Friday, June 25, 2010

The New Grill

On our back patio, the previous owners built a brick structure that held a grill on one side (on the top) and a storage cave on the other side (on the bottom).

We used this charcoal grill a lot over the past 13 years, even after the clever mechanism that could raise and lower the charcoal bed rusted out. We made do with cookie sheets and ingenious staging of food on the grill.

This year there was nothing left but the brick structure. We thought we'd chisel off the bricks on the non-grill end, and make a gigantic barbecue area. We thought we'd do that in April, when Bernie's job came to an end. We thought we'd make that project a high priority. We wondered if we were smoking the crack when we looked at nice portable charcoal grills and they were only about $200 -- much less spendature than we were looking at to renovate the brick structure.

Yesterday we went to Target for an unrelated shopping trip, and stumbled upon a charcoal grill/smoker for $99. Sturdy, functional, and with an adjustable height for the coals, we considered that it might make do in the interim until we could actually re-assemble the brick barbecue. We bought one.

Today, Bernie gave it a test run, with chicken wings (my favorite) and chicken breasts. The smoker component enabled the cooking time to be cut to about a third of the usual time, and all of it was deliciously done.

Given the versatility of the new grill, do we even want to consider the caveman primitive brick barbecue? Uhhh, no, I guess not. Conversation has turned from brick grill to ... can we make that brick structure into a fountain and fish pond?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ah, the Kitchen!

Nothing would do for me the day after we got back but going to the grocery for a big package of chicken.

I had been jonesing for chicken all of the past week, even ready to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, knowing full well it would make me feel sick to my innards. Fortunately, the one time we were at a place with a KFC sign at the right time of day, the eatery was closed. Thus The Life That Guides The World saved me from gastroenteritis.

Anyway, Tuesday I cut up chicken leg quarters, surprised to find that part of the back had been left attached to the thigh, probably to add poundage to the cut, or maybe to produce a straighter, more "attractive" top line to the quarter. The back portion is almost all bone, and nasty for a diner to deal with, so I cut them off each piece and put them in a freezer bag. Along with the braised chicken, I made fried cabbage and rice. A feast.

Standing before the stove, tending my cabbage, I was truly at peace. Home again, in my kitchen again, making food better than anything we could get on the road.

We were hardly in the door Monday before John told me he'd picked up some lamb for black-bean chili, so Wednesday I simultaneously made the chili and cooked up the chicken backs from the day before, making broth from them and a stalk of celery and the last onion from last year's garden. The chili turned out fine, and in the evening, I strained the chicken broth and put it away in the fridge.

Today I made, for the first time in my life, chicken noodle soup. The broth from the day before, along with the liquid from the chicken braising came to a boil. I seasoned it with a little salt, some Louisiana Hot Sauce, and two teaspoons of juice from a jar of "tamed" jalapenos. When it came to a boil, I dumped in one kohlrabi, cubed the size of southern style hash browns, and began dropping the thin noodles into the boiling stock one by one.

Making the broth from bones took an afternoon; mixing and rolling out the noodles from scratch could be seen as a bother; nevertheless, the resulting soup was really pretty dang good. Why didn't I ever try this before?

Well, it just wasn't enough to make soup today. The other craving I've been having is for chimichurri, that South American sauce made from parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Most people like it over grilled meats, but I love it over fresh bread. I only learned about its existence last year, and only attempted to make it once (it sucked.) Today I was determined to try again.

It worked this time, largely because I got bold with the garlic and used enough to get a robust taste.

You have no idea how happy I am to be back in my kitchen!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fifteen: Home

It is all well and good to make plans to do some sightseeing while traveling cross-country by car.

Especially in Arizona, there are tons of scenic feasts for the eye and mind. The giant meteor crater, the Grand Canyon, the lands of the Navaho Indians, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest -- those are only a start for beginners. There are so many more places to see and drink in and revel in.


We slept only briefly. In Flagstaff, where the nighly low was expected to be something like 42 degrees, we woke sweating. The air conditioning unit in our room would not work. We opened a window -- and there was only one small window that could open, and put on the fan. Not an immediate relief.

