Monday, September 18, 2006

Truth or fiction...?

I'm at the airport in Tulsa now, waiting for my flight home. I stopped in a bookstore to see if they had anything for me, and noticed something really amusing (or terrifying, depending on how you want to read it): Tim LaHaye's books are all on the nonfiction rack, right above the bibles. I'm not certain how to interpret this.

This morning I did a bit of visiting, thanks to the nice Sandra. First we visited the coffee shop (priorities!). The coffee is still excellent, just like they make in Europe. Way better than they make in Tucson. Well, actually, that's not entirely fair, now that I think about it - it was a lot like the coffee at the B-Line diner. Something to keep in mind.

The next stop was the new digs for Grandma Carrie. She's staying in the new wing of Wood Manor nursing home, which was finished just a couple of months ago. It's very nice. She's in a double room, but there's a partition so that the other resident isn't staring across the room at her. They seem to be taking good care of her. She was in high spirits, happy to see me. She talked a bit about her wind power projects, and then about how they used to farm when she was a kid, and all the stuff they had to do to keep house. Sounded like a lot of work.

Then we stopped in at Cheri's lab and visited for a while. It's a really nice facility. Cheri started working there recently after having commuted to Tulsa for a long time. She's really happy with the change, and looking relaxed and well. She even volunteered to do the paperwork on the Toyota, which I thought was very generous of her.

The next stop was David's store, where Sandra wished her husband a happy birthday and got me a coke. One of the advantages of store ownership, I guess. They seem to be doing really well with the store - it's giving them a nice living, and not stressing David out.

Then we stopped at my mother's house, where Florence was feeding the squirrels. She calls it feeding the birds, but we know what the real deal is. There were three squirrels out there enjoying the bounty. They looked very happy, and very fat. Florence is looking happy and well; she has some health problems, but I despite that her life seems like it's a lot less stressful since she retired. I think she's working on being the next Saint Francis.

The line at airport security was really short. There was only one person in it - me. They didn't give me the third degree either, like I thought they would, since I'm flying one-way. Kind of an anti-climax. There's a new food court being built at the airport here, and even a Starbucks outside of security. It's kind of a silly place to put it, since you have to drink the latte before you go through. The degree of lameness in the new "no mushy or wet stuff" security regulations was really driven home by the fact that I had to toss the tube of toothpaste I bought in Santa Fe into the trash before going through security.

Mission accomplished.

The RAV4 is, at last, in Claremore, ready to be driven by my mother when she comes to town next month. I have to say I felt really happy driving up Sandra and David's driveway. The grass is really high along the road. I don't think I've seen it this thick since I was a kid. I tend to see little snapshots of Claremore at various different seasons, so that's hardly surprising.

Last night when I drove to Limon I had no idea what it looked like, because it was a dark, moonless night, and there isn't much to Limon outside of the truck stop. It's green and flat. Not much to it, really. But it was interesting to see a dra shi turn into a dun shi.

Dra shis are mental pictures that you form of an object (e.g., a town) based on what you've heard; dun shis are what you actually see when you go to the place. My dra shi for Limon was pretty vague, so even though the dun shi wasn't very impressive, the time at which it arrived made it fun - normally you get the dun shi right when you arrive, not the next morning.

It would be tempting to give the standard travelogue of Kansas, which is that it's flat and lasts seven hours if you don't stop too often. But actually that's not a very accurate description. Last night Andrea tried to find some alternatives to Limon where I could stop. One of the towns she found was Flagler. Flagler, on a map, looks like a dot in the middle of a flat place, and you'd expect the place to look a lot like that, since it's in Kansas. (Technically, it's in Colorado, but Kansas really seems to start maybe fifty or so miles east of Denver, even though the border's another hundred or so miles away. Sort of the way Courmayeur seems more like Chamonix than it does like Aosta).

However, for some reason Flagler really charmed me. I only saw it from the highway, so possibly it's filled with grumpy people who swear at outsiders as they pass, but it really seemed quite charming. Neat, not unkempt, with a nice auto repair shop, green lawns, trees, that sort of thing. Your mind does that when it's been quiet for a while - it starts to see things differently. Even the little noname motel in Flagler seemed like it would have been a nice place to spend a night. I'll probably never know for sure.

Unfortunately, as predicted, one of Flagler's virtues was not a *$$. However, it turned out that there *was* a *$$ across the border in Colby, Kansas. Sadly, though, this *$$ seemed to be populated by people who lived two hundred miles from the nearest other *$$, and had no idea what the drinks were actually supposed to taste like. Hint: a 12 ounce triple latte should taste strongly of coffee! And it shouldn't be so full of milk that it spills - there should be some foam. Oh well, I probably needed the protein, since I didn't eat until I got to Claremore.

