25 May 2004
It's time to play Map That Route

World Tour '04 begins around 5 July, and unlike its predecessors, it is not designed to land in New Jersey halfway through; it's not that I'm turning my back, or my trunk lid, on the Garden State, but this year I need to do something a little bit different.

There are basically two goals for the Tour this year: to see if Dave has been pulling my chain all these years about the Great MT North, and to avoid going through Denver at any cost. Neither of these should be especially difficult. I'm envisioning a straight shot into Nebraska, following the river into Wyoming, and then tacking along whatever diagonals I can find; the return trip will probably be I-94 east to Fargo and I-29 south to KC, lest the kids feel neglected.

This will fill in a minimum of five states on my Already Visited map, leaving only nine or so to go; I could probably manage one or two more, but given the price of fuel these days, I'd just as soon not flirt with penury any more than is absolutely necessary.

(Update, 7:45 pm: Susanna Cornett [be still, my heart] is making noises about a road trip, though our paths likely won't cross. You'd think she'd at least want to see a city whose mayor is named Cornett. [Okay, that's still enough. Sheesh.])

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 AM)
1 July 2004
The official WT04 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 5 July, and continues for a bit more than two weeks.

What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you're not leaving the States or anything?

Two things: it's awfully damned long, and much of it is through unfamiliar territory.

How long is "awfully damned long"?

The first three of these jaunts averaged about 4600 miles; this one will be slightly shorter, but still around the 4000-mile range.

You've done this three times before. Why do it again?

Because I can. More to the point, it's good for me to get out of town, and it's good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.

Will you be blogging every day?

That's the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001, 2002 and 2003.

What's the shape of this year's route?

Roughly triangular; the two vertices (I live, of course, at the third) will be Great Falls, Montana and Fargo, North Dakota, which are around a thousand miles apart, but more than a thousand miles from me.

Any unusual destinations along the way?

What on earth does that mean?

You know perfectly well what I mean.

Aren't you supposed to phrase this in the form of a question?

But no, I'm not looking for venues to go, um, skyclad. At least, not specifically.

Is there any chance you'll say "Screw it" and not go home?

I'll certainly go home — unless an opportunity arises that makes it unnecessary to go back to work, in which case all bets are off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:36 PM)
5 July 2004
Plain but not simple

Colby, Kansas — 423.7 miles

When George Nigh was Governor of Oklahoma, he envisioned a Northwest Passage, a road that would carry people from the capital all the way into the Panhandle. The question of whether anyone actually wanted to go to the Panhandle for some reason never came up.

But unwilling to do the usual I-35/I-70 two-step on the way into Kansas, I decided to see just what sort of road we wound up with, and it's actually not so bad, though it's a bit confusing when two or three US routes (plus Oklahoma 3, which was the original northwest-to-southeast route) are signed on the same darn road. There's lots of time to think about it, though, because there aren't any distractions by the side of the road. Cattle, crops, more cattle, the occasional natural-gas pipeline — this is it through the rolling hills of the High Plains. Until, of course, you get to Kansas and they stop rolling.

Some might consider this landscape sort of bleak, its colors muted almost to greyscale, the sort of Kansas that Dorothy Gale wanted to escape. And indeed, this is where you'll find Dorothy's house, in the grimy industrial burg of Liberal.

And as a city slicker, sort of, and in the absence of Star Trek-style replicators, it's useful for me to remember that if it weren't for people working in those fields, I wouldn't get dinner tonight. It will be a long time before places like this look suburban, and the transition won't be a smooth one; the Burger King in Woodward, Oklahoma sits literally in the shadow of a grain elevator.

Bumper sticker on an 18-wheeler near Watonga, Oklahoma: I WANT TO BE LIKE BARBIE. THAT BITCH HAS EVERYTHING.

And as I passed Poky Feeders in Scott City, Kansas, I admit it: I yelled "Eat, dammit, eat!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
6 July 2004
Not bluffing

Scottsbluff, Nebraska — 733.7 miles

First, the nomenclature:

Scottsbluff, the town: one word.

Scotts Bluff, the county or, well, the Bluff: two words.

I'm sure everyone here has already mastered these fine details. (Duh.)

And who the hell was Scott? His first name was Hiram, he worked for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and they found his remains in the vicinity back in 1829.

