Saturday, November 20, 2021


Wake up in a rest area in Illinois, go to sleep in a friend's driveway in Tennessee. Just another day on the road for a couple of intrepid retirees.  

We arose disgracefully late on Friday morning. I watched Layne crawl out of our very comfortable duvet bedding around 10 in the morning while I stayed behind reading my Kindle on my phone. I have been plowing through a 1200 page biography of Adolph Hitler, a surprisingly readable tome by the historian John Toland.  At a time when democracy around the world seems more in peril than recently I'd like to go back and find out what really happened. Austria is just about to be annexed and I had to leave 1938 holding my breath, and get back to the business of driving.  We had a date.

The biggest question that usually arises when I get behind the wheel is whether or not to take the freeway. Layne inclines to freeways but I don't, even when we have a date. I got support from Google maps when I noticed the blue line to Nashville turned red for some considerable distance. We took the back roads. Yay!

Southern Illinois is said to be planted in horse radish but as I have no idea what a horseradish plant looks like in the ground I couldn't say whether or not that was true. Most of the fields looked fallow for winter.

The back roads were straight, as you might expect in the great plains of myth. Paved roads, smooth mostly, and straight through the fields at 40 miles per hour, not a car in sight, completely relaxing.

We listened to NPR for a while from St Louis and as the signal faded so did our interest. Often I plug my phone into the sound system in the Promaster and scroll through my BBC podcasts and broadcasts. Layne is pretty tolerant, listening to historical discussions or old radio comedies or dramas from Radio 4.  It is the radio of my childhood, not the music but the spoken word and I enjoy listening to it. Not this day, I was watching the world go by. 

The roads were lovely and we bowled along at 60 miles an hour on the state highways, not much slower than the freeway and we had the roads to ourselves.

Small towns with a gas station, farm equipment dealer and farm supply stores, a bar a grocery and at 35 miles per hour we saw it all. We enjoyed the drive, being on the road, taking a road trip.  We had two hours to make a 90 minute journey.

We stopped to walk Rusty and stretch our legs in a field alongside the road. The air was crisp but the temperature was bearable even at 50 degrees with no wind.

In southern towns there are churches everywhere but in this part of Illinois they were noticeably fewer in number at least visible from the road. 

I think of Illinois and I don't think of this sort of scenery. Now I've seen it and I'm glad I have, as I never get bored driving these roads.

I'm not a fan of electric cars even though I know they are the future. I suppose I am a product of my time and internal combustion was what I grew up around. I feel lucky I'm still able to dream of driving over the horizon in my van, not answerable to anybody. I suppose the time will come when electrical charging will be as fast and inconsequential as filling a tank with gas and if that happens in my driving life I shall be happy to switch. For the time being electrical cars seem better suited to the commute or local trips than grand over-the-horizon expeditions. 

But this experience of the open road is quintessentially American, celebrated in movies and expressed in songs where the mere mention of a Road Trip triggers yearning. Even if you don't like to drive and you don't want to see where your neighbors live the notion of a "road trip" is completely understood.

I would watch any movie that offered a road trip as part of the plot. I saw Easy Rider in an English language movie theater in Rome in 1980 as I was planning my first trip to America. The fact that I rode coast to coast via Mexico on a 200cc Vespa motor scooter didn't detract one bit from my connection to the bad boys riding across America on their Harleys in the movie.  It didn't end well for them on their drug fueled trip, but my ride across America was excellent. And I met the very first love in my young confused life and she was maddening and excellent too. 

I've driven across country, ridden across country and even managed to sail across country from Texas to Florida after a portage from California to Texas. 

With all that under my belt I still enjoy the simple fact of being on the road. To leave late and dawdle along the way, to see something memorable and to stop at dusk and sleep in your own bed with the promise of more of the same tomorrow... That is my idea of perfect retirement.

We saw deer dickering around indecisively at the side of the road. These are full sized white tails and I can't imagine how they would deal with Rusty who finds them fascinating.