If you reject the cynical view of Kansas, it begins to reveal its virtues to you. It's really not flat - it's more like an endless stream of rolling hills. You start to feel that the world is a bowl, and you are at the bottom of the bowl, and the world is shifting around you so that you always remain at the bottom, admiring the ever-(so slightly)-changing imagery. A creek rolls under your wheels. Some cows look up at you as you pass by. A whole field, maybe five or ten acres, of sunflowers swoop by.

I think my favorite thing is the various drainages, creeks and hollows. You pass over them very frequently. They aren't generally full of water, but obviously water runs there when it rains, so they have some real bite to them - they aren't smooth - they're rugged. Sometimes rocks are exposed. Frequently there are trees - never entire forests, nor even long rows, but just clumps every once in a while. Sometimes there's a windmill. It feels very raw.

One thing I noticed is that my idea of what wheat looks like in the field wasn't accurate. Or maybe it was. I saw a lot of plants that I could only guess were amaranth, because they had a big red head on top, but I think they were actually either wheat or millet. But if it was millet, it was a *lot* of millet - I saw a huge number of fields of this plant, whatever it was, and that's why I think it must have been wheat. The plants were stockier than I thought wheat was, though. But I've never seen wheat in the field at harvest time, so all bets are off. If I was near a good Internet connection, maybe I'd look it up. Tragically, all I have is my trusty cell modem.

I was expecting to get gas in Salina, which is where I-70 and I-135 meet. I hadn't bargained on the RAV4's gas gauge, which drops from a quarter tank to empty in about thirty miles. So one minute I'm cruising along without a care in the world, and the next minute I'm wondering whether I'm going to make it to the gas station, and anticipating the coughing of the engine as the tank runs empty. To top it off, for some reason I'm fussy about gas stations, so I passed one up before I really started to panic, and then on top of worrying about running out of gas, I also worried about how stupid I'd feel having passed up a perfectly good gas station and *then* run out of gas. And then it turned out that all the gas stations I was *expecting* to stop at were at exit 252, two miles *east* of exit 250, which is the exit for I-135. So I had to decide whether to chance that there'd be something on I-135, or make a two-mile detour past my exit. Fortunately, there was an exit just south of Salina on I-135, and I pulled in with nary a cough of the engine.

Wichita looks like a very nice town. I had been hoping to eat in Wichita, but it seems like the highway goes through a residential part of town, so I was south of Wichita before I knew it, unfed, and with little hope of being fed, since I-35 and US 412 essentially connect the middle of nowhere to Tulsa and Oklahoma City, so if you turn off of I-35 onto US 412, you don't see any population centers until you're nearly in Tulsa, at which point you're on I-244, which is the bypass around downtown. I wound up getting off at the Port of Catoosa exit on I-44 and eating a black bean burger at Chili's. Which hit the spot just fine despite once again not being the Blue Corn Cafe.

Now I'm at my cousin Sandra and her husband David's house in Claremore. I kind of showed up unexpectedly, so they're entertaining guests downstairs while I type this. It was David's birthday today. I didn't ask how old he is. I'm guessing he doesn't want to talk about it. Tomorrow promises to be a treat - I get to see my grandmother and aunt, and then head for the airport and undo all these many hours of driving (twenty-four, anyway) with about three hours of flying.

Oh, I just asked Sandra - he's 42. He's done a lot with those years - two wonderful kids (well, maybe Sandra gets all the credit for them - I don't know), a lovely wife, a nice home, successful business, a pillar of the community. Happy birthday, David! May your next 42 be as good as the previous ones!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Kansas, I don't think we're in toto anymore...

This morning I woke up in Santa Fe after a not very good night's sleep. I was feeling really congested and yucky, and didn't want to do yoga or anything. So I hit the road, knocked back a triple tall latte from *$$, tossed the soggy blob they sold me claiming it was a muffin (why, oh why, can't *$$ stock decent pastries?), and drove. And drove. And drove. It's really pretty in Santa Fe right now - there are these weeds by the side of the road (okay, wildflowers) that grow about chest-height, with lots of branches, and are *covered* in yellow flowers. It looks like something out of the Wizard of Oz - fields and fields of yellow flowers. I was hoping to see snow-capped peaks from the highway, but no dice - the land just got higher and higher, with no long views.

