Sunday, July 26, 2009

El Paso to Phoenix then Home – Page Eleven

Last issue for a few days:

We left El Paso at 7:50 A.M., our earliest start to-date, and we were still trying to find something that Chris could eat to settle her stomach. The Chinese food the night before, it turned out, wasn’t appealing after the food was on the table. I was hoping that the restaurant offered Won Ton Soup, which is as close to Chicken Noodle Soup as Chinese food can be, but they didn’t offer it and the food it did serve was too spicy. Dry toast at a Flying J’s the next morning in route to Phoenix was all that Chris could manage.

As we passed through Tucson we debated whether to call a friend who lives there, but decided that staying on the road was a better choice. Sorry, Nadia and Chuck. We’ll stop by next time. We no sooner made that choice when Interstate 10 came to a full stop and we were trying to keep cool in 101 degree heat behind about 10 miles of parked cars, pickups and semi trucks. A trucker, we heard, had rolled his rig of hazardous cargo, caught fire, and died in the accident. Interstate 10, both East and West bound lanes, was closed. By luck, we took an exit to a frontage road and drove about three miles and I was lured back to the highway by an imaginary movement of the highway traffic. But, as I say, it was only my imagination, because we soon stopped again and we stayed stopped for over an hour; a good time for thinking as long as the car didn’t overheat.

Fortunately, the car did not overheat. Looking out at West Tucson at the rows and rows of adobe houses with tile roofs, I couldn’t help but think that the blazing sun in 101 degree heat could power a lot of houses if they all had solar photovoltaic panels installed. That thought lead to thinking that some company, perhaps a public company, had likely already thought of that and that there may be an investment opportunity. I made a mental note to look it up. I mentioned that to Chris. Chris’ response was “we should have given Diane and Jean some money for the meals they served.” Zing – there went my altruistic, save the earth, thoughts. So, we talked about our donation, or lack of, to The Reunion. By the time we were done, I felt like a heel for being so cheap. So, with Chris with an upset stomach and me with a guilty conscious, the traffic finally began to move and we inched passed the accident gawking like everyone else was and we began to pick up speed as the traffic thinned. Now, what was I was thinking about? Nothing, I guess.

It’s funny that I bought a digital Sony pocket-sized recorder in Texarkana to record ideas WHEN I thought of them. I’ve used the thing once. Want to know what I said? “Testing, 1, 2, 3. Testing this thing to see if it works.” That’s it. Nothing else is on it. I promised to read the instructions and I dutifully placed it in the door pocket for easy use, but I didn’t use it and I haven’t read the instructions yet. So much for that!

We drove through Phoenix around 2:30 P.M. and Chris searched the maps trying to find a hotel between Phoenix and Blythe, California so we could drive another hour. But, apparently, there is nothing but desert, cacti and thistle between Phoenix and California, so we found a hotel in western Phoenix. Our choice was between driving three more hours to California and staying in Phoenix. We stayed in Phoenix.

Chris felt better and thought an ordinary hamburger and fries at In-'n-Out Burger would be okay. “Low carbs,” she said. Hmmm. I’m not sure about that. I’ve never thought a fast-food hamburger of having low carbohydrates. Whatever makes her happy, however, is my job, so we ate at the local In-'n-Out Burger. Maybe it was the fries, but she did feel a little better, but not well enough to detour from a homeward route.

We were up at 5:00 A.M. and on the road 30 minutes later and we ate breakfast in Palm Desert, California around 9:00 A.M. after a relatively cool, 90 degree, drive across the Phoenix desert. I guess I’ve never thought about how big the Los Angeles metropolitan area is. Ten minutes after getting back on the highway and nearing Palm Springs we were on a four-lane freeway and the traffic increased at least four-fold and we were still 100 to 150 miles from LA. Where did all the cars come from?

The LA traffic reminded me of a note that I wanted to record on that Sony Recorder (but didn’t) as we drove through Dallas; i.e., that Dallas traffic was as bad California traffic. I take it back. Even at its worse, Dallas traffic cannot be compared to LA traffic. California drivers have a unique ability to line up at 80 or 90 mph, bumper to bumper, in the fast lane and SCARE the, er, “stuff” out of you. The “trains” zoomed past us as we tried to peddle at the speed limit, 70 mph, in the center lane, usually with a large pickup or Mercedes on our rear bumper. I hope I pissed them off by my speed-limit driving and the large gap between us and the car in front of us. I figured I was saving his or her life as well as ours; the ungrateful ass. No matter how far back you drive, someone will fill the gap in front of you.

Two hours later we were finally leaving the LA area and down the last steep hill in the Grapevine. The Grapevine is a 40 mile stretch of Interstate 5 that twists and turns through large, nearly mountain-sized, hills; four to six lanes where nearly half of every car and semi in the world is leaving LA (the other half is entering LA) and all are going 20 mph over the speed limit. And, if you’re not with them, then you’re against them. It’s a harrowing experience.

After that, Interstate 5 is a long straight highway along the eastern side of a range of hills that traverse the length of California separating the coastal plains from the inner valley farm land. You can actually settle in at the speed limit in the slow lane on this stretch of highway and pick and choose gaps in traffic to pass slower vehicles. The hills are a golden brown in summer. Many people believe that California got the “Golden State” name from gold found in California, but actually the name comes from the “Golden Hills,” or so I've read. The traffic “trains” continued on I-5 and inevitably we came upon stopped traffic due to an accident that apparently happened a few minutes ahead of us. As we passed the accident, several motorists were assisting a young woman whose car had left the highway and stopped in an orchard fence row. My guess is that she either clipped or was clipped by another bumper-to-bumper driver jockeying for a position in the train. We drove on as there was nothing we could do that wasn’t already being done to help. A minute later we notice the Highway Patrol already on their way. Meanwhile, un-phased or lesson ignored, the speeding traffic-trains continued past us.