I got up to go to the bathroom a couple hours later, only to discover that the bathroom door was stuck. It was a shutter-like device, like tiny French doors, very cute, but when half is stuck shut, you end up having to scuttle sideways to the potty like a crab. Not all that life-destroying, at all, but damn it, we were paying for fully functional lodgings, not as-is-take-your-chances.

In addition, my mythical city with its commitment to reducing light pollution had apparently exempted La Quinta Inn from light pollution. Just a few inches from the one window that would open, an all-night light threw shitful glare into the room. Close the drapes, lose the cooler air. Open the drapes, sleep under a floodlight. Bastards.

In the morning, I puttered with my computer, reading some comics; I said my morning prayers. I wished I could sleep some more, but once awake -- well, that's it. At 7:15, just as I was about to quietly slip out to let Howie take his morning pizz while Bernie continued to make up for the night's broken sleep -- a fire alarm went off.

Now, the day before, a wildfire was sending smoke billowing to the north of Flagstaff, so when a fire alarm sounds, you all jump up and say "WTF????" and run for the door to see if you are in imminent danger.

We weren't. But perhaps that was the last straw.

We packed our shit into the car in record time, shook the dust of the hotel off our feet, and said, "To hell with it. Let's go home."

And so we did.
Alex and John had a box of utterly delicious Hungarian pinot grigio waiting for us on the patio when we got home at 7:30 pm. It had been about an eleven-hour drive, but we were happy to be back.

Howie got the gallops as soon as he was out of the car, racing back and forth across the front yard in glee, and then, with Sebastian complaining to us about our absence with multiple "Buh-woo-woo-woooooo's" Howie joined him in doggy-talk with loud yips of exultation.

There were things we HAD to do back East, and we did them. Thus, it was a good trip, and we saw some wonderful stuff on the way.

But darlings, there is surely no place like home.

Fourteen: Flagstaff

We went to Mass in Albuquerque to start our day.

Hours may be at a premium; miles may need to be traversed, but the most important thing in all the world is participation in the Eucharist at Mass. We went to an early Mass to take advantage of the coolness of the air, and the church parking lot blessedly had a spot open shaded by trees, so that Howie would be comfortable.

We left Albuquerque after Mass, heading for Flagstaff. Estimated time of arrival: about 2pm. That would leave us an hour to wait before we could check in to the hotel. Not cool.

We opted to take a trip to Petrified Forest National Park, which straddles I-4o, and which Bernie said he had never seen. Outrageous! How could he not have been there? We had to go.

We walked through a few of the trails, some with Howie, others not. It was hot Hot HOT, but the dry wind made it seem bearable, and we looked at an ancient stone structure called Puerco Pueblo, and its attendant petroglyphs. We gazed at the Painted Desert, with its minimal plant and animal life, and touched petrified logs, wood turned to stone.

The heat and the wind and the altitude wore us out. By the time we got to our hotel, we were exhausted once again. Our intention was to stay in Flagstaff for two nights, seeing some more of the beautiful land, resting, pondering our adventure.

We had a delicious meal at a restaurant across the street called Coco's. Afterwards, watching TV, both of us dozed off.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day Thirteen: Miscalculation

"We should be in Albuquerque by Saturday night," I told Bernie a couple days ago.

He was the more organized soul: he looked up a map on line and found the estimated time to be something like ten hours, which we really didn't want to do.

Traveling has been cool, but enough road in front of one is just enough. We're feeling a bit abraded by the heat and humidity, and the stupid, ignorant fucking truckers who amuse themselves by trying to pass one another on hills, causing traffic balls-up behind them. One is going 61 mph up the hill, the other 63. The faster one passes, blocking all the cars who are traveling at 75 or 80 mph. It's not just the time; the braking and slowing on uphill grades plays havoc with gas mileage.

However. We launched from Oklahoma City and set as our goal Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

Hurtling through Amarillo, Texas, I mumbled that we were going to end up in Santa Rosa around 12:30 pm -- kind of an early stop. Bernie queried anxiously, "You mean we're making too good of time?"

Well, we were, but thank God we did. When we got to Santa Rosa, it was a dump, and was heavily invested by a huge biker rally weekend. We opted to get back on the road after a hasty snack for lunch.

