Shoop Shoop Dept.: "It's in his kiss," argues Betty Everett, and Siobhan defines "it": "[W]hen I kiss him, the floor disappears."
I'm not counting on it, but just maybe there will be some air I can walk on somewhere along the route of the World Tour. And when I get back, there will undoubtedly be six hundred units of spammage cluttering up my mailbox. If you absolutely, positively need to send me email between now and When It All Ends and, more important, if you expect any kind of answer during that period the box to use is worldtour-at-windowphobe.com.
During the Tour, updates to the log will be written daily and posted when I get a chance. Many hotels, at least above the "Daily and Hourly Rates" tier, now offer a place to plug in a modem, so I expect I will have at least some opportunity to keep the site semi-current. Nearly half a century ago, Kayser hosiery advertising used to say things like "You owe it to your audience," a phrase I will keep in mind during those periods when I'm not imagining someone nearly half a century old in (or possibly out of) Kayser hosiery.
Independence, Missouri 397.0 miles
I don't know what the guys pushing NAFTA think about this, but Interstate 35, the road that's supposed to make moving stuff from Oaxaca to Winnipeg easy, is a major disaster north of Emporia, Kansas; apparently it's so bad that they're having to redo the traffic lanes from the road bed up. Of course, Kansas actually has money to fix roads, which is more than I can say for the state I left this morning.
Speaking of Oklahoma, both it and Texas claim to be the very cradle of the oil industry, perhaps because no one bothers to point out that oil was discovered in Kansas before the Civil War Between The States For Southern Independence. (The things one learns at the Kansas Oil Museum.)
Tomorrow, with apologies to S. J. Perelman: Eastward HA!
Terre Haute, Indiana 788.6 miles
Of course, the real story here is this: I was actually born in Illinois. In Lake County, north of Chicago, that toddlin' town. The family relocated before I ever started to toddle. So this is the first time in over 45 years that I've set foot (and I did get out of the car twice) in Illinois for reasons that did not involve changing planes.
Dinner last night with the kids at a microbrewery. As the ostensible adult (yeah, right), I reserved the right to sample one of the brewskis, and it was decent enough. I do not believe that this contributed to my way-drowsy state through half of Missouri. (God bless Led Zeppelin; I was nicely awake well before St. Louis.)
So far, Sandy has dealt with this onslaught of miles with alacrity; with the cruise control kicked in, she doggedly holds to within 1 mph of the chosen speed, even if she has to downshift to second to make it all the way up the hill. At 72 mph, she settles into a nice, placid groove, interrupted only by road construction (of which I've seen a bunch) and the occasional member of the Anti-Destination League. Unfortunately, once I was across the Mississippi, the posted speed limit dropped to 65, so I had to come reasonably close to following suit. So far, she has sipped one gallon of the 87-octane stuff for every 29 miles, better than I expected and just above the claim on the new-car sticker.
Oddities along the way: I passed a tow truck hauling a grey school bus. No, not a school bus, as it turned out; the vehicle, per its painted indicia, belonged to the Missouri Department of Corrections. There almost has to be a story there. And somewhere near Effingham, Illinois, I spotted a tractor/trailer rig bearing the logo of Xerox. Right behind it was (yes!) another one.
Brunswick, Ohio 1212.2 miles
Oh, I know Drew Carey says so, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is happy to hammer the point home, but if you ask me, Cleveland would rock without either of these Famed Entities.
For one thing, despite a sagging Rust Belt economy (LTV, teetering on bankruptcy, closed a steel plant last week, and that's just one example), this town seems to be utterly devoid of dislikable people. The cops were called in today to direct traffic on East 9th Street; not only was the Hall open late, as usual on Wednesday, but the Huntington Cleveland Harborfest began today with the Parade of Sails, seventeen classic "tall ships" in a four-mile formation starting from near downtown. Obviously the men (and women) in blue would have had an easier time of it had they not had to deal with some clueless shlub from way out of state who arrived at the worst possible time. But not a frown in the bunch, from the harbor all the way past Jacobs Field. No one seemed particularly upset that I decided to see the other side of town, threading my way through some industrial zones that Dante obviously missed; and if anyone developed road rage from watching me negotiate the twists and turns of both surface streets and freeways including a hyperstrict observance of the speed limit through the couple of hundred yards of America's most notorious speed trap they were kind enough not to lean on their horns. Now it could be, I suppose, an effects of distraction by the $40-million-plus lottery jackpot, but I don't think so. I got regularly assigned, um, roommates from Ohio when I was in the Army, and every last one of them was someone worth knowing. Even the ones from the opposite corner of the state.
Or, to borrow a phrase that Alan Freed might have appreciated, Cleveland rocks. I might even go so far to say that Cleveland rules.