Chris was feeling better. She noticed that it was “only 82 miles” to Sacramento where we might visit Marcus, her son, if we were so inclined. She was changing her mind about going home so quickly. I think I said, “Yep,” as I turned left toward San Francisco. We’ll save that trip for another day. I was tired and out of clean underwear. We drove 732 miles in about twelve hours and arrived home at 5:41 P.M. Pacific Time. Whew. I think I’ll look around for a motor home for the next driving trip.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

San Antonio to El Paso and The Reunion – Page Ten

I made sure to remind the Howard Johnson’s clerk that “one of HIS guys” unplugged the smoke detector in our Texarkana room because there was no other way to silence the thing. Smoking popcorn makes a lot of smoke. I also noticed that the evening crew properly vented our room; they opened our door into the common building corridor. The entire building smelled of burnt popcorn. I think a few exhaust fans would have worked wonders.

We left Texarkana about 9:00 A.M. two days ago, July 21st and drove 502 miles to San Antonio, took a nap and headed downtown to see the Alamo and eat dinner on The Riverwalk. San Antonio is as good as New Orleans in my opinion. It was too hot to go before 7:00 P.M. so we missed the full Alamo tour, but seeing it from Santa Ana’s perspective, the outside, and reading the plaques was okay. We ate dinner at Landry’s Seafood Restaurant and walked the river until around 11:00 P.M. The Casa Rio has a good picture of its river front. Imagine a hundred restaurants and gotcha’ shops along a walkway at the river’s edge.

Unfortunately, Chris ate something that made her ill so San Antonio didn’t turn out so well for her. We started north for the Colorado Rockies this morning, but within 20 minutes Chris began to feel worse and we stopped at a Denny’s hoping she could eat something that would make her feel better. It didn’t. As we talked, however, we decided that maybe a direct route home would be better. When a person feels bad the longing for home begins to take a stronger hold. So, we are homeward bound and plans to go north through the Rockies has been shelved; we’re taking the direct route. We backtracked about 20 miles and headed for El Paso and we arrived 565 miles later at the Comfort Inn in East El Paso. Chris is finally able to relax.

Diane is getting high speed Internet. Wow! She asked how much RAM to buy. Buy as much as your computer will hold.

I also got an email from friend George saying he’d spent some time in and around Purdue (swim meet), Memphis (FedEx training) and San Antonio (Datapoint training). It sounds like he had a good time at all places.

It’s raining in El Paso; one of those strange west Texas rains. It’s not like Midwest downpours or California showers. It’s a mini-pour. A dark cloud in the middle of a sunny day simply releases all of its moisture – splash, and your soaked. Then the cloud moves on. Do you remember the funny paper character that walked around with a black cloud over his head? Was that in Li’l Abner? That’s what a Texas rain cloud looks like. We dodged at least a dozen driving to El Paso, but two drenched us enough to slow us to 60 mph. The speed limit on Interstate 10 is 80 mph, nearly Autobahn speed.

The main event on the last day of The Reunion was the fire on the Log Cabin deck. I know Dan didn’t intend to start it and he rightly blamed a very lame and decrepit barbeque, but it wasn’t the fire that really got my attention. The major, MAJOR event was Kim pouring his beer on the fire. THAT got my attention. From that point, the excitement went downhill to boring hamburgers, hotdogs and all the leftovers from the first two days and it was all good. Dan wrapped up the day with pictures set to music video fashion and everyone once again wiped their eyes in nostalgia. Those were the good ole days.

I was glad to see Sam. He and I talked about a few video games he’s interested in and I think I’ll look into the Roman War game, a game of strategy. That sounded fun. I’m not sure I have the fortitude to play others online, however. Hope Sam fares well in wrestling with his friends. I was also glad to see Georgia and wish she could have stayed, but she was off to another gathering.

The following day was checkout day and we all packed and headed for the Shade Tree Restaurant for breakfast. Kim and Carol managed that event and it was better than the Kentucky Lake Dam Restaurant, in my humble opinion. Cindy and Chris picked up the tab for our table – thanks to both! I’m not sure what advice I can give Jerry about the amount of “stuff” Diane packs. Nothing he says will change it, so maybe there’s nothing to say; just get over it is all I can think of.

Then, everyone left for home – except for Chris and I. We went on a tire hunting mission. Both front tires needed replacing, one for a knot on the sidewall and the other for broken belt threads along the edge of the tread; Iowa potholes did that, I’m positive (read a previous blog on Iowa roads). We got lost once, backtracked and found a local tire dealer in Benton, KY, and he sent us on to Plaza Tire on the other side of Benton. Plaza Tire actually had the right tires and we were on the road in less than 30 minutes. I wouldn’t have believed that if I hadn’t experienced it myself. I expected to be in Kentucky all day.

Anyway, we’re in El Paso, Texas and going home.

Total 2,712 miles driven since July 9th. Average 29.855 miles per gallon. That’s not too shabby. I also notice that my stocks are up nearly $10,000 since Jyly 9th. I’ll take that too.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reunion, Texarkana and Hot Pop Corn – Page Nine

Never, never, never pop corn in a microwave without watching it; or, I could say two minutes is not the same time for all microwaves. Signing in at Howard Johnson’s in Texarkana took some doing. We had to initial a “no-smoking” line and a “no-pets” line, and Chris had to swear that I would not smoke in the room after the clerk noticed that I stepped out for a cigarette while he and Chris looked at the room. It’s a $200 extra charge for smoking in the room. Ok. No smoking. I got it.