Memory is a funny thing. I went through this area about fifteen years ago on my first really long motorcycle trip. I remember very clearly riding through a town called Las Vegas, New Mexico. It was a very small town, out on the plain, with a creek running through it, some tall trees, and miles of visibility in all directions. The houses were all elegant little jobbies clearly built back when you could order a house from Sears and it'd arrive on a rail car, ready to assemble. It was miles from the nearest interstate.

The thing is, there is no such Las Vegas, NM. Las Vegas is on the high plains, yes, but you can't see very far in any direction. There are no Victorians or Arts and Crafts cottages anywhere I could see. It's mostly ticky-tacky, and lots of it, except for what's newer. It kind of reminds me of Catoosa, if you transplanted Catoosa into the high plains.

I was watching a program on TV last night - there's a show called Countdown on MSNBC. The anchor for countdown is this very intellectual, fairly self-satisfied individual who obviously sees Edward R. Murrow as his biggest hero, and wants to play Murrow to Bush's McCarthy. More power to him, as far as I'm concerned. But he was repeating an editorial he'd given on the big anniversary a few days back. The foundation of the speech, to which he kept returning, was how the big empty hole in downtown Manhattan is because of Bush's partisan politics. Atop this foundation he builds a huge rhetorical edifice, which sounds really good and convincing.

Unfortunately for him, the entire basis of this speech is complete nonsense. The reason there's still a big hole at the WTC site is not because of Bush's partisan politics. It's because Governor Pataki decided to take over the process, and appointed a commission which, despite a brilliant start, has completely failed to accomplish the task it set out to do. Because of partisan politics? Nope. Pride, as far as I can tell. An deep belief in one's own great capabilities to accomplish a task one has never contemplated before, despite mounds of evidence that one is in fact completely incompetent. Or anyway, that's what another TV pundit told me. Maybe he's the one who has it wrong.

And this leads me to the question: how much of what we hold to be definitely true is complete nonsense? It's a sobering thought.

Anyway, after my little trip down memory bypass in Las Vegas, I stopped in Raton to get one of those little cassette tape doohickeys that lets you listen to your iPod on your old-fashioned car stereo with the built-in cassette player. Andrea had set it up so they'd have one waiting. Tragically, when I got there, they were out to lunch, and I didn't feel like waiting until 2:00, so I kept going.

Up on the plains, I stopped to brush my teeth (I'd forgotten my ablutrements in Arizona yesterday morning, so I couldn't brush my teeth last night or this morning, but fortunately the Albertson's next to *$$ had an ample supply of dental hygiene products). There was a steady forty mile-per-hour tailwind, which made spitting kind of adventuresome - the turbulence around my head was enough to get toothpaste on my shirt despite the fact that I was spitting downwind. But the wind was really nice - it was about 70 degrees, so it was cool but not cold, and felt like swimming. I felt much better, and even thought about doing yoga, but there really wasn't room.

A few rest areas later, though, after a pit stop, I realized that there was a perfect spot to set up my mat, so I did - under a shaded picnic table awning. The wind blew my mat away a couple of times, but otherwise it went pretty well, and nobody pointed and laughed, which was nice. Even with the steady wind, it felt quiet. A train went by while I was doing sun salutations, and when I lay down in shavasana I kept my eyes open and enjoyed the blue sky and the bits of wheat flying by above me in the wind. A few miles after the rest area, I saw a trio of helium balloons fly over the highway at a good steady clip, bound for Kansas. I wonder where they came from. Wherever it was, it just cemented the whole Wizard of Oz feel to the morning.

Not much to report after that - I finally scored the cassette doohickey in Pueblo, again thanks to Andrea's intervention, and after some bad traffic north of Pueblo and through Colorado Springs, I made it to Fort Collins a little after six in the evening. Chu and I had dinner at Macaroni Grill, which is just so not Blue Corn Cafe. Then I got into the Rav and headed south, finally stopping in Limon, where I am now. For future reference, should you need to go from Fort Collins to Limon, don't bother taking the toll road. I had to stop three times, and paid $2 each time. I think it would have been faster to just take 25 to 70, with all the stopping. Not that I'm bitter.

That's probably enough for now. No *$$ until Wichita tomorrow. I will have to survive on whatever Denny's is serving these days. Sigh.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The theme for this summer seems to be long drives. Or maybe just cars. First India. Then California. I didn't even blog about the drive to California. I'll tell you a little about it in a minute. Today I drove from Tucson to Santa Fe. Tomorrow and the day after, more driving, and then I get to fly home, which will be nice (the home
part, not the flying part).