Tomorrow: Lost in Penn's Woods
Jamesburg, New Jersey 1686.9 miles
Normally I shy away from toll roads. On the other hand, sometimes they happen to be going the same way I am, which is how I ended up spending most of the day on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
An "easy drive", I was told. Well, some of it is. But the first 160 or so miles could pass for a carnival ride. This road swoops and dives and curls and doubles back on itself so often you wonder if maybe you've gotten on the ramp to a Möbius strip. And that doesn't even include the opportunities to plunge literally into the side of a mountain. After four of these, I was ready to start lobbying Congress for a claustrophobia-care bill. I guess if you've driven this all your life, it really is easy. Me, I stopped shaking about the time I crossed the Delaware River which, of course, put me onto the New Jersey Turnpike.
The weather, to my utter amazement, is cooperating; I haven't gone into Full Summer Sweat mode since I left Terre Haute.
Tomorrow is a no-driving day, and believe me, I need it. Sunday I will resume the course, but for now, it's time to relax a bit and confront a whole lot of imaginary demons.
Still in New Jersey
After last night, it's difficult to be sure whether I'm drinking too much or not drinking enough.
Members of my major chat haunt have been gathering on the premises, partly because they love to party and partly because they want to see if I actually exist. The latter having been confirmed, the next step is to work on the former. Towards this end, the early arrivals organized an expedition to Seaside Heights, a place which appeals for two reasons: it's right on the shore, and it's not Atlantic City. I did not suggest at any point that any of the carnival rides reminded me of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A splendid time was had by all, and tonight there will be dinner and dancing and probably quite a few more drinks.
Still in New Jersey
Dreams seldom come true, at least for me and probably for a lot of you but isn't it wonderful to find out that once in a while they aren't purely the product of delusion?
Note: This has been slightly edited two hours after the fact, mostly because the original version made no damn sense. Not that this is any better.
Tomorrow: Southern exposure!
Chesapeake, Virginia 2038.9 miles
At least the Heavy Tolls Period seems to be over; New Jersey relieved me of $2.20 to go back down their Turnpike, and Delaware nicked me for three bucks to cross the river that shares its name, just to start the day.
And then there was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which is the answer to the question "How do you expect to build a bridge from the Eastern Shore to Virginia Beach without screwing up the shipping lanes?" This marvelous little project touches me in two ways: on an intellectual level, it appeals to my sense of appreciation for ingenuity, while on a gut emotional level, it scares the crap outta me. And, oh yes, it costs ten bucks to cross, which topped off the aforementioned Heavy Tolls Period in grand style. So far:
New Jersey $3.50
Total so far: $35.30. Now how did Maryland avoid charging me for anything during my traversal of their part of Delmarva?
And who picked out all these damn love songs to take on this trip, anyway?
Charleston, South Carolina 2434.4 miles
After thirty-two years, the prodigal returns.
And the Palmetto State promptly punished me for the ongoing snub by dropping a stone into my windshield almost the very moment I crossed the state line. This is amazingly frustrating: apparently I can dodge dozens of Falling Rock zones in the mountains of Pennsylvania without incident, but the moment I get into South Carolina and not the tiny corner of the state that can legitimately be called mountainous, either the boom is lowered.
Despite Charleston's ongoing reputation as a place where nothing ever changes, obviously some things must. Quick and dirty example: When I lived here back in the 1960s, Ashley Phosphate Road was way out in the sticks. Today, I can look out the window and count two other hotels on this very block.
Still in Charleston
The first order of business, of course, was to see all three of my former residences in the Holy City.
Of Hunley Park (1962-65) I can say little, except that it's still there the Air Force seems to be in charge of it now and from the back, viewed through a fence at 55 mph, it sure looks old.
A shot down Dorchester to Wando Woods, where the old homestead (1965-69), which I have always remembered as a shingled saltbox in back of a ditch, is now actually freshened to contemporary standards. In general, this neighborhood seems to be on the upswing these days; I attribute this to the continued rise in prices for homes on the west bank of the Ashley River, and to someone's sudden realization that people also lived on the east bank. Perhaps the process was helped by annexation into the city of North Charleston, which literally did not exist back in the Sixties. Then again, North Charleston has also absorbed most of the Brentwood and Dorchester Waylyn neighborhoods, and neither of them look exactly peachy.
And then back on Dorchester again, to Rivers Avenue and then up a few blocks, to where the projects (1961-62) used to be. The old George Legare site seems to be occupied by a gated community; there are townhouses on the Ben Tillman site, and the Tom McMillan units have been replaced by the new Naval Hospital. The Pinehaven Shopping Center, diagonally opposite, was the very model of modern suburban shopping in those days; today, as Shipwatch Square, it's just another dumpy strip mall.