As it turned out, we had no choice but to make for Albuquerque. By phone I made a reservation for the night; we arrived too early to check in, but by the time we stopped at a WalMart for a small bottle of laundry detergent, our room was ready. It was still a short day compared to most.

The online advice had been 'way off.

It's still hot here, but the humidity is at about 6%, which is unimaginably better than the 95% we left in Arkansas.

Honestly, I didn't manipulate anything to get us to Albuquerque. It just happened.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Day Twelve: Truck Day

The start was in Arkansas, the morning so hot and humid that my sunglasses fogged up as soon as we left the motel room.

Arkansas looks a lot like Tennessee, which looks a lot like Virginia, which looks a lot like West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania ... you must understand that aside from the topography, and the strangely brown rivers, ponds, streams, we weren't seeing much that was different. I saw a few butterfly weed wildflowers today, but nothing took my breath away.

After the first hour of "same old" I saw a truck carrying something (I have no idea what) with massive chains securing the load to the flat of the truck. I wished my camera had been ready to take a picture of it.

That's it! A quest! I unpacked my camera and prepared to take pictures of Things on the Back of Trucks.

My friend Bill (see above post of Day Nine) is fond of doing projects that are a series, in part because once you have a series, you find yourself doing multiple works instead of just one effort and then lying down on a sybaritic couch with wine and goodies to congratulate yourself. Thus, the idea of a photo series excited me with the prospect of at least six hours to exercise my photographic skills.

I snapped pics of trucks as we overtook them, looking for something interesting, juggling the zoom, trying to ride the bumps in the road. A silly project, to be sure, but instead of hating the slow trucks we got stuck behind, I welcomed the prospect; and it kept me alert and watching, rather than yawning and checking my watch and map over and over again.

As we overtook trucks on the two-lane I-40 West, I felt giddily akin to the Plains Indians as they rode alongside the buffalo on horseback, poised to let fly an arrow into the heart of the thundering beasts at close range. Rumbling along the rough road, I would position my camera at my window: if Bernie was passing them too quickly, I'd miss my shot; if a bump in the road bounced me, I'd get something I wasn't aiming at; if I didn't aim right, the camera would automatically focus on the smashed bugs on the windshield and not the truck I wanted.

No, it wasn't an exhilarating experience, but it did make the day pass quickly. In fact, by the time the drive was nearly done, and I had to put the camera away, I was moderately annoyed that about four trucks with really interesting loads appeared.

What to do with the pictures? I'm not yet sure, but I'm encouraged that I want to play with them in some manner.

Having vowed to stop early on the far side of Oklahoma City, we did so, but defected from our preference of Holiday Inn Express when we stopped there, only to find that they lied on their website and did not indeed accept pets. Over the fence we went, to La Quinta Inn, whose rooms have very high ceilings (airy-like) and is very pet-friendly. (Howie approves.) Though the wind and the heat made us feel blow-torched when we arrived, a swim in the cool indoor pool helped us to relax; I have two bottles of water in the mini-fridge for the morning draught, and their soap smells very, very nice. Tomorrow should put us in New Mexico.

I haven't decided whether or not to continue the "Trucks" series, but my camera battery is charging anyway.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day Eleven: Longer Than Planned

Tennessee is a loooong state.

We knew that we didn't want to push ourselves too much, so we figured we'd stop for the night somewhere just past Jackson. An early stop, a chance to maybe swim in a swimming pool, a leisurely dinner, lots of time to write.


One of the "local" thundershowers appeared, but didn't slow us up. We drove on and on, the roads the best-maintained of any state so far.

We'd had a good breakfast, all of us, so we only needed to stop now and then for breaks. By the time we hit Nashville, we were optimistic about an early stop.

The picture is of Nashville, taken from the road, of course. The tall Batman-like ATT building dominates the scene.

On to Jackson, with time to spare! We began readying ourselves for a Holiday Inn Express -- but there were none to be seen.

Why Holiday Inn Express? Well, many of them are "pet friendly" which is helpful when you're traveling with the Dog. Moreover, the ones we've stayed at have been EXTRAORDINARILY clean and well-appointed and wow -- super-customer-service oriented.