I was beginning to think someone would have to find my remains today. In an effort to throw some variety into this year's version of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, I took off into Colorado and threaded my way up US 385, a road which for years has jumped out at me from the maps and yelled "Aren't you wondering why there's nothing here?" Well, it's not nothing, but through northeastern Colorado and the Nebraska Panhandle, it's not much either. I can understand why towns like Burlington and Julesburg insisted on the alignments they did, so that unless you're a local and know the tricks you have to take the business route through town; small towns need all the help they can get these days. On the other hand, the perfectly charming little town of Wray didn't pull this stunt, but its toad-in-the-hole topography makes it impossible to miss anyway.

And 385 does go somewhere: Rapid City. But not very rapidly, I'm sure.

I'd have to check the maps to see how many times I crossed back and forth between Central and Mountain time today. Lunch wound up being at 1:30 Mountain; props to Shari's, apparently a popular Northwest chain but one which I've never seen before. It seems that Scottsbluff is their farthest-East outpost. If only there'd been a Shari's when Hiram Scott came through — but never mind.

(Time posted is in Central, mostly because I'm really too lazy to keep changing it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:51 PM)
7 July 2004
Wyoming around

Sheridan, Wyoming — 1096.8 miles

Let's hear it for fossil fuels.

I've never seen so many trains in my life, and while some of them are hauling farm implements on flatcars, or boxcars full of grain, most of what I've seen has been hoppers of coal. And since US 26, my route out of Nebraska, runs parallel to the tracks, I got to see plenty of them on the way. (Back home, of course, the predominant fuel for power plants is natural gas, and some of us actually pay for that renewable wind stuff, but out here, if coal isn't king, it's at least the ten of clubs.)

Wyoming is remarkable, anyway: it's quite a bit larger than Oklahoma, but has fewer people than Oklahoma City. And it's almost the same shape as its license plates. (As is Colorado, but let that pass.) Towns tend to be few and far between, which explains much why I paid two bucks a gallon for 88 octane in the hamlet of Kaycee, a long way from Jay Em and indeed a long way from anywhere, but a spiffy sort of place if you have any peripheral interest in the Old West.

Sheridan, of course, positions itself as a tourist trap, but besides its gateway status, it has lots of neat stuff, including an actual Bucky Fuller-style geodesic dome, not unlike (but in better shape than) the one along 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. And for those of us who get entirely too much thrill sliding along two-lane roads barely glued to the mountainside, there's US 14 to the east.

An actual case of too much thrill came on I-90 earlier, though: a bit of dicing among two pickups, two eighteen-wheelers, and yours truly, trying to make enough holes for everyone at 85 mph, when up comes the reason for the bottleneck. It was a pickup from a beer distributor, hazards flashing, doing 45 at the outside, and as I passed too close I found out why: the Fates, a passing truck, or incredible bad luck had dropped something into the windshield heavy enough to have turned it into glass fabric, with barely enough adhesion left to keep it from blowing into the poor fellow's face. Rule One under these conditions, of course, is "Get away from the hazard," so I sped up and disappeared into the distance. Those of you who know my car know that it's a modest little sedan with an engine displacing a mere 1991 cubic centimeters; if you're curious, second gear at 87 mph does not reach redline.

(Hmmm. Maybe I should have called this "Two Liters Across America.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
8 July 2004
Way up north

Great Falls, Montana — 1509.2 miles

I was hoisting a couple in Scooter's last night, and a chap from Yukon, Oklahoma (!) who knew this part of the world well advised me that I-90 was about as unattractive a route as one could find in Montana.

Which, of course, it is, but this is true of Interstates in general; Charles Kuralt once noted that thanks to the Interstate system, it is now possible to drive from coast to coast without seeing anything. Still, I-90 got me to Billings, which is a sort of neat town, though you'd never know it if all you had to go by was the view from I-90. (Tulsa has a similar problem, and Oklahoma City, pace Bobby Troup, isn't at all "mighty pretty" from the highway.)

Fortunately, there was a two-lane to take the bad taste of I-90 out of my mouth; in fact, the roller-coaster ride that is US 89 through the Lewis and Clark National Forest managed to leave me fairly gasping for breath. Apart from the wild variations in altitude — Big Baldy Mountain, which one gets to circumnavigate, or graze, or something, climbs to a lofty 9100 feet — there's the classic mix of tight turns, narrow roadway, and theoretical high speed limit. Add to this Belt Creek, which runs (and runs fast) along the side of the road, giving you something to drown in when you fail to make the curve, and the occasional roadside memorial as a reminder, and you've got the makings of some serious scare. If anything, I owe the guy in front of me in the F-250 with the camper shell; he was going through these with surprisingly little difficulty for a big, tall, tippy truck, and the need to keep my distance prevented me from taking curves posted at 45 mph faster than 60.