So, I lie down on the bed and turn on the T.V. and Chris puts some Redenbacher Popcorn in the microwave and goes to “freshen up.” And just like that – snap – smoke is rolling out of the microwave. Holy crap! I jump up, open the door, and grab the bag and… and… what? The smoke detector is going off in the room, and in the hall. Footsteps are coming. The window doesn’t open, so holding the burnt, but not burning, bag I head for the door. Crap again! How’s that for not smoking!

I was up early this morning and wrote a blog entry, showered and shaved and made a beeline for Wal-Mart for an oil change. I bought a copy of Don McClean’s Greatest Hits while there, because Dan reminded me that I’d always like his music. I also bought an Eagles CD and loaded both in the 6-CD Changer. So, along with Michael Jackson’s pirated, unlabeled CD we bought from black marketers hustling on his childhood street in Gary, we had music on the road. By 9:00 A.M. we were off to Graceland – the other “King’s” home – for a tour. An hour and a half later we were finally on our way out of Memphis. And it rained… and rained in Arkansas.

The second day of The Reunion started with me making coffee at five A.M. and going for a walk. I was surprised that Big Bear Resort had the same Robins that we have in our back yard, but it doesn’t have the bully Towhees. Towhees are Catbirds with an attitude. They claim ownership of our back yard and they chase Blue Jays, Robins, Sparrows and occasionally a large Crow away from the bird baths and any other spot they settle. Anyway, as I walked back to the cabin, I met Jean and I refilled my cup and we walked to Dan and Cindy’s. Besides Dan and Cindy, and Marge wandering around in her P.J.s, no one else was awake. Marge went back to bed while we four sat on the porch and talked and Dan prepared 3x5 cards for his Amazing Race game, or so I guess. That game never materialized to my knowledge unless it happened while we, and I use “we” loosely, barbequed the pork chops.

I noticed that Ryan moved to the sofa while Dan, Cindy, Jean and I were talking. Later he announced that he was going to sleep on the sofa because the room was a little “stuffy.” Hmmm. Stuffy is used for many things, but I suspect that he meant that someone in the room had gas. Since Dan and Cindy slept on the airbed and Marge slept alone in another bedroom, then Joni, Shawn, Jaime or one or both of the kids had gas. The secret always comes out sooner or later.

I spent the afternoon at Kim’s place with Kim, Kelly and Corey watching Jeremy BBQ the pork chops. After an intense interrogation and many questions, I finally got enough information out Jeremy about his marinating sauce and the spray he used on the chops. But, it’s a family secret and I promised not to tell. So, if the word gets out, it wasn’t me. Kim was there too.

Jeremy is an interesting guy and very smart… about most things. It turns out that he trades with a high risk account like I do. I’m immediately taken to anyone who agrees with me and I do except where he’s thinking about buying RIMM (Research In Motion, Inc). Do the math, it’s not worth it. RIMM costs too much, it doesn’t pay dividends and it won’t move that much. Why buy an expensive stock if it doesn’t pay dividends. Buy a cheaper, underpriced good stock and make money on the volatility.

The conversation changed to Indiana’s Pension Fund buying Chrysler Bonds and now Chrysler’s bankruptcy is causing a huge loss to the fund. It’s Obama’s fault, I heard, because the judges do what Obama tells them. When I hear something that’s totally off kilter like that, I have to wonder where an idea like that came from. How did an intelligent guy like Jeremy become convinced that the President is telling a bankruptcy judge how to rule? From what I’m hearing about the case, the judge is following bankruptcy law… period. The better question is: How the hell did the Pension Fund Administrator come to a decision to buy Chrysler’s Corporate Bonds? A Bond is debt. A Bond is a loan to a company, municipality or government at a fixed interest rate. It carries a risk of non-payment. California Bonds are nearly worthless, so why buy them? Chrysler Bonds would have been nearly worthless two years ago, so why buy them? China is worried that T-bills (Bonds) will become worthless, so it is voicing its concerns to the U.S. Treasury. When I hear mistaken ideas spread by word of mouth that go against the U.S. plan for economic recovery, I become less hopeful that we will recover and instead become just another banana republic like most South American countries. Our recovery is a two-step process; 1) throw money at the recession to reduce the impact of job loss, and 2) once the economy is somewhat stable, begin the budget cuts that get our budget back under control. It will take longer than a few months. If enough loud voices out there stall or short-circuit that two-step process, we won’t recover. There are a lot of smart people working on the problem and none of them are on CNBC, MSNBC, CNN or Fox. Turn those guys off.

I can’t help think of Daddy’s response when he heard something he didn’t agree with or occasionally thought was totally stupid: “Well.” I guess he was speechless. Me too.

The chops were good, as was the corn, baked beans, salads and cake and ice cream. I stuffed myself into misery. If you haven’t yet, go back a few blogs and read about how good the cooks are in our family, both men and women. You won’t find any better.

I learned last night that Texarkana has chiggers. A young man from Utah is working the area installing security systems and he has a bad case of chiggers on his legs. “Don’t tell me not to scratch them,” he said. “They itch.” I don’t doubt that. So, we talked about chiggers, or “no-see’ems” in California. Personally, I like “chiggers” better than no-see’ems because nothing describes what they do to you better than “chigged.” Scratch them is what I say, because you simply can't help it; but see a doctor so they don’t become infected.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reunion Recalled and Westward Ho – Page Eight

I am finally back on the internet after a fun-filled weekend at Kentucky Lake with family. If you were there and you didn’t have a good time, it ain’t my fault – look in the mirror for the problem.

I realize now, after-the-fact, while I wait for dawn in Memphis, Tennessee, and Chris tries to get another hour or two of sleep that I should have written a few lines about our triennial Family Reunion while it was occurring. Now, on our way back to California, I have to depend on memory for all the fun details and you already know how reliable my memory is; just a notch above piss-poor. The family was having its final breakfast together at the Shade Tree Restaurant in Benton, KY when it dawned on me. Dollar short – day late. Oh well.

It all started… well, maybe that wasn’t the starting place, but it will do… when everyone in Indiana and Georgia finally got on the road for Kentucky Lake. Georgia, it seems, was a little ahead of the rest of us because about half way there in Madisonville, KY I got a call from Sister Jean saying, “Where are you?” “Be there in an hour, sis,” and that’s when Chris and I arrived; about 3:45 P.M. Friday, July 17. Everyone from Georgia was there; Jean, Sylvia, Pete, Brady and Ben. As the checking-in and unpacking began, I suddenly realized that we were missing a vital component – beer, and I was shocked to learn that Benton was located in a dry county and the nearest beer was at least 20 minutes away toward Paducah. I guess it is a 20-minute drive for those who know the area, but Brady and I stopped at three convenience stores before we made it across the county border where, and we should have known, the store name was “Beer and Wine.” Go figure! By the time we returned with the beer, all had arrived and food was on the table. The first crisis passed without anyone really noticing – everyone brought their own beer anyway.

Dan started his DVD shows soon after and he’s good at putting family history, old and new, to music on DVDs. In fact, he’s so good; he can grab your heart showing Vincent van Gough paintings to Don McClean’s song “Vincent,” a video that should be loaded on YouTube for the world to see. All of them grabbed my heart. They made me think that in “this” family there is not one single criticism or feeling of ill will that prevails when we come together. We actually get along about as good as the best do and we may be better at it than any family out there.

We soon turned to games and talking; the latter is what I like best especially if I can do all the talking and especially about politics, investing or religion. I’m sure nobody noticed (tongue in cheek)! Oh well. I wanted to say that I’m not sure “The Shack” is the book we need to be reading, as one unnamed person suggested as we discussed religious themes. Personally, I’m in favor of reading the books of more modern and realistic Prophets, such as “Hot, Flat and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman, or “Palestine – Peace not Apartheid” by Jimmy Carter. Angels do walk the earth if we pay attention. God is talking.

But, the subject changed and other voices needed attention, so the moment to speak my mind passed. Meanwhile, Memphis is waking up to a wet morning although the rain passed in the night. We’re going to try to see Graceland today then head West to San Antonio, TX. New Orleans, according to a woman eating BBQ Ribs at BB Kings Restaurant, is hot, humid, empty and boring so maybe going there some other time is a better idea. That’s okay with me. If we want to be home by the 28th, then we need to move it.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Indiana – Page Seven

We got a late start leaving Lafayette at about 10:30 A.M. Breakfast at Bob Evans was good but winding our way through the construction zone on Indiana Highway 26 – Interstate 65 intersection was slow; a short ¼ mile from the Days Inn took nearly 15 minutes! One has to be impressed with Lafayette. It has a rich history going back to the French Fort Quiatenon established in 1717 and has grown to a city along the Wabash River to approximately 200,000 inhabitants. There is also as much traffic congestion in Lafayette as I’ve seen around the Bay Area. Lafayette is the kind of old-new city one would like to get to know better. I’ve heard Dan say that one reason they moved to Lafayette soon after he and Cindy were married was because of Cindy’s Aunt Sandy who, if I remember right, taught Nursing at Purdue University. They’ve lived there 30 or so years. Someday I’ll listen to Dan tell that story.

On our way south on I-65 we tried to find a good radio station; a search we’ve tried several times since leaving California. I do believe that Clear Channel Communications, the premier right-wing talk company, owns or broadcasts on all AM stations east of the California-Nevada border and Rush Limbaugh must talk 24/7. I’ve found that finding a station where Limbaugh is not talking is rare. But, the guy who hosted yesterday must be the premier nut, and I’m sorry I didn’t catch his name. He suggested that the homeless should be “caned,” as in strung up by the wrists and whipped with a cane pole, “…like they do in Singapore, then they would get the message and find a job…,” he said. Wow! That’s about as extreme as I’ve ever heard. The station, I believe, was 550 AM Radio broadcasting from Cincinnati, Ohio and the host was talking to a local Cincinnati politician who was sponsoring a Cincinnati area homeless resolution through the city council. The politician, to his credit, did not take the bait and did not agree with the so-called Singapore solution, although he did not, to his discredit, verbally state his disagreement; he simply ignored the right-wing diatribe and continued to suggest a kinder approach. I’m sorry that I didn’t note the sponsors for the program. I’m surprised that the station is able to get sponsors for the show. By the way, Singapore does not whip the homeless; they provide a home and a job and they’ve done that since my first visit there and military briefing on the country as far as I know. Singapore is a Parliamentary Republic, similar to Canada’s government. The familiar thread through the host’s tirade, as with most right-wing talk-show hosts, is that they believe “other” countries are barbarians or, at a minimum, stupid. The fact is, from the sound of it, that the host is more barbarian than the countries he talks about. Why does this guy have a platform to broadcast his blather?

Chris and I listened long enough to be thoroughly disgusted then hit the off switch. Enough of that! On to Owensville.

