There is one sound that epitomizes 'lonely': a train whistle from across town. It's another one of those childhood things. I can recall lying abed at night and hearing that whistle. The trains in Kansas had some especially sorrowful tone that carved more deeply on children. That whistle was the door into everywhere, as if I could ride its wail into being someone else, another kid, some other place. One of those places Ray Bradbury evokes; even with the strange evil lurking around the corner in that other Midwestern town, it would have been a safer place than my bed in Topeka.
We are in Glasgow, Montana, up against Canada's bottom, and not a room is to be had in town due to the oil boom, and stimulus money, and Boeing having taken over most of the local motel rooms. I know this because the campground is associated with the big motel/casino, and the desk inside is where smug campers register while working men mutter and groan under the onus of no place to sleep tonight. It was almost 80 today and the evening is balmy and quiet. The working men have probably retired to the bar.
I gave Pat $60 to go get a steak dinner, a glass of wine, and to play in the casino, all things of merit in her worldview. She refused. Would not go without me, and I don't like casinos. The blasted surface of the moon would be more welcoming. We had takeout hamburgers and salads from the motel restaurant at a picnic table by the van. The dogs complained bitterly at being inside; Pat sipped her wine, and we listened to the train whistle. A nice evening after a 650 mile day.
Our slow progress worried me until we managed to log about 1200 miles in the last two days. It seemed like we had taken a week to get to Wisconsin. Our two days visiting Stuie and Sydney were great. I don't get to see much of Stuie and I have known him longer than anyone in my life. His days are pretty full taking care of Sydney; her health problems grow more serious. They are in transit together to some unknown place where roles and expectations are ever in flux and no outcome as certain as the final one.
The shortcut across Canada was not. Between aggravation at the border and the cost of gas up north I don't think I would do it again. The border guards are interesting. They appear to have been trained in acting grossly stupid, but with the obvious intent of getting the person being questioned to say something untowardly incriminating - having supposedly been caught offguard by Idiots in U.S. uniforms - in itself rather plausible. Someone in Homeland Security probably got a big bonus for coming up with such a devious approach. I am not sure who would be caught offguard by a seemingly retarded customs inspector and so confess to malfeasance, but they are obviously honing their act. The many faces of counter-terrorism I suppose. I imagine the cutoff for passing the bar to be a customs interrogator is to display an I.Q. no greater than the ambient temperature; what a bore to be questioned in the winter.
Speaking of Homeland Security they were busy the day we got into Stuie's town. I won't mention where this is as I don't relish the repercussions of naming the guilty. Stuie had gone to the market for stuff and on returning home found his street blocked by many police. He was told the entire area had been evacuated due to a bomb threat and was sealed-off. He asked to be able to take the ice cream in and put it in the freezer. This was allowed and inside he found his wife watching television. The evacuators had forgotten her, so he decided to just stay home, too. Seems someone had robbed the local bank, and in his hasty escape had left a parcel on the counter. I am guessing it was Chinese takeout that he forgot he had. The small parcel caused the evacuation of the downtown area, nearby residential areas, and the lockdown of schools a mile away. As Stuie says: Osama Bin Laden won no matter how you look at it. I concur. Between getting across borders, or on a plane, or just having to watch your tongue when you joke we are really getting the brown end of the stick in the name of national security. You might argue that it is all necessary for our protection. I just don't see it. Color me stupid, but I would rather have my former less-restricted and less-observed life back and take my chances. Call in my American grit. I think we reap what our parents have sown, and our own children will reap the whirlwind. I will call that today's rant and move on.
Ontario was flaming. It is a few weeks ahead of Maine in the foliage color-change, so we got to be leaf-people and marvel at the hues. In Wisconsin we did visit the Ephraim Faience Pottery shop and left only a few hundred dollars lighter. A very nice lady name of Barbara talked pottery with us and took our money without a blush. I am not at all a salesperson, but I imagine if I hocked a product of such quality I, too, could do it with a straight face. There shop is well worth a visit.
Was thinking today as I drove of the stuff I miss about road trips, and it is things from when I was a kid. I miss the gravid canvas water bags slung from front bumpers of cars; evaporative water coolers for just-in-case. I miss the strung out roadside signs with the Burma Shave jingles; I think they helped me learn to read. I miss those old glass-topped gas pumps, too. They were things of great mystery and beauty. I recall those early trips were in my father's favorite cars, all Oldsmobiles. These great boats would roll down the roads to new towns like misplayed cue balls coming off the bank at ungainly angles. At first it would seem all right, and then the ball dropped and someone quietly said "scratch". Other towns would then loom like hungry corner pockets.
Driving at someone going 75, coming right down your throat, doing the same speed yourself on a two lane blacktop you feel like one of many beads on a wire, certain to have that clicking meeting. This cannot end well, you think. And then you are by them, hurtling past such a small distance apart, and you wonder at it, that you didn't sneeze at an inopportune moment, or twitch, or spill hot coffee in your lap, and no one simply flinched into annihilation. I think we survive our time on the roads by a mix of good manners and the urge to self-preservation, and on both counts we may be on thin ice. I may not have the heart for road trips that I once had.
We got to Glacier Park today to go over the Highway to the Sun; it was closed due to an avalanche and won't be open until spring. Pat was disappointed. She has consoled herself with a helping of the local huckleberry pie. The cafe played christian music and the motel has signs up regarding an evangelical movement that involves recreational vehicles. I don't connect the two but am aware that we approach the white supremacist enclaves of Idaho. Pat is worried that we will be taken captive by rood ideologues.