Thank you. I'll be here through Friday night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:59 PM)
Entering the Dave Zone

So what's it like to run into the likes of me?

Something like this.

(Personal to V.: He's sane, but he's not obsessive about it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 PM)
9 July 2004
Really good falls

I don't know if I'd call them Great Falls, but the Missouri River, splashing through town, is definitely gravity-driven, and Lewis and Clark were by all accounts duly impressed, and these days Montanans revere Lewis and Clark.

I'd also assume they're somewhat fond of gambling. Steakhouses have slots; service stations have slots. On the assumption that Dave Thomas would never have countenanced such a thing, I peeked into a Wendy's, and found no slots. I did, however, find a birthday party for a ponytailed young lady, and a small convocation of Christian bikers.

And really, this juxtaposition fits perfectly into Western tradition, where what you did was more important than who your relatives were, and while the West is no longer quite as Wild as it used to be, you can still see traces of its wildness, even in a meticulously-neat town like Great Falls, planned by Paris Gibson in an orderly, almost Minnesota-like fashion. It surprised me not at all to find that Mr Gibson originally hailed from St Paul.

The other towering figure in local history was Charles M. Russell, who came to Montana from St Louis, Missouri, consumed with the idea of becoming a cowboy. A good cowhand, he became a superlative artist, documenting the last days of the Old West right up until his death in 1926. His Great Falls home and studio are still standing, as part of a C. M. Russell Museum complex.

One of the first things I noticed when I got here was the Maple Leaf flying on the fourth flagpole at the hotel. Canada is actually pretty close by — less than 120 miles up Interstate 15 — and I'll be approaching the border more closely during the next couple of days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:38 PM)
10 July 2004
Out of the mountains

Williston, North Dakota — 1972.3 miles

When they assigned so-called "US" highway numbers back in the Jurassic period, east-west routes got even numbers, and the numbers increased north to south. Highway 2, therefore — there is no "US 0" — would presumably be the farthest north, and generally it is; the western leg of US 2, which runs 2100-odd miles from Everett, Washington into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is pretty close to the 49th parallel. Which gave me an idea: since the major failing of "oldies" stations is the overfamiliar playlist, I opted to track down a Canadian station, assuming that Canadian content rules would at least expose me to some hitherto unknown tunes. And it worked, to some extent: for instance, I'd heard of Edward Bear — their "Last Song" was a big hit in the US in 1972 — but I'd missed "Masquerade," an earlier song that had made chart noises in Canada but not down here. While I might disagree with the premise philosophically, today I was a fan of Canadian Content, and thank you, CHAB, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Almost a third of those miles on US 2 are in Montana; in fact, the last milepost in the state is Mile 667. If there's a post for Mile 666, I didn't see it, and believe me, I looked.

I did see, however, some signs touting a highway-improvement measure billed as "4 for 2," which would expand US 2 to a four-lane road. Not being a Montana resident, I couldn't tell you whether this is a good idea or a bad one, but traffic this Saturday didn't come close to filling the two lanes that exist.

And then back into Central Time and into the spiffiest hotel in Williston, North Dakota. It's small but cozy, and what's more, it has a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
11 July 2004
Against the grain

Jamestown, North Dakota — 2337.3 miles

Around the end of May I made some noise about someday driving US 52, an odd diagonal route that slashes across the States 45 degrees out of phase. One end of it is in downtown Charleston, South Carolina: in fact, I used to catch the bus after school from where 52 (which was Meeting Street) crossed Calhoun Street. I've driven it as far north as Florence, which isn't any great shakes, but now I've seen the other end, which is on the Canadian border, separating the town of Portal, North Dakota from the town of North Portal, Saskatchewan. There's not much on this side of the border crossing, and there was no activity this Sunday morning. On the other hand, it didn't look like a really good idea to be seen taking pictures of a border crossing, lest Tom Ridge have to dig into his box of Crayolas.

52 angles southeastward through Minot and joins I-94 at Jamestown, which boasts, among other things, the World's Largest Buffalo, constructed in 1959 for some sort of bisontennial celebration. What I didn't find around here was any mention of someone I assumed would have at least some sort of shrine downtown, the late Norma Deloris Egstrom, who reminds you that chicks were born to give you fever, be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade.