The purpose of this particular journey is to deliver a car to Claremore, Oklahoma. This is complicated by the fact that the car that needs to be delivered is in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is decidedly not on the way to Claremore. If we'd only known at the *beginning* of summer that we were going to be doing this, life might have been a bit less complicated, but then again I probably would have stopped in Tucumcari instead of Santa Fe, so maybe it's worked out for the best. The way it's going to work is that I'm driving to Santa Fe, trading the Civic for the Rav, and then driving the Rav to Oklahoma, where it will stay in service to my mom, who needs a car there. We'd give her the Civic, but it's a stick. Chu likes sticks better than automatics, so hopefully this will make her return drive fun in some way.

As I write this I'm sitting alone in the Blue Corn Cafe (well, a Blue Corn Cafe - there are several) in Santa Fe. For all that we complain about the intrusions of modern communications technology, it's been a boon for me today. Not that I'm online or anything - the wifi they mention on the web site isn't actually available as far as I can tell, which isn't surprising - this is a weird place to whip out a laptop,
and I've gotten a few amused glances.

The reason I'm alone is that we have a good friend staying with us who has some health problems she's trying to get taken care of, and it's not going as quickly as we'd hoped. Andrea and I were planning to drive together, but we couldn't abandon our friend alone in a house with a fever. So after doing some work this morning, we said our tearful goodbyes at around noon and I drove off into the sunrise.

Google said it was a 9 hour, 22 minute drive from Tucson to Santa Fe. I drove it in seven and a half hours instead. Dunno what the discrepancy was - I wasn't going appreciably above the speed limit. Since I have a nifty bluetooth headset and there's cellular coverage on pretty much every U.S. interstate, I had the good fortune of having a nice quiet drive when I wanted it quiet, punctuated by several visits with Andrea, and two visits with my mother, plus a brief hello to my father. All without having to look away from the road or do much more than touch my headset or hit redial.

When I decided to stop in Santa Fe, Andrea kindly arranged for a motel, and found the restaurant at which I just ate. I can report that the food is very good. It's Mexican, so as a vegetarian there was more cheese than I necessarily would have preferred, but the chile relleno wasn't harsh, which is unusual, the enchilada was yummy, the tamale was tender, and the guacamole was excellent. The limeade's a bit sweet, but who's counting? This beats the crap out of the usual road restaurant that you get when you don't have your sweetie looking out for you with her trusty web browser.

The drive was almost uneventful. There was a really bad intersection in Deming, where I stopped to take a shortcut that probably saved me a half hour of driving by bypassing a weird acute angle between I-10 and I-25. I don't think it saved me two hours, but maybe it did - who knows? I made it through the intersection, though, and made it to the cutoff. The cutoff was nice - very, very rural, gently rolling hills, a railroad running alongside the road most of the way with trestles about every quarter mile across what I guess is kind of a flood plain, then some hills that I could admire without driving over, a place called the Middle-of-Nowhere Cafe, which really is in the middle of nowhere, and the lovely town of Hatch (about 30 miles past Nutt, coincidentally).

Hatch has a chile pepper festival. I saw a lot of red peppers growing as I went through. Huge plants. I've never seen anything like it. There are also a lot of Mexican restaurants, several of which looked really nice from the outside, but I was too wimpy to stop and try one, plus I wanted to get to Santa Fe before midnight. But who knows, maybe the pepper in my chile relleno came from Hatch. It's possible.

The trip to California was a spontaneous thing, triggered by Andrea's Aunt Charlene passing away. I'd met Aunt Charlene only three times, twice at weddings (one ours) and once when she and Eliot stayed with us one evening on the way from Texas to California. This was probably less than a year ago. It was a nice visit - they couldn't stay long, but we got to set them up with a comfy bed, and I made scones the next morning (I'd been planning to make scones for weeks, and they finally gave me the excuse I'd been waiting for). That was the last time I saw Charlene. She liked the scone, and the coffee. It's nice to have that as my last memory of her, if I have to have a last memory of her, which, it seems, I do, at least for now.

Of course it's easy for me to think back fondly on an incident like this. For her family it's a different story. Fifty years, and then bam. Melissa Lafsky has a nice article on the whole aging schtick. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


There's a video going around on digg that was filmed from somebody's window five years ago today. In the background you can hear the commentary from the newsdroids. Talk, talk, talk. I vote for less talk and less action. Silence is golden.