We arrived at Diane’s and Jerry’s around 3:00 P.M., Central Time, gaining an hour from Lafayette that is on Eastern Time. Don’t ask. I have no idea why Lafayette, that is nearly due north of Owensville, is on Eastern Time. Maybe it’s something in the water in Lafayette. Diane was finishing up baking cookies and cake for the Kentucky Lake Clark-Kerns-Pegram-Reagan Family Reunion. I talk about restaurants along the way and the good food we eat traveling, but there is no restaurant cook that can cook like the women in the families listed above. We have some fine cooks in this family. And, I guess I can’t suggest that women do all the cooking. The men, too, can do some very fine Barbie-Q-ing. You name it, we can cook it… well, I suppose we’ll draw the line at something like Chinese or Indian foods. I suspect that curry is a little too exotic for us. We are likely to stick with good mid-western or southern cooking. Anyway, the cakes are ready.

All that aside, Diane and Jerry took us to the Feed Mill Restaurant and Bar in Poseyville. This restaurant is more like a barn and is apparently a chain out of Louisiana from the Cajun menu items. The Catfish was good and the menu touts “Fiddler” Catfish on Fridays. Fiddlers are relatively young Catfish between 8 to 10 inches long. If you ever get a chance to go to a Fiddler Fish Fry, go. You won’t regret it.

That’s the up-to-date news as well as I can make it. A thunderstorm passed through this morning about 2:00 A.M. and Chris was up watching the lightening and gully-washer downpour. She wanted me to take a look too, but I rolled over and was lulled back to sleep by the rain.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Indiana Bound – Page Six

We are in Indiana and we had a good visit with Dan and Cindy, my younger brother and his wife. We’ll see them again Friday at Kentucky Lake Big Bear Resort where the whole family from several hundred miles around will gather for a three day party. But, I digress. Yesterday we left Newton, Iowa at 7:30 A.M., our earliest start yet, and left the rough roads of Iowa about two hours later… whew! The roads improved immediately when crossing into Illinois and the rundown sections are being replaced. It’s funny how that works; some states pay attention to their infrastructure and some don’t. Maintaining road systems pays off. Good roads mean good, accessible commerce for businesses and less vehicle maintenance costs to businesses and people and a whole change in attitude. I, for example, am not motivated to stop in Iowa, but would suffer through it to see Nebraska. So, Nebraska will get my tourist dollar.

Anyway, we entered the Chicago Metropolitan area around 1:30 P.M., Central Time I believe, and the increase in traffic told us we were getting close to something big. “They” drive no better in and around Chicago than they do in the San Francisco Bay Area, which implies that I do, of course. Never mind. We arrived in Michael Jackson’s childhood neighborhood about 2:00 P.M., but we had to walk the last block because the street was blocked off. The only thing one can think of when visiting a neighborhood like this is what a strange story it is that the Jackson family was determined to climb out of it. I hear some say Joe Jackson, the father, was mean to his children, but I wonder how much of his relentlessly pushing his children was only fierce determination to escape poverty. I’m not so sure he deserves all the criticism he receives from the network news. We talked to two residents of the neighborhood who knew the Jacksons in their childhood. They told interesting stories, but we had to travel on and could not stay to hear more.

I did not know that my GPS was smart enough to know Lafayette’s time zone, but it does. I expected the drive from Gary to Lafayette to take three hours. The GPS ETA displayed about 5:30 P.M. and the dashboard clock read about 4:15 P.M. when suddenly Lafayette exit billboards started to appear; “Days Inn – Take exit 126.” I was about to talk myself into believing that Indiana had two Lafayette cities and we were at the wrong one when, in the nick of time, I remembered that Lafayette uses Eastern Time. We lost an hour going directly south! That’s weird. Exit 126 was on us before we knew it and it was luck that I had sense enough to take it.

Dan, Cindy, Chris and I had a good visit. We ate at the Triple XXX restaurant in West Lafayette near Purdue University. It’s a home-grown family restaurant with local fame meant for a college town. Old Lafayette pictures and university sports heroes covered the walls. It was the first drive-in restaurant in Indiana, but customers eat seated along counters now. The Tenderloin sandwich and fries reminded me of the good Tenderloin sandwiches of my youth, a rarity now days. Chris had a hamburger and curly fries. I had a root beer float and Dan and I recalled a drive-in in Fort Branch, Indiana when we were kids where root beer floats were our favorite; “Black Cows” we called them and that’s how they were listed on the menu. A Black Cow and Chili-Dog in the back seat or our Dad’s 1952 Studebaker was a special treat. I’ll have to ask Diane the name of the drive-in. I can’t recall it now.

I wish that I could sit long enough to finish one of these articles in one sitting without the urge for a cigarette or the need to answer a nature call; I would be able to complete a thought. But, interruptions drive the thoughts from my mind. For example, had I remembered I would have told of the irrigation I saw in Nebraska; mile after mile of large sprinklers irrigating crops. The Ogallala Aquifer is an underground water system covering 174,000 square miles in eight western states and our huge western farms are draining it dry irrigating their crops. The United States feeds the world, but we are going to use up one of our greatest assets doing it. Scientist say that in the near future, perhaps as soon as fifty years in our children’s lifetime, western farms will turn to the dust of the 1930s because the Aquifer will run dry. Some farmer is going to have to stop farming. How easy do you think that will be for a farmer to willingly give up farming? We should pay attention to this. We can’t continue uncontrolled use of this water source; it is a matter of national security and survival. It is also a matter of freedom and sacrifice to ask a farmer to give up his livelihood.

