like there is land to spare for everything.
We drove across town and across the ArKANSAS River toward the Interstate.
I thought about taking my wife to get her rheumatoid arthritis miraculously cured but then I figured she is probably a better person for the pain so we pressed on regardless.
Kansas labels it's state highways with a delightful yellow disc resembling nothing quite so much a s a sunflower. We joined the turnpike for the last four miles to a palace called Wellington before we crossed into Oklahoma, which they used to say is OK.
Kansas was all right too actually. I think I need to go back and see some more. Weird but true.