And speaking of the latter, of course Canadian radio gives the specifics of the weather report in the metric system; it was a chilly 12 in Estevan this morning, while over here in North Dakota it was an equally chilly 54 following a brief early-morning thunderstorm.

The definition of "early," I suppose, is flexible: sunrise is about 6:10 am in these parts this time of year, about fifteen minutes earlier than what I'm used to. On the other hand, sunset isn't until almost 10 pm.

And if Montana is sporadically wild and woolly, North Dakota is placid. To those people who demand excitement in their lives, it might even be soporific. But I looked at those mostly-green fields today and I found myself wondering: what is it with these people who want to live their lives in some sort of rabid rabbit warren, right on top of one another, constantly on the move? Maybe I'm just getting older, but right now I can appreciate the virtues of a place which isn't going to grow 40 percent — maybe not even 4 percent — in the next twenty years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:45 PM)
12 July 2004
A river runs through it

Fargo, North Dakota — 2628.0 miles

A Red river at that, and while those of us who occupy the southern tier of the Plains insist that our river is the truly Red one — see, that Oklahoma clay is good for something! — the Red River of the North isn't some somnolent stream that winds its way between North Dakota and Minnesota because it doesn't have anything better to do. And while it seemed calm enough today, it wasn't so long ago that the city of Grand Forks had it up to here with the Red River.

I remembered the news coverage back in '97, but I had to see for myself: when the river crested at 54 feet — flood stage is a mere 26 feet — did it destroy the heart, the soul, of the city?

No way, Don José. Seven years after the fact, Grand Forks is glorious and, well, grand; I made just enough wrong turns through town to see quite a bit of the place, and it's clean, green, and (I hope) prepared for the next Flood of the Century. And as I passed over a bridge into Minnesota, I glanced down into that still, silent water and thought, "Sneaky bastard."

Upstream in Fargo (the Red flows north, ending up in Lake Winnipeg), things weren't quite so bad. But the biggest little city in North Dakota was already in the process of reinventing itself. As James Lileks once said:

[A] funny thing happened to Fargo during the 1980s and '90s — the area started booming and never found a reason to stop. As the rest of North Dakota emptied out, people came to Fargo for the clean-fingernails jobs: insurance, hospitals, banking.

And to support them, a lot of fingernails were, and are, getting seriously soiled doing major construction. I have yet to see more than a small fraction of the city so far, but I had Lileks' article in mind as I crossed through town, and he's not at all kidding about the boom: there is so much activity in so many places you could almost sell this town as the home version of Faust. (Add your own blast of demented, tormented heat.)

Does this make Lileks the Midwestern Mephistopheles? Probably not. But note: friends and neighbors in the Okay City plan weekends in Branson, excursions to Vegas, trips to Padre. I spend half a week in North Freaking Dakota. And frankly, I think I'm getting the better end of the deal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:46 PM)
Thanks, I'll eat it here

Two words: Famous Dave's.

Although to avoid situations like this, I directed all my remarks to a large, burly gentleman.

(There's one in Tulsa now. Surely it's just a matter of time....)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 PM)
13 July 2004
At the very edge of civilization

Tom Isern is a professor of history at North Dakota State University, a couple of miles from my temporary perch in Fargo, and basically, he's had it up to here with doomsayers:

North Dakota now holds in eastern perceptions the position held by Kansas in the 1890s and Oklahoma in the 1930s — a gray place on the plains abandoned by anyone with any youth or gumption left. I get calls from reporters all the time (the last one was from Japan) asking where they can go to find the most human tragedy in the least amount of time and space. They have their lists of things to cover: abandoned churches and schools, dusty main streets with stores boarded up (preferably with a yellow dog lying about), old people reminiscing about the good old days, young people complaining there's nothing to do here.

The writers also all have their pat explanations for regional decline — big farm machinery, fast cars, harsh climate. They are strong on description, but their explanations are clueless.

Not that it would ever occur to me to tell you that North Dakota is doomed. Yes, the rural areas of the state are declining in population; the same thing is happening in most of the other forty-nine. And while it's very easy to issue romanticized pronouncements about the family farm, the fact is, we don't need millions of folks to work those farms anymore; what determines the quantity of farm production these days is not the number of available field hands, but the unsteady balance of market economics and government subsidies.