We were sure there had to be one between Jackson and Memphis, but ... no. Still, we were about an hour ahead of where we'd thought we'd be, so we weren't worried. Surely we'd get to the other side of Memphis and find one!

Then the second "local" thunderstorm of the day hit, with a downpour of rain. We came out the other side of the storm congratulating ourselves that it hadn't slowed us much at all, when the traffic ground abominably to a halt. The storm hadn't stopped us, but somewhere up ahead, it had stopped someone else. We sat in traffic, unable to move, for nearly 45 minutes.

The Arkansas border arrived, no Holiday Inn Express. We kept on. And on. Finally, we gave up and thankfully accepted a plain old Holiday Inn. It's air conditioned, the beds are reasonably comfortable, and Howie is with us. Not what we wanted, not really, but it will do. Tomorrow we hope to make Oklahoma City; so optimistic are we that we plan on making a reservation there early in the day, and arriving there at a reasonable hour.

One of these days has got to actually feel like a vacation.

Well, the evening at Cheryl and Terry's did, but it surely wasn't enough.

Day Ten: Virginia

Good thing we struck the tent when we did, or we would have been awakened to a downpour. Instead, we were off down the road by 8am, headed for Virginia.

We opted to take Route 522 from Lewistown, PA, to Winchester, VA. I would have taken a photo but it was too dark all the way. I tried to do a quick sketch in Photoshop of how black the shadows in the trees were, and how gloomy and dark green the solid vegetation was ... pretty much all the way to Abingdon, Virginia, where we stopped for the day because we were both so tired. At least 1-81 was more than a two-lane. That was kind of claustrophobic under the trees.

I quacked a little along the way about wanting to detour to the Atlantic Ocean, but a good look at the map showed that would put us two if not three days behind where we wanted to be, and that isn't a luxury we can afford.

We did note that we had been in four states: Pennsylvania, then Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. Sounds like a lot of traveling when you put it that way.

During the ride, we were fairly quiet. Not because we didn't want to communicate with each other, but because the silence was a communication in itself. It was a firm agreement of appreciation of not chattering unnecessary words. Neither of us asked, "NOW what are you doing?" or "Why are you out there by yourself?" or "Oh, were you working on something?"

We just don't feel a need or a desire to be constantly conversing in order to know that we're alive and in contact... or for reassurance.

Maybe that's it. Bernie and I are almost always close enough to touch each other; we hold hands, touch shoulders, caress (not sexxy-like!). We know that we are most important to one another -- we say so frequently -- so we don't need the attention of chatter to make us believe in the importance.

Funny we're both like that, when our mothers are/were non-stop yakkers.

I have to stop and chuckle; I suddenly remembered that the only time my mother was quiet was if she was madder than hell and someone was going to pay for it. Maybe she felt that silence was punishment, and so her voice was an assurance that things were okay.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day Nine: Wrapping Up Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is beautiful. Never be in doubt about that. Tuesday morning I woke up again to the bazillion-bird chorus, realized twenty minutes later that I was not going to sleep past 6am, and decided to take Howie for a walk around the neighborhood.

The sun rose and turned the hanging mists into shimmering white gold draped on the dark green of Jack's Mountain. The temperature was still sweetly in the low 70's, most of the neighbors still not stirring. Howie and I ambled around, me marveling at how little of the place I remembered -- I'd lived in that very spot some 30-and-some years ago. While the street names only came back to me slowly, the glowing morning mist with the blues and greens of the hills seemed to have always been in a treasure chest in my heart.

I had slept without nightmares, without any anxiety.

Later in the day, I went to see my old friend Bill, who has been a friend since we were in first grade together. We chatted while his darling Jack Russell terrier snuggled and cuddled with me, probably remembering me, probably thanking me for NOT bringing Howie with me. (Three years ago, Jack was terrified of the looming How.) Once again Bill shamed me by showing me the 24 canvas oil series he finished this past spring, and I have promised myself I AM going to paint more when I get back home.

In the evening, after listening to the weather forecast, we decided to strike the tent and sleep inside so that we wouldn't be trying to pack a wet tent in the rain. I dragged all the luggage out of the car and rearranged it. We were ready for the morning departure.