I am delighted to point out that most of the routes I learned while walking and bicycling through the area still work.
And when all this was over, I wandered downtown, to where my old high school used to be. It's gone now; eventually, the College of Charleston will make use of the grounds. But the new school is up and running, out on Daniel Island, and I wasn't about to pass up a chance to look it over.
"Geez," I thought, "I've seen small colleges that weren't this snazzy." I hit the gymnasium first, quite by accident, and a kindly member of the athletic staff like so many faculty members, he's also an alumnus, in this case from 1972 gave me The Tour. I didn't recall too many names from '72, with the notable exception of the young lady I sort of almost dated, and it seemed rather pointless to volunteer her name, so I didn't. The gym is twice as big as the old one, and perhaps more important, so is the library. And with a student body roughly the same size as it was thirty years ago, the new staff (which, I note with delight, includes some of the old staff) should have a far easier time of it.
I thanked my guide and got back into my car and mused for a moment. A moment too long, as it turned out; once I got the car started, I spun around to look for traffic, and there was a woman in a Nissan Altima waiting for me to vacate the space. I rolled down the window to apologize for making her wait, and she smiled at me, and by the time I got off Daniel Island I remembered where I'd seen that face before. And I swear, it could have been the aforementioned young lady I sort of almost dated.
Were I the sort of person I'm supposed to be, or that I think I'd like to be, I would have done a 360 in the middle of the Mark Clark Expressway and gone back to ask. But being the sort of person I am, I kept going and didn't say a word.
Apparently this personality-makeover business is going to take a lot longer than I had hoped.
Columbus, Georgia 3012.4 miles
"You're country," sneered Carla. "You're straight from the Georgia woods." Otis shrugged and said, "That's good."
Like Otis, my father is straight from the Georgia woods, so today seemed like a good time to plunge into the countryside and see what there is to see. He was born in Stillmore, Georgia, population around 600, not exactly a wide place in the road but not a whole lot more than that either. In front of the town's only gas station, I found a place where I could switch between two different wireless providers by turning the phone 90 degrees, but neither of them would work particularly well. It was up in the 90s and there was hardly any wind and you could already smell the blacktop, so I decided to pass up tracking down the teeming metropolis of Lexsy, a few miles up U.S. 1, compared to which, I am told, Stillmore is a veritable Atlanta.
I wasn't sure what to make of this. Time hadn't exactly passed Stillmore by. Maybe time had thumbed its nose at it and said "Adapt or perish." To some extent, this threat has been leveled against most of rural America; fortunately, the first thing you learn living out in the country is how to survive. Dear Old Dad, so far, has survived. And I bet you still miss Otis as much as I do.
Meridian, Mississippi 3270.1 miles
Personally, I blame P. F. Sloan.
"Think of all the hate there is in Red China,
Then take a look around, to Selma, Alabama...."
In 1965, when Sloan penned "Eve of Destruction", a hit for gravel-voiced ex-New Christy Minstrel Barry McGuire, this comparison might have made sense. But today, owing to the limited playlists of oldies stations, this period piece gets nearly as much airplay as it did when it was a new release, and since not all oldies listeners are old crusty minstrels like me, it's entirely possible that all manner of youngsters are hearing this song, putting it into half-remembered historical context, and concluding that Selma, Alabama is some kind of breeding ground for white supremacists and other dumb Klux.
What made Selma different was not the quantity of racial hatred, but its visibility. After Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot to death in nearby Marion after a civil-rights march on the evening of February 18, the decision was made to march to Montgomery, fifty-odd miles to the east, and confront Governor George Wallace in person. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., having appeared once already in Selma to rally support for voting rights, would lead the procession on March 7. The marchers, maybe 500 or so, made it across the bridge that leads out of Selma, where the state police and Sheriff Jim Clark's posse were waiting. The marchers would not back down. Billy clubs, then tear gas, were produced. Dozens of marchers were injured. Unfortunately for the Establishment, footage of the debacle made it onto network television, and suddenly Selma was a national cause. Dr. King asked for support from clergy nationwide to join in a second march.
The evening of March 9th, the clergy gathered at the site of the March 7 attack, and there was a second fatality: Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister who had come down from Boston to join the battle. More and more people traveled to Selma after the report of Reeb's death. On the 13th, Governor Wallace met with President Johnson, and basically got the riot act read to him; on the 15th, LBJ introduced a new Voting Rights Act that would wipe out the artificial obstacles placed by the white power structure. "All of us," said the President, "must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice." The Selma-to-Montgomery march was rescheduled for the 21st, and this time they made it all the way; Congress, seeing the handwriting on the wall, passed the Voting Rights Act, and the President signed it into law on August 6.