And I don't believe for a moment that having a population of ten per square mile, as North Dakota does, is some sort of tragedy. (Oklahoma has around fifty; factor out the two largest metro areas and the figure drops into the twenties, with Lawton, about the same size as Fargo, as the largest remaining city.) Maybe it's inevitable that a place called the Peace Garden State is going to be rather sparsely populated. But I figure that the people who live here are ingenious enough to keep themselves afloat; after all, they manage to get by without voter registration just fine, and this is the sort of independent streak that usually means a finely-tuned survival instinct.

I talked to at least half a dozen Fargonians (if that's the term) today, generally with kind words for the place, and always with the qualifier: "Of course, this is July. Had I arrived in February, I might think different." All of them understood, but none took umbrage, and the general impression I got was "Yeah, we have horrible winters, but so what else is new?" Not that Oklahoma in February is particularly wonderful. And given the delights of a July in Fargo — people are all over the place, while back home in the Okay City everyone is indoors cranking up the air conditioning — it might be worth enduring that February. It is, after all, three days shorter. Usually.

When Dave left Oklahoma for Montana, he didn't announce that he was never coming back. But once he got into the Great Falls groove, living anywhere else just seemed, well, silly. I saw some of that during my brief stay in Montana; I'm seeing the same sort of thing in North Dakota. Not everyone can live here — not everyone should live here, perhaps — but the place has its rewards, if you know how to look for them.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times evidently doesn't:

It sounds cruel to say so, but towns like Rawson are a reminder that the oversettlement of the Great Plains has turned out to be a 150-year-long mistake, one of the longest-running and most costly errors in American history.

Ten per square mile — a figure which has remained more or less constant for more than half of those 150 years — doesn't constitute anything resembling "oversettlement."

What Kristof wants, as it turns out, is the Buffalo Commons, the entirety of the Great Plains turned into a giant theme park, a vacationland for lawyers in love. If Bismarck and Pierre and Helena don't sneer at this, well, they should. Tom Isern does:

At the heart of this consensus is the conviction that human civilization has failed on the plains. People failed, and they left. This leads to a logical conclusion: the plains are empty of people whose wishes need be taken into consideration. The region is a frontier again, a place in need of a plan. So all sorts of people from distant places propose their plans.

Me, I like North Dakota just the way it is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:29 PM)
14 July 2004
And even more Dakota

Pierre, South Dakota — 3026.9 miles

Which, I hasten to add, is pronounced "Peer"; I was sufficiently proud of myself for remembering this at the South Dakota tourist-info booth that it didn't occur to me to check the pronunciation of towns like Watertown. (Hey, you never know.)

The transition between the Dakotas is not abrupt. In eastern South Dakota, farmland predominates, while ranching rules in the West, pretty much the way it is in North Dakota. This far south, the line of demarcation is somewhere along the Missouri River, which is about half a mile from where I'm parked right now. The city of Pierre is built more or less onto the side of a hill overlooking the river, and some of these streets are seriously steep. Outside the city, it looks like the sort of place where they'd film Dances with Wolves, which in fact it is.

Rest areas cost money, and roadside parks usually have just a couple of picnic tables and a trash can. South Dakota splits the difference by equipping roadside parks with actual outhouses. To the extent that an outhouse can be said to be up-to-date, these are; there are proper seats, and someone comes by once in a while to install a new roll of paper. I didn't attempt to measure the, um, drop distance, but it's considerable.

Speaking of drop, the official elevation at Pierre is 1490 feet, which is quite a bit lower than I'd anticipated, what with the Badlands being just beyond the river and all, but still 600 feet higher than Fargo (and 250 feet higher than Oklahoma City). This hotel has a couple of curiosities: hot tubs in some upstairs rooms, and Internet access via the AC power lines. And what would life be without curiosities?

Weird Radio Promo: KPFX-FM in Fargo-Moorhead, imaging as "The Fox," does a commercial-free hour with no DJ announcements weekdays from 9 to 10 am, during which time they, um, Shut The Fox Up. (Of course, they did say that three or four times.)

And it's "Watertown," just like it looks, in case you were wondering.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:10 PM)
15 July 2004
Verily, upon the cusp

North Sioux City, South Dakota — 3334.1 miles

I got your Tri-State Area right here, pal: while Sioux City (airport symbol SUX) is in the northwest corner of Iowa, North Sioux City is in South Dakota — and South Sioux City is in Nebraska.