There was one last thing to do: sit with my sister-in-law and drink up the rest of the wine.

P.S. The flower is a common one in Pennsylvania: crown vetch.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day Eight: The River Will Keep Moving Along

The first business on Monday was to drive to Mifflintown to take sign some papers associated with my mother's trust fund. I was looking forward to this part of the day -- the people at the bank are really incredibly good at what they do, and I've emailed them, talked on the phone with them -- but never met them.

Before he let me do that, however, Bernie took a side trip off the road to a new Juniata River access point, built since the last time I was back East.

It was beautiful! If I lived back East, I'd be just about living at that access area. There's a nice boat launch, the parking lot is big, there are loads of areas that a rabid river fisherwoman could stand and fish and fish and fish. For one brief second, I wished we'd move back there.

A very brief second, to be sure.

The bank business went quickly, and then I gathered my fears and we drove to The Hearthside nursing home to see my mother.

The morning in-charge nurse had recommended to me a couple weeks ago that we take some soft ice cream for Mom -- something she would like, and we approached a common room, caramel sundae in hand.

Now, the last time I saw my mother, she was skeletally thin (and that is NOT AT ALL an exaggeration), a jittering, viciously angry talking skull, eyes bulging in emaciated sockets. I looked for her among the residents in the room, and didn't at first recognize her.

She weighs about 40 pounds more now, her gray hair has gone straight, and she was dozing quietly in her chair. When we called to her, "Tere! Hi! We brought you some ice cream," she responded, "For free?"

She took Bernie's arm when he offered it to her (declining me taking her hand) and we moved to a peaceful little lounge that has big windows. We asked her how she felt, and told her we were glad to see her looking so well. She told us that she had been born in Mexico, and that she had four brothers, and that the day they all became citizens of the United States was the best day they ever had. She really loved the ice cream.

Tere was bright enough in demeanor for me to be assured she wasn't drugged; her clothes and hair, hands and face were clean. The sagging wrinkles that had hung from her emaciated face three years ago were gone. She's being well-cared for. In her dementia, she's creating her memories as she goes along; she remembers very little of her life. I thought it was strange and sweet when she told us how very much she had admired her mother, and how, as a child, she wanted to be just like her. That's news to me, I thought as I watched her. She must have fibbed to me for nearly half a century. Again, it was sweet to think she's remembering nice things rather than bad and bitter things.

She didn't know who we were, and didn't ask.

After about 45 minutes of visiting, we took our leave of her. I hugged her, and told her I loved her. Goodbye.

I made it about 15 feet down the hall before my tears spilled over; the nurse put her arms around me and held me between her and Bernie. And then it was time to return to the world.

The visit was far less stressful than I thought it would be; it hurt so much more than I expected that she didn't know me. Still, what I needed to do, both for her (to see her cared for properly) and for me (to say farewell) was accomplished.

There was more, though. The past four years of my mother's decline have been hard. The outpouring of bitterness and meanness that presaged the loss of her memory and judgment, her refusal to admit to her illness, her pig-headed imposition of isolation on my sister, her uncooperative belligerence to her caregivers while she had 24/7 care in her home -- although I knew what Alzheimer's does to the people who have it, I carried, in some hidden talisman in my soul, a wad of anger for what her illness did to the people around her. In meeting her on Monday, seeing how very little of her life is left, I was able to put the anger down and leave it behind. Let it drift on down the river, so to speak. I have no need of it now; I can see that I only kept it to hide my fear and sadness.

I've looked at my mother's illness as a kind of purgation for her; a purification of soul on the spiritual journey. All the things that she clutched uncompromisingly to herself have been taken away. All the things that she grasped with unholy selfishness, now all gone. Her property, her possessions, her vindictiveness, her independence, her very memories ... with nothing left, she's calm and pleasant; as she told Bernie and me, "I'm very content." Her purgation and mine are connected at this time. In her inability to refuse my love now, and my leaving behind my anger -- together, we achieved a kind of reconciliation.

Day Seven: Day of Rest

The weather has been darn near perfect.