I would also have remembered to mention that most of the trees along Interstate 80 in Iowa lean East-North-East because of the constant wind. Iowa obviously sits in a continental wind corridor and the several hundred wind turbines along the road prove this out. But, there were not enough of them; there could be more. There is no reason that thousands couldn’t be raised to supply clean power to half the Midwest.

It seems to me that harping about our national debt and complaining about leaving our children a burden of debt is not the major issue. The legacy we are leaving our children is starvation and social anarchy. The debt is ours to pay, now that the bill is due. We should pay it now, and get control of these critical resources for our children. Dan and I had a conversation about the economy and I lamely attempted to explain my take on it. I’m not particularly good at explaining what I think, but, basically, there is no such thing as “free markets,” whether we are talking about farming markets, stock markets or local economies base on local businesses. Markets, all markets and especially global markets, are a cycle of growth and destruction where innovation destroys the old and communities suffer in the process. Global markets create poverty and riches, but, increasingly, more people end up in poverty than rich. Global markets create welfare states. There is a social aspect of markets that has been forgotten in totally free markets and we should not allow markets or companies to disregard social obligations.

Shawn, a young man, probably in his early to mid-twenties, from Valparaiso, Indiana is staying at the Days Inn, Lafayette on a job replacing the roof on the Lafayette Subaru plant. Looking around at many of those staying at the Days Inn, I see many labor crews in the same situation. Shawn said they offered him a job and he said, “why not? Have to go where the work is.” “Pleasure to meet you,” he told me when he shook my hand as he was leaving for the Subaru plant. From our short talk, I got the impression that we’re leaving America in good hands, but we can leave it in better condition. Shawn really has few choices and he’s an example of millions. He should have a better bank, but banks are not interested in his financial condition and in fact will more than likely take advantage of him than help him. He should have better community services, but many of those are considered wasteful or too costly. He should have a better environmental future, but he doesn’t.

The Red Cycle Services, Inc., out of Indianapolis delivers supplies to hotels in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky. The driver says he leaves home at 6:00 A.M. and sometimes doesn’t get home until 11:00 P.M. “Have to do what I have to do,” he says. “Some guys bitch about the hours, but I have a family and I need money, so I don’t bitch.” He didn’t hang around to talk more than that. He made his delivery and left; talking while he loaded his dolly on his truck. Then he left. He should have more time for his family, but fierce competition drives him to spend hours on the road for his family. I wonder if cooperation isn’t better than competition.

Ah well, whatever else I was planning to write, the thoughts are gone for the moment. More later.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Indiana Bound – Page Five

After 1,995 miles we found Newton, Iowa. Wow! What a find! I’m being facetious. I really wanted to be farther along today, but we stopped in Omaha for 1), a pedestrian bridge across the Missouri River and 2), Boys Town. Keeping the peace is important. We stood with one foot in Nebraska and the other in Iowa on the bridge… whoopee. Boys Town, however, was interesting so it was worth the stop. Father Flanagan, an immigrant Catholic Priest, gave seven boys down on their luck a home in 1917 and it hasn’t stopped since. Now there is a large campus in Omaha devoted to making wayward youths, both boys and girls, into productive citizens and fulfilled adults. It was worth the stop. If you visit Omaha, take the self-guided tour.

We left Omaha around 2:00 P.M. and entered the great state of Iowa. We immediately noticed the difference; the speed limit reduced to 70 mph and the roads’ condition made that speed nearly unsustainable. Talk about pot holes, cracks and uneven pavement! I thought one or more of our tires were flat a number of times, but it was only the road. So, we drove carefully between 60 – 65 mph through Des Moines and arrived in Newton.

Newton is a town of about 15,000 and its only factory, Maytag, that employed 4,500 workers closed recently. Newton is depressed and it’s obvious. If the highways are bad, Newton’s streets are worse and parking lots and stores are rundown. I can’t imagine the rundown look happening only in the past year or so, however. Like Iowa, Newton has been neglected for ten or fifteen years. It's the neglect that happens when people don't want to pay taxes and politicians use taxes stupidly.

We ate dinner at Palma’s Steakhouse, a local restaurant with local fame. It, too, has been neglected and paint and a brighter dining room would do wonders; we ate on the patio and, except for a busy fly, it was just fine. Chris’ steak was excellent; a New York Steak, medium and as good as Dude’s Steakhouse in Sidney, Nebraska. I had Tenderloin de Bogna that, while good, wasn’t as good at the New York. I recommend Palma’s, but eat on the patio unless they’ve remodeled the place. The food was good.

Palma’s owner of 30 years is a Greek Lady with a heavy accent who is pessimistic about the future and said she is thinking of selling the restaurant and returning to Greece where she owns a home. She said she was tired of taxes and the government taking over. I wonder what she’ll find in Greece where the government really has more control. I doubt that she’s paying more taxes and her real complaint is her decline in customers; an effect of the economy, not a government takeover.

The young man who served us, mixed our Margaritas and talked had a much better perspective. He wants to buy the restaurant, remodel it and repair the neglect. I’d say that’s a better attitude.

I notice that the I-80/I-65 junction, where we turn south to Dan’s place in Lafayette, is only five blocks from Michael Jackson’s Gary Indiana home. We may drive by to see what it looked like.


Indiana Bound – Page Four

Well, we will have to try Dude’s Steakhouse again next time. Doxycycline got the best of me, enough that I Googled the drug’s side effects and dosage instructions. I’m sure I read Kaiser’s instructions correctly, but it turns out that it should be taken with food, not on an empty stomach. So, I stopped taking it long enough to get my stomach settled. I’ll start again today at breakfast and see how that goes.