Pat's fears have not quite been realized, but we are indeed being held captive: we are tethered to a large building in the Autocratic Kingdom of Ford - "Henry! Let my people go! "
Let me back up - ah, if only I could, and get us here. Here is Salmon, Idaho, and it is a bright and warm Thursday, the 7th of October.
We decided to eschew the coast and go down a new road, for us, Hwy. 93 to Winnemuca, through the heart of unknown Idaho. Winnemuca is a long haul from West Glacier, but a good point to aim at. South from Missoula we went along the Bitterroot Valley, very nice. From there it is up over the pass and along the Salmon River in Idaho. Very reminiscent of The Mimbres in New Mexico; a steeply rocky terrain in shades of browns and reds and greys. This landscape suits me much more than the tree-hemmed roads.
It was along the Salmon that Snooky went 'bump' and began leaving a ghastly trail of tranny fluid along the pavement. The engine began to race as I pressed on the gas, but the wheels no longer went round in lovely response. Slowing and slowing we were soon immovably trapped in one lane of a narrow two-laner alongside the rushing river. I stayed with Snooky while Pat hoofed it to a lodge said to be a half mile off. In these steep-walled canyons of ragged outcrops Verizon does not venture with its wondrous communications services. It was a damned nice place to be trapped. A vehicle or two every five or ten minutes, and a fine sky of scudding clouds above the rim of the cliffs. I could hear thunder rolling far away. A really perfect day if you discount the fact that we were not on our way to the coast.
Last night the tow truck deposited us along a wall of the Ford agency where there was a live 120 volt plug. A quiet place to boondock, food in the pantry, water in the tank, our music and phone service again so we could get online. How long will Henry hold us hostage? Who can tell. We wait within the comfy confines of our home on wheels and hope that soon a tech will come and assess the state of Snooky's infirmity. In the meantime his driveshaft lies on the ground next the building as mute testament that he gave his all.
Two days later it is official: King Henry and his consort, Tin Lizzie, decree that we remain in Salmon, Id., for the next week - give or take. Being of the lumpen proletariat we fully understand the 'take' part. Between a toasted tranny (Graham Green would have called it 'A Burnt Out Case') and living expenses here we plan to get out at least $5k lighter. Is this where I lament that I should have stayed home? Not on your life; I am out here experiencing the world with traveler-Pat. You are never too old to have (mis)adventures. Part of our costs is the wonderful '03 Taurus with the broken windshield that the Autocrats have rented us for $38/day plus 25 cents a mile. They were all out of loaners. Actually we were acutely lucky as it was the only rental they had - and 'don't worry about the 'check engine light; we have a part on order.'
Went downtown to get some breakfast and the main street, or 5 blocks of it, was blocked off for marching children with flags, the local firetruck, and the mounted posse. Cheers rang out from scores along the downtown sidewalks. The Homecoming Parade was underway. I daresay that the Homecoming Queen was privileged to ride on the haywagon float; we missed her in our haste to get some coffee.
Just at dusk I walked the kids around the neighborhoods behind the Motel Sacajawea where we live. Radios were turned up in the houses as the Homecoming game was being played. The local team is the Savage Salmons. Every ten seconds a voice would roll from a speaker: 'Number 36 has the ball and he is running with it. First down, Savages!!!' It was nice that he didn't feel the need to do a running patter on the players' pie preference and what they wanted to do when they graduated. I fear combat infantryman might be high on the list, and apple pie the warrior's desert of choice.
It sometimes sounds like I make fun of the locals, the smalltown people we meet and their ways, but I don't exactly mean to. I do poke fun at the differences, but I realize we all live with what we have, the models we are given, and we can all be decent people and still do things that seem inexplicable to those from away.
Pat has a real problem with Idaho. She is certain Aryan brothers are lurking everywhere and that even the smallest towns have Exalted Dragon Gestapo Headquarters placed near the local police station. She mentioned something of this sort to the lady who was helping her get a tow truck when we were stuck way the hell out. The lady said: 'We may be conservative here, but at least we have good manners.' That is class.
Rumour has it that Snooky's tranny arrived unexpectedly on Saturday; Henry's minions did not deign to tell us this.... Pat, as the better of us at dealing with tradespeople - and most anyone, was the designated talker who found all this out while I dog-watched at the Sacajawea Inn, which is actually a sort of old-style motor court and very friendly. We hear we may hit the highway for Winnemuca manana. I will therefore end this missive with a slightly amended version, but factual in all particulars, of an obit in the local paper. I am somewhat floored by both the language of the obit and its honesty and optimism.
"Blank-blank, while still in his teens, fell into the open arms of his Father. He was raised by his adoring Granny, Pastor Jane.
He was an All-Anerican boy. During those formative years he developed a love for many sports. With the gentle nudge of his Granny, his innate artistic flair blossomed into a passion for art design. He was good at all he did. He was discrete in his friendships, which required, in the first instance, a sense of humor. He was witty with an engaging dose of dry humor. At an early age, he developed an unexplainable passion for shoes. It was the shoes that gave him that confident swagger that was uniquely his. He was a faithful friend of the down-trodden --- an attribute inculcated by his Granny. He will be missed by all who loved and knew him."
Though I burst into laughter while reading this obit I do not mean to make fun of the person described. I would like to have known both him and his Granny - but Winnemuca calls.
Don and Pat and Shay and the ever-vibrant Rose. The editor gives leave to publish.