The day started out very hot, but then turned cool and sweet, allowing the house to be opened up and us to sit out once again, watching the clouds drift by. In the evening, fireflies took to the air and danced around. Even the sky was uncharacteristically clear of haze, revealing the stars between clouds.

Gorgeous, and yet my heart was really heavy as I prepared myself mentally for the next day. While my sister-in-law sipped margaritas, I finished off the last of my box of wine.

What else can you do?

Oh, I know there are other things I could do, but wine and friendship in a beautiful setting are not to be tossed aside. We earned our drinks: we did laundry, too, and even something as drudgey as folding clothes is fun when you're in good company.

Day Six: Birds at Base Camp

Saturday morning was really noisy. Base Camp is only about fifty yards away from thick forest; every bird in the area gets up before 5am and shouts his or her itinerary for the day to every other bird around. It was almost deafening, but glorious.

It also rained on us, a sweet sound to sleep by. And in spite of the cover on the tent, being up on the wonderful deck allowed cool breezes to make the humid weather more than bearable.

This deck is a stroke of genius on the part of my brother-in-law. Over what used to be a little used side yard, he put up a raised deck with a railing around it. On the north, east, and southern sides are steps down to the soft grass of the yard; a long covered section stretches nearly to the front of the house so that people can sit outdoors, or barbecue even if it's raining.

The widest part is not only open to the air, but is perfectly situated so that it catches the prevailing westerly winds and the first shade in the afternoon.

Howie loves the deck -- mostly for those stairs that lead down to the lower yard. He's a flatlander dog and just doesn't know about stairs as a means of transportation. However, in spite of how many times he has fallen on the way up, he gets a crazy-dog look in his eyes, races around the yard, and sails up the steps, crashes down them again, and then back up.

My sister-in-law and Bernie set up wireless internet access on our laptops. With RuthAnn on the her recliner, and I on mine, we computed for several hours while I put the Press up.

The sister-in-law worked at a nursing home for many years, and the brother-in-law helped his father while he faded from life with dementia. We talked about my concerns about meeting my mother in the nursing home, and they tried to put my fears to rest. Indeed, that impending meeting had caused me to break out in ugly blistering hive while we were on the road. But what I heard from my relatives did indeed give me heart.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day Five: Ohio to Base Camp

This day was just a day of counting miles.

Under a mostly cloudy sky, we traversed past Columbus, Ohio to Wheeling, West Virginia; after the tiny strip of the top of West Virginia, we were in Pennsylvania.

Heavy, looming forests encroach on every open field or edge of town; everything is green, and humid. The light looks different, all edges softened by the haze of water in the air. Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We didn't travel with a road map other than a basic overview of United States Interstate Highways, so when we were bounced off Interstate 70, halted in traffic due to yet more road work, we stopped for gas. We knew more or less where we were, and we knew where we were going, so we figured we could just abandon the interstate and find our way on regular roads. While Bernie sought a map at the gas station in vain, I took pictures of electrical things to pass the time.

I thought about Mel Trent, who has the knack of making prosaic things look intriguing. With that in mind, I snapped about ten shots of "stuff", including a picture of gravel. Thinking about Mel certainly did not make my pictures very interesting, but it was a good exercise.

Then it was back to the road, and we did find our way around the stopped traffic; by late afternoon we were off the highway and slowly making our way through the jungly land to Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

There my sister-in-law had waiting for me the biggest bag of Hartley's Potato Chips I've ever seen. "This is Sand's," she told everybody, warning them not to snitch my chips.

"Do you have the straps so Sand can just attach the bag to her head?" my husband asked genteelly.

We retired to the beautiful deck to relax and take stock of one another; the evening was simply beautiful. A birch tree tickles one side of the deck; arborvitae and euonymus screen the eastern view and make the area private and strangely life-giving. It's a place you can feel your heart recharging, worries slipping away.

We were absolutely honored to be invited to pitch our tent on the deck, and astounded it fit so easily. Even with a 7' x 10' tent on it, there is room for everyone to sit comfortably. I'll include a picture of the deck in a later post, when my camera battery is recharged.

RuthAnn and I sat out until late, catching up with each other. For me, it was a way of gradually changing my rhythms, from the aggravation of the road and the Press-driven computer work to the very powerful sense of peace and present.

Here it's amazingly easy to find that everything you need is at hand, and that what you "need" is not all that complicated.

Especially when you have a bag of Hartley's beside you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day Four: Des Moines to Ohio

This, then, is Indianapolis, home to the great football team, the Colts ... in June, late in the afternoon, when I had expected to reach the border of Ohio by now, but was held up AGAIN by damnable road repair and subsequent detour that led us into the thick of rush-hour traffic.

The driver of this particular orange truck was a particular asshole: a lane-changer with no conscience, a road hog with the arrogance of someone driving a rig that could crush all comers.

So there, asshole, now you know, if you ever read this blog, which you won't, so I'm not worried.

Yes. We intended to be past Columbus, Ohio, by the end of today, but were not able to foresee the bloody congestion in Indianapolis.

I was so annoyed by Indiana's every-three-miles road repair crews that I was determined we should push on into Ohio.

Wait, what? Illinois? They had a nice rest stop, which kept me from wetting myself. Other than that it was fairly forgettable. I thought I'd prefer Indiana, but I was RONG.

Over the Ohio border, we spotted another Holiday Inn Express, but our AAA guidebook didn't think it allowed pets. We stopped anyway, and thank God and Holiday Inn Express, they DID allow pets, and not only that, gave us the end room so that we have only a few feet to traverse to take Howie out for his relief.

Tomorrow is going to be another long day, all the way to Pennsylvania and family. I'm trying to think: do I want local Original Italian Pizza for supper, or Laskaris hot dogs? Or both?

Day Three: North Platte to Des Moines

We awoke late again ... the Holiday Inn Express at North Platte, Nebraska was so clean-smelling, so quiet, so very, very comfortable, that if I was rich, I'd have just stayed there another day for the sleep. Also they served a delightful free breakfast.

But off we had to go, and I snapped this picture off old Lincoln Highway 30 just to have something to snap. All the little streams and rivers we saw were very full.

My guess is that this creek is lousy with sunfish and bass, and I hope that Nebraska waterways are not as polluted with dairy farm runoff and fertilizer from fields as our rivers in California. I live near a river, and I can't eat fish from it. That is WRONG.

Bernie decided he wanted to explore the old Lincoln Highway, and so we did. That creek was at the beginning of it, but most of it was empty, as the next picture shows.

I found the side trip a little depressing, as so very many buildings were vacant and crumbling into piles of rotted boards and broken glass; so many, many intact buildings had their business signs plastered over with "Available" placards.

The road was in ill-repair, making me think again about the Interstate System being irritating. At least the Interstate has rest stops periodically, where a weary traveler can take a pizz in a clean bathroom.

As lumpy as the road was, I would prefer to use trails like the Lincoln Highway. The towns and the businesses and the eateries aren't mass-produced; they're real, and real people live there and love their place. Those tiny motels are probably cheaper to stay in than the ones on the Interstate, but the irony is, that I can't afford to take the time to travel on back roads like that.

What a gas! I have no job, and Bernie is unemployed, but we literally cannot afford to take too much time on this trip. He has to be in PA, and I do, too, to deal with family stuff, and then we HAVE to get back to CA so that he doesn't lose unemployment benefits.

Well, the detour off the Interstate road only cost us about 2 hours of travel time, and we very nearly ran out of gas (.4 gallon left), but we arrived in beautiful Des Moines to stay with Cheryl and Terry for a night.

Our friends had scouted a wonderful restaurant, Palmer's Delicatessen, to treat us to fabulous food and a delightful outdoor venue that allowed us to include Howie in the party! OMG, as they say, the lasagna special was so good that I ate twice as much as I should have and had less than half the guilt that I should have. Cheryl needs to do an in-depth review of that place for the Piker Press.

Do you hear me, Cheryl?

One of the draws, aside from the glorious friendship, is the firefly display in Cheryl and Terry's yard in June. We've seen and appreciated it before. This time they upped the ante, however,
and while Bernie and I played with fireflies/lightning bugs, Terry set up his telescope.

We got to see Saturn and its rings, and a moon of Saturn, and Mars, and the Ring Nebula, and my favorite, globular cluster of stars M-13. (I think that's which one, if not, Terry, forgive me.) My heart fills, thinking of that sight. I've seen Hubble pics, but clear though they are, they are not the same as seeing them through a friend's telescope while sitting companionably sipping wine.

We slept that night in Terry and Cheryl's camper, listening to crickets singing, and the strange sounds of a city, and woke before dawn to want to throw rocks at robins who were eager to be early birds getting the proverbial worm. When the robins took off to forage, we slept again, and felt no need to hurry away. Indeed, we were reluctant to leave.

Day Two: Evanston, Wyoming to ... North Platte, Nebraska

This lovely wind-and-rain carved stone overlooks the little city of Green River, Wyoming.

We stayed in this town the last time we came through here three years ago. We arrived at night and left in the wee hours before dawn, so I had been unable to appreciate the beauty of the land there.

Good thing there was beauty there (we stopped for breakfast) because the night in Evanston was a nightmare of broken sleep. The air conditioner of the Days Inn sounded like a jet engine being fired up in the room, the beds were uncomfortable, and the walls so paper thin that I knew exactly when the occupants of the next room started and finished coitus.

Howie was distressed from the long drive, and put his back up against mine. My goal for the night was "any sleep at all" and "do not disturb Bernie" -- he was so tired. At one point during the night, Howie put all four of his feet up against the base of my spine and pushed gently. It was a strangely comforting feeling, and I think that's when I finally fell asleep.

Again, the day's trek was broken by accursed road repairs. I know the infrastructure of the roads of the US is crumbling, and needs desperately to be fixed, but what a pain in the ass to fall father and farther behind in our travel. Good thing we had set our goal as North Platte, Nebraska, because to have gone farther would have kilt us.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Off We Go!

The day began a bit inauspiciously.

After a week of broken sleep due to worry about preparing for this trip across country, Sunday night found me sleeping like a drugged log. Instead of waking at 4am the way I always do to fret about the day to come, I didn't wake until close to six. Bernie claims he tried to wake me earlier, but he didn't seem too inclined to get up himself and rattle noisily about the room.

So we got a late start.

I had no idea there was still so much snow in the Sierras. Living in the Central Valley, I don't see snow except in pictures, so I was amazed at the sight, as though I was looking at exotic animals in a zoo.

Indeed, with the exception of a couple hours' stretch outside of Reno, Nevada, I was astounded to see snow on mountains all the way to Wyoming.

Compared to the last time we took this route (three years ago), Nevada was amazingly green, and decorated with pink and yellow and red wildflowers here and there. Far from the barren desert I remembered, Nevada was beautiful.
On the eastern side of Nevada, and in Utah, we saw lovely orange wildflowers. Not surprisingly, at the rest stops, there were no flowers. People have a difficult time leaving beautiful wildflowers alone for others to enjoy. However, Bernie The Ever-Indulgent took a few exit ramps until he found some of the lovely blooms for me to get close enough to. I wasn't able to identify them, but now I have a reference photo!

By the time we got to the Nevada-Utah border, I knew we were about an hour and a half behind where we should have been, and I was getting very tired. We missed the lunch-meal turnoff, and had no more opportunity to stop for food until Salt Lake City. At that point, we decided to stop in Evanston, Wyoming instead of pushing on to Green River. A rain storm was catching up with us, which would have just slowed us up even more.

Besides, there was the God, I'm Tired thing hitting us both. Howie was also sitting up and panting on our necks as though he'd had enough road vibration himself.

Thinking ahead to the next phase of the journey, I knew we had to be realistic. We'd hoped to reach Des Moines, Iowa by tomorrow night, but it would have been about a 16-hour drive, and we would have arrived stinking and exhausted sometime after 9pm.

Maybe I'm getting old. Tonight I'm so tired that my shoulders hurt. I felt better about making the decision to stop in Nebraska tomorrow, when shortly afterwards, the rain was shot through by sun, and a vibrant rainbow appeared over Evanston, Wyoming.

Here we are, and tomorrow, Wyoming, and then some.