I talked with a retired U. S. Army veteran from Oklahoma. He owns his own weed spraying equipment and was working on a railroad project around Sidney. He gave an interesting account of going from state to state for jobs since his 1997 military retirement. He said that he had not seen the extent of railroad repair projects that were being done this year, primarily because of the stimulus money. He said the crews were larger and they were removing and replacing tracks for hundreds of miles instead of doing only minor repairs. His account sounded good to me. A complete overhaul is long overdue. I was surprised to hear him say a good word about Obama.

Nebraska is a pretty state. We saw lake after lake along Interstate 80, as well as green rolling hills, cattle, corn, soybeans and wheat and a blue sky with white clouds that I believe are different than other states. I could live here. Another unique thing about Nebraska is its Rest Stops along the highway. It has one about every 30 miles. I can’t say how much I appreciated that! We spent the night in Lincoln, NE.

We will probably enter Iowa by noon or so, and I hear it’s stormy there. We’ve change our route, too. We’re staying on I-80 to Chicago, or there abouts, then taking I-65 (I think) south to Lafayette, IN. Dan, get ready for a short visit before the longer visit.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Indiana Bound – Page Three

We left Evanston, WY at 8:35 A.M. with me on an empty stomach. Doxycycline, to fight a tooth infection, must be taken on an empty stomach and I do believe that my system rejected the bottom half of my body. I was feeling better by noon.

I didn’t know today is Sunday! Dude’s Steakhouse is closed on Sunday. Crap. Yes, we drove 473 miles today to Sidney, NE and we made it by 4:55 pm, even without my ass attached. I can also say that the car’s gas mileage is great; 34.273 mpg today. But, don’t get too greedy trying to get the most miles from a tank of gas through Wyoming and Nebraska. There are stretches of 30 to 40 miles (and maybe 50) between gas stations. We were down to one notch on the fuel gage and very fortunate to find a card-activated gas pump in Kimball. The only gas station in town was closed, but the pump took my card; 13.2 gallons for a 14 gallon tank. Sheesh, that was too close.

The Great Divide got our interest today and it turns out that Interstate 80 runs along it until about the Wyoming 155 mile marker at which time it begins to climb to the top of the Divide. It peaks at 7,014 feet above sea level, according to my GPS. That’s higher than Tahoe. We were trying to coordinate our location with the map’s location for the peak when a highway sign announced our arrival, “Great Divide – 7,000 Feet,” then we began our descent Eastward. Just like that; no fanfare, no fireworks. We anticipated the moment for an hour, we knew we were close, the sign appeared, I took the GPS reading, and it was all over. I’m inclined to think The Divide is a woman. What’s the lyrics? Wham, Bam, thank you ma’am.

We’re staying the night at the America’s Best Value Inn, across the street from the closed Dude’s Steakhouse. We ate at the Oya Grill Mexican Restaurant 150 feet from our motel. The “y” in the Oya is spelled with JalapeƱo Peppers. Hope my ass is unattached again tomorrow, or I’ll be sorry.

Chrissy drove for an hour or so today and I believe that’s what made me feel better. If there’s anything that will make me forget my own problems and physical ailments, it’s Chrissy driving; especially entering Cheyenne where “Business” 80 and I-80 part ways. It was at that moment, at 75 mph and the Business 80 exit adjacent to our position, that I heard “Oh my God! I need to take that exit!” From a semi-stupor I came fully alert and yelled “NO, KEEP THE WHEEL STRAIGHT.” The moment passed and thank God my ass was not attached or… Well, there’s no need to go into those tedious cleaning details.

The sky looks bigger in Wyoming and Nebraska. The storm clouds are moving in and I hear thunder. There’s nothing like a good rain for a good night’s sleep. We’ll have steak and eggs at Dude’s in the morning.


Indiana Bound – Page Two, Part Two

The coffee is good and the people are friendly at 6:30 am in the Evanston, WY Days Inn. I’m waiting on Christine to get ready to go, so I have an hour to kill. My friend George says he spent a night at the one and only rest stop in the Salt Flats between Wendover, NV and Lake Point, UT. I don’t doubt that. One can get sleepy on that long, straight road that seems to never end. In fact, there are signs all along the road that says, “Drowsy Drivers: Pull over and rest,” or words to that effect. The signs occur at least every two miles or so… so, it is a very boring stretch of road. So, whether George finally gave up half way across the flats and was overjoyed to see that rest stop where he could let his eyes close, or whether he just said “to hell with this!” and stopped commiserate with other travelers, I’m sure he had a good night’s sleep under the Utah sky.

But, that’s behind us and we’re looking forward to a day in Wyoming and it is a beautiful state. If we were on Interstate 90, just 100 miles north, we could stop at Devils Tower made famous, at least to me, in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” starring Richard Dreyfuss. The Aliens made a secret landing, to all except a chosen few, on the mountain’s top. Speaking of secrets; today’s headlines tell of a secret CIA counterterrorism program kept secret even from Congress who is responsible for oversight of the agency. Apparently there is evidence that Vice President Cheney personally directed the CIA to hide the program from Congress because none in Congress could be trusted with a secret. Democracy didn’t serve us well in the Bush years it seems. If we don’t investigate and hold individuals responsible for their actions, Democracy will not serve us well in the future either. Democracy depends on the rule of law.

Can’t seem to escape Cheney! And, I can't seem to put it aside for a week or two!