Another dip in the road, another small town, more of the same stores masking the same small town stories no doubt. Onward we go with miles till empty on the dashboard showing three hundred miles to go.

Our first two weeks on the road we paid around $300 for gas according to the expedition accountant who is keeping track of our expenses. Gas this year costs around 3 to three and a half dollars a gallon for which the President oddly gets the blame. Free markets aren't always so free when someone can make political hay out of assigning blame. If I were president gas would cost a dollar a gallon to fund my road trips. Vote for me, OPEC be damned.

Rest assured Rusty doesn't drive but he looks really cute when he takes my place behind the wheel. He doesn't seem to mind road trips at all, so perhaps he and I shared a gene pool in some distant past in the Rift Valley. Or maybe not.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Quilting Madness

I had no idea my wife was into quilts but I supposed after 28 years of marriage the fact I know her favorite color might be enough to get by. Not at all.

I had figured a plan to get to Tennessee and our next moochdock by taking backroads so when, after the second walk of the morning I proceeded to suggest same to the formerly bundled up sleeper she demurred. 

Yes I was irritated for a second as I am tired of freeways but instead she agreed to the backroads part of the plan but wanted to go to Paducah. Which is half way to the suburb of Nashville whence we were bound. Hmm. I sent Gary a text.

Come Thursday come Friday no problem he replied generously so we planned an afternoon stop at the national Quilt Museum in Paducah and a sleepover in the Tennessee welcome center on I-24 where I am writing these words. 

The day was sunny and bright after the overcast thundery evening on our arrival just east of east St Louis. We set off near noon from the rest area and hit the backroads, zigging and zagging cross southern Illinois, said to be home to the country's output of horseradish. Both of us like horseradish but neither of us knows what it looks like in its natural state so perhaps we passed some loo and perhaps not.

Eventually after crossing farmland for a couple of hours we arrived at the Ohio but our way was barred on Illinois Highway 100 by a bridge with a clearance of just 9 feet and six inches which is about exactly how tall our van is at the very back where the WeBoost cell antenna is located. There was no chance we would get on the bridge with a steady flow of traffic and risk either breaking our antenna or backing traffic up for miles. We turned and went back to the Interstate and crossed the river in proper style on a modern bridge.

The quilt museum is as you see it, created by an avid quilter called Meredith Schroeder who lived in Paducah. I know nothing of quilting but I'll tell you this: I had no idea the medium was so versatile and intricate as we saw displayed. 

Quilters have traveled all over the place even Antarctica and created gorgeous pieces of art from the things they saw. We saw icebergs and redwoods, traditional quilt designs (traditional to my eye) and a running series  in a special display by woman called Valerie C White a former teacher who created a series called Roots and Refuge. If you loom back over some of the quilts you'll see pieces showing scenes above ground and below and she has connected the idea of roots to a visual depiction.

I leave these images for you to look at as I feel anything I say would sound idiotic in the face of my lack of knowledge.

Small quilts:

Tiny quilts!

The redwoods, a particular favorite of mine as I am familiar with the woods.

After an hour or so Rusty got his release and we bounded across the lawn in front of the museum and into downtown Paducah, a city familiar to neither of us.

A Lewis and Clark depiction:

Paducah is lovely and I recommend a visit. We will definitely return after Covid to check out the delightful bars and restaurants which looked so inviting as the sun started to set.

The full moon was rising over the Ohio and we walked out to the levee.

Paducah it turns out was a major river port servicing all the traffic that trundled up and down the Ohio . General Grant secured Paducah for the Union in 1861 as it was so tactically important for the Civil War.

After we walked back to Gannet 2 we drove down to the water's edge for a couple of pictures. 

Rusty kept watch from his place on the floor up front. The bouncy roads of Illinois and Kentucky kept him low in the van ignoring his bed on our bed and preferring not to sit in the passenger seat when Layne was in the back. He had a long day, a full dinner and was in a coma by the time we turned the laptop on to stream a movie.

Sunset over the levee. 

Next: Tennessee.