This means, of course, that I've been in South Dakota all day, and of course I have tales to tell.

Last night I was in Pierre, a pleasant-enough town on one side of the Missouri River, in the Central time zone. This morning's first few miles brought me to Fort Pierre, a pleasant-enough town on the other side of the Missouri River, in the Mountain time zone.

And one of the more interesting stories about this area that does not relate in any way to Lewis and Clark comes from Fort Pierre. Back in 1743, two brothers, Chevalier and Louis la Verendrye, chatted up the natives and informed them of their desire to commemorate the event by burying a lead tablet containing the details of their meeting. The natives couldn't read French, so they had no way of knowing that the Verendrye brothers were actually claiming the area in the name of Louis XV of France, and indeed this area was included in the Louisiana Purchase, the deal between the French and the nascent United States sixty years later.

In 1913, the plate was dug up, apparently quite accidentally, by local students; it's now in the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center across the river in Pierre. A small monument to the Verendryes stands on the hill overlooking Fort Pierre where the plate had been buried; French diplomacy, you may be assured, continues in the same tradition.

I was somewhat put off by the discovery that interspersed among the Wall Drug signs by the roadside were signs advertising the Wall Drug Web site. Somehow it's not the same, unless they've figured out how to make ice water downloadable.

On the subject of radio advertising, I note with some bemusement that Tom Daschle's political spots are paid for by "A Lot of People Supporting Tom Daschle Committee," which, while very probably true, sounds even sillier than it looks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:27 PM)
16 July 2004
Westward movement

Independence, Missouri — 3689.2 miles

Actually, my movement today was more or less southerly. What moved was a teensy star break near the right edge of the windshield, the result of a bit of flying debris somewhere in Wyoming. Inasmuch as it exactly resembled the last one of these I got, three years ago, I opted to leave it alone and have it fixed when I got home.

Bad mistake. This morning the little so-and-so waited until I was safely out of town and tried to expand on its little asterisk of destruction. There was nowhere to go on the right side, so it started spreading leftward. By the time I'd done 30 miles, it had grown to two inches; by 75, it was fully a third of the way across the glass.

Inasmuch as the break is not yet within my line of sight, I'm not really upset, but I'm going to have to pony up for some new glass. First estimate I got was about 60 percent of my insurance deductible.

That aside, US 75 south of Sioux City is a good low-level thrill ride, at least until you've passed the two reservations. I wandered onto Omaha's north side, which offered an unexpected historical reference: a house on Pinkney just west of the Belt Line Railway turns out to be the birthplace of Malcolm X. And after days of gawking at babes of Scandinavian extraction, it's probably about time I shifted back into a more, um, diverse mindset. Omaha's west side, your basic suburban sprawl writ large, completed the task, although getting there required me to run through midtown, where I noted the presence of a pavilion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center bearing the inspirational name Storz.

And from there into Kansas City, where none of the streets actually go anywhere but it's so damned much fun to drive. Or would be, if you didn't have to share those streets with all those other drivers. And they're probably still out there, long after I've checked into a room for the night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 PM)
17 July 2004
Surrounded by youngsters

Which is an improvement over last night's hotel room, which was perfectly nice except for its utter lack of air conditioning: it would work for half an hour or so, and then trip the circuit breaker, which prompted a call to the front desk, who dispatched someone to look at the system, after which it would work for half an hour or so, and — well, you get the idea. This wouldn't have been an issue, perhaps, except that the room opened out into the pool area, which means that humidity seemed to be somewhere in the 140-percent range. Nice place, but a tad disorganized; I will look elsewhere next time I need a room in this part of the world.

And for the next night or two, I'm crashing at my daughter's place; during this time, I will look over some of her more outrageous wedding plans, observe my son's band (which practices in her garage) in action, and reacquaint myself with the grandchildren. (As the saying goes, had I known how much fun the grandkids would be, I'd have had them first.)

The crack in the windshield has turned slightly northward, which may or may not mean it's going to stop creeping toward the driver's side. At any rate, I'm not going to have it looked at here; I would be most annoyed if I replaced the windshield and then caught some stray gravel during the last few miles home.

Did I mention my son has a band? Minus their vocalist, who's out with some unspecified ailment, they're making some serious semi-metallic noises as I type. (I don't think they're quite ready to be compared with Metallica or anything, but then they've never sued a download service either.) And it's eerily quiet when they stop.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:03 PM)
18 July 2004
In the Forbidden Zone

I've traveled to forty-two states and a handful of foreign countries; I've driven enough miles to reach half a dozen times around the world. Even in the cases where I can't say "Done that," I can still often say "Been there." But nothing between here or there can prepare the unsuspecting male — and I suspect less than most — for a hall of mirrors, lined with organza, fueled by estrogen.

I refer, of course, to the bridal salon.

For some inscrutable reason, my daughter wanted some input from me in the process of selecting her wedding dress. Inasmuch as her mom was already booked for this task, I definitely felt like the third wheel on this particular axle, but far be it from me to shy away from a Parental Duty, even one for which I am ill-prepared. Interestingly, the ex and I were in almost total agreement on the four gowns being tried, which surely is a first. (There was a disagreement on the tiara, however.) And I was at least possessed of enough presence of mind not to yell things like "Six hundred dollars for this?"

No matter. In the best of all possible worlds — and in the weird wonderland of weddings, that's the only world that's permitted to exist — all brides are beautiful, and all brides are entitled to look like a storybook heroine. And after a bit over an hour of Deep Immersion, I'm inclined to think that the bridal salon, in its dedication to these premises, is probably doing us a favor, albeit a short-lived one: if today is, as the phrase goes, the first day of the rest of your life, why not look like a fairy princess for that day? Real Life™ will intrude soon enough.

It will start intruding on me again rather quickly; barring catastrophe, I should be home late tomorrow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
19 July 2004
Enough already

Dustbury, Oklahoma — 4088.0 miles

For a trip that was supposed to be a couple days shorter, it certainly didn't seem like it; then again, it's usually about day 14 or 15 when the serious fatigue starts to set in, and, well, this was day 15. And while it's certainly a good thing that Oklahoma is actually fixing some of the more heinous sections of I-35, it's also the sort of thing that slows one down on the way home.

Still, I can't complain. Apart from the windshield (still unfixed) and some small items for the kids, this trip cost a mere $1575, about two-thirds of last year's tab despite markedly-higher fuel prices.

This year's data:

Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 139.0
Fuel consumption, in miles per gallon: 29.5
Worst tank, in mpg: 27.4
Best tank, in mpg: 31.7
Fastest speed attained, in miles per hour: 91
Number of emails accumulated: 855
Number of which I actually had some reason to read: 126

And no Toll Report: I didn't spend one dime on toll roads this year.

I would like to acknowledge the kind participation of the following:

Dynamo Dave Sherman, my guide to the Treasure State and a treasure in his own right;

Gate City Bank, West Fargo, North Dakota;

Wash Tub Laundry, Vermillion, South Dakota;

River City Glass and Mirror, Omaha, Nebraska;

Fate Unknown, Jackson County, Missouri.

And to the next generations — Rebecca, Rob and Nick; Russell, Alicia and Laney — lots of love, and thanks for putting up with the old man.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled tedium.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 PM)
22 July 2004
Road not found



I shot this on South Dakota Highway 44, and if it's not the middle of nowhere, well, who can tell?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:53 PM)
27 July 2004
Far as the eye can see

Right off River Drive

I don't want to give you the impression that there's nothing between here and the Canadian border or anything, but this was the actual view from my hotel room in North Sioux City, South Dakota.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
28 July 2004
Verendrye through tomorrow

Verendrye Monument

Commemorating explorers Chevalier and Louis la Verendrye, this tablet stands on a hill overlooking Fort Pierre, South Dakota. The complete inscription:

HERE ON MARCH 30, 1743 THE VERENDRYES BURIED A LEAD TABLET TO CLAIM THIS REGION FOR FRANCE. THIS TABLET FOUND ON FEB. 16, 1913, IS THE FIRST WRITTEN RECORD OF THE VISIT OF WHITE MEN TO SOUTH DAKOTA.

ERECTED BY STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND FT. PIERRE COMMERCIAL CLUB 1933

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 PM)
30 July 2004
In the distance, more distance

Out on US 385

Too much vegetation for Mars, and besides there's that big slab of something in the foreground; it must be US 385 in eastern Colorado.

The black, snaky substance on the road is the ever-popular temporary patch known to some of us as "I Can't Believe It's Not Tar." I think. I wasn't going to get close enough to it to find out, especially with trucks whizzing by every, oh, twenty minutes or so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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