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Indiana Bound – Page Two

After a steak and eggs breakfast we managed to leave Elko, NV behind us at about 9:30 am. Ya see? We are improving on our departure time. But, alas, we didn’t make it all the way out of Nevada without ONE MORE STOP, at Wendover on the Utah border. Awk! But, we couldn’t help it. After several cups of coffee, it was absolutely necessary. Even as my brother Dan gave me good advice about the slots, i.e., to leave them behind, stepson Marcus won out by his partially right-on prediction “you won’t be able to get out of Nevada!” Well, we finally did.

We drove straight through Utah to Evanston, Wyoming, primarily because there is nothing in Utah if you’ve already stopped in Salt Lake City. There is not a single gas station between Wendover and Lake Point, UT, approximately 150 miles. So, forgetting to gas up can be a big mistake. There is nothing between except a dried up salt lake, one microwave tower that’s been designed to look like a tree and a single rest stop. Our phones displayed five bars as we passed the microwave tower; zilch bars over the other 149.75 miles. We did pass three intersections where signs indicated civilization in towns or villages nearby, but nothing appeared on the horizon, so you couldn’t prove it by us. Take your chances.

I think after a short nap in the Evanston’s Days Inn, I’ll be ready for dinner. Maybe tomorrow we can make Sidney, Nebraska, where there is a restaurant where the finest steak dinner can be had. That’s 456 miles and a bit far for one day’s drive. We’ll see. Maybe we'll cut that down to two days just to have that steak dinner. We'll never make the reunion on time!


Indiana Bound – Page One

Well, so much for getting on our way in a big way. We left California about noon two days ago and, having left at noon, we got no farther than the Eldorado Casino-Hotel in Reno, Nevada the first day. My luck in Reno has always been nil, but we left Reno about 10:00 am Friday with an extra $80 in each of our pockets. For once, I felt no ill-will against Reno as its door hit me on the butt on my way out. We also left Reno thinking we could drive to Salt Lake City by dinner time. Not true. Nevada is using the stimulus money heavily on highway repair projects that reduce the number of lanes on I-80 to a single east bound lane in several long stretches of the highway where the average speed is 30-40 mph. So, we made it to Elko by 5:00 pm and decided that the next city was too far to drive and satisfy our dinner-time needs. (Sorry, Diane. When we talked on the phone and I told you we were close to Elko. I guess we were not. We were going 20 mph at the time and we didn’t arrive at Elko until 1 ½ hours later.) Chris, who is always good at finding good deals, called around for a reasonably priced room and we settled for The Stockmen Hotel/Casino. So, with the opportunity to win more at the slots, I soon dropped at least $100, maybe more.

So, my plan for this morning is to get the hell out of Nevada without, hopefully, losing any more money. It is 7:00 am as I type this, so it looks like we are going to get an early start. Assuming we are able to navigate through the stimulus projects quickly, maybe we’ll be in Wyoming by this evening.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

President Al Gore

Can you imagine where America would be today if Al Gore had won the Supreme Court battle, and the election in 2000? Well, we could have a Republican President today instead of President Obama, which would be disastrous, but life, in general, would probably be a lot better.

The huge tax cut President Bush gave to the rich would likely not have happened, so perhaps we would have had a huge surplus instead of so much debt. The Iraq War would not have happened, further supporting a surplus instead of debt. Perhaps the Afghanistan War would not have happened the way it did. Perhaps other middle-eastern countries would be controlling the Taliban instead of the U.S., which in turn would not have required us to spend so much on that war. So, we can say to a large degree of probability that we would have been much better prepared to head off the devastating effects of the recession financially.

Al Gore is and was a leader in Green Energy, even way back in the 1990s, so perhaps we would have been much farther down the road to conversion to renewable energies than we are now. Thomas Freidman in his July 4th Editorial, “Can I Clean Your Clock? makes a great point; China is on the move to lead the Green Technology revolution. We are way behind already; eight years behind. China doesn’t need to rely on a Congress to implement Green Technology. All it needs to do is to order it done, and it starts happening. In that regard, democracy hurts us because people like Representatives Boehner (Ohio) and Braun (Georgia) can stand up in front of the House of Representatives and talk others out of supporting the Clean Energy Bill, or water it down or delaying its passing and forcing others in Congress into making deals that costs billions to get the bill passed. Boehner and Braun and others like them carry the water for the oil industry, including Saudi Arabia and other oil producers, who lobby with lots of money to give to keep the status quo. They are voting against America, not for it.

How would have President Gore handle the financial meltdown? It is overwhelming opinion of economists that Obama’s current method is fundamentally right; to meet the recession and to avoid depression with huge influx of cash. That part of it would not have changed and even Secretary Paulson under President Bush finally came to that conclusion and implemented the TARP. Perhaps a Gore Administration could have left a new president a much more fiscally sound government than George Bush left President Obama. Perhaps the housing meltdown could have been foreseen and avoided much earlier than it was. Perhaps the toxic derivatives would have been lessened or avoided entirely and those companies that collapsed into bankruptcy would not have collapsed. But, some very brainy people missed it, so we’ll never know.

What about healthcare? Would President Gore have tackled that thorny issue? I believe he would have because there is no doubt that healthcare in the United States is simply out of sight. We already have no choice of doctor; we are forced to pick the cheapest policy. The uninsured go to the doctor who treats them, not to one of their choice. We already experience long lines unless we can afford, and so few can, better access. We are already controlled not by a government program but because of the lack of a government program.

President Bush’s legacy won’t only be the Iraq War, but complete failure of his administration in all aspects of American life. Like all of his jobs in his life, he failed as a President too.