So next time you hear Barry McGuire croaking about the eastern world and how it is explodin' and all that other stuff from a third of a century ago, remember that that was then, and this is now. And while today there are political activists on both sides of the racial fence seeking advantage by dividing us, Selma deserves to be remembered for a time when the name of the game was unity.
Then again, Red China doesn't seem to have improved a whole hell of a lot.
Shreveport, Louisiana 3614.7 miles
The Natchez Trace Parkway follows the path of a 19th-century road from Natchez to near Nashville. The National Park Service runs it now, which means no commercial traffic, a 50-mph speed limit, and maintenance whenever. Still, the NTP is the very epitome of the term "parkway": oncoming cars are few and far between, bicyclists are not only allowed but encouraged, and there are historical markers seemingly every couple of miles. I took a break at one such marker, commemorating the Battle of Raymond (geez, I thought everybody loved Raymond), and what struck me most was the prodigious level of quiet; at 2 mph (a slowish walking speed) the loudest sound you hear is the community of insects responding to the Dixieland heat. The Natchez Trace may not be going where you want to go, but it's certainly a low-stress trip.
Not quite so low-stress is the stretch of I-20 westward through Louisiana. The speed limit is posted (except around the bigger towns) at 70, and for all practical purposes this is a lower limit; traffic booms through the countryside at basically whatever it can get away with. If you want to pass someone, you'd better open up a can of Zoom Zoom.
Two items from the Department of Redundancy Department:
The last exit off I-20 west in Bossier City is "Traffic St." A good place for it, too.
And I spotted a Louisiana plate reading Alex A. (yes, with the period), and embossed across the bottom was the legend: "PERSONALIZED". Yeah, ya think?
Austin, Texas 3940.8 miles
The Texas capital has, I have decided, struck a deal with the devil. In its effort to become basically San Francisco with a tejano beat, Austin has been transformed from a sleepy but neat college town into a rolling expense account for lawyers in love. It's not the first Faustian bargain in American history by any means surely something explains the popularity of desert hellholes like Tucson but I'm inclined to think it's one of the sadder ones. Meanwhile, if you actually want to exit Interstate 35 at 38½ Street next week, you might want to start getting into position now.
Hostess for this Last Stop on the World Tour is my fabled cousin Linda. In a family this size, there are likely to be more stories than Aesop or either of those Grimm fellows ever imagined, so I suspect there will be a lot of catching-up to do.
Still in Austin
Last month, I observed that I hadn't been spending any time in record stores recently, and cited a number of reasons, none of which was "All our local record stores suck." Apparently, though, said suckage had to have been a factor, since I managed to get loose in Austin's famed Waterloo Records today, and I had no trouble whatsoever parting with a hundred bucks or so.
And I got my first taste ever of the cuisine of Tuscany, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, at a place called Siena in the hills northwest of the city. While the food was worthy enough, the ambiance bordered on sublime; this is a place you take someone you love, or someone you imagine you would like to love. My thanks to cousin Laura for the dinner suggestion.
Still in Austin
It wasn't technically a family reunion, but where else can you see this many Balagias at one time? These are the relatives on my mother's side, and most of them stuck fairly close to the old hometown, so turnout was good, and there were actually a few who did not remind me that I hadn't been there in a couple of decades. And "I don't get out much" sounds even lamer the twelfth time than it does the first.
I had some trepidation about this gathering, since I have been feeling rather dejected lately, but everything went well, and I spent so much time holding court at one table or another that I managed to forget to eat dinner. Not that I can't afford to miss a meal once in a while.
Still in Austin
To my utter delight, I discovered today that the total I have spent on lodging and fuel during this trip is only about a thousand dollars. For two and a half weeks and four thousand miles, that's not too shabby.
There is an Acura ad running in print media these days that shows one of their models zipping around a tight curve somewhere near Austin. I think I hit that curve today. And 5000 rpm is just about right.
Tomorrow: That's the news, and I am outta here.
Dustbury, Oklahoma 4444.0 miles
It is over.
A few impertinent statistics, for those who collect such things:
Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 152.2
Fuel consumption, in miles per gallon: 29.2
Worst tank, in mpg: 26.4
Best tank, in mpg: 32.7
Number of emails waiting: 170
Number of those I actually have some reason to read: 44
And I'd like to thank:
Steffanie, Steve and Gypsy, for insisting that daily logs must be done daily;
Janis, Randye and Rose, for making it possible to welcome this tired old cowpoke in high East Coast style;
The Guerrero and Balagia clans of Austin and the world, for reminding me about the permanence of family ties;
Joe and Van, for leaving me the hell alone all this time;
Bank One, for not screwing up my account for a whole month;
And V., for reasons she probably knows better than I do.
Next year: Who the hell knows?
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Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill