I'm not going to drink any booze for seven days. Today is the first. Aqua Barn was my
bottom. Too much beer and wine, too early in the day...
July 30, 1993
Low on propane, coach power, and fresh water. We'll have to do something about the
former and the latter.
Well, I got through last night without a drink. Wasn't that hard—I was dog tired by
10:30, having gotten up at 5 at the Aqua Barn place yesterday. So I slept through the
night. Today I have only a hint of the sore throat that's been going on and off.
Robbin tells me that this is Larabie State Park—right on the coast, overlooking some
islands between us and the big Canadian island of Vancouver. We had to drive down a flaky
little highway to get here—Robbin stayed back with the lasagna, cooking in the oven, the
door to the over tied up with the same green nylon rope we use for Candy's leash.
The TV station we got Seinfeld on was Canadian, I believe. It was just like an American
station except for a couple of commercials were talking about "BC Country" or
some such. Close to the border, the segue between cultures (already pretty close) is
subtle. I imagine that there are quite a few Canadian quarters in circulation in
Bellingham, Washington, where we'll go today for one last ditch US effort at finding a
pickup truck to tow.
Speaking of Canada (which has six letters, of which three are 'A'), I saw a news report
that border crossing on I5 could sometimes take as much as 2 1/2 hours! Ouch! That'll keep
down smuggling and illegal immigration.
A pickup truck should help me reduce the weight in the main coach and get better
handling—to unload the axles, especially the front one.
We can move: Compaq 20 lbs. Weights 30 lbs. TV/VCR 20 lbs. Golf Clubs 20 lbs. Tent/Sl.
Bags 10 lbs. Table Top 10 lbs. Books 50 lbs. Gas Grill 10 lbs. Leveling Boards 20 lbs.
Winter Clothes 30 lbs.
Might be able to do as much as 300 lbs. I'm waiting for the water to heat up before I
take a quick shower. One grim note: the shower water is Aqua Barn water, so, I may not
come out alive.
Jumping around, again—did I mention here my theory that my itching is caused by the
fabric on the rear "sofa"? I'm going to stay away from it for a couple of days
and see if things get better. Course, there aren't that many alternatives... I can't
exactly go sit in the dining room.
More factoids from the Boeing tour: Typical paint jobs weigh 800 lbs. Fancy ones weigh
2000 lbs. Some airlines leave the plane bare—just polished metal, and save the weight.
Boeing makes helicopters; we saw a retractable landing gear single prop model and a huge,
dual prop military job come in on the runway. You see a lot when you're waiting in line
for 2 1/2 hours, which I did/was.
On the drive-through-the-flight-line phase of the tour, we passed a "small,"
tired-looking eight engine military jet—I knew it instantly as a B-52—the
Stratofortress, key to our nuclear defense scheme for many years. They also bombed Vietnam
with those planes. They are small and droopy-looking these days. Boeing had it around as
storage before it goes into a museum.
There are about 15 cranes that maneuver on a system of east/west and north/south tracks
that cover the ceiling. The cranes go anywhere in the mammoth building by riding and
switching over these tracks.
The planes spend eight working days in each work station: But those are real working
days—three shifts: I think 8000, 5000, and 1000 people on the various shifts.
They sure get a lot of visible work done on station 3. The plane goes from being just
wings and 40 feet or so of fuselage, to something that looks like a 747: complete
fuselage, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, cockpit area—and landing gear; they roll
it station 4 on its own wheels. Moreover, most of the gross assembly happens in the first
day, because the plane we saw at this point had only one day of work, and it looked pretty
The observation platform we watched from is about 50 feet off the floor of this
building. Looking East you see the five "even numbered" stations, three of which
contain full-sized 747s. Then there's some scaffolding and other stuff, and if you look
closely, you can see the five "odd-numbered" stations, where there are five
*more* 747s in construction. Beyond that, in the distance—yellow and white light bulbs
are just twinkly pin-pricks—is another assembly area where they build 767s—a smaller
wide body jet. And way beyond that, is a new assembly area, not quite set up yet—where
they're going to build 777—a brand new plane that's supposed to fly for the first time in
The wings were engine-less in Station 3. Customers specify the type they want—You can
get your Pratt and Whitney, or your GE, or your Rolls Royce. Maybe there are more. The
wings have many control lines that pop out where the engines hang.... Each engine costs a
cool six million bucks, which I think I already mentioned. Boeing has probably been
tempted to get into the engine building business—they'd be a good customer—but I suppose
they're doing the right thing, concentrating on the aircraft. You know, the engines aren't
that big—what could be in them to make them worth six million bucks?
They definitely need a building to work in, because it rains a lot up there in Everett,
WA. Today, there's a little blue here and there. Candy is going nuts—I'm going to take
her outside for a bit.
Later in the day (8:30 PM)
Larrabee State Park was nice—a bit like the Trinidad, CA, area—coast and cliffs and
trees. Wasn't raining, for a change, when we woke up this morning.
Fairly busy day:
Broke camp around 8:30, drove the flaky, under repair highway to Bellingham, WA. 10
minute drive and we were there. A cute town, much nicer than Port Washington, another
Ferry-Claim-To-Fame town. The ferry from Bellingham goes to Alaska—that's said to be
*the* way to get a car into Alaska. We followed an Alaskan Mazda MPV out of town.
I burned some time (that I had to burn) today looking for a tow vehicle. We didn't
immediately find a car place in Bellingham, so we backtracked down I5 25 miles to an auto
mall I had seen on the way up. Then I began a not-too-grueling, three salesman, five
dealership car hunting saga. I'm back into pickups, and I looked at Fords, Nissans,
Toyotas, and Mazdas. Liked my Ford salesman—but it was the Nissan guy who semi-convinced
me to buy a new, stripped down truck—the used pickings are so slim.
Robbin sat patiently in the van for three hours while all this happened. The Toyota
lady was an attractive Hungarian woman. The Nissan guy was Don. I would've bought the
Nissan, but we couldn't find a place to make it tow-ready (to do the tow bar part). All
the local "tow bar experts" were either unavailable (out fishing) or just
couldn't get to it until Wednesday of next week. So finally, I just left—kind of a mean
exit to a salesman, Don, who had been helpful. I told him I was going to lunch—which I
did, eventually, in Chilliwack, BC, but that's getting ahead of myself a little.
Before leaving the auto mall town—whose name I never knew, we hit the cheap gas
place—AM/PM Minimart/Chevron gas—a full ten cents cheaper than everyone else. The place
was mobbed but we waited and gassed up. Also bought a 12-pack of cokes for $2.80. Can't
say we didn't get a good deal at that place.
Then, back on I5, north to Bellingham. I5 angles NW to Vancouver, so we took a back
road due north from Bellingham into Canada—and in about twenty minutes, were at a border
crossing. The guy at the drive through asked us if we had any handguns, where we lived,
where we were going, and how long we were going to stay. Then we had to park the truck,
and answer the same questions inside to a friendly-looking official with a long, gray,
pony tail. Then he gave us a sheet of paper that we took to a third person. She asked us,
"Do you have any handguns?"
I took away from this that Canada doesn't like handguns.
All told it took five minutes, and then we were in Canada. First signs explained the
differences between MPH and KPH. But, no radical differences. We stopped at a Safeway, and
it was a Safeway. Plus McDonalds, etc., everywhere you look.
We got money, and ate our first Canadian meal in Chilliwack, Canada. Got $200 from a
money machine, and ate at a Chinese/Canadian restaurant. Then ice-cream sandwiches, and we
were out of there.
Places are far apart in Canada! From Chilliwack to Kamloops should've been only a couple
of hours drive—but after two hours we were only as far as Merritt, Canada. The road was a
nice, four lane freeway, The Trans Canada Highway, #1, for most of the way. But crowded!
Lots of Canadians crossing their country. Plus everyone passing us right and left. But one
thing I've learned: go slow for good mileage and good handling. We're not in that big a
We pulled off at one point and napped for an hour beside a rocky stream; I came out of
Hypersleep feeling okay; Robbin (not a regular daytime sleeper) felt zombie-like for
Okay, after two hours it was 6:30 and we were only as far as Merritt, Canada. There
were no campgrounds on the map, but Merritt has an RV park so we went for it.
And so did everyone else in this part of Canada! It was full. They suggested
couple of hours away.
So we drove out of Merritt on a minor highway (not a lot of minor highways in this part
of Canada—look at a map someday) looking for some park campgrounds listed on our various
guidebooks and maps. We came to a Provincial Park—but it was closed. Now it's 7:30 and
we're low on gas and lower on enthusiasm and don't have a drop of water to flush the
toilet with. We're in the middle of nowhere, the only town close by has no place for us,
and we're nervous about "just parking" somewhere (e.g., Safeway parking lot; the
side of the road).
Then, the miracle. About twenty minutes out of Merritt we come to this combination
Town/Hotel/General Store/Restaurant/Green, Beautiful 9 Hole Golf Course/RV Park called
Quinicilla. Naturally, it caught my eye. The course looked green and uncrowded. We drove
through the RV park; it was crowded, but two spots were open.
Unfortunately, the spots were reserved. The 50-ish woman in the combination pro shop/RV
rental office said that sometimes the owner lets people park to the side—and that he's
out watering and that when he got back we could get a decision. So we bought a beer (I
fell off the wagon for the occasion) and waited. I watched a couple of duffers go off the
first tee, and shadow putted with one of the dozen *huge* Tiger Shark putters they had for
sale. (Just the Tiger Shark putters and maybe 30 used clubs. That was their club
selection. The Tiger Shark salesman must tell a pretty good story.)
The woman vacuumed and sold us beer, I schmoozed her to the best of my ability. Finally
the boss man showed up. Sure enough, he was willing to put us up in a temporary spot. And
let us fill up the water tank to boot. Robbin wouldn't have gotten us in here. It took
some stubbornness. Plus, we haven't paid anything yet.
So we were pretty contented campers when we finally got our chicken dinner out of the
oven, believe me. The toilet flushes again! With water and a charged battery and space in
your holding tanks, and some propane, you are in business in this thing.
It's 9:45 now—twilight just barely visible. Tomorrow, I may challenge this little
I don't think we'll make it all the way to Banf tomorrow. Too far. Plus I may want to
play golf all day.
But we should get at least half of the way there.
Candy went out some tonight. She's still learning about the leash. Can't figure out why
sometimes she can walk out a good ways, and sometimes (like when the leash is wrapped
twice around a picnic table) she can't. When the slack is only a couple of feet, she's a
pretty sorry sight, alternately straining and cowering. Generally unclear on the leash
I hear a big truck whine and grind in the distance—but there won't be many of those
tonight. We're off the main road....
Today's been a pretty cheap day:
Cheap gas + candy + diet cokes $28 Lunch in Chilliwack $12 (my exact Canadian change)
Ice Cream $4 Canadian Beers $6 Canadian
That's less than $50. Anytime we do that, it's been a cheap day.
On August 1, we need to close out the books. Need to get our mail headed out this way
July 31, 1993 7:15 PM
Closing in on Banff. Tonight we're camping at a KOA, just outside of Revelstoke,
British Columbia. It's a clean-cut little town and a not-bad RV park as well. They are
host to the largest Hydroelectric Damn in Western Canada, I'll have you know. (They call
'em "Hydro" damns here, but I think that's a pretty weak term; aren't all damns
I played golf this morning while Robbin jogged and showered. I didn't shower,, so I
wore my bad-hair hat, my black Cuervo Gold Crown volleyball baseball cap I bought last
summer at the two-woman volleyball tournament down at the boardwalk. Still got it on, in
The course at Qualquinta (or whatever it was) played incredibly fast when I got there a
little after eight this morning. A twosome was a couple of holes in front of me, and
playing as a single, I never caught them. I was taking my time, of course, lining up
putts, hunting for my ball after approach shots, etc.
I was going to write a play by play on the round, but I don't really care that much. I
shot a 47—lost one of my two balls on the first hole (second shot of the day)—then
scraped it around the rest of the day with the same old X-out Top Flite. My days of
brand-new Magnas are behind me.
The course wasn't spectacular, but there was something spectacular about playing out
there by yourself with only ten or so people on the whole course. And I hit some good
shots—especially on the long par 5 that I parred. It was a 510 yard hole, with a farmer's
field and some harvesting activity on the left—the green straight ahead and on a hill,
one of the few like that on this course. I hit three solid five irons, the last one pin
high but sliced right, then a chip to ten feet above the hole, and a solid putt right in.
I sure didn't feel like my old self over the ball or when swinging—it's almost like I've
never played before. My feel for the swing is different every day.
I took Candy for a walk when I got back. She "frolicked" a bit in the grass,
chasing birds, and following me. (On a leash.)
We ran into the owner while driving out and we cut a deal for the night's rent at
$8—but I paid him $9 because I didn't have change and because I liked the guy. I guess I
gushed a little. He said Banf was nice as his son filled our fresh water tank again. Like
a gas station attendant almost. I say I liked the guy—but we considered checking out
without paying! In our economy effort we've become mildly, very mildly, larcenous. Like
the time Robbin said we had a senior citizen discount card for national parks to get us a
$2.50 campsite fee instead of $5.
Then it was on the road—we stayed on 5A, the back road, all the way to Kamloops. Then
went shopping at a huge supermarket. They make you pay a quarter to unchain your shopping
cart—you get it back when you chain it back up at the depot—but still! Give me a break!
There was a woman walking around with a very sexy coverup over a revealing bathing suit. I
lingered over the meat longer than I would have normally to check it out. But I wanted to
study her high-thighs clinically, under a microscope. Pity our society frowns on that
(although maybe she doesn't).
Kamloops! Chilliwack! Revelstoke! Is it just me, or are these Canadian town names
goofy? And it isn't just these three. Silly-sounding town names are everywhere. And they
hurt themselves I think with names like this. Would Vancouver have become the town it is
had it been named Chilliwack? No way. The names sounded like they originated with drunken
trappers in the last century—and should have been replaced with
"Williamsville," etc., when people started moving in.
I bought some meat at the store—in fact, ate a very tasty grilled steak tonight. But
the lady who checked out in front of us had $570 worth of meat! Big stacks of it. Said it
would last her a year.
We ate in the parking lot of the supermarket, then it was back on the road. At one
point I stopped for propane; turns out propane is incredibly easy to score here because a
lot of cars have been modified to use it for fuel. I had been seeing signs about
"Auto Propane" everywhere, but didn't know if that was the right stuff. It is.
Then I did Go Karts—there are lots of blatant, small-time tourist traps by the
road—miniature castles, miniature golf, Forest Fantasy, I don't know what all. Anyway, we
drove by a little "Go Kart" track out in the country, just off Canada 1, and I
thought, what the hell and turned around and drove into it. I never got enough Go karting
to satisfy me in my youth. It was $5 for ten minutes; in the US it would be $10 for 5
minutes. My cart was a big, clunky thing, but it was fun kicking butt on the eight year
old in the red shirt and red helmet that was out there with me. Robbin didn't ride; things
like that aren't much fun for her. Plus it costs money.
Pulled into Revelstoke, our agreed-upon target around 4:00. Confirmed a spot in the RV
place over the phone (need to do more of that). Then walked around town for an hour. Drank
cappuccino. Got a video to watch tonight.
The campground had a major traffic jam at the gate, but since I had a reservation, I
wasn't panicked. Robbin checked us in; I just had to sit and relax and move us up one RV
length every five minutes or so. I thought the place would be a pit (we passed a really
ugly RV park on the way in, looked like Tobacco Road), but we ended up in a nice, grassy
patch with full hookups and neighbors far enough away for comfort. A guy we know simply as
"the German guy" runs and probably owns the place. Right next door is a
full-time employee of the camp; they're here year-round in their fifth wheel, along with
their dog, KOA.
In subtle ways, Canada isn't as polished in the US. I'm not saying that we'll actually
see it, but it's possible to picture a misspelled word in an official highway sign. Even
on the country's #1 most important highway, situations come up where cars are expected to
merge at dangerous angles and speeds—it's hard to explain—but the road puts you into
dangerous spots that don't ever happen on American highways. The toll road we were on
yesterday was top notch, however.
We ate supper outside tonight—it was warm for one of the first nights in a while. My
steak came out great in the new grill. Robbin ate a baked potato with spaghetti sauce...
Candy was on her leash a little tonight but didn't do well. She gets tangled up and
then is pathetic as hell. She was up under the truck in the works of the engine; that
isn't a good precedent.
Well, that covers today. We're about to watch Clint in The Unforgiven. I sure like the
name of that movie. Robbin is on my right, reading a thin, used, old paperback on Russian
history. Candy is on my left, looking very contented on the back of the couch.
August 2, 1993 9:20 AM, Mountain Daylight Time
This would have been Grandma Carlson's 101st birthday. If she were here today we'd be
playing cards at this table... What a wonderful lady; she lives on in my memory.
August 2 is a Canadian Holiday—Happy Heritage Day. So banks, post offices, and STATE
LIQUOR STORES are closed. Liquor only comes from state-run stores—if restaurants can
serve booze the sign will say they are "licensed."
Trains! Canada has got 'em. And we've been hearing them since the campground east of
Today's train is a loud, fast moving number that we're hearing from our RV campsite in
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. We're at Lake Louise. Got here yesterday around
2:00. The drive from Revelstoke took about five hours—we took our time, we saw the
"Hydro Dam," which seems a bit redundant. We returned the video; we videotaped
the grizzly bears at the entrance to Revelstoke downtown.
After driving for an hour or two, we pulled off the highway onto an obscure rest-stop;
and decided to let Candy walk free. She did really good. It was so cute to see her ambling
along, even running, at times. I'm going to let her run this morning, in fact. She was a
wild animal running through an alpine meadow with wildflowers, her tail curled down and
The Road to Banff drives through some spectacular, rugged scenery. The mountains here
are Rocky, not smooth and even like Mt. Ranier. They look as sharp as an Indian's flint
stone knife. No trees; just sharp rocks and snow.
We took a wrong turn as we got to the Lake Louise area that caused us to end up in a
Disneyland-on-the-Fourth-of-July crowded parking lot at the lake itself. There's a huge,
20 story hotel ("Chateau") on the lake front, and I guess everyone coming to it
or the immediate lake area ends up in this parking lot—actually, an interconnected series
of smaller lots, with the interconnections choked by bad parkers and huge vehicles.
Anyway, it took ten minutes of creeping to maneuver out of that trap. On the way down, we
discovered the camping area (conveniently mismarked on the highway in).
Canadian signs, especially around national parks, are a riot! They have so much to say.
I read as fast as the next guy, but time and again got no more than halfway through the
text of a sign before we were by it! And this is in an RV—it's not like I was speeding or
anything. A sign will go into gory detail about some aspect of fire danger, or the
features available for tourism at the next town. Anyway, there's no way to take it all
We set up camp and met the couple "next door," Hugh and Audrey, from some
town 200 miles east of Calgary, almost on the Saskatchewan border. They offered us beer
(which we hadn't had much of recently) and we sat in the warm sun talking to them for a
half hour; they have a trailer with a slide-out, so RV talk formed the nucleus of the
conversation. Also, where are you from, gas prices, etc. Audrey reminded me a bit of
Alex's stepmother, Ina. They were drinking cocktails...
After the beer at 2:30, there was only one thing to do—take a major nap, so I did, for
an hour and fifteen minutes. When Robbin got back from a bike ride to town, I was a
complete zombie. Finally found the energy to get my shoes on and go for a hike. It ended
up being a four-five mile hike—with some elevation in spots. Started along the Bow River,
then part of the way up the hill to Lake Louise. (Did I mention that we still haven't seen
even a glimpse of the lake? It's not like Lake Tahoe where you just see it everywhere.)
But we saw lots of fast running creeks and at one point, a nice overlook of the general
area—seem to be ski trails on the hill across the way.
The trail eventually took us to Lake Louise Village—a little shopping center with ice
cream store, post office, book store, sporting goods store, market, and so on. There's a
STATE RUN LIQUOR store there, too. It's closed, being Sunday. And closed again today,
being Happy Pioneer Day or whatever it is. But we seem to be drinking less.
I had a marathon session with QPW and our expense data last night—slicing and dicing
and calculating like mad with good old @DSUM until after midnight (Mountain Daylight
Time). I figured out that for the first 23 days of the trip we're averaging $66 a day, of
which $31 is gas and RV parking. Groceries are the next biggest hit. To me, that sounds
like we're living pretty cheap. To Robbin, it's still too high. Plus, when you plot
expenses by day, there's a spike up at the end; Canada has been expensive for us so far.
Robbin's share of the trip so far is $830; that's a little more than she would like to
Today should be cheap. Shouldn't have to spend more than the $14 campground fee; and
that's reduced by the 25% exchange rate. So it'll be cheap day, and tomorrow should be a
cheap day. That'll get August off on the right foot.
Candy got free briefly yesterday; if we're going in and out cooking supper, for
example, she starts to go stir crazy and will look for any weakness in her cage; shooting
out when we come in, or boring her way out when we don't close the door tight. But I hope
we've given her enough time outside to where she won't freak out completely should she get
out for a while—i.e., she'll find her way back eventually.
I've had a sore throat now, a mild one, for three weeks. I wish it would get better,
but everyday I wake up and it's still there.
Last night I grilled fish—halibut; it came out good. Tonight it's steak again.
We're planning a long hike today; at the very least, we're going to see Lake Louise.
It's 7:30 PM. I just took an unusual late shower. It's a tiny thing, and there isn't
enough room, hot water, or water period—or even place to put the water that runs into the
drain, to take a normal shower. So you get wet all over and turn it off. You wash your
hair and get some soap on most of you. You start to feel cold, so you turn the water back
on. It's hot as hell when restarted, so you snake out of the way, as best you can in 30
cubic feet. Then, even when you're being good, it starts to spit and you know that the
fresh water tank is empty, and you've got a whole evening and mornings worth of flushes,
toothbrush wettings, and the various other small water needs that may go lacking. Sure
seems like 30 gallons doesn't go far in this truck.
Robbin and I have a saying that every hike on this trip is different. And
today's bore that out. It's maybe 4 miles up to Lake Louise from this
campground; literally one mile of that is walking the length of this huge
campground. Then you wind up through a pine-smelling woods, never far from
Louise Creek—ten feet wide, but plenty of water and noise, believe me. It's
fairly steep, but in the morning, your spirits and energy carry you quickly.
At the top, the huge parking lot we got into my mistake yesterday (was that
just yesterday?!). You walk across the parking lot (you've been alone on the
trail till just now; now there are Japanese and Canadians and Germans and
people speaking French from who knows where, and they're all walking.
Suddenly, you see the lake. It's green... Not blue at all. Striking
green. (I'm not speaking from great authority on this point; it looked
green/gray to me—it looked *different* from normal lake water. And of
course, Lake Louise is in a beautiful setting; it's maybe four miles deep as
you look at it, and less than that wide. People are canoeing. All around it,
and especially at the back, are imposing rocks; the one in the back is snow
So, we rented canoes for an hour; what a rip at $20 Canadian—but we were both glad
we'd done it...We paddled and floated and explored the middle and edges of the lake. Saw
people out there who made me feel like an Olympic champion canoe-driver. I still remember
how to run a canoe—undeniably a Keith Palmquist-contribution to my education; and I'm
sure there are others.
We shot videos out on the lake; at one point I went to get the camera, in my black
backpack in the middle of the canoe on the middle seat staying dry. And going to get it, I
set up one of those nasty "canoe-shakes" that just for a second or two felt like
they might be putting me into that cold green water.
While we were out there, deep, distant "Viking horns" were harmonizing and
playing beautiful, slow tunes. They came from the direction of the lodge, and I assumed
they were recordings designed to enhance the Alpine flavor of the place. But when we
paddled closer, we saw that a guy in Lederhosen was playing a ten-foot, droopy trumpet,
like the ones you see in the European cough drop commercials. He would send out some
notes, and play new ones against the echoes that came back many seconds later—from the
middle of the lake, you heard two horns. Quite an effect. Course, he had his leather hat
out for tips.
I walked around the huge lodge—it looks like Harvey's on Lake Tahoe—maybe not quite
that big, but big. It has a rustic, but classy/expensive look to it. The chandeliers in
the main lobby featured four wooden Alpine maidens each holding two torches... Plus lots
of giant chairs, ram's heads on the walls. People having lunch in a spacious, open dining
area watching the lake through huge windows and listening to harp music (I think the harp
music was overdoing it a bit).
Anyway, we had better things to do than eat a gourmet lunch and wash it down with fine
wine. Like hiking. So we selected a hike to Lake Agnes—a smaller lake about 1000 feet
above Lake Louise. It's 3.4K from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes—a fairly tough uphill. There
were lots of people on this trail, and a lot of them looked like they'd be going home
tomorrow and telling people about this hike they almost died on yesterday. It was
relentlessly steep, though otherwise in good shape.
You reach a lake even smaller than Lake Agnes close to the top, Mirrow Lake—there's a
waterfall filling Mirror Lake from Lake Agnes. The real trip was, the guidebook said there
was a "teahouse" at Lake Agnes serving tea and light lunches. We were so beat
climbing the last bit of the trail—it's 57 steps at the very end—that the teahouse
started to sound like Paradise, and soon we could see people sitting on the porch of a log
The tea room is a very rustic (chairs are stumps) operation run for a profit by young
kids into the grunge look. A "large" pot of tea cost $4, and some Apple cobbler
is $3.75. They have honey, but it's an extra $.15. But the tea tasted better than any tea
I've drunk in a long time, there at 6500 feet overlooking Lake Agnes and the waterfall
down to Mirror Lake and the entire valley beyond...
The rest was anticlimactic—downhill and tiring, especially to the feet. My shoes are a
tad too tight. Good from a support angle, but a tad too tight, and you really feel
it on long downhills like this one. We stopped at the lodge for a beer at the Grizzly
Saloon—a wonderful dark wood and brass bar. The bartender says they do more business
during ski season than the summer; we borrowed a copy of the tacky Calgary paper and
headed down. If our RV had been parked in slot 116 instead of 106, I think I'd still be
out there on the road.
Lake Louise: Tasty, green, Alpine lake set in rugged mountains. With a huge lodge right
at the shore. Next time, we try to dispense with the lodge...
Last night we mapped out a sketchy itinerary for the rest of the trip—in particular,
the next month. It looks like we can make Chicago *before* Eunie's trip—once we get to
Lindsborg, there's nothing we really want to spend that much time doing, so we'll just
book pretty good from there to Rockford. I need to contact the Carlsons and let them know
we'll be coming.
After CT, the plan is a little confused. There's DC, there's Florida, there's a friend
of Robbin's in Atlanta, there's St. Louis, there's Ramona in SW Missouri, there's Ruby in
Tulsa. There's New Orleans. There's Houston, Fayetteville, and Wichita Falls. No straight
line can be plotted through those non-collinear points, believe me!
Still have a sore throat, but no other cold symptoms. Not running a fever.
Leaving early for Banff, the town, tomorrow.
August 3, 1993 1:00 PM
A Nice Entry
Today we packed up and made the short drive down scenic Bow Parkway to the village of
Banff. It's about thirty miles, or fifty kilometers as the Canadians say, and we stopped
twice on the way. Once to have breakfast at an elegant log cabin resort. Had
apple-cinnamon French toast, sausage, and hash browns, and coffee—all on china with the
butter and cream servers on doilies, fresh strawberry jam, very nice, and good service too
(I'm trying to avoid the use of the word "nice," but it isn't easy). All for $15
Canadian, about $11.75 US, including tip. Anyway, I thought it was a "nice"
The second stop was for an "e" sign, which we figured out stood for Exhibit,
which in this case meant a sign at a turnout in the road about glaciers or something. But
we let Candy out and she led us down a steep trail, tail in the air. She is doing better
and better on her own. Twice today so far she's been outside without a leash. She does
well when it's quiet—with hardly anybody or anything around.
Anyway, Banff is nice! A true village, cute little streets, about six by ten blocks. I
went to the hospital for my throat—thought it was a good time to do something about it.
They put me onto a doctor in Bear Center downtown (about a block and a half away)—and
within minutes I was in seeing a lady doctor and getting a script for ten days worth of
antibiotics. She also gave me six weeks worth of monopril samples for free.
We walked another block or two and found a store where Robbin made a killing on some
hiking boots—were $130, now $69, plus the 22% US citizen discount...
The drugs were another 100 yards away in a multi-level mall—paid $11 Canadian for
generic drugs, and almost as much in postcard and stamps.
Then it was over to Safeway for a diet coke and garbage bags. [these bags lasted the
Our campground is three miles or so outside of town; we're in the last, and cheapest of
three Banff NP campgrounds—no hookups, but a "nice" spot.
We tied up Candy, and about three minutes later Robbin found her straining at the leash
and looking intently—as at an animal she'd like to eat. Turned out to be an elk! A big
animal halfway between horse and cow, on all four eating campsite grass forty feet from
our picnic table! He's still there as I type this. Not jumpy like deer. Not at all. Not as
Important note: In Banff, most of the streets have animal names: e.g., Bear, Elk. I
want to take a picture at the corner of Moose and Squirrel streets, ala Boris Badenov. 'Is
Moose and Squirrel."
I'm in the sun now—today will be a warm one for Banff—probably get up to 75, 80 or
so. A few clouds, but I'd have to call this a nice day. In the bright sun you don't even
need the backlighting on at all; on or off, you don't see the difference.
Well, I'm ready for a nice little lunch.
And after that, I'll write some postcards.
Remind me to take my pills!
I'm writing this inside the Sidekick editor now. It seems like you never have enough
disk space when Sidekick is running in pop-up mode—it keeps making bigger and bigger swap
files until before you know it it's begging for a floppy in drive A— emergency mode,
umpteen times a day! So I'm running it for a while in /G mode. Just keeps me from getting
to DOS, is all. But what do I want to be in DOS for?
This afternoon we've been laying low at the campground. I did ride my bike down to mail
nine post cards. I took the opportunity to buy another copy of my new, favorite newspaper,
the Tabloid Calgary Sun. What a sleaze factory! Plus the babe in a bikini, a new one on
page three every day. Guess Political Correctness has yet to flower here in the northland.
Campground Neighbors—I Could Write a Book
On my left we have the Stiff, No Butt Canadian Two Generation Family. They're here in a
fifth wheel, and two trucks. They were out chopping wood and trying to teach a slack jawed
teenaged boy how to do it. He was the worst, most apathetic wood chopper I've ever seen.
Then they built a fire, around 4:00, so the smoke could drift slowly across our campsite.
Boy, nothing like huddling 'round the campfire on a 70 degree day five hours before dark,
But they're nothing compared to the new arrivals on the right. They're from the small,
but noteworthy class of "Absolutely Broke Families With Many Small Children Who
Choose To Travel in Yellow School buses That Have Been Made Into Crude Motor Homes."
Most of these families have eight to ten kids. Today's only has five, but there are
probably some inside we haven't seen yet. Also, at least one of the adults appears to
Little Known Camping Fact: In the US, you choose your campsite. In Canada, your
campsite is chosen for you.
Yesterday as we were hiking down the last stretch from the lodge to the village, the
trail was crossing the road, and a teenaged girl who was hiking on the busy road asked if
the road went to the village. We said yes, and then she asked if it was farther, and I
said it was about the same distance or maybe shorter. So she started to walk alongside of
us. Then I said, "And it doesn't have as many cars." See, that was a joke
because this was a hiking trail, so it doesn't have any cars at all. A joke! Ha ha.
So this girl says "Huh?"
And I say, "And it doesn't have as many cars."
She says, "Huh?"
At this point I got a little angry and I said pointedly, "I guess you and I don't
speak the same version of English." (I assumed she was Canadian."
It turned out she was German! Point is, there's no point in getting steamed up. I can
get so defensive over the simplest thing. This girl didn't understand me; her English
wasn't good enough. But I took it as an affront until I realized the scoop.
I spent some time this afternoon huddled with our getting pretty ragged copy of the
1993 Rand McNally Road Atlas figuring out where we were going tomorrow. It looks like we
can make Glacier National Park, in the USA by three or so tomorrow if we get off by eight.
I remember Glacier from a trip in my childhood. I remember "hiking to a
glacier," being there with Richard and Jimmy and Russell and having our picture taken
on the snow. Snow was still a big deal to me at that point. I remember it as being pretty,
Robbin just called me to dinner; spaghetti, although I'm not really hungry...
August 4, 1993 9:00 PM
Well, not the way I would have planned the last 24 hours. I noticed that I said I
wasn't really hungry before supper last night. I got sick; I barfed in the RV toilet, and
felt nauseous and queasy and all those bad things into the night. From the antibiotic? Bad
water? Bad food? Who knows... Anyway, it made for a slow-starting today.
Initially, I didn't think I'd be doing any traveling when I woke up. I was groggy and
still queasy. But around 8:30, there we were driving out of Banff (didn't spend as much
time in the town as I would have liked). Calgary was only an hour and a half away. Driving
in we saw the Olympic area—at least where they held the ski jumping events—giant towers,
like sculptures, dominated a hill on the left as we drove in from the west.
We stopped at a Safeway; Robbin went in; I went to the phone. Tried Paul at work, no
answer, was going to leave a message for him on the home phone, but surprise—he was there
(around 10:45 CA time). He's expecting a call from me tomorrow telling him where the
Federal Express shipment with our next mail should go; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, looks like
Then I called Eunie. She pitched a minor fit over us arriving *before* her trip rather
than after. But seemed to accept it by the end. They're having some substantial
redecorating done, and that's always such a big deal for her. With us coming and the
decorating happening and her trip starting Sept 1., she will be going bonkers at the end
of August. But that's how it worked out; that's when we're going to be there.
Then I went in and "helped" Robbin finished shopping. We spend more on
groceries than I would have thought; seems like we're in supermarkets every other day
spending $30-$60. And we're not exactly eating steak and caviar.
Throughout all of this, I felt weak and out of it; probably shouldn't have been walking
around. From Calgary, we turned South down Alberta 2—a couple of times the Canadian
Highway System fouled us up. They're often missing the key sign to explain where a road is
going; seems that when it comes to signs, they say too little or not enough. It's 120
miles to the US border from Calgary and you go through a little town called Fort McCloud.
We had to stop anyway, to mail a post card so that it got a Canadian postmark—so I
staggered out on the main street. Accidentally saw the spectacle of eight mounted RCMP
officers performing a show. They were in dress red uniforms, with white helmets with gold
spikes, carrying staffs with red and white tassels. Five men, three women. They did
precision riding to an audience of maybe 200 people, while squirrelly music played through
a huge megaphone and a 20 year old girl handled the announcing chores:
<music sounds like the gay, happy score of a '50s sitcom> <announcer> They
will now perform the most exciting maneuver, the Charge And Regroup.
<Mounties storm down the field, yelling, and regroup into an even row at the end>
Hard to explain. You have to be there to see the perfect uniforms, the matching horses
with the maple leaf markings on their rear hips, the pride of the riders. I'm sure every
Canadian felt proud watching this small display. Only the music was funky.
We used the last of our Canadian currency to buy $20 worth of gas. $12 in folding
money, $1 in quarters, and 7 loonies.
From Ft. McCleod, it's only twenty minutes to the border. We were the only customer for
our agent. He took twenty seconds to wave us through; we thought we might have to
surrender some fruit we just bought in Calgary—but no. More worried about handguns and
what we had bought on our trip. Robbin had bought hiking boots in Banff, but we didn't
Then things went a bit sour. We had to buy $39 (US) worth of gas at a station just
outside Glacier. It was a nickel a gallon cheaper than the first station we came to in the
US, but still came to $39. My nerves, and Robbin's, were starting to get raw. It didn't
help when driving into the park we noticed postings that six of the nine campgrounds
listed were full (we got there later than usual, more like 5 than 2). And we forgot to
memorize which were still open; once we drove past the gate, it was pot luck. The first
one, St. Mary's campground *was* one of the ones listed as open. But not so. We pulled in.
Full. We turned around. We drove another ten minutes. Getting crabbier. Pulled into
another campground, behind a big motor home. They turned around, we turned around. Full.
Back on the main park road. Next opportunity is deep in the park—so do we go back to
the commercial campgrounds we saw outside the park on the way in, or do we keep going and
wing it? Naturally, we wing it. After 30 minutes of driving up a steep road (the Engine
pinging on the cheap-ass 85 1/2 octane gas I bought for $1.36 a gallon), we were at Logan
Pass—a complex of hiking trails and interpretive displays at the driving-top of the park.
Beautiful, rocky, vistas. 6600 feet and rocky mountains all around and above you.
But I wasn't seeing any of that; just getting crabbier and crabbier. Didn't drink any
coffee this morning—too queasy. Had no breakfast. Barfed yesterday's supper. And had
Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup for breakfast (not as good as I remembered it). So I was
hungry, tired, and generally irritated when the little ranger lady confirmed that *all*
the campgrounds were full. So, we kept going.
The road up to Logan Pass from the West is tight but doable. You end up at 6600 feet
without really knowing how high you've climbed. The road *down* from Logan Pass,
continuing west, is the most bad-ass, narrow, spectacular highway I have ever driven a 23
foot motor home on. The limit for vehicles on that road is 24 foot, and they're dropping
it to 20 feet in 1994; we're 23- something. It was tight, brother. The rock wall on
Robbin's right and the sheer cliff on my left. But exhilarating! I had a cup of coffee at
the start of the climb down (we pulled off and ran the generator to microwave the
morning's coffee while the other tourists were looking at a piss-ant little waterfall).
That coffee saved my day. I saw two weird looking goats and a baby goat just as we started
down. Anyway, I held that precious coffee in my right hand and drove with my left and we
made our way down to the valley floor with nary a dinged mirror. Beautiful, beautiful
At the bottom, neither of us was as crabby. We stopped at a (full) campground to ditch
our holding tanks and take on fresh. I took Candy on a short, unleashed walk. Then we
headed out of the park looking for alternative camping. We were headed to a national
forest area fifteen miles away (and fifteen miles back to the park) when I saw a big,
friendly KOA sign. We got their next-to-the-last spot for $17.40. That's a good deal, I
think. But a full KOA in August is pretty rowdy. Kids traveling in packs, screaming. We
have neighbors closer than my kitchen is to my living room. But I'm pretty content here. I
bought a USA Today paper, and would've been completely blissed out had the campground
store sold beer. But they don't. Probably a good move to reduce general rowdyism—but I
wish I had a beer. I've drunk only three beers in the last five days; that's pretty darn
good. Maybe a small component of last night's sickness was alcohol withdrawal.
Kids at the campground are amazed to see a cat on a leash. The Cat-Dog, our neighbor's
kid called her. She still doesn't do good on a leash—can't figure out how to unwind her
leash when it gets tangled on tires, lawn chairs, rocks, trees, or picnic tables.
"We won the war! We won the war! We won the war!" kids are yelling as they
walk down our street. The playground is spitting distance. Get those kids in bed! It's
almost 10:00, for crissakes. Candy just mewed at my feet, then hopped up to the seat,
walked across me, and is now seated opposite me looking out the back left-hand window.
Robbin's been reading her book for the last hour and is making noises like she's going
to wash clothes. What a go-getter. She went for a run as soon as we got here; probably to
relieve stress. This RV can get small. She drove a lot today; the most driving since the
Mendocino to Eureka day.
We are washing clothes, late-night style. Using a mix of Canadian and US quarters. The
Canadian quarters are worth (25*.78)= 19.4 cents, but the feeble senses of vending
machines can't tell the difference. What rogues we have become! Road Warriors!
We passed the 3000 mile mark somewhere between Calgary and the US border. 3000 miles,
and only four states and two provinces so far! Gotta pick up the pace.
Gas is our biggest expense. Can't seem to get better than nine miles to the gallon. And
at $1.30 average price per gallon, you're talking a lot of bucks to go 3000 miles! If the
gas price were to double for some reason, I think the RV industry would just up and
disappear. If *I* have a hard time with $40 gas fillups, just think how your typical buyer
is going to do with $80 fillups...
August 5, 1993
Played out another melodrama with a car salesman today.
"Most dishes I've ever had in the sink." —Robbin, This Evening
But first, in chronological order:
Woke up lateish at the KOA. Robbin changed her mind about walking alone, said it would
be too lonely. Hmmm. I petted the "cat killer" husky next door, and found it to
be an almost- Ginger-sized, friendly female dog. No cat-eater.
We left town, headed away from Glacier. Somewhat of a shame to do this spectacular park
in a frantic, one-hour, campsite-hunting drive through—but that's how it goes sometimes.
Getting back to the spectacular part would have been a harrowing, hour-long drive.
(Charlie Anderson, Hero of the Hyphen.)
So south we drove. Past a large lake. Spirits were high. Stopped at a 7-11 clone in a
larger small town; made calls to firm up a destination in Coeur d'Alene for the dual
purpose of Paul's next mail packet—and a place to stay in town within walking distance of
some action. Don't know if I found either, but at the "Bambi" RV park, I talked
to an old man who gave his name as "Larson," who said he had one space he could
put us in and if we got there early we could have it. He said the mail was usually later
than 10:00 AM, when I said our Federal Express package would arrive, and when I reiterated
that it was coming Federal Express and not the Post Office he just chuckled like I was a
Then I called Paul, at two numbers, and left a message with the Bambi RV park's address
at the second of the two.
So maybe we'll get there and find our mail waiting for us; maybe we won't.
At some point on the drive south from GNP I mentioned I wanted "fast food"
for lunch, so we started noting every McDonald's and Dairy Queen in every Tom, Dick, and
Harry town between GNP and Missoula. ("Missoula" is a better name for a Canadian
city, I think.) But we didn't stop until Missoula itself. After stopping at a McDonalds
(narrowly beating a bus full of teenagers to the order counter), I sprung my secret
Missoula agenda on Robbin: I wanted to look for a tow car here, and maybe she could wash
the clothes that we couldn't get to last night?
Park II was a no-go, but she did say we could hit the local dealerships. Today it was a
Mazda place, and a nice, 50-ish fellow named Mac. Divorced a year and a half ago, his
daughter getting married next week and his ex will be there with a new boyfriend. Plus he
lost $150K—but that's not the point, is it? They had a bunch of 1993 Mazda pickups, which
should have been cheap, and I guess would have been. A deal was all but struck when once
again the tow bar problem reared its ugly head. I got a cheap quote for putting all that
stuff on, but when I looked at notes scratched on a business card on the subject, I saw
that what he proposed was to wire up temporary, magnetic lights to the back of the truck,
rather than use the truck lights directly. And it got worse—when I talked to him on the
phone, he didn't want to use the connector on the back of the truck, but planned to take
the signal directly off the tail bulbs with a special bulb. No wonder it was cheap! In
retrospect I could have stood this approach for a while, but at the moment, it was a deal-killer, a sorry-but-I've-got-to-head-out-now situation. So we parted friends, Mac and
I—another broken-hearted car salesman I've left in my three-thousand mile wake.
Sometimes I think I should just find a car/truck that's *already* towable, and just
take it. Fuck this getting a tow bar installed shit. Maybe C-D-L and sister city Spokane
will have enough raw material to find such a vehicle. I'm getting to where I don't care if
it's a Metro or a Celica or a bright pink Cramford fourwheeler.
During the two-hour negotiations, the RV was parked in a huge, vacant gravel parking
lot otherwise occupied by a couple of cars and a funky espresso stand manned by two
teenaged girls. I actually drove a nice, white, extended cab pickup—drove fine. Could see
me owning it for a while back in SC, too. But, it didn't happen.
Thursday is our TV day: Simpsons and Seinfeld. But couldn't get a single decent channel
when we tried. Amplified TV antenna, indeed. If you ain't close, you don't pick up shit.
A quick 45 minutes out of Missoula (Quick is right! I was hauling ass—60 to 65 all the
way and a little time spent at 70. And the gas gauge shows the strain. Did I mention that
standard unleaded gas here is 85.5 octane? Which makes the RV ping when climbing hills?),
NW on I90 and you're in a national forest, with a quiet, cheap, and largely empty
campground called Quartz Flats. We pulled off and immediately found a good spot.
It was so quiet that it seemed like a good place to give Candy some off-the-leash time.
So we took her on a one mile nature hike; she did fine—never strayed too far behind, or
too far ahead. I think she was either tired, or her feet hurt at the end; she had a hard
time keeping up. We then let her walk around the campsite; she didn't go too far and
ultimately, went into the RV on her own.
Tonight I continued my meat-fest and had a grilled pork chop, with Robbin's vegetable
fixings: baked potato and broccoli.
I bought beer with my Missoula 91 octane fill up and have had two already
tonight—slightly falling off the wagon. Can you tell a difference?
Robbin is doing exercises, leg lifts and bicep curls all with heavy weights. She's
driven on this fitness thing. I'm doing good to just stay away from chocolate chip cookie
dough ice cream.
Well—what else can I tell you about?
Robbin and I (she's the ringleader) are going to try to cheat the state of Montana out
of the $7 rent on this place. By not paying until they ask us to. Our story is either,
"Honey, I thought you paid," with a look of dismay, or, "You know, we just
got here a few minutes ago. How much is it, officer?"
Without the $7, it's a cheap day:
$ 2 coffee and donuts at the phone place $29 for beer and gas $ 3 for McDonald's food $
4 for cappuccinos in the parking lot.
That's what, 38 bucks? Not bad, and tomorrow should be cheap, too. As long as we ain't
buying gas, a day has a chance. Or doing anything too fun, like white water rafting.
I'm on a two-showers-every-three-days pace now. Tonight is a shower night. Couldn't
hack going to bed with two-days-dirty body and hair, but this seems to work. Robbin isn't
complaining, although she did ask a minute ago if the shower was still happening.
We're going to play scrabble or cards or something tonight.
And on the road by 8:00!
I tried leveling us just before sitting down to the computer, and checked midway
through to see how it looked. It seemed like I had overcompensated—we were way too high
on the *other* side now. Come to find out, I had put the boards on the wrong side! When I
drove off completely, it seemed plenty level already. We may sleep a little uphill
tonight, but not enough to notice. It's the out of balance showers you notice the most.
There's a pine tree, 20 feet tall—it would make a nice tree for a second-tier shopping
mall like Northline, were it properly "festooned."
Getting dirty looks. Guess exercise period is over, so I should take my shower so the
games can begin.
(Now it *is* later, the same night)
Robbin seems content to read her paperback copy of the Concise History of the Soviet
Union. Which suits me okay. I'd rather tap these keys than struggle for a word that
connects to "Tine," uses a J, and reaches a Double Word square three squares
away. My brain doesn't work good at random-access challenges. I'm only average, if that,
at solving problems like, "What are all the words that you can spell with these
letters." Seems like I do it too mechanically—for other people, the words just
I bought a Spokane paper today—The Spokesman Review. It's a good paper, which I
calculate by how easily you are drawn into the stories that *aren't* on page 1. Especially
feature stories. They had features on the local chess club and opinions on the Baby
Jessica situation that made for good reading. The USA Today seems full of promise with
every issue—all the color and graphics, but you seldom get drawn into a long article.
Maybe they don't even *have* long articles.
People are still coming in to this place—a rattling, large old van (either brown,
green, or gray) just drove by. Saw several people behind sheer curtains. But they just
drove by; they're not our new neighbors.
Took my shower; now I'm a lean, clean, fighting machine; I have a bit of water in each
ear; one piece of Charlie shower/morning ritual was omitted—the Q-Tip. I may have to go
back in there and swab them out. It's tough to remember everything, everything's in a
different place and hard to get to. My toothpaste and toothbrush are in the shampoo holder
in the shower (Robbin's toothpaste is elsewhere). My contacts chemicals are on the top
shelf. My pills and small bottles of stuff are in a Tupperware thing on the top shelf.
Underneath is the red Tupperware thing with my brush and my deodorant. When I want my
glasses I have to go under the sink (hard to do unless the door is open and you can stick
your butt out that space). The Q-Tips are under there, too, and I suppose that's why I
As small a crime as it is were contemplating, I'm *still* a little uneasy. Morally and
from a fear standpoint both. That's why they call it the honor system. They ask for 7
bucks; by staying here, you agree that it's a fair thing. If we didn't think 7 bucks was
fair we were free to move on. On the other hand, 7 bucks is 7 bucks, and my stocks *are*
all in free fall. Almost all of them.
Have I mentioned that Microsoft is 72 and tumbling each day?
Or that Borland is 17 1/2—and my options are now completely under water?
You must have heard that Apple got hammered unmercifully three weeks ago. They're in
the high 20s.
And Novell—talk of taking a loss in the quarter?!? How could Novell lose money?!
NetWare is like a license to steal. Anyhow, they're down in the low 20s.
So where am I at, personal fortune-wise?
What else will be coming in, and what will my expenses be?
Rent help from Robbin $500 RV Rental $500 (boy, is this reaching)
It's clear that:
1. I don't have to work next year to survive. 2. Unless I work as a programmer, I won't
be taking in much money. 3. Except for golf and traveling, my expenses should be low. On
this trip I'm spending dimes where I used to spend dollars, and getting used to it. Today
I contemplated buying Keystone beer instead of Bud, for heaven's sake. (I got the Bud, but
Is there a God? Is he listening to me, judging me? Helping me?
I don't know. I'm 41 and no closer to having an answer on this one than when I was 17.
How can their be a Christian/Jesus Christ type of God when so many atrocities occur in
this world? When babies are starving and teenagers die in giant traffic accidents and
people get cancer and die painful deaths? A loving God wouldn't have created slow, painful
diseases like we have on this earth. It's a copout to say God works in mysterious ways.
And yet, without a God, what a nutty creation am I. I exist a lone, thinking mass of
protoplasm—molecules arranged in such a way as to create self-awareness. Molecules
vibrating in neurons in such a way as to drive other molecules to hit the keys on this
computer! It's so incredible to think of myself, of creation, as an accident. It's too
spectacular! The Beatles a random reaction to some organic molecules, given a few billion
years to cook? I don't buy that, either! Some anti-evolutionist literature that I read
years ago (I used to love to goof on right-wing literature) had a phrase that's stuck with
me over the years. It said, "If you throw a bunch of metal in to the air, it doesn't
come down as a typewriter." And it sure doesn't. Left to its own, stuff decays,
mountains level, oceans equilibrate, metal rusts and dissolves.
100,000,000 Monkeys typing for 100,000,000 years (you supply the number of zeroes) will
*never* type any of the works of Shakespeare. It just won't happen.
So if there isn't a Christian God—and there *is* some plan to the universe (somebody
that made the typewriter), who/what is it? And why am I here? What's my role in the cosmic
typewriter? I don't think I can figure it out, anymore than a single molecule in the
plastic of the space bar of this computer can envision its role in the grander scheme of
Charlie Anderson/Planet Earth. But maybe, it, too, asks questions in the night.
"Why am I here?"
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Who made the universe?"
God, if you're listening—in a completely, uncocky, serious way, could you let me know?
Maybe give me a clue in the very next thing that happens? I'll wait.
Is it Robbin? Is she the clue? That I can be loved and accepted by someone? That I can
love her back and fulfill two ultra basic needs?
We just heard another train...Are trains the clue? What would that mean? They're
powerful, efficient, awesomely powerful. But falling out of favor—becoming more and more
of a side show every year.
by the games area. No more pool tables. Bookstore still closed. But AC was on.
By the time I got back to the RV park it was 11:00 and time to go. Plus, sometime
between 10:30 and 11:00 it got *hot*. The sun was beating down and the bugs were coming
Robbin was 15 minutes back from a bike ride and glad I'd found the keys. We broke camp
and were down the road in short order—low propane, I mean, all-but-empty propane our only
We did 300 miles today, on crowded, bumpy interstates and windy, uncrowded US highways.
I-80 belongs to the trucks; the country needs to solve the problem of the 18-wheelers
taking over the interstate highway system.
We played Rhonda Rekieta's name/occupation/location memory game. Let me see how well I do seven
hours after the fact:
A My name is Amos, I'm aimless in Anchorage
B My name is Bovina, I bake bread in Boston
C My name is Charlie, I fill canteens in Centerville
D My name is Diedra, I do drugs in Dodge City
E My name is Ernie, I eat eels in Easton
F My name is Francis, I fill prescription in Fenterville
G My name is Gloria, I give gifts in Gulf City
H My name is Helen, I hang 10 in Hooterville
I My name is Irving, I investigate insects in Indiana
J My name is Joelle, I jump rope on Juniper
K My name is Ken, I keep Kids in Kentucky
L My name is Laurie, I lose it in Louisiana
M My name is Martin, I make mousse in Montana
N My name is Nancy, I no longer work in Nantucket
O My name is Oliver, I oggle octopi in Oklahoma City
P My name is Paula, I pare Apples in Pennsylvania
Q My name is Quentin, I eat quail in Queensland
R My name is Robbin, I rob banks in Richmond
S My name is Samantha, I steal steers in Silverton
T My name is Tanya, I tarry in Tinkertown
U My name is Unger, I hunt umlauts in Umberton
V My name is Verna, I viciously vacillate in Verona
W My name is Wally, I wish for wonders in Washington
X My name is Xena, I examine pygmies in Xenia
Y My name is Yancy, I yawn yearly in York
Z My name is Zoe, I go to the zoo in Zelinsky
This game took half and hour to play. It isn't as hard to remember all that stuff as I
would think. The game ended as we pulled into a Wendy's in York, NE. We did like the big
boys and ran the generator for AC for Candy while we were inside. I had a big bacon
cheeseburger and Robbin did the salad bar—they have a nice one. We then bought groceries
at a big, cheap, you-bag type store there. $60 bought a lot of food. Saw a 40-ish woman
with her adopted, oriental boy/girl twins sitting in the basket. They were three year
olds—really too big for the basket, but it was a special treat. No booze in the store.
Robbin drove from York to Blair, NE. Had no problem in the big-time transcontinental,
high speed I-80 scene. Took us through Lincoln (I slept through this one) and around
Blair had a liquor store and was close to our planned stopping point, maybe 70 miles
below Sioux City. Tomorrow we'll tour Sioux City, see my old house, and schools, and maybe
get the oil changed. The master plan puts us
We had to drive down five miles of dusty gravel road to get here, but ultimately, it's
a good camp site and we haven't yet paid anyone any money for it. It's by a lake, Candy
was able to get out. Everything's perfect except the files are thick and it's humid as
hell. The air is still and humid and even at 9:00 PM it's still around 80.
I cooked chicken on the revitalized gas grill, using the spare propane tank that came
with the little torch I used to fix the thing back in Rawlins. We're huddled in the RV by
an open window in the back that we're drawing a breeze through with the ventilator fan in
Robbin's on page 365 of Jane Eyre.
I'm writing to you, dear reader.
People are friendly around Lindsborg. People generally wave when they drive by on the
Mark Lysell still runs the Stuga. May be a tad less upbeat than six years ago.
The Royal Crown Restaurant is no longer a mystery. Teenaged waitresses, and they even
expect you to carry your bill around to the cash register yourself. NBD.
Too many wires running hither and yon in downtown Lindsborg.
The Dala horse industry is cutthroat.
I spent $6.19 on nine gallons of propane today. They guy who sold it to me wore a
threadbare cowboy shirt and it took him ten minutes of work in a hot sun. (This was just
over the Nebraska border. I asked, but the guy had had never heard of Tom "TJ"
Johnson, of nearby Superior.)
Robbin and I are getting along better the last couple of days. We may finish this trip
August 23, 1993 Hamilton Avenue Jiffy Lube/Sioux City, IA 10:00 AM
Pulled off the I29 at just the right moment, I guess. Found the visitor center. Found
AAA just up the street. Got hold of Art Blackburn on my first call from the payphone at
the visitor center. Found a Jiffy Lube a quarter mile from the visitor center. They're a
little crowded, but we should be pulling in in fifteen minutes. Robbin's on foot looking for
the AAA office. This place has three lanes—all of the work bays are staffed by young,
clean-cut guys, swarming over the cars, cleaning windows, vacuuming, while the dirty oil
gets sucked out underneath. I pulled into the highest bay, because we're in a big truck.
Not far from here, I had some happy moments as a boy. With my friends Tony Grego, and
Tom Cain. I should look them up...
Anatomy of Impatience:
Getting uptight about time, being delayed, being late, even when there's nothing to be
on time for. That's where I'm at now. Why am I so concerned about the speed they're doing
me at? Did I pick a slow lane? Why do I care? Robbin's not even back yet from hunting AAA.
Now the minivan in front of me has vacated. I can take its place.
Excuse me a minute while I look up the name of this great little town that Robbin
It's Wahpeton. In the southeastern corner of North Dakota, just off I29. Just across
the river (Boise de Sioux?) from Minnesota. It's a great little town. Only 9,000
inhabitants, but they put together a wonderful city park with beautiful, green baseball
parks, a zoo with bison grazing outside, and a green golf course. All within a short walk
of the $5 per night RV campground the Elks put in and at which we are now ensconced.
But first, the day's action...
We did Sioux City in 30 minutes once the garage was finished with the car. Turned out
the old neighborhood was within half a mile, too, of the Jiffy Lube place (the AAA
building, Robbin found out, was in sight of the Jiffy Lube. I think I was *destined* to go
to that place).
We quickly found Everett Elementary school. Large and dark like I remembered it. But
the houses, smaller and more run down and more overgrown with unruly bushes than I
remember it. George street was really crummy—nothing looked familiar. You go by a large
church halfway from the school, but it's not Immanuel. Immanuel and 419 George are another
two blocks down—and next to a muddy alley. The house is yellow; two Asian boys are in the
front yard. They look suspicious as I stop in this vast motor home and point a camera out
the window at them.
"I used to live here. Smile, guys," I said, and they did.
Tom Cain's street was ultra narrow and slummy. Groups of kids on porches watched our
slow procession down the street, avoiding low hanging branches with marginal success. I
couldn't remember Tom Cain's exact house. Anyway, I'd already checked the phone book. No
T. Cain. Did find a Tony Grego. Senior or Junior? Can't remember. No John Groves, either.
Went by West Junior High School—now West Middle School. It looked tidy. Down the street
towards the old National Tea Company supermarket, George started looking better (the
neighborhood, that is). The crummyness peaked right around our old house. It wasn't clear
if the church was still in use; but it's possible some bible bangers get some use out of
it still. It definitely isn't Lutheran anymore.
We drove down the "main street" looking for Dick's Diner—didn't find it. And
that was just about the last place I have a memory of in that town. So we tooled through
downtown, hit the interstate and in five minutes were gassing up in North Sioux City,
South Dakota (our third state of the day). the Gateway 2000 Giant Prefab Building World
Headquarters was right by the gas station/casino, so I drove into their parking lot, took
pictures of their cow-spotted building, and that was it for North Sioux City. Robbin made
the observation that "Gateway" was the motto of the city: Gateway to South
Dakota—it's written on a water tower right by the Gateway plant. Coincidence? I think
The rest was a 250 mile drive across the entire state. Robbin drove most of the way
(after finding at a rest stop that the steering wheel had locked—more suffering for the
poor little tow car).
(Did I mention how miserably humid it was at the place we camped last night? Jesus, it
was sweat city—and those little gnats pushed against the screen like at Glenns
Ferry trying to get in. Robbin slept on the floor because I insisted on
having the blower fan on. In the morning, a beautiful sunrise—but still
humid as hell, and a dusty ride down five miles of gravel road getting
out...not to mention the dozen or so houseflies I slew with the Wichita
Sunday paper this morning.)
Robbin had a head/side wind of 20 MPH or better the whole way, so we went pretty
slow—50-55 max. I napped, looked at the map, drank diet Pepsis, ate anti-cigarette
Brach's candies from the plastic bag in the console. After her stint we stopped at a
Wal-Mart, bought some drug items that we both needed and more camcorder tapes (yawn—what
a narrative, huh, pilgrim? You need this detail, though. Makes it more *real* for you.
Real? You want real? Imagine bouncing down worn concrete interstate highway pavement for
thirty minutes while hell-bent truckers blow by you at 80. Then imaging doing it for all
day. Course, it beats working.
The sky threatened rain mildly the last 60 miles but we didn't get it. Just driving
left-to-right winds. Got lower on gas than I intended too at one point. Mileage was worse
than normal with the wind, and the exits I bargained on in northern South Dakota haven't
been built yet. In desperation I took the first exit in North Dakota, and rode fumes 3
miles west into a little town. There a nice Mobil dealer sold me some gas and immediately
closed up shop. I don't remember the name of the town but it had a huge convent across
from the gas station.
The wheat harvest was happening on today's trip. Starting the last 50 miles of South
Dakota, we saw plenty of combines working the fields, and both ripe fields and fields that
had just been cut. Quite a sight seeing those big machines culminate an entire growing
season in half an hour. Wheat fields are pretty low key, easy to mistake for weeds, even
when they're ready for harvest.
I bet we'll see more tomorrow. Maybe we can walk out and sample the grain.
Robbin found Wahpeton in the AAA campground guide, or we wouldn't have known about it.
Plus it cuts 75 miles off tomorrow's drive to Minneapolis. Clean town. They have a college
here. Lots of people jogging, walking, riding bikes, playing golf. Good vibes. But humid
here now, and I estimate, chilly come January. The RV park is grassy, quiet, and best of
all, empty. Three paying customers tonight for their 30 spaces.
Candy got out for a good 45 minutes when we arrived—so her exercise instincts are
sated for now.
Robbin's writing letters. I think I will too.
August 25, 1993 2600 block of E. 36th Avenue Minneapolis, MN 8:15 AM
Crude summary of recent events; embellishment later:
Did I mention that on the 23rd we visited five states? Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota,
North Dakota, and Minnesota. Minnesota by foot bridge.
The night of the 23 was hot, sweaty, and punctuated by weird animal sounds.
I up and actually played golf. Rode the bike the half-mile to the course, bag on my
Greens fees were $9. Plus I needed balls—didn't have Magnas, settled for DT-100s.
Played through a green-toothed twosome on the first tee. After a couple of good
practice swings, topped/pulled/cast a weak dribbler low and left. Here's what I did on the
rest of this long, big greened, flat, and mosquito laden course:
Hole Par CA 1 4 6 2 4 5 Second shot just off the green pin high. 3 5 6 4 3 3 170 yard
six iron to just off green. First long putt almost went in. 5 4 5 6 4 5 7 4 6 8 3 5 9 5 4
They were mowing greens and cutting new holes around me all day.
They don't start early and they don't stop moving when you're putting. Other than that,
and the mosquitoes, I could get used to playing out there.
Got back around 10; Robbin was back from her bike ride (I saw her when I was walking
down the 3rd fairway). But gone on a jog or something, apparently.
She got back and we broke camp—got water and dumped gray water on the way out. Talked
to our neighbors—they were impressed with my backing out skills with a car attached.
Got gas and asked questions there about getting the hell over to I94 in Minnesota. They
had the answers and an inside pay phone, to boot, where I was able to call Art and tell
him we were coming. He was there, got the message.
It was an easy 180 miles or so to Minneapolis once we got on the freeway. At 12:00 noon
we stopped and ate lunch in a huge rest area. I ran the generator for AC (we were out in
the hot sun; no redwoods for shade in the great prairies, for sure), and after that, took
a shower right there in the parking area. Felt great getting all that bug repellant off.
But it's bug spray or stay inside many days now.
Found Art's house, although I eventually had to throw away his instructions (more
properly, my scribbling of them) and just wing it on my knowledge of Minneapolis. Got
here, probably not by the most direct way.
Parked the rig right in front of the house; he was folding clothes and watching the
first inning of Atlanta at SF; they're closing the gap. Lead is 5 1/2 games after
yesterday's 6-3 loss. Robby Thompson has five homeruns in five consecutive games, though.
It's good to see Art (detailed impressions later).
We sat around and decided to have dinner at the super mall tonight, and do a bike ride
Played blue grass music. I got out the (hot) Ovation. Played country rhythm guitar in
the key of D. Art sounds pretty much the same as ever. he loves country (bluegrass) music.
He sings now, too.
Eventually Ben (his son) and Laura, his girlfriend, showed up.
Ben is quiet—maybe not shy. Pale, slim, blonde, and getting tall. He looks a lot like
his mother, Laurie (not to be confused with Laura).
Laura has gained a few pounds since I saw her at Grandpa's funeral; now she's more of
an Earth Mother—but still intelligent and sophisticated. The best thing that's happened
to Art in a long time. She's a bit older than Art—has 24 and 22-year-old sons in the
city. Art is in a duet with her youngest son's girlfriend. Go figure.
Supermall is amazing; bigger than some of the mountains we've seen on
this trip. We had dinner in Hooter's—a hamburger place featuring sexy waitresses in
skimpy outfits. We rode a ride in the amusement park in the middle. We bought coffees. Ben
and me played Terminator 2 in the arcade.
Riding there and back, four in the filthy, tiny, nearly-lightless Fiesta was an
adventure. Go sixty in that thing and you feel like you're flying.
Got back around 10; talked until 12. Drank 3.2 beer.
Went to bed; noisy and muggy on the street. Robbin doesn't like the fan. But what an
amazing blow job I got this morning. Almost killed me.
August 25, 1993 Still In Front Of Art's House 7:55 AM
Thought I had time to write here as the trucks blow by. But Robbin just came back from
taking her shower and wants to say goodbye to Laura. So later.
Now we're camped in a clean, empty commercial campground in western Wisconsin. Robbin
found it in her AAA guide book. It claims to be in a mosquito-free valley. So the $15
price tag is acceptable. (Today's total hit—and we bought gas is only $40. Yesterday was
maybe $15. Tomorrow could be free if we can get to Oak Park on 3/4th of a tank.)
Candy is exploring. Robbin is eating popcorn and studying art and Russian history
paperbacks in the lounge chairs outside. I feel like being alone as I write this; I
thought she would take forever to make her popcorn and get out. Got to watch that
irritation factor. Don't want to blow up.
Let's talk about yesterday for a while. We got up and merged with Art and Laura in the
house around 8:15. Originally we were going to take in breakfast at a local place with
character—but the weather was hot and getting hotter so Captain Art suggested we just
capture what was left of the cool morning and go riding immediately. I was a little
disappointed (I *do* like my breakfasts) but, no big deal.
The bike ride was great—better than most touristy things you do that cost money. We
rode six or seven miles down the Mississippi, most of it on the St. Paul side—you pick up
the river just a couple of blocks from the house—and on both sides are walking/riding
paths, and often a walking path *and* a bike path. Beautiful homes, grassy campuses,
blonde haired people from 16 to 50 jogging. We crossed the river several times. It's very
wide and impressive viewed from these high bridges. Think how big it must be 1000 miles
downstream after merging with the Missouri and Ohio and countless smaller rivers.
We were all wearing bike "hats," as I like to call them. Robbin's is nothing
but Styrofoam--the cloth decorative part is lost. Art's had that stylish teardrop shape. Art is a good bike rider, looks
solid on the bike, can ride with no hands, etc.—but I think my legs and wind are as good
or better than his. No technique, but the power is there.
We scooted back to the Minneapolis side at one point to see one of the locks/dams run
by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Our vantage point was in a veteran's home run by the
state of Minnesota—a grim series of institutional brick buildings and some old guys here
and there smoking in their wheelchairs. Laura took a nasty spill trying to make a tight,
slow-speed turn on a gravelly asphalt road. Fell heavily on her left side. She got out of
it with a scraped elbow—could've been a broken arm. She was using toe clips, and not used
to them. I don't like the feeling of my feet trapped when I'm riding a bike. Sometimes,
you need to pull them out in a hurry.
After eight miles we came to the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi
("confluence," I believe the term is). Quite a busy spot. The airport is nearby,
and jets angled up at 30 degrees and shooting off to Chicago were visible. There's also a
huge old bridge being redone—looked like they were tearing down the old and building a
duplicate. Saw a guy with a high pressure water rig literally chipping away at the old
cement. He could cut through a cubic foot of cement in maybe thirty seconds. Once he got
it crumbling, it went fast. He had a shield over his face and a shield at the end of the
rod that the water came out of—but it looked like a lot more fun and effective system
On the bluff above the two rivers is historic Fort Snelling—a frontier outpost of the
United States dating back to 1820. We had all this land, and needed to project our power and style
into this new land. This restoration of the fort was great, and they had people acting out
the role of various characters: private in the army. Sassy, ignorant private's wife. Army
musician ($6 per month). They drilled and shot their muskets in the central yard. Around
the perimeter, blockhouses with rifle nooks (what's the word for this?1) and cannon.
Flying over the fort, a huge 24 star flag.
Did I mention it was hot as hell? But I didn't mind. Living so long in Houston has
permanently hardened me to heat. I don't like it, but I can endure it.
On the way back, Laura's back tire went flat. But her arm was paining her anyway, so
maybe it was for the best. The three of us went back without her and Art came back in the
car for her.
The whole time our RV (with Candy inside) is parked on busy 36th Avenue South in front
of Art's house. We had enough windows open to keep the temperature from being fatal, but
I'm sure it wasn't the most comfortable two days of Candy's life. After we got back I was
drowsy and ran the generator to get AC but couldn't get to sleep...
We passed the evening talking and eating (Laura did swordfish steaks on the grill) and
playing Trivial Pursuits—Laura and I vs. Robbin and Art. We lost; fairly unusual for me
to lose at TP, but Art was strong. Figures. Just before it got dark, we walked a block to
the park (it was strong twilight), and set off some fireworks. We had promised Ben, and
besides, what's more fun (even though waiting to get caught kept me from enjoying it too
much. Plus the mosquitoes were thick—you couldn't see 'em, but they were eating my legs
and arms like they didn't expect any more customers for a while. We set off Yellow Bees,
and Artillery Shell (#6), and a display I forgot the name of. No little
shit—firecrackers, bottle rockets...
Art has a college degree now; theoretically, he's looking for work. But I predict it
will be a while before he finds a professional job. Not to put him down—he just doesn't
have a track record for that.
Art is a collector! He has 45,000 baseball cards, I gather all acquired in the last few
years. He has 1700 movies on tape. He's very tidy. The videos are all the shelves in order
with a sorted index list and he can go to the box with a given baseball card in nothing
Art can be grouchy with his kid and Laura. Something scarily Keith-like about the guy.
His brother Jim, more so.
Art loaned me his copy of the PBS Civil War documentary. It's on nine tapes. It'll be
good to see it so that when we get to the battlegrounds out east I'll have it on my mind.
I've been wanting to see this thing for years. What better time. First one tonight. Also,
it's a Simpsons/Seinfeld night if reception permits.
After the game, we went out to the RV—I insisted on the ventilator fan, so Robbin
slept in the back. Probably cooler for us to be apart anyway. I took advantage of the
situation and drained the lizard. It was so sultry even a single sheet or underwear was
too much. But I slept—at least until giant busses whizzing three feet away work me up
around six. Plus the cat sitting on my chest and meowing loudly.
Robbin and I went into the house to say goodbye to Laura before she had to go to work
(of the group, we were 25% employed). Then I called Eunie, told her to expect us Friday
afternoon, and the white lie that we were in Whapeton (don't want to explain why I didn't
see Cousin Cal). In 45 minutes we were packed and cruising east on I94. Neither of us
spoke much. Robbin has some menstrual cramps and I think we're both tired. The heat and
not sleeping well wears you out.
Laura gave us some travel tips last night—suggested we travel down the river as far as
La Cross, Wisconsin, and then head inland a bit to an area where an old railroad grade has
been turned into a long bikes-only trail. We found a commercial RV park right on the
trail—near one of the tunnels that's kind of the star of the trail. Supposedly the
tunnels are so long you have to get off your bike and walk. Too dark to ride with a
flashlight. Don't know if we're going to make the trail or not. I'm pretty comfortable
sitting here right now.
A few minutes from the campground we saw a couple of Amish girls running a horse and
buggy—Laura had said they were in the area.
The Mississippi is running high. Lots of trees and steps at roadside parks on the river
are underwater. It's obvious why they call it the Mississippi and not the Missouri—it's
much bigger here than the Missouri was in Sioux City. *Much* bigger. Already the biggest
river we've seen on the trip since the Columbia.
The many small farms on the road here in Wisconsin are very tidy. Neatly mowed yards,
no auto junk yards, painted silos with shiny, rounded tips. Lots of dairy action,
including breeding Holsteins. I'd feel safe drinking milk that came from farms like the
ones we saw today.
Robbin and Candy are outside. I might go see how they're doing for a minute.
August 28, 1993 Eunie's Driveway 6:45 AM
Boy, do I feel weird! Woke up in a bed for a change. Eunie's artsy, low-tech, feminine
alarm clock went off. The little 110-volt air conditioner sloshing and frozen-sounding and
generally not getting the job done put me in mind of my old bedroom on Ardmore in Houston.
I'm in Eunie's bedroom, surrounded by frou-frou of all sorts, and tiny pictures of
Margaret, Lynn, Grandma Mabel, my father, various cousins, and me. I feel greasy. One
problem with visiting people is you don't feel comfortable getting through this stage of
the day with others around. You want to be able to stagger into the kitchen and stare
blankly at a wall for a few minutes in your underwear.
We're going to get breakfast in a minute. So I can't write long. I came out to see if
Candy had recovered somewhat from last night's attack—Tommy tried to kill her—and I
don't use the word lightly—in the Anderson's living room. And it looked like he was going
to succeed from where I watched. Talk about a Feline Guided Missile, that's what Tommy
was. He chased Candy all over the living and dining rooms at high speed, and one in a
while had her on her back as he burrowed in, with seemingly murderous intent. At the end
of the fight she was breathing hard and nursing a bloody foot or two. Couldn't touch her
for ten minutes; she had the blood fury. Eventually did the nape of the neck grab and
slipped her into a cat carrier and thence to the RV.
But this morning she seems fine. Meowing and purring for me, clean fur. No blood, no
visible injuries, fatal or otherwise; But I can't talk now, gotta run back into the
Breakfast is over. Served in two courses, with plenty of china and silverware. Melon,
then the two flavors of coffeecake we drove two miles across town this morning at 7:00 AM
for. Coffee Swedish-style, boiled with the grounds, served poured through a strainer,
china cups with saucers. I'd rather swizzle some coffee in the kitchen with my feet on a
chair reading the paper, but this is Oak Park, and we are a bit formal in Oak Park. To me,
it's too much waiting for too little food.
Here is yesterday's summary:
I am feeling grouchy this morning, although it gets better as the morning wears on.
On the Tunnel Trail by 7:30 AM. Two miles east is a spooky, 1800', dark, dank, foggy
tunnel. You have to walk your bike; in the fog, our flashlight didn't cast much light at
all, without a flashlight, it'd be impossible. I thought I could ride, holding the light
in one hand, but it's impossible. Not enough light to see where you're going. The fog in
the tunnel eats it up.
After the tunnel, you climb out of a shallow ravine, and ride past green hills and
trees and cornfields. Then into another 500 population small town. We'd planned to eat
breakfast here, but there are five bars and no restaurants. Finally settled for a
convenience store outside of town, did coffee and homemade raspberry pastries while
reading the Madison paper at a picnic table.
We don't buy the $2 per rider per day permits you're supposed to have. And got away
with it. You sneer, but eight bucks is eight bucks to poor folks on the road.
Then back to the campground—through the tunnel again. This time I noticed water
dripping—it makes a creepy sound in the echoing tunnel. The first time through you reach
a point where you can't see either end—it's pitch dark—the kind of darkness where you
lose your balance just trying to stand up. Spelunker's darkness. This time, I saw the
proverbial light at the end of the tunnel just before the other end disappeared. I suppose
the fog had gotten lighter.
If they had a good bikes-only trail all across the country, I think it would be a major
attraction, used by millions. Biking is a whole other experience when you don't have cars
to contend with. A pleasant experience. If you're not going uphill, it takes almost no
effort to move a bike along at 10 MPH. Even fat, out of shape people can do it. (Not
(We rode the other direction (into Wilton) the previous night, too. Bought a 12 pack of
cheap beer and a big bag of potato chips (Robbin's preferred junk food), ate the potato
chips and drank a beer each at the store, and then rode back.)
We showered, loaded up, dumped the gray water, and were on the highway by 11:15. Three
couples were setting up for a weekend biking/camping trip as we left—I didn't envy them.
It was 85 and 80 percent humidity by 10:30 in the morning. It felt like Bombay, or worse,
Passed two Amish carriages in the first twenty miles.
People are friendly and farms are tidy in Wisconsin. Fat women on John Deere riding mowers wave
as you pass.
We stopped for lunch at a giant cheese-themed tourist trap off the interstate. The
can't slice the cheese you buy though, because they don't have a license. We bought $7
worth of Swiss and ate sandwiches in the RV—slicing it ourselves. They must tell people
all day long, "We can't slice your cheese." I say, "Get the fucking
Stopped in Rockford around 3:00, took the State Street exit. But only drove in as far
as the big Wal-Mart store; not into Memory Territory. Bought replacement shaving heads for
my electric razor. Robbin got female-stuff. I planned on cruising Rockford for a bit to
give Chicago's rush hour a chance to die down, but Robbin wanted to hit the road so we got
back on the Tollway. We made decent time to O'Hare. It cost $5 in tolls ($1 five separate
times). I pulled off at the Des Plaines Oasis—I've always liked that place—and called
Oak Park from a airport-sized bank of pay phones. I told Margaret we'd be a few minutes
It was maybe 30 minutes via Cumberland to Oak Park; heavy traffic, but I am the Pro
from Dover these days when it comes to driving the motor home.
We drove past Kiddie Land.
We drove through River Forest. Lovely houses and yards and schools and the seminary.
Got to Eunie's. I was worried about there being enough room, but the RV fit all the way
back against the garage—mild bush-scraping is all. Eunie met me on the porch—she was
glad to see us.
So hot! I can't mention this enough. Stiflingly hot. The Andersons stay inside with
shut windows because 1. they have no screens, and 2., they don't want Tommy the cat
outside. 3., they are mad, quite insane! (no, just kidding about #3)
We made small talk for a half hour or so, then headed to a nice fern bar/restaurant in
downtown Oak Park. I've been telling Robbin how nice the house is, how good Eunie looks
for 70—but frankly, sitting in the stifling bay room with the torn carpet and peeling
paint on walls and radiator, the place has looked better. Plus Eunie is a day away from
her hair appointment and her thin hair looks it. Margaret looks better than I expected.
Seems alert. Her leg bothers her, but not like it did.
We park at the restaurant; Margaret has a wheelchair plaque, and with it, you park
practically anywhere right up front. Took some getting used to, but I started to like it!
I have baby back ribs, and my standard two Buds at the restaurant. When does the diet
start? I need to lose 15 lbs. I drove to and from; on the way back, even though it was a
little dark for sightseeing we drove by the Frank Lloyd Wright house on Chicago Avenue,
and the zany, concrete angles house on Greenfield. Both are six blocks from 933. We kidded
that the architect of the new places is trying to make a statement working here in FLW's
home town: "There's a new guy in town. Better step over." But time will tell how
this place ages. It didn't look quite as cool to me as the first time I saw it five years
ago. In fact, it reminded me a bit of Phil Moore's old "atomic energy" dining
room light fixture.
Back at the house, more sweltering.
We foolishly put Candy through another terrible ordeal. We thought it would be okay to
let Candy into the house, let her and Tommy sniff noses and get acquainted with each
We give Candy 10 minutes in the living room to get the feel of the place while Tommy is
shut up in the kitchen. But when we let him out, and they see each other, Tommy becomes a
murderous, cat-seeking missile. They fly over everywhere, and once in a while he gets into
her, doing what looks like chewing. Neither has claws, thank goodness. Margaret and Eunie
can't begin to move fast enough to break it up. Robbin and I barely can. If people move at
speed X, cats move at 3X. Finally we separate them. Candy seemingly injured on a chair in
the dining room, Tommy trying to get at her, but restrained in the hallway.
But this morning she seems okay. No blood. No seeming after effects.
Robbin asked me after breakfast, "What's on the agenda?" I *have* no agenda.
It's a cloudy, cool morning (the heat wave seems to have broken) and I'd just as soon do
nothing all day.
Tomorrow we may go downtown on the El.
The "remodeling" Eunie has been talking about for Months has produced no
visible changes—except where some furniture has been sent out for reupholstering
see the dingy, torn carpet that it used to cover. No painting. No new carpet. No floors or
kitchens redone. Robbin probably thinks I'm crazy the way I described this place. It looks
shabby, especially on a hot, humid evening.
We're plugged into the house. At some point someone installed a grounded exterior
outlet on the north side of the house. Not enough zip to run the AC, but better than
nothing. At least it'll keep this computer charged up.
Candy has gone to sleep; must not be in too bad of shape. I better go see what
Robbin-meister is up to.
My Grandfather's house, the house my Father grew up in, 933 North Euclid—is an old
house. She has push button electric light switches and incredibly few baseboard
outlets. Her cement sidewalks are cracking and in some places, crumbling. Concrete work by
the back steps, leading down to the basement needs replacing. The house needs some money
spent on its infrastructure, as the Clinton/Gore ticket would say.
Hanging on the wall in the garage is an old trouble-shooting light. A heavy, black
metal cage around a light bulb. That amount of manufacturing effort in a trouble light
would cost you $50 today, if anyone made them that heavy-duty, which they don't. At the
end is a scrawny, twisted cloth power cord terminating in a stubby ungrounded plug.
Also hanging on a wall is a huge iron bar, four feet long. Some tool my grandfather
used for opening the coal bin or closing a water valve or some other long undone home
maintenance task that required leverage. On a shelf is a one gallon, metal can of Prestone
Antifreeze, by Eveready. It's got to be 50 years old. I'd report on all this stuff, but
frankly, it's all dirty and rusty and antiques really aren't my thing, at least until
they've been spruced up and mounted on the ceiling of a TGI Friday's.
(I'm rewriting this a bit 9/4/93 near Niagara Falls. Candy is at my side; Robbin's in
It's drizzling lightly now; started a few minutes ago. Candy is snoozing in the cabover
How many neighbors have Eunie and Margaret had here at 933 over the years? The people
to the south are yuppies with kids; they've remodeled their kitchen (it has an island;
beautiful flowers on it; there's a mini-bay window at the kitchen sink. Last night we
could see the woman framed in it from our window. From Eunie's window there's almost too
good a view of her new kitchen; looks good. 933's kitchen is the pits. They have a yuppie
dog with long chin hair. Their back porch steps are only six feet from the left edge of
Eunie and Margaret miss Ethel. They say Tommy does too. I miss her too. She should be
sitting in the living room working on the Jumble in the big chair just left of the
August 29, 1993 The Bay Room at 933 N. Euclid 8:00 AM
Eunie's making coffee. And probably six other things for breakfast. I've got the Sunday
Tribune spread out on the table to my left. The old Zenith TV is here. It's best days are
over. You have to turn it off and back on again maybe twice every half hour to keep a
picture onscreen. The VCR that I gave them and they never use is on top of it. I know they
never use it because the OSP time setting screen would have gotten in their way if they
had. There's a dusty Sanyo oscillating fan (not a GE or Vornodo?). A bunch of closed
windows. There's less furniture here than usual—a few large chairs are missing—off to
the upholsterer's. Still the coffee table filled with a pretty juicy selection of
The carpet in this room is in terrible shape. According to Eunie, and why would she
lie, the carpet in this room dates to 1933. The paint in this room is 30 years old. All
this is going to change in the next month, I am told. The money Ethel left these ladies is
the impetus for the change.
I woke last night at 2:30. It was stiflingly hot and humid in the room. I went out to
the RV. With the vent fan on, it was much cooler out there, and I kept Candy company.
Came in this morning around 7:00. Although all our bedclothes and the curtains in the
cabover have been damp now for weeks.
At the crack of dawn, Eunie and I were driving across Oak Park for Coffee Cake. All the
way south to the freeway. I got a cup of coffee next door.
Then the four of us had breakfast (honeydew melon and two types of coffee cakes) on
festive breakfast china.
Eunie had to get downtown for a hair appointment by 9:00, so she was out by 8:15.
Robbin did some laundry; I read the paper, and about 10:30 we went out for a long, slow
bike ride around Oak Park and River Forest. Saw many beautiful homes on the unhurried
ride—smooth roads, light traffic. Cool breezes.
We ended up at the Frank Lloyd Wright house on Chicago Ave. Stayed for a house tour.
FLW came to Oak Park as a young man from Wisconsin in 1893, and worked here for twenty
years—perfecting the so-called prairie school of American architecture. His house, which
was built as my Grandmother Carlson was being born, is clearly 50 or more years ahead of
its time. His houses have elements of nature (plants, wood and other natural materials),
flow from one room to another, many horizontal lines, repetition of geometric themes, use
of stained ("art") glass, and elements of Indian and Japanese design. A definite
modern look when you consider it was being done before the turn of the century. There's a
very good book store at the house/studio.
Oops, battery going, going, g
Out here in the RV with the rain and Candy wrapped around my neck.
After the studio tour (the guide was a sloppily-dressed fellow with a beard who said
"uh, uh, ..." a lot and spoke entirely too loudly, especially once we got inside
away from the street noise). We rode back, where Eunie had a deli-takeout lunch ready to
go on slightly more formal, but still fun, lunch china: sesame seed bread, breast of
turkey slices, pasta salad, crab salad, and fruit salad. Everything was tap notch quality.
After lunch I went out looking for a rechargeable battery pack to replace the one in
her AT&T cordless phone I gave her for Christmas a year and a half ago. Ended up in a
big, old-time Sears store off North Avenue. The store is a dump, but doing business; in
the basement TV/Tools/Sporting Goods department, selling to working people. I found what I needed. Turned out it had the wrong (very, very, similar, but
wrong) connector on it, but luckily I hadn't thrown the old battery away. I soldered the
old connector onto the new battery, and lo and behold, it appears to have fixed the
phone. Wonder Nephew strikes again. I have it out here now; you get a loud, clear dial
tone from inside the motor home. Haven't called Aunt Vie yet, but maybe later. [More on
this seemingly innocent procrastination later.]
Eunie came out to the RV while I was fixing the phone—she just showed up and started
talking through the screen. I kept her company for a while then feigned tiredness, and
took a short nap.
At six thirty, I showered in the RV, put on my "dress outfit"—white western
shirt, jeans, belt, and brown leather loafers with far-out patterned brown socks. Showed up
at the house; had a small glass of red wine. Then we headed out to the Homestead. The
Homestead is a restaurant right out of the Eisenhower years. All dark and mirrored
heavy meat menu and waitresses who've been there for thirty years and a clientele with
more gray hair than a Sunday morning worship service. Jello is an option with dinners, to
give you an idea.
On the other had, I did have a wonderful thick-pork-chop dinner. There was conversation
throughout the two-hour meal, although at one point it lagged, when seemingly we all
realized at the same moment that the food was late and we were ready to stop talking and
start eating. But we soon got rolling talking again and then the food came. Our waitress
was 57 years old with ash blonde hair...she chided Eunie for not asking for her dressing
on the side when she ordered it, as it would now have to "be thrown away." These
were the plainest salads I've seen in a bowl in a long time. Anyway, she cost herself some
tip money with that remark.
Margaret walks so slow—she kind of reminds me of Dr. Atkinson. The speed that she walks
at colors the experience. I don't *like* shuffling at 0.1 MPH. Maybe I'm in too big a
hurry, but I get anxious trying to walk that slow. In the time it takes her to walk from
our table to the front door I can get the car, drive it up, and listen to a full song on
It was raining lightly on the way back; I missed the left on Division and drove through
some interesting, dark streets coming back, then overshot again, and we drove most of the
way east on Greenfield. But almost any route works in Oak Park. Margaret keep shrieking
"Where are we? What street is this?"
I watched Part 2 of the Civil War series. Margaret begged off immediately (she doesn't
like the civil war). Eunie disappeared after fifteen minutes; Robbin found her barfing in
the downstairs bathroom a half hour later. Too much wine! Only CA stayed 'til the end.
It's mid-1862 in the series. Grant is winning bloody victories in the west [Eunie's phone
is ringing!] and McClelland is doing nothing with his huge army in the east.
The Merrimac and the Monitor slug it out. The weapons have outdated the tactics, so
casualties are high. 30% casualties in a single battle are not unusual for this war.
Shiloh casualties are the same as the battle of Waterloo's—and there are Shilohs twenty
times over to come.
Then off to bed. Miserably humid, but somehow I got to sleep. At least until 2:30 when
I came out to the motor home. But this is where I came in.
Had a thirty minute conversation with Alex, while walking around Eunie's backyard with
the newly-fixed cordless phone. He's gotten a job—but a terrible one, selling vacuum
cleaners in people's houses, and he hates it. I told him he should quit that job at once
and become a bartender, and look for chances to rise there. It was gloomy and almost
raining the whole time—I paced while he told me the story of his effort to
"adopt" a dog from the Houston Humane Society, the same one out Almeda Road that I
adopted Caesar from in 1974. They were going to refuse him the right to the dog, but he
pulled strings with TV people, and finally Jan Glenn from Good Morning Houston got them to
relent—why they'd refuse to give a dog to a perfectly good family is a question without a
good answer. I guess because they were going to put him in the yard sometimes! Where else
would you keep a 50 pound dog? I love my friend Alex, and hope he finds a job that he and
Wanda will be happy with soon.
First Eunie came out, then Margaret, for a visit-the-RV-and-cat session. I was on the
phone and could only gesture politely. Margaret was able to pull herself up into the
motor home, to my surprise. Robbin gave her the "grand" tour. "This is it,
and here's the bathroom." As soon as the phone call ended, I came inside, and then it
started raining in earnest.
We'd planned to take the El downtown today, but with this rain, all bets are off.
Waiting for inspiration to strike. One problem is I'm working with only one eye today—I
took the left lens out because of persistent irritation. Could be another infection
staring. Maybe I should start taking that lens out every night. I'm not having much luck
remembering to take it out periodically anyway.
Now Robbin is talking to her old friend in Missouri, Ramona. Old as in old woman. We'll
be seeing her come October/November.
August 30, 1993 In the RV in Eunie's driveway 5:30 PM
Our third full day at Eunie's.
About yesterday: Around noon Robbin and I bugged out in the car, rain or no rain. We
were ostensibly only going for something to eat—but I ended up on the Eisenhower headed
for downtown. In thirty minutes we were parked behind Water Tower Place and zeroing in on
food on its mezzanine level. Ate lunch at a wild place with a common seating area and
multiple food providers. They keep track of what you're eating and drinking with magnetic
strip cards—you give them your card when you get the food, they put the charge on there,
and to get out, you pay for what's on the card. Good concept, but a very average
cheeseburger was had by yours truly. Was it called "Food Life," or something
like that? They even had their own motto, which is too pretentious to print here.
Then we window shopped; all over the mall, then up Michigan and back down again. Very
nice Crate and Barrel store with lots of furniture on five levels. What a stylish place,
and not a rip-off on prices, either. Robbin and I walked around like a married couple. I
found a couple of cherrywood desks that were very nice, and only $3000.
Highlight for me was Nike Town—a surrealistic five story place that sells nothing but
Nike: shoes, tee-shirts, shorts, warm-ups, and that's about it. But what a presentation.
It's like being inside a Nike TV commercial. I tried on Air Premier golf shoes sitting on
a display case with clubs and gloves and other stuff autographed by Curtis and Peter
Jacobson. My butt on Curtis' five iron. It said, "Most people hit a golf ball 175
yards with this club. Curtis does too."
Rooms with posters—wonderful, inspirational posters: There Is No Finish Line;
It; I can't remember all. Plus great stuff shots. Rooms running inspiration
video/commercials—I couldn't tell which. And who cares? A free throw lane with glass back
board. Michael Jordan and other Nike shoe wearers memorabilia. Deion Sander's baseball
uniform, etc. What a place. Next door was the Sony store. That looked cool, too, but it
Got back in time for dinner. I was feeling sleepy and hot and greasy and vague and not
that into eating, but I did anyway.
Yesterday Margaret gave me a 3D camera she got via mail order recently. How she got the
camera, I can only speculate. Sounds like she responded to a nutty mail order or worse,
telephone offer. It takes four images from four lenses, on two picture's worth of regular
35mm film—then you send in the roll to the Nishika 3D company in Henderson, Nevada and
somehow they create 3D prints. Can't imagine what the prints look like. They couldn't be
holographic at the prices quoted in the film developing packet.
I put the camera together (mostly the neck strap!) and studied its manual watching a
James Bond movie...no one else was much interested. Margaret conks out early. Robbin and
Eunie were off in the kitchen.
We slept in the motor home last night; it's much cooler, and it's easier—having your
clothes and toothbrush and stuff all in its familiar place.
How about today?
Got a vehicle ID verification from the "Secretary of State Police" office in
Belwood, Illinois, about five hot, ugly miles west of Oak Park on Manheim Road. Michelle
of Saturn of Spokane says she needs this before the state of Washington can issue a title
and plates for the tow car. Ironically, this little bureaucracy is only a few blocks from
the cemetery where the Andersons (Emil, Robert, Mabel, and Ethel Burke) are buried. I went
by to see them. I don't know if it was the heat or this trip, but I was very
matter-of-fact, not emotional at the graves. I spoke a little to each of them. Grandpa
Emil's marker was half covered by mud; I cleaned it off as best I could. With a hose I
could stand there slouched like he used to do and clean it off properly.
When I got home, Robbin and Eunie were both gone. I put the old running shoes on for
the first time in months, and jogged a slow mile south on Euclid. Many wonderful mansions
out that way. Lots of heavy remodeling going on. Oak Park seems to be solid,
real-estate-wise, at least for now.
When I staggered back, I was sweaty and had two days of dirt on me, and greasy glasses
and hair, and felt barely human. I absolutely *had* to take a shower in an air-conditioned
space, so I fired up the generator, turned on the AC, put more water in the water tank,
and took a decent shower. 20 minutes later I felt like a productive member of society
again. Getting the contacts in again helped.
Robbin came back from a two-hour walk around the historic homes. We drove downtown to
an air-conditioned restaurant. We walked around non-air conditioned downtown Oak Park for
a bit, browsing the two bookstores. One is a feminist book store; the other, a big chain
store that may be going out of business. They had great prices, though. 40% off on the NY
Then back to the house. Two hours of bill paying and checkbook balancing. It was a
trial, because it was hot! But I got everything to balance, and produced the desired
output: Six stamped letters and that "all is in order" feeling that Nordic
people crave. I had to ask Margaret for some envelopes: such a pain! You have to look past
her grouchiness. But that isn't my specialty.
I "walked" Candy down to the mailbox at Oak Park and Division to finish the
job. I say "walked," because carried and dragged is more like it. Walking her on
a leash is an art not quite perfected.
A bit ago I experimented running the air conditioner off the extension cord to the
house, and low and behold, it worked! So the worst of the heat problems are over. Friday I
tripped a breaker the minute I hooked up. Course, I may have trouble if the wrong outlets
get used in the house. But for now, it's *cool* inside (as the old signs used to say in
Eunie was out for a visit (to the RV) a bit ago. Brought a toy for Candy—a shoe on a
rubber band that we've mounted above the table. The cat shows interest in it sometimes.
Eunie is a nice person. She puts up with me.
Robbin is calling various Meadowbrook people today, getting the low-down on her
hospital's closing. Apparently they just shut the whole thing down two weeks after she
left. The rejuvenated cordless phone works great out here; the transmitter is up in
Eunie's room and "gets out" really well.
Around 12, I finally got hold of Aunt Vie. I want to see her, but I'm half afraid of
getting rejected. Why do I want to see her? Because her house is so cool, and because I
had happy times there, and because I like her and Uncle Ed. But I'm afraid of the trip
going bad. Of her getting on me. On the phone she said, "What state are you getting
married in?" How do you respond to that? I said, "That's not clear at this
point." She pops off just like my Mother. I hope she's better behaved around Robbin.
We're going to see them Wednesday for lunch. Do I want to see Bun, too? Yes, but I worry
that he doesn't really want to see me. He certainly never calls or initiates anything. Now
that he's not a big rock and roll star, maybe we can go back to a relationship of equals.
I'm certainly not calling him so that I can fawn all over him. Just to say hello. Art was
fun to see—shouldn't Bun be fun to see?
Eunie was going to cook today, but with the weather so hot we're going to a restaurant
instead. Fern bar place, cool, drinks, gourmet hamburgers. That could work.
The painter showed up today. He piled everything into the middle of the room—piano
too, covered it with a drop cloth, and was doing a very neat job. Masking the wood work,
vacuuming up chips. As professional a painter as I've seen. Eunie is probably paying top
dollar, but at least she's getting good work. With all the furniture gone, you see just
what a wreck the rug is. In a couple of months they will have spruced the place up nicely.
Candy is on my shoulder. I'm going for a beer. Hope I don't get too clawed.
What else to tell? Nothing; it's 6:15 and time for dinner.
September 2, 1993 Starved Rock Campground Central Illinois 9:05 AM
It's raining outside, although yesterday was a crystal blue day. Candy is outside,
probably under the RV. This is the kind of place (basically, deserted) where we let her go
free. I'm drinking strong, mostly decaffeinated coffee from a thin plastic blue-green cup.
There's a country crock butter tub of sugar on the table too—also, a disposable salt
shaker, an empty box of grape nuts, a Chicago Art Institute museum store bag filled with
the nine tape PBS series, "The Civil War." There's a yellow sneaker on a rubber
band cat toy hanging from an overhead cabinet. There's a clothes basket of dirty clothes
sitting across from me. My jeans are looped over the back of my seat, with Robbin's purse,
a couple of magazines, and the camcorder bag on the seat next to me. Life on the Road.
Let me review the last couple of days for you.
Yesterday is clearer in my mind, and more happened, so I'll start there. No wonder I
was afraid to call Vie! It's scary to visit my aunt and uncle.
Around 9:00 AM we slashed our way out of Eunie's driveway. It was a tight fit, and we
snapped some bush branches and probably scratched the RV in the process. But we got out,
and hooked up the Fiesta while Eunie stood there and Margaret came hobbling slowly down
the sidewalk. I hugged both of them and then we were off, driving for the first time in
four days. It felt good, to be back on the highway, but I felt a little uneasy because we
were headed to Rockford—the place I am drawn to but where I don't always have the good
times I think I will.
We paid the four $1 tolls with scrappy change—even pennies on one occasion. The lady
didn't seem to mind.
We drove down State Street—the city has put on easily three miles worth of fast food
and discount stores in this direction since I was coming here in the sixties. The Sweden
House used to be on the edge of town; now it's practically in the center. We turned right
on Fairview, left on Rural, and right on Winthrop. Grandma's house is on my right. The
lawn needed mowing, and the trees needed pruning. Her flagpole is still there. All of
Winthrop was a bit run down. Then out to Aunt Vie's—right on Parkview, left on tiny Crab
Apple Lane, then left into the tree-covered opening—we barely fit on some of the turns.
Vie's old Lincoln and Uncle Ed's beat-up pickup are both in the driveway.
We ring the bell, and soon Vie is hugging me. Gray hair, and deep wrinkles but looking
damn healthy and just like herself.
Vie is a character. Let's say that. Even her best friends and most bitter
agree to that characterization. Alternately charming and vicious, trashing her enemies
political and personal with real anger. What fabulous energy. Like she did a line of coke
fifteen minutes ago, all day long, 365 days a year. I suppose only Song Huang, the QPW project manager at
Borland, comes close to matching Vie's energy. And she's 70 years old.
[It's raining harder now. Robbin is sloshing around in the shower; she takes a shower
with less water than I used to use brushing my teeth back home.]
The house is unchanged. Cheap Trick gold records on the wall. Dark, rich-looking wood
paneling and cabinets into the kitchen.
She immediately hustles us into the living room, where she always has a new keyboard
toy. In the sixties, it was a ballpark-style organ with Leslie speakers. The eighties,
various electronic pianos. Now this small room has a pipe organ, too. Vie sits down and
says, you two, listen to this, and plays the famous wedding march. Christ! Give me a
break! Don't the meek inherit the earth? I was afraid of this happening, but in person, it
isn't so bad. She's telling me this with a smile on her face and Robbin doesn't seem too
The pipe organ is close to the remodeled porch room Bun and I shared a couple of
[9/4/93, 6:30 PM—Just lit the stove and put in baked potatoes at 375. Robbin's not
back yet. Having the day's first Budweiser. It sure looks inviting, sitting there on the
table, the Famous Budweiser beer.]
We look at snapshots of her grandchildren. Robbin asks how many she has and she says,
"20, 17 on earth and 3 in heaven." Vie is manic, running off getting more snapshot folders
and showing me the kids. I don't recognize any of them. Jan's oldest girl is a pretty good
basketball player. Kurt's little girl is now nine. She says, "Ed will just have to
wait!" as she drags out more pictures.
Then she drives pell-mell to the Beefaroo. I have one of the worst fast-food sandwiches
I've ever had. A hard-fried pork patty on a bun. (That's not Vie's or Kurt's fault, just
simple reporting of fact.) We're sitting in Kurt's 300 acre development on the northwest
edge of town. Little Edwin, now a 33 year old father of four is there, too. He made the
effort to see me. I barely recognized him standing in the line at Beefaroo. Oops. The ones
that know me and seek me out, I don't care if I see or not? Is that it? From my seat, I
can see nothing but Kurt Carlson property. Shopping centers and houses.
After lunch, Vie takes the two of us over to her antique shop. She puts up the Closed
sign—she and Robbin look at antique jewelry. I paw unself-consciously at the piano she
Then it's on to the Lakes area—where Ed spends his days running his bulldozer,
creating lakes, filling in lakes. Generally being alone with his thoughts. My uncle is a
wealthy man and spends most of his day driving a bulldozer, I guess because he likes it. I
went up to him on the bulldozer intending to see if I could drive it but I chickened out
(partially because there's not room for two in the thing) and settled for a demonstration
of the controls. It's a big thing with tank treads and a scoop on the front. 5000 hours
he's put on that thing in eight years. Robbin's figure of 2000 hours in a
M-F, 9 to 5 working year
tells me just how often the man is out here.
In the most uncomfortable part of the visit, we saw Kurt at his health club, in his
office at the back. He's driving a wild, restored early-forties Chrysler. Gaudy and
leather and red and in perfect condition. In his office is an art-deco painting of a man
and a woman eyeing each other from behind the wheels of their respective huge, gaudy cars.
Kurt always seems to be in a hurry when I meet him. It's very unequal footing. He has
about twenty rolled-up plans on a work table. Next time I meet him it will be under more
equal conditions. His wife, my cousin-in-law, Sherrie, is friendly but somehow the total
The best part was getting back to the house and seeing those familiar sights. Old Town
is new, but sitting here and there are familiar friends from my childhood—the popcorn
machine and hot dog cookers from the ballpark, for example. The yard, shrunken but still
evocative of my childhood, for another.
I helped Mildred, their long-time cleaning lady, mow the lawn around the pool. With a
nice Honda rear-bagger, self-propelled. I just felt like *doing* something. I've seen the
Old Town tour more than once, and antiques aren't really my thing anyway.
I should mention for the record that "Old Town" is the back of Vie and Ed's
house. They built Dodge City, circa 1880, around their pool, with the pool where the
street would have been. And each building is stocked with period antiques. Vie spends her
time giving tours to friends, relatives, and various groups. It could easily be a museum.
The house—originally a three-bedrooms-upstairs farmhouse—has been remodeled at least
five times and now has eight bedrooms (some of the Old Town rooms function as guest
In the Law Office at Old Town they have photographs of a hanging that was carried out
by the county in the twenties or thirties. They also have the rope (the rope), and the
alleged murder weapon, a small, rusty, five shot revolver. So antiques can be a little
I let Candy walk around Old Town a little. She wasn't impressed. She sniffed their
shady, dark crannies like she would anywhere.
I blew it by not calling Jane and Dave. I called them from Vie's, left a message to
that effect (another mistake). Vie hates Jane. Anyway, I didn't give J&D enough
warning that I was coming. Rude of me, even though it stems from insecurity more than
meanness. Ironic, because Dave and Jane show more interest in me, and in my mother, than
Ed and Vie.
We pulled out of Vie's around 4:00. Drove to the nearby Scandinavian Cemetery, and saw
Grandma (and Grandpa, too) Carlson's grave. What a wonderful lady was my grandmother. I
hope she knows I think that. I have a feeling she does, somewhere. Don't you Grandma? I
miss you. If you were here tonight we could play Crazy Eights or Canasta.
We drove by Dave and Jane's on the way out of town. That's the least I could do, run by
Vale Avenue. We don't ring the bell or even stop.
Then we were free! For the first time in almost a week—no relatives to see, out on the
open road. We stopped for envelopes and bike tarp clips at Office Max, had lunch at a TGI
Friday's in Cherry Valley (Grandma's true home town), then boom, on down the highway. Get
Your Motor Running, indeed.
There's an interstate now leading south out of town. Rather than go back through
Chicago and pay $4 in tolls and see the same old stuff and hit rush hour again, we opted
for a longer, cheaper, and more original route: I39 south to I80—then east on I80 into
I'd had a couple of beers at the TGI Friday's, though, and didn't make it farther than
Starving Rock SP, near the I80/I39 intersection. Don't know what that means, Robbin says
to write that. Cost $11 bucks to camp here, for a decent, not great campground. Lots of
space though, and of course, not crowded.. Got gas, milk, diet Pepsis, and beer—the four
signature fluids of this trip—on the way to the park. Kind of place where Candy can go
I watched another segment of the civil war documentary. Robbin read. We went to bed.
So that was September 1. Quite a day, spent with the Carlsons. What about the 31st?
Typical Eunie and Margaret breakfast of not enough real breakfast food on too many,
too fancy dishes.
Eunie drove Robbin and me to the El. I borrowed her umbrella, which I promptly lost, as
is my wont. But the day matured into a clear, cool, near perfect day.
We rode the El downtown, saw slums and factories on the way. Walked to the Sears tower;
had Starbucks Coffee on the way. I was grumpy. Saw the city, good visibility from the
103rd floor. Supposed to be 110 floors, but they said the top seven were maintenance-only.
How sad! Then walked to the Art Institute on Adams and Michigan. Had Popeye's Fried
Chicken on the way, on State Street. Place was chaotic; too much black help? Traded a
biscuit for a wing.
Saw the impressionists and up: Renoir, Manet, Monet, Gugain, Van Gogh, Serrat, Picasso,
you name it. What a collection of art.
Rode the El back. A few noisy black kids on board—but not too scary.
At 4:00 rode to Mt. Prospect for dinner with Rosie and Berge. It's a long ride—Eunie
knows roads that miss the worst of the traffic, but still, it's many miles and many
traffic lights. I drove—I'm not about to let her drive me around. Too scary. Her best
driving years, and they were not Jackie Stewart-quality to begin with—are behind her. But
there were a couple of miscommunications about routes, and each one resulted in
contemptuous scolding by Margaret.
Rosie looked great; Berge is near death, thin and drawn and his eyes are even darker
than usual. But he likes the stock market and cars and we had stuff to talk about. If we
get down to southern Florida on this trip I should look them up.
On the way back, we put Margaret in the back and stuck a sock in her mouth.
Saw the first CBS Dave Letterman show (although that could have been the previous
night). And that was 8/31/93.
(Later, at 3:30 in New Buffalo, Michigan)
Robbin just got back from some walking; she bought two big tubs of raspberries at a
fruit stand. Now she's reading the paper while we both wait for some instant coffee water
to boil. I just woke up from a nap here in front of a little church. New Buffalo isn't
much; Robbin had thought we could spend a little time perusing the shops here. Now we may
just head back down into Indiana and South Bend. But at least we stopped for a while; no
state on this trip deserves a two minute step in, step out treatment.
When we broke camp this morning I took a calculated risk, and rather than backing out
of our campsite, with all the hassle attendant to that, drove straight out across a soggy
field. The risk was that we would get stuck in the soggy field, and I can't be certain,
but I think that almost happened. We did leave a fairly definite trail through the slop.
But we made it and didn't get caught. I don't think I will try that on grass that wet
Today we have driven through rain on some of the most crowded interstate highways I
have ever been on. By crowded, I mean with *trucks*. Big, ugly, heavy, wide trucks were
everywhere this morning. Passing me on the left and the right. I'd have gone faster, but
with the rain, it didn't feel safe. I80, that stretch, is also under construction and
quite bumpy. Extremely so, in spots.
For lunch, stopped at an Oasis over the freeway that advertised Burger King and
POPEYE'S CHICKEN as the food outlets. We sat in a big room with every other table a truck
driver. They don't look so scary when they're out of their trucks. I should have gone up
to each of them and told them what I thought of their road-wrecking, energy-consuming
profession. The cash register girl messed up our order and was rude; Popeye's isn't making
a good impression on Robbin. Her side dishes have been tiny and expensive, and the people
don't seem to get the orders right. But once I got the food and sat down, the eating was
good. Popeye's also seems to have raised their prices. What cost me $2 in 1986 on Ella
Blvd is $3.80 in Chicago.
September 3, 1993
Eby Pines Campground
10:00 AM EDT
Yesterday went by fast. There was the hellish driving in the rain on I80 near Chicago
in the morning. Lunch at the rude official turnpike Popeye's. Slipped quickly through
northwestern Indiana to New Buffalo, Michigan. Got our Michigan check-mark and $5 worth of
fresh raspberries. Then across and down into South Bend, Indiana. I walked for half an
hour on the wet, green, beautiful, Notre Dame campus. Kids and parents everywhere (classes
started Tuesday). They *do* look younger every year.
I walked to the bookstore; it was jammed. Lots of Notre Dame logo merchandise. Saw the
golden dome; it's the administration building. Walked into a beautiful cathedral next to
it. They were having mass. Older guys serve as near-cops in the bookstore and cathedral.
No guns, but they sure look you over.
Then zipped east, into increasing darkness, through Elkhart (got fast cash) and found
this campground (there aren't many to pick from). Didn't give the campground a look
hardly—just paid the money, parked, and watched two civil war videos, including the
Gettysburg episode (#5). Very moving. It will be interesting to see the battlefield in
person. Robbin read my Scientific American. Then to bed. Humid and raining lightly when we
woke up. Still is. I did my end-of-month closing on the computer (still averaging $60 a
day). Took a shower. Robbin's in a bad mood. I'll try to be adult about it.
After a day of driving the back roads of Indiana and Ohio, we're encamped at Findley
State Park in central Ohio. The plan is to make Canton (and the always-funky Pro Football Hall of Fame) by 10 tomorrow morning—then turn north to
Cleveland and northeast to almost Buffalo by tomorrow evening. Then it's one day across Niagara Falls to Toronto. What does that make it? The 5th in
Toronto? I guess that works. It'll have to.
Findley State Park is one of the few parks, state or otherwise, in Ohio. This is big
campground, maybe 200 spaces, and half or more are full now. Probably would be even more
full, this being the Labor Day Weekend and all, but of course, it's been raining all day.
We pushed east from last night's stopping point all day, on back roads. They seemed
kinder and gentler after yesterday's non-stop 18-wheeler onslaught. There were plenty of
big trucks on the back roads—but they're easier to handle when they're in front of you or
behind you—not passing you every thirty seconds, pushing you two feet right in the
process. Or on I-80, passing you on both sides if you're foolish enough to get in the
middle lane. You see the state on the back roads. The problem is, you see the state. We
drove through a bunch of smallish Indiana and Ohio towns today, and they get to be a pain
in the ass. I think they lay out the highway signs in these small towns so as to maximize
the number of stop signs and stop lights you hit. You have to anticipate the lane they
want you in because by the time you see the US 20 sign, it's too late to change lanes.
We stopped in Bowling Green, Ohio for lunch. I got my golf umbrella out of the
car—golf umbrellas are huge—nothing like them for walking in the rain—and we made the
trip from the supermarket pull-through parking space I had selected to the Wendy's. I had a
bacon burger. Robbin had the salad bar. Is it just me, or is fast food more expensive than
it should be? Seems like we're all the time buying $8 or $9 worth of the stuff. Should be
$5 or $6.
After Wendy's, we bought some low-density groceries (i.e., lots of hefty bags for
little money). I took a 30 minute nap. Robbin woke me up, at least, and said I'd slept for
30 minutes. She had coffee going. I was at the wheel and moving us back down the wet
highway at 60 MPH within five minutes of waking up; that's probably not ideal. Driving
seems like a dream, everything slow and surreal after a nap.
We got to our campground probably 30 minutes too late. I was getting cranky from all
the pain-in-the-ass little Ohio towns and back roads we were going down.
The guy who sold us gas a ways back asked me, "How do you like Ohio?" when he
saw we were from California. Robbin said he smiled when he saw Candy in the window.
Ironic, because when I got eye contact as we drove in, we both scowled at each other. I'll
try to smile more. I had another run in with State Park personnel as we drove in. A
bull-dyke park cop said we were going too fast, then got on me about Candy, who we hadn't
paid for. While Robbin held my open beer can down between her legs.
September 4, 1993
Lake Erie State Park on the south shore of Lake Erie, 50 Miles From Buffalo, NY
Just pulled in. There's a line of state parks along the Lake Erie shoreline in New York
state. We took the first one, because we're just that way.
The lady told me spaces 45 and 64 were both available electric spaces. And we liked
space 45, but the electric box is easily 50 feet away. So I walked back and asked for
space 45 for the "no electric" price. The woman, a friendly-looking 60 year old
woman in a white park service polo shirt, went for it. She had a mechanical way of
prompting me for information for her computer form: "Street number." Pause. Then
I realized I was supposed to say, "323." Then she said, "Street." And
so on. In a burst of inspiration, I gave the street as "Main Street." No
point in spelling out Arroyo Seco and going to all that trouble. Saved me at least 10
seconds, and maybe 20.
You can see the lake to my left; the park is a nicely mowed grassy area
with many trees, although not completely wooded. We're in a sunny, grassy
area. But it isn't hot. Probably a high of 75 here today. No, I don't think
hot days are the major problem here on the southern shore of Lake Erie.
Blizzards, more like it. We had a little excitement driving the last
couple of miles from Brocton, NY to the park. I passed a warning sign that
indicated a bridge with a clearance of only 11 feet was ahead. This RV is
certainly more than 10 feet. At least the air conditioner is. We pulled off
the road into a little park. Neighborhood teenagers stared at us as we
measured, with a tape measure, the height of this thing. From ground to top
of roof deck—not counting railings, sunroofs, and air conditioners, it was
9' 3". The air conditioner *seemed* to be less than a foot and a half. Hmmm.
Anyway, I went for it. Turned out the underpass (actually two underpasses)
was an arch that was at least 13 feet in the middle. Still, I was a little
nervous as we navigated the middle of the road. No horrible sounds were
heard from the roof.
Then we passed a huge prison about a mile from the park entrance. I
wonder if it's Attica or some other famous NY prison. Passed a lot of
wineries on the lake shore. Sure have different weather from Napa Valley.
This morning: Skillfully backed out with car attached.
Did the 70 miles to Canton in a little over an hour. Got to a freeway as soon as
fucking possible (and stayed on them all day! Enough back roads for a while).
Saw the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
After visiting this silly-looking football-domed building that you see advertised on
NFL games season after season, I conclude that it's a ten cent delivery of a million
dollar product. It is tacky and sloppy through and through. A clumsy presentation of what
is currently America's #1 sport. Exhibits had the look of presentations done by competent
eighth graders for a science fair. Or I should say, pre-Macintosh eighth graders. Any
desktop publishing-ready junior high school student could crank out better signs and exhibit
titles than the Pro Football Hall Of Fame's "Display Staff."
As you walk into the Bladder Rotunda, the first exhibits describe How, Why, and When
the Pro Football Hall of Fame came to be in Canton, Ohio. The
reason is a bunch of fat Canton guys were out smoking cigars one day in the late fifties
and just decided to build the goddamn thing. The mistake was Pete Rozelle's in continually
deciding to endorse the place. Let them have Jim Thorpe; but not Roger Stauback, Terry
Bradshaw, and Joe Namath. These
guys (and my memories) deserve better.
The gift shop calls itself a museum store! With its team hats, cheap logo beer steins,
team-color troll dolls, and a full selection of candy bars!
The main attraction, the two hundred or so bronze busts of those enshrined, are mounted
on tacky Formica podiums. The busts themselves are quite good; they are metal, not painted
plaster like you might expect from this place, and they look like the player in question.
Although the likenesses are secondary; by that I mean, when you know the bust is OJ
Simpson already, you look at it, and go, yeah, that looks a lot like OJ.
The whole thing should be razed and handed off by the NFL to Disney or some outfit that
knows how to mount museum exhibits. Put the thing in Dallas, New York, Chicago, or even
Pittsburgh. The sport deserves better. Plus it seems locked in a time warp circa
mid-seventies. I'm hard on the place, I know, but it deserves it. On the board of
directors, Tacky Bud Adams. Maybe that explains everything.
Highlight for me, of course, was the Tyler Rose's bust. That young man was a football
player. Surely the one player in history that I'd start a team with, if I could have just
Can you imagine a team full, offense and defense, of Earl Campbells? Picture four Earl
Campbells leading a sweep, and an Earl fullback blocking behind them for Earl the
halfback? Who's going to stop that? It'd go for a touchdown two out of every four times we
tried it, and for twenty yards the other two. On defense, look out, Mr. Quarterback. The
four man, all Earl defensive line hardly needs the blitzing assistance of the three 235
pound Earl linebackers. But when all seven come, you have at least five mismatches in the
blocking assignments. Darrel Royal put Earl in to block kicks on several occasions at
Texas; right over center. On two of those times, he did.
Enough about football.
It's thirty minutes from Canton north to Akron, then another thirty minutes to
Cleveland. We skirted Cleveland on the east and in an hour and a half were across the
Pennsylvania border. I stopped at the Big Fancy Welcome to the State rest area and made a
block of phone calls. To home, to get messages. To Mom, to tell her answering machine that
I'm alive. To Paul, I'm not sure why. Just to talk to him, I suppose. But he didn't pick
up in time. I used this new service where AT&T will dial the number you get from
information; at $.85, it'll never replace a decent memory, or a pencil and paper. $.25, it
It's an hour clean across the little tip of Pennsylvania that sticks out and touches
the waters of Lake Erie; we got off the freeway just before hitting NY state, where I-90
becomes a toll road.
Candy wants to go out... But this park is too crowded.
(Later; now it's 7:10—I've been editing other sections for a couple of hours)
We have made it across the country. New York is about as East Coast as you can get. Not
that different. Still see the same fast food joints. Some new gas station brands.
Wal-Marts and K-Marts. We're a pretty goddamn homogeneous outfit. Basically, between
Kansas and Ohio, inclusive, everything looks about the same. Little towns and corn fields.
The little towns in Kansas are population 500 and almost not there; the little towns in
Ohio have maybe 2500 people. But that's not much difference.
Yesterday we listened to talk radio from a station in the Motor City. We won't see it
on this trip, but we felt its presence.
There are kids aplenty in this campground. A minute ago a little girl yelled shrilly. A
little kid will yell right into your face if you're between her and her intended target.
Candy wants to go out, but we're not letting her.
9/6/93 Indian Line Campground Toronto, Ontario 9:15 AM
Didn't write yesterday. Let me fill you in on. We were on the road by 10; took some
tricky backing out through loose dirt and wet grass. But we loaded up with water and
dumped our tanks and were on our way. Took videos and a 3D picture of the Lake Erie
shoreline before we left. Would've taken a shower at the campground, but it was crowded
and there was no hot water.
[In the present: Candy has just taken a really stinky shit. She's taking her time
covering it up also. Robbin is out running. Candy finally finishes, walks up by me half
sneezing, half shorting from litter dust.]
We got on the tollway, and on a whim, pulled off at an Oasis-style rest area: two
eating options, McDonalds, and Denny's. The McDonald's was packed; the Denny's had seating
available. So I ate a very satisfying French Slam breakfast while conversing with Robbin
and reading the Sunday Buffalo paper. Yesterday was the first day of the NFL regular
It didn't take long on the turnpike to get into the outskirts of Buffalo—and soon we
were skirting by the city—saw more than a few huge brick factories, most vacant. Robbin
says they should be torn down, not sold or rented! We'd selected a route that would take
us right to Niagara Falls, and we'd cross over there into Canada. But a construction
detour took us off the interstate and to the toll booths of the huge Peace Bridge right
downtown, and before we knew it, we were on the bridge, crossing the US, UN, and Canadian
flags at mid-span. There was a huge customs area—like an ultra-wide toll plaza—and we
got through with only 30 seconds of questions.
Niagara Falls is maybe 20 minutes away on a freeway called QEW—Queen Elizabeth
Way—the main drag up and around Lake Ontario to Toronto. We pulled off at the appropriate
place and began to follow signs to "The Falls." I didn't really know what to
expect; I've seen a lot of waterfalls this year, and frankly, they're getting a little
boring. We drove by a Marineworld park with its huge parking lot.
It threatened rain behind us...
We parked in a huge lot put up by the Ontario government to reduce traffic congestion
right around the falls; it cost $8.50 but with its promise of instant transportation to
the falls via "people movers" (read bus), it seemed like a better plan than
plowing into major congestion and getting all strung out in traffic. So we parked.
But we waited a good thirty minutes for our people mover; luckily, we were under the
futuristic dome covering the last hundred feet or so of waiting space by the time the rain
started. It's a short ride from the parking lot to the falls; we could easily have walked
it. We drove alongside the huge Niagara River; this is upstream, barely, from the falls,
and I thought, if all this water is the falls, then this is going to be some waterfall.
We're talking as much water as the Mississippi was around Minneapolis. The two-car bus
pulled up to the stop and let us out at the Falls stop—still raining lightly. There's
lots of people at a viewing railing up ahead to the left, and I see massive amounts of
water vapor rising into the air. I can see the water streaming past, but can't quite see
the falls until we get to the edge.
Wow! Niagara Falls is something. Not like the other falls I've seen. A whole other
animal. The force, the size, the boiling mist. Awesome. The falls exist because Lake Erie
is about 270 feet higher than Lake Ontario, and the poor Niagara River that connects the
two has to do something about it.
But it's raining, we don't feel like taking advantage of the many tourist-trap
sub-features of the area, and by 2:00 we are on QEW again headed for Toronto. Toronto is
only 85 miles from Niagara, and you pass through several large cities—at least the
population listed on their signs is impressive. You don't actually get the feeling that
Hamilton is anything like the 350,000 person town it claims to be. (But why would they
lie?). Together we picked out a campground just outside of Toronto proper that seems like
it could work. We got to it. but QEW is a tad more crowded and a tad more narrow than I
would have liked. Lots of cars going fast. Only good thing, hardly any trucks. Amazingly
few. Because of the holiday weekend or what?
We make one wrong Freeway move, but otherwise found the park without incident. It
turned out to be nice, one of those finds that's nicer than you have any reason to expect.
Clean, big spaces, not more than half full, and only $16.20 Canadian (22% less for
Americans). Run by the provincial government of Ontario.
We were hooked up by 3:55 and by 4:00 I was watching the kickoff of the Bears/Giants
Went to dinner; took longer than I thought it would to find a suitable restaurant.
Where is the town??? Where's the 3.5 million metro area population? We had good food, and
got to watch the end of the game, although my hamburger had some non-meat stretcher in it.
Bears lost a tight game.
On the way back we somehow found a neighborhood video store right by the campground and
rented Scent of a Woman. Quirky writing, but worth watching. Robbin washed clothes as we
watched the movie, making a couple of trips back and forth to the Laundromat, so with all
the pauses it was midnight, EDT, before we got to bed.
Woke up around 7:30; Robbin had the coffee going before I got down, but I got going
quickly; was out in the car with Candy and a bag of wet sheets (dampened through an open
window during one of the rainstorms we've gone through in the last week). I dropped the
sheets off at the Laundromat and got them going. I drove to a very non-standard
neighborhood convenience store. I bought a tacky Canadian-style tabloid newspaper—the
kind with car crashes on the front page and pinup girls on page 3. I looked for some
remotely normal breakfast junk food, but they just didn't have it. No donuts, no sweet
rolls, no Twinkies, no Hostess products of any kind...
When I got back I signed us up for another day, checked the sheets (still damp), and
came back and let Candy out while I read the paper and drank my first cup of coffee.
Anyway, cutting to the chase—Robbin's back from her run, taking a shower. Sheets are
dried and folded. When she's out of the shower, I'm there, Then we're riding to a subway
station and thence to downtown Toronto. Candy is mellow since she's been out for a bit
Tuesday, September 7 Indian Line Campground Toronto (still)
It's 9:00 on a sunny, cool, morning; we're leaving at 10. Time enough for sketching out
the last 24 hours. Candy is outside, stiffly examining her surroundings—she hates dewy
grass. Trucks are roaring by on Finch Street—one of the first evidences we've seen in our
three days here of the supposedly 350,000 inhabitants of Mississauga. They really take a
sleepy Labour Day.
The Toronto subways aren't futuristic or new by any means, but they're safe, wide,
fast, and squeaky, to use four adjectives in no particular order of importance. In 20
minutes of driving we were at a large shopping mile north of downtown (Yorkdale Mall?).
From where you park it's a ten minute walk to the subway station. It costs $5 for an
all-day subway pass; because it was labor day, we got 2-for-1. Can't beat that. The ride
to Union Station—the last stop downtown—takes fifteen minutes or so, about 15 stops and
about a minute per stop. Most of the trip is above the ground, although the first couple
of miles reveal a green city big on apartments, high rise and otherwise.
The downtown subway station is connected to a huge old train station, still
bustling—and the train station is connected by the hypey-named "Skyway" to the
Skydome, and with one false start that took us outside into a light rain, we started
walking. A silver tube like you might see in an airport, the Skyway takes you over a train
yard; Skydome is just north of the World's Largest Freestanding Building, a George
Jetson's-style tower that's 1850 feet high. You can't really see much of Skydome from the
ticket window and Blue Jays gift shop that the skyway dumps you out on. So we opt for an
Astrodome-style tour. First ten minutes accumulating in a museum area—Robbin says to make
you feel better about the $8 tour price, they show you a bunch of old bottles. Then a
wonderful 15 minute movie showing the two nerdy engineers that designed the stadium and
its amazing retractable roof going through the creative process. Much like software, I
thought. (The roof works, twenty minutes to close or open, but it seems a
Our tour guide is a cocky trim little guy of about 50 in gray slacks and red suspender.
He seems entirely too good for this job. He knows everything about the dome without having
memorized anything. Almost like he's the owner of the Jays or mayor of Toronto in
We have lunch after the tour in the Hard Rock Cafe that forms part of the stadium wall
in right field. It has a mind-blowing collection of rock and roll stuff, including John's
Beatle suit and guitar strap, John Entwhistle's bass, shoes and hat from Michael Jackson.
We sat right next to a pair of rainbow high heels and sweater worn by Cindy Lauper in a
movie. Lots and lots of Beatle stuff. I'd pay $10 just to see the stuff, let alone get fed
a cheeseburger with ice tea.
The rest of our downtown trip wasn't that hot. It was raining and we were getting tired
and burned-out. We rode the train back, thinking to do a little shopping at the mall we
were parked at. It being Labor Day, or should I say Labour Day, we didn't expect that all
the stores would be open, but neither did we expect that only one bookstore of the 200
stores in the mall would be open. People were walking around, but no stores open. Even gas
stations were closed. Very quiet.
We got back to the park riding on fumes. We stopped by the local market, the *only*
grocery store we know of after two days of being in the area—and they don't have a single
thing we need, except for bleach at three times a fair price. So we don't scratch anything
off the "to buy" list.
We showed our magic pass to the guards at the park gate and went home. I watched
episode 7 of the Civil War series and took a nap near the end.
Robbin made dinner; I had polish sausage the second time around.
I went to a topless club around 7:30, ostensibly to watch the Monday Night Football
opener (Dallas-Washington). But somehow I found myself driving to a Topless bar that I had
seen an ad for in yesterday's tacky paper. It was a twenty minute drive and I had no idea,
really, how to get to 689 Queensway. Here's the thing—I left in a car virtually out of
gas, with one day left on its registration, with a broken right headlight, and taillights
and brake lights known to fail. And I have no insurance on the car and no paperwork to show
that this car purchased in Washington is really mine. Plus I knew I would drink there.
But such is the Power of the Penis that I went anyway. I honed in on the club like it
was a magnet and I a iron bolt. With only the slimmest of hints where it might be in this
alien metropolis I was there in twenty minutes by an efficient route. The House of
Lancaster (the name just came to me in rewrite) is a featureless frame building; looked
like a normal, if large and boring, tavern.
With Providence looking over me, I got home without incident. Robbin was reading. She'd
hooked up the water and was in a mood to talk about her Maine relatives that we'll be
seeing in a few days. Now that the deed was done I felt relaxed and we had a good talk. I
went to bed around 11:00. She read for a while.
Well, I got to get this show on the road. Gotta connect the car, shower, and get the
hell out of here.
8:45 PM Wildwood Campground 30 Miles South of Ottawa, The Capitol of Canada
What a day, pen pal!
I'm sure this is one of those days I'll laugh about some day. But for now, it is only
Did I mention that I locked our only known key in the Fiesta this morning? Talk about a
We broke camp on-time, ten-ish, and did thirty quick miles in the "express
lanes" of 401. Toronto's freeways use a unique (to be kind) scheme of parallel
"express" and "collector" lanes. The express lanes are on the left and
have hardly any exits; every three miles or so, you exit to the collector lanes on the
right, where you actually get on and off the road. So you get warnings of exits sometimes
three or four miles before it comes, because you have to get to the collector lanes and
there isn't an exit to the collector lanes every mile. As implemented, there's a lot of
"Right Lane Must Exit" activity, as well. I like to keep right in a strange
city, especially one where people drive as fast as they do here (did I mention that they
drive like bats out of hell in Canada?). But here if you keep right, you're off the road
in no more than a mile or two.
Clear across Toronto before stopping for gas, and as it turned out, a few more things
in an Eastern suburb. I bought $58 worth of gas, then asked them where a post office was.
Robbin wanted the post office, so we turned around in a Volkswagen factory and turned left
at the Wendy's and parallel parked by the public library.
The mail thing went smoothly; we then hit the grocery store that was the anchor of a
cheesy little mall (Miracle Foods on one end, Woolco on the other). While Robbin went
shopping, I hooked up with Good Old Michelle on the phone in Spokane, and after finding
the letter that I sent her on the desk of the other Michelle in the office, promised to
send my tags out today, to the Ottawa Federal Express office. Progress on that front that
I didn't expect.
Back at the store, we bought the world's most expensive 25 lb bag of cat litter: $8.95.
But they guarantee that if you smell one whiff of shit while using it they will come out
personally and take care of the problem. Couldn't buy beer or wine at the grocery store
(way too convenient!), but there was a "gourmet" wine shop across from the
store, an "open air" mall shop, and we bought a bottle of Ultra Cheap, Metal
Screw Cap Big Red for $10. Not bad when you consider that a six-pack of cheap beer goes
for $7. I'm not making this up: $7 for a six pack of Busch that would go for $3-$4 and a
lot less on sale; I'm told $5 of the $7 is tax. Assholes.
Anyway, we kept shopping. I bought Opticlean II contact lens cleaner at a drug store,
for only $8.99. It took two tries but we found a cash machine that would take my
Versateller card and give us some Canadian bucks. The mall was filled with Canadian
teenagers smoking and hanging around; the "bad kids" on their lunch break from
school. Some of the "bad kids" were at an extremely authentic fish and chips
shop by the door. I was hungry, like I usually am all day long and went in. Somehow I
ordered two, large, flat pieces of fish and an order of French fries and it cost me $8.25.
But well worth it for the authenticity of the place. I could hardly understand the
Irish/Scottish/English accent of the proprietor and his wife. They'd look at me earnestly
and ask, "Reenue Fimsee?" And I'd look blankly. And they'd say,
"Tooanone," and I'd just repeat what I thought I'd ordered. You can get gravy
ladled on your French fries (chips) there; that's how the bad kids ordered them.
Robbin disapproved of my $8.25, greasy, gastronomic exercise, although it was worth it
to me for the color of the experience.
Then back onto the road. Belly and gas tank filled. Letters mailed. Drug solutions
acquired. Business taken care of, generally. Robin and Charlie, TCB.
Sixty miles later, the traffic on East 401 came to a standstill. We crept along at 1 or
2 MPH for an hour (the company and having a bathroom and refrigerator on board makes stop
and go traffic pretty mellow). Finally, both lanes were forced off the freeway and onto a
tiny back road. Three miles away (now we're going maybe 3 miles an hour), is a tiny town;
an unprotected left at the town's only traffic light is gating an entire busy freeway's
worth of traffic. No police, no nothing guiding traffic. In the next town, another six
miles away, a similar but less painful slowdown. Never did find out what was wrong; we got
back on the freeway and there was nobody coming from that direction yet.
We pulled off and bought Red Vines and one tomato after driving through half of a small
town looking for turnaround points.
A half hour later, I got the interesting idea to drive back to the US: Only a three
mile detour. While there, we could:
Buy gas for $.50 a gallon cheaper. Mail post cards. Buy beer. ($7 for Busch Light sucks
We did the above, although I was a strain coming through US customs (what if they saw
the expired temporary permit on the Fiesta? Or didn't like my hair?). Also the sun was in
my face. I gave Robbin mild static for just buying 1 six-pack instead of the case I
thought she was going to get. Then, 30 minutes after arriving on American soil, we went
back over the pretty suspension bridge over the St. Lawrence River (big river). Cost
another $6. (Gee, that puts a dent in my savings.) And we pull up at Canadian Customs.
Where from, how long, any firearms, No, No, No. Then he sees Candy in Robbin's arm. Have a
rabies permit for the cat?
Ouch! He's very sorry, and so is his boss, but they need that permit, or we don't get
into Canada and I don't get my tags in Ottawa tomorrow. He gives me two phone numbers of
vets who work for immigration. I call them from a pay phone.
(...Story continued 9/8/93...)
But they can't help. Regulations are regulations. However, they suggest that if I can
get my vet to fax a document verifying Candy's valid vaccination status, that'll be good
To make a long story short, and sitting here this morning, that seems like a good idea,
with a couple of phone calls and some begging to Companion Animal Hospital it turns out
that Candy is in fact up to date on her rabies and that they are going to try to fax it to
me. The girl on the phone had never faxed anything and she seemed to barely know where the
huge Safeway almost directly in front of her building was.
I went back to the RV and drank a beer; guzzled it, is more like it. Then brushed my
teeth (I want them to give me every benefit of a doubt), and walked back.
While I waited, four black teenagers—jet black—looked suspicious as hell to me,
too—were getting their car searched. They waited in chairs; the irony that they were the
only blacks and they were the only ones being searched wasn't lost on me or them, either.
Finally, the immigration people let them pass. As they walked by me out the door, one of
them said in a low voice, "Question: Is you black?" And they all laughed
quietly. The incident didn't seem to wreck their evening.
A bit after that my fax came through and within minutes we were headed north again,
just a bit of light remaining on our left. It was maybe 9:30 when we turned off the main
road to Ottawa following the signs to Wildwood Campground—which turned out to be a dark,
but acceptable RV park. The kind where a lot of the inhabitants are here semi-permanently.
I got lost in the dark trying to find the pull through spot I was directed to; then got
into a too-tight-a-left-turn bind with a tree. But the owner helped me out of the turning
jam (could've been bad, because remember, the keys are locked in the car), and then guided
me right to the spot.
Once we got parked, it was drink and eat and screw wildly and sleep.
(Just got Candy outside; she was running loose). Now we're going...
1:25 PM Hither Hills Campground Just south of Ottawa, Ontario
Robbin's off running. I just made and devoured two more than adequate Blats. I could
nap, or talk to you.
Just kidding. With most of the day still before us, we've accomplished the day's most
important mission and found a campground. The mission, of course, was getting the
Fiesta's plates at the Federal Express office in Ottawa. Somehow, I found the right
Federal Express office; I hoped it would be near the airport, and basically, it was on our
side of town and we drove right to it.
Of course, when it comes to the Fiesta, nothing works completely smoothly. The young
man at the counter (interesting accent, French Canadian, I think), after disappearing for
a second said, yes, Mr. Anderson, your package has arrived. But I knew by his cadence that
a "but" was coming. "But it is in customs and they're looking into
it." Without losing my cool I agreed to wait in the motor home in the parking lot for
half an hour or so while customs figured out what it wanted to do about such contraband
coming into their fair country.
No guarantees I get it at all. I spent 45 minutes on the big computer on the inverter
doing a shitload of receipts. We came out $10 ahead this time; that is, the computer
thought I had $10 less than I actually had. Then I made out a bank deposit envelope; then
I fiddled around with the headlight—see, making productive use of the time. At 12:15 or
so, the fed ex guy came walking up and we went together to the customs area, a few hundred
feet west. And after telling a quick story to the customs lady with the Dorothy Hamil do,
I had my plates. Five minutes later they were on and we were pulling out. No more illegal
Charlie and Robbin! We may be suspicious, a bit, pulling a Washington car with a
California motor home, but we legal.
Robbin used her books and found a campground six miles south of town,
again a lucky break cause we were south of town already. In ten minutes, we
were pulling into the private RV park Hither Hills Campground. A man who
might have been Bambi RV Park's Larson's older brother grumpily checked us
in—he was miffed that we went for the cheapest of his 9 or so options. But I
kept it together and kept quiet.
We don't get water or electric, but we got our space for the night and
it's only $13. The guy's price structure is nutty. A 15 amp electric hookup
is $18. 30 amp is $24. That doesn't make sense! Then he refused to honor the
Good Sam discount because he wasn't making any money and you can't expect
him to discount the discount price, don't you see. But he was more funny
that irritating. [Robbin stole the wooden tag he wants you to keep around
So you're up to date. After our nap/jog, we're detaching the car and heading downtown
to the Canadian capitol. Did you know it's only been a sovereign nation for 125 years?
September 9 Allouette Campground St. Julie, Quebec (8 miles south of Montreal) 2:00 PM
It was a short hop from Ottawa this morning to this large and generally pleasant
commercial campground just south of Montreal; it's a short drive to the subway stop
that'll take you into the city. But we are going to stay put for a while and unwind; we've
been traveling hard for a while and nerves are frayed...
Downtown Ottawa—containing the government buildings of Canada, especially the
Parliament building—is as awesome as the mountains of Banff. Huge, stone, gothic
structures with copper roofs and more wrought iron spires and ugly gargoyles than Carter
has pills. The buildings sit on a bluff overlooking a river, and are clustered together
away from the rest of downtown Ottawa, which is otherwise unremarkable.
We took a tour;
walked right into it accidentally—we went by the entrance to the "main block"
two minutes before the 3:20 tour. So we got to see up close various anterooms and large
chambers, including the House of Commons (the guide said, "This is the place you
always see on TV"), the Library—the only part of the original building that didn't
burn in 1914, the Senate (like the House of Lords—all title, no power), and got a running
commentary on the workings of the Canadian federal government from our peppy young
tour guide. I'm starting to pick out the accent that a native French
speaker who is completely fluent in English acquires. Similar, but
different from Straight Canadian, such as that practiced by the Asian girl
who took our tickets at the door.
Anyway, the buildings are fantastic, awe-inspiring. Against the stormy gray sky they
looked like fabulous, unearthly medieval cathedrals looming over a dark Edgar Allen Poe
We took Bank Street there and back; it goes all the way to town, and out to our
I priced a replacement headlight assembly for the Fiesta—$160, special ordered! No way
am I paying that, at least not to some unblinking blue-eyed Canadian Ford dealership parts
counter asshole. He and I even had a hard time understanding each other.
I got home, no sweat, broken headlight, light rain, four-beer-high, and all; stopped
for KFC on Bank Street not far from home for the 4 Wing Dinner. News flash: No mashed
potatoes at Canadian KFCs! (Or PFK, Poulet Frit Kentucky, as they call them in Quebec.)
Got home around 10. The house was chilly; Robbin was all bundled up in the back seat
with the comforter, reading one of her classics.
So that was yesterday. I'm going to take a nap now, then head to the driving range
that's part of this "resort" to hit some balls. We're not going into the city
today, but maybe to a smaller, nearby suburb for dinner. Tomorrow, heavy touring... I made
myself two Blats for lunch; did the bacon in the microwave. Came out good, although
would've been better as toast. Toast is a hassle in the motor home.
Candy is outside; this place has enough room for her to roam; the nearest dog is a
couple of hundred feet away. Robbin is working out, doing her leg exercises. I see the big
trucks going by in the distance—they're far enough away to not bother us, sound-wise.
Life sometimes throws you a curveball when you're looking fastball. I got surprised a
half hour ago. I called Oak Park on a whim to see how Aunt Margaret was getting along;
I've been meaning to do so for a week, and as I got back from my run, there were three
empty glass phone booths by the park office. I dialed and punched in the credit card
number 40842328851234. The phone started to ring, and I settled in for a long ring cycle;
with her wheels, Margaret is going to take at least six rings to get to the phone and
maybe more. But a man answers after one ring. I start to hang up, wrong number, I think,
but then I realize he might be the painter. And he is. I tell him I'm her nephew—is he
the guy listening to Rush Limbaugh last week? He is. And I ask for my Aunt Margaret.
But no. Instead I get a story: She's in the hospital; she fell down the basement stairs
yesterday. I came back to paint yesterday afternoon, he said, and I didn't see her the two
hours I was painting, which wasn't unusual, figured she was taking a nap. After two hours
I went to the basement to wash my brushes and there she was at the bottom of the stairs,
unconscious. She looked like she'd been there a while.
He called 911 and got her to a hospital; a neighbor came over and together they went
through mail and other papers to find the name of a person to call in case of emergency;
finally they got hold of Rosie.
Rosie went to the hospital last night. Margaret is in a coma, on a respirator. Her eyes
are open. She didn't respond to anything. Rosie held her hand, and said, "Margaret, I
know you can't talk, but if you can hear me, squeeze my hand." No response.
Rosie and Berge tracked Eunie down at the Grand Hotel in Oslo. It's 11:00 at night
there. I suppose I could call her now; Eunie started crying on the phone when she heard
what had happened. I assume she feels responsible, leaving Margaret alone like this and
then the unthinkable happening. But it could have happened anytime. For that matter, she
could have "stroked" at the top of the stairs and been out before she hit the
I called home and left the message on their machine. Mom left today with Lynn for
Rockford; she's probably up there now. After I get more information from Rosie at 6:30 our
time I'll try again and maybe call my uncles in Rockford. She could help Eunie out at a
time like this.
If Margaret dies, I'll have to fly out for the funeral. But from where? Can't leave
Robbin and Candy in a Montreal RV park for a week.
I just watched the final two segments of the PBS Civil War documentary, a nine tape set
loaned to me by Art Blackburn, way back in Minneapolis. Poignant, sad, inspiring. The
dignity of Lee's surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln's death were especially touching.
Traveler was the name of Lee's horse—a fact that rings true although I have given it no
thought in many years.
I have no definitive word on Margaret, but it doesn't look good. She's on a respirator
and they're talking about Living Wills. My god! I hugged the woman exactly a week and a
day ago! Where is Eunie, and how is she doing? Maybe she's glad, deep under the surprise
It began to rain about five minutes ago; there are flashes of lightning outside the
Robbin is reading. Candy is sleeping. I will join them in one activity or the other.
September 10 8:30 AM
Can't talk long.
It's raining this morning.
It rained all night starting at bedtime. I had strange dreams. I dreamed that Eric
Clapton (as he looks on the Unplugged video) was my brother in law, but he ignored me most
of the time, in favor of fancy people. Candy was howling to get out during the 6:00-7:00
period when I was slightly awake; I imagined that her howling was part of a treatment for
some product that would make it tougher and more resilient and better able to withstand
the weather when the product finally went out—but the product couldn't have been a cat,
We're going into town rain or no rain. Supposed to be lots of covered attractions. We
have umbrellas. We won't melt.
I haven't made any phone calls this morning about Margaret. Last night she was in a
coma and it didn't look good. Robbin said she worried about her all night. I don't think I
did. In fact, I have to make an effort to keep the subject in my mind for more than a few
seconds at a time.
Candy has cabin fever; she needs to go outside, but it's way too wet outside plus some
nosy neighbors told me yesterday I should "watch my cat" when the found her
outside and brought her to me while I was on the phone finding out the grim facts on
Margaret's accident. These are full timers here at Alloutte Campground. They probably
think they own the place. Back to Candy: She is a bit wild-eyed. She jumps on my back the
minute I drop my guard; I had to put on a sweatshirt so her claws wouldn't dig in so much.
She got me in the bathroom when I was bent over washing my face. She's not interested in
her toys. She runs over to my foot and sharpens her non-existent front claws quickly on my
foot. Then the other foot. I try to pet her, to relax her, and she starts to relax and
then play-attacks my hand.
But she'll get through this. Robbin is drying her hair. Bye for now.
September 11, 1993 Chez Jean RV Campground Near Riviere-do-Loup, Quebec 4:00 PM
From this bluff you can see the St. Lawrence River—it must be ten miles wide at this
point. We're 60 miles or so from the US border; and another sixty miles from there to
Portage, Maine, and our first batch of Robbin's relatives. There are rolling hills between
us and the river and farmlands, wheat in the middle of being harvested. Neat hay rolls
wrapped in white plastic.
It is chilly up here! I was walking with Candy (unleashed) to a quiet area of the park
and it was way too cold for my faded black Mercury News 10K sweat shirt. Candy was chilly
too; after fifteen minutes I brought her in and she didn't seem unhappy about that. This
RV park is one of the jewel-like RV parks you find from time-to-time in Canada; it's
clean, cheap, beautiful, and uncrowded.
The city of Riviere-du-Loup (maybe 10,000 people) is exotic; winding, narrow and very
STEEP streets, catholic churches with steeples everywhere, and generally very French. If
we weren't in the giant motor home it would've been good to park and check things out a
bit. I unhooked the car so we may yet do that.
We had lunch today in a suburb of Quebec—it was a sit-down restaurant that focused on
chicken—nicely prepared baked chicken. The coleslaw was vinegary but otherwise a
better-than-average Anderson/Soucy dining experience. The waitresses were very attractive;
smiling, friendly French Canadian girls. But they could switch into English just like I'd
turn on a light switch.
I got hold of Eunie finally. She hadn't been into the hospital yet, but I was able to
gauge her mental state (ok) and hear the story of her finding out and the trip back. It
now appears that Margaret may last a few days or weeks, so the trip may not be interrupted
any time soon. Eunie's voice started to crack at the end of the conversation when we
talked about Margaret and how I had seen her just a week ago. This won't be easy for
Did you know that French Canadians go to the drive-in movie? I know that image never
entered my mind. But there are at least two drive-in theatres in south Montreal. Thought
you should know.
Yesterday's trip into Montreal:
20 minute driveway to subway on-point; large parking lot and bus terminal. Each ticket
is $1.75. So our first ride was no bargain; just five minutes under the river to the main
station. We walked and took up-escalators what seemed liked forever to get to an innocuous
exit, all by ourselves. When you turn around and looked at the building you just left, it
doesn't look like a train station. And probably isn't..
We consulted our maps and headed west on St. Catherine street. It was interesting, but
probably not the area Montreal tourist authorities would have preferred we saw first.
There are sex clubs and xxx bookstores mixed in with little clubs and bookstores.
Everything is in French and everyone around us is speaking French. We got two strong
coffees and a croissant like natives in a little shop and sat there eating them. I put my
contacts in their surprisingly clean and private bathroom. Much more comfortable in the
We kept walking west. Saw a Hotel Meriden with an attached multi-level shopping center.
Saw a spectacular, domed Catholic church.
Saw lots of banks, and eventually found one with a money machine that took the
Versateller card. We've gotten cash on that Versateller card all over the US and Canada. I
could've just as easily used one of the credit cards but I don't know my secret code and I
think they charge you interest immediately on cash...
We shopped for a time; we split up to specialize, but I ended up separated from the
money except for a Loonie in my pocket so I read in the food court mostly.
Robbin was hungry when we got back together, and I'm always ready to eat. We ate in an
old-fashioned downtown restaurant, where the waitresses have been there for thirty years.
Had excellent roast beef, but mediocre instant potatoes and instant gravy, and there were
turnips in the vegetable mix!
Taxes! Everything has the shit taxed out of it in Montreal. You buy a $40 pair of
jeans, you pay $6 in taxes. You get your bill at a restaurant and you're paying 15% in
taxes. It (almost) makes California look cheap.
Then we walked into Old Montreal, and did two blocks of it in the tunnel system.
Old Montreal is interesting; very narrow streets. Notre Dame (literally, "Our
Lady") there is staggeringly beautiful in an ornate sort of way. Unlike anything I've
ever seen before. A little bit of heaven.
Drank beers at St. Paul's pub; sat at the bar with another American couple. We didn't
talk much, but they and the girl bartender who was tall and had short hair and looked a
little like Leslie Milosevich talked about Dancing last night and clubs and they mixed a
crazy flaming shot drink (which you could hardly see because it was daylight). She gave me
a beer for free because she poured the first one into a glass that had a chipped rim. Good
We started to walk back, but the beers made me hail a taxi back to the Eaton Centre.
Eaton is the Macy's of Montreal—but they have a couple of departments that surprise. For
one thing, they have a locksmith department and we get a key made to replace the Fiesta
key we lost earlier. So that whole debacle is backed out now.
We have strange French nachos and wine at a gray, modern bar and grill in a
boutique/suicide lobby shopping center nearby, ostensibly waiting for the movie to start.
But Robbin backs out of the movie, so we go home instead. Subway is a little more crowded
this time and we have to connect at the main station. No problem navigating the subway or
finding the car. Although once in the car I take a wrong turn and end up driving back over
the bridge into downtown Montreal.
Then, an episode of Star Trek. It was the one about the evil pseudo-Greeks who got
psychokinetic powers and use them to hassle Kirk and the guys and a midget. Then Bones
gives Kirk a shot of something and Kirk gets the same powers and humiliates the bad guy.
I come across a bottle of Vicodins left over from Robbin's recent dental surgery while
I'm putting away my contacts stuff and take one. I sleep well, and have detailed dreams
that don't even involve me. But I don't remember them now.
Back in the present: Robbin is jogging. It's cloudier, colder, and windier than when I
left you. Fall is making itself felt here on the St. Lawrence. Rock and roll music is
pounding in the distance.
Turns out there's a part at the RV park's community room. Lots of food and people over
September 12, 1993 Chez Jean RV Campground 7:30 AM
Up early on a brisk (high 30s/low 40s) sunny morning. Just returned from
"walking" Candy. At places like this one of "intermediate risk," I
take her out without a leash, and walk along with her. That way I can keep her in parts of
the campground that don't have dogs, roads, and RVs to crawl under.
It was cold out there for her, as cold as she's felt in her life, probably, She bit my
cheap white gloved hand as I carried her in, but that's just a reflex.
Last night I tried TV (I was more bored and lazy feeling that usual last night). Got
plenty of channels through our trusty rooftop antenna, including major league baseball,
but everything was in French. French Michael Keaton. French Woody Allen and Bette
Middler. French Coke, Bud, and local commercials. Even though we're only 60 miles from the
border. That tells me that Northern Maine is pretty empty.
Robbin got me a jelly roll for breakfast.
She's blow-drying her hair now; she wants me to take my shower.
Candy is licking her cold feet; now scooping out the white plastic trash bag at my
Going to hook up the car now.
September 13, 1993 Carol and Wayne Gagnon's Driveway Portage, Maine 10:30 AM
Just got in from playing a fast nine hole with Pearl Soucy, Robbin's father's cousin's
wife. The Portage Golf Club was deserted; not a single ball was hit by anyone other than
us. I shot 47, and that included at least two three putts and three short drives. But my
iron play, sixes and sevens and wedges were solid all day. That used to be the core of my
game and I won't be playing well until they are again. I killed a drive today maybe 230,
most of it in the air. So 1 for 4 with the woods today. The whole round took maybe an hour
and 15 minutes. We played from a cart.
This morning we were up by 7:30. I put on sweat pants and my ragged camping clothes and
walked to Coffin's store—the main place to buy stuff here in Portage, which has a lake,
and Dean's hotel, and the golf course, and a helicopter parked maybe 200 yards from where
I sit in the Gagnon's back yard, and not much else.
Coffins had little white donuts and bagels for Robbin and a newspaper, so I can't
I took Candy for an extended "walk" into Carol and Wayne's
"backyard" (I apologize for all the quotes, but hey, they're needed, aren't
they?). Their backyard (quotes only needed the first time) is adjacent to some city
property where they built a ball field, two nice full-court basketball courts and two
tennis courts. None of them get any use, Wayne says. Portage probably only has 30 kids or
so. The rims need nets, on the basketball courts, and one backboard is down off the pole.
But it made for a good walking spot for the Traveling Cat (TC, I just made that up). She
followed me to the baseball diamond, but the grass was a little too high and too wet for
her tastes, so we hung out on the basketball courts—there's a picnic table in the 3
second lane of one of them where I could sit down. She also investigated the tennis court,
but didn't like the fence; couldn't quite figure it out.
In pulling out this morning I had Robbin use a board to push up the electrical service
wiring coming into Carol and Wayne's house to give me enough clearance to get under it.
But she was worried she would be electrocuted the moment she touched the wires. It was
kind of endearing; I told her it would be okay and it was. I tried to back out with the
car attached, but we kept drifting into the bushes. So we detached and in a couple of
minutes I had turned around and scooted out forwards.
I feel quiet—more quiet than grouchy yesterday morning.
We had a wonderful breakfast at a French Canadian cafe by the roadside about halfway
between Riviere du Loup and the border. Great food, great French service, and before
taxes, a price of $6.50 Canadian. Robbin had a couple of native breakfast dishes her
father to have. Plus home made white toast to die for, super coffee. I've paid $30 for
breakfasts that haven't been half as good. I made as much sense as a I could of a French
language Quebec paper (turns out the Giants have been caught now by the Braves—and
they're headed in opposite directions). A little girl wandered impudently (she was maybe 2
1/2-3) while her family chatted overlong.
We took a wrong turn approaching the border, but eventually got on the narrow metal
bridge over the border river. Gas was low—I didn't want to buy another drop of rip-off
Canadian gas. But we made it across and hit the first station we found.
Took half an hour to get to Fort Kent, Maine. It's south from the border crossing (at
Edmonson, New Brunswick, Canada), but you take US highway 1 North. US Highway 1
ends/begins is Ft. Kent and goes all the way to the Florida Keys. I doubt if we'll make it
to the other end.
From Ft. Kent it's wild-and-wooly state highway 11 the thirty hilly miles to Portage.
Portage is population 500 or so, and I met most of them at Carol and Wayne's house
yesterday. I met Carol and Wayne and their son Ben. I met Nancy and Jerry and their kids.
I met Barry and Pearl who are the parents of Carol and Jerry and Darrel. I met Germaine,
husband of Dean who's in a nursing home now and she's a little sad. Most, but not all have
the last name Soucy. I got some football watching in, also. Cowboys lost in the last
seconds against Buffalo at home in the late afternoon game.
Barry (also known as A.J. going by the airbrushed logo on his new four-wheel drive
pickup) took me around town, showed me the golf course, and drove me most of the way
around Portage Lake—a two or three mile lake the town has all to itself. In Portage
you're either in lumber or you don't work.
Finally we ended up in Dean's Hotel. The bar area, where every married couple around
met for the first time, including Robbin's parents. Pearl used to hang with Verna, and
Barry with O'Neil, and one thing let to another for both couples. We drank beer and coffee
and looked at the pictures of deer on the wall. Hunting is popular here. *** is Dean's
husband and bought the hotel in 1945 when she was 22 and he was 24. Now he has diabetes
and has had both legs amputated and lives in a nursing home. So it goes.
Everyone treated me great, although at one point I wondered how I was going to get
through the evening. It's like being at a party where you don't know anyone. Or going to a
Bar with Scotts Starks when you're 22 and you feel uncomfortable and just walk from room
to room, never quite fitting in.
Had a wonderful picnic lunch—tons of food.
Well, I should go in and call Eunie. And tonight, call Art.
5:15 PM Lee, Maine
Parked in the front yard of Robbin's aunt and uncle, Kate and Warren Hassen, in Lee,
which is 10 miles east of Lincoln, Maine, which has a Wal-Mart.
Warren and Kate are friendly people; they let me use their phone to call Eunie twice
(no answer), Paul once to leave a message (send the mail!), and the house once to retrieve
our messages. There was a hellacious group of messages out there. Took ten minutes to play
out. Biggest one was from Robbin's friend Kathy Hickman.
Warren and Kate are big gardeners—they have lots of vegetables and flowers in the
large, shaded yard that leads up to the woods behind the house. Warren also does
semi-precious stone jewelry, and at one time tapped sugar maple trees for syrup. They
still have some around and promised to send us away with some. That could work. They have
a sign in the front yard, and people stop in and buy minerals and semiprecious stones and
complete jewelry from time to time.
Their son, I forget his name, was going to join us for dinner but their car broke down
en route. Sounds like a story to me, but we're going to drive out there to see them
instead (they live fifteen minutes away, allegedly). Guess who's the driver? Yours truly.
It's a minivan like Murray's.
8:45 PM Back in Aunt Kate's Front yard
I just excused myself from what was getting to be a Soucy family reminiscing ceremony.
We were eating strong cheese from Vermont on Saltine crackers. I had a beer.
God, it feels like midnight. I'm really turning into a pumpkin these days at 9:00. Part
of the problem is that it's getting darker earlier these days. If you've been camping, you
key of the sun for your schedule. Last night we got back from Dean's Hotel and I looked at
the clock fully expecting to see 10:00 on there. But it was 8:30. Wow! I can't go to bed
at 8:30. And yet, the way I feel I can't do anything else.
Tonight, I look at the clock expecting 9:00. It's 7:30. I've hung in there until now,
but my body is telling me I should be in bed.
We saw Robbin's cousin Mark. He lives in a dump and I thought they'd be white-trashy,
but I liked them. He's a friendly guy, maybe not the most outgoing person ever, and has a
very sharp 8 year old. The kid knows everything about Sharks, Dinosaurs, Morocco, and
anything else you want to give him a book about. He hasn't seen Jurassic Park yet—I think
they're too poor for the $7 movie ticket. I'm going to spring for them to see that movie.
(Hope it doesn't scare him into too many nightmares. It's good science; it's better
I just popped the top on the evening's #3 Budweiser. This should be the last one of the
evening. Which is better than the last few nights.
The road between Portage and I95, Maine 11, sucks dick. It's too narrow, bumpy as hell,
and even if it weren't, the roadbed follows the natural contour of the land and is way too
steep. They should've had cousin Wayne dynamite some of the hills on that route. Robbin
did most of the driving today; I got real sleepy twenty minutes into the trip. And if that
isn't bad enough, there are logging trucks patrolling at hellish speeds.
We got propane today. What a rip ($16 plus US dollars. But the guy was interesting;
as a sideline, sold heaters to garages and gas stations in Maine and Canada that use old
motor oil as fuel. Robbin changed our Canadian folding money into US folding money. All
this happened in Ashland, which is where Portage people go to have a slightly good time.
For a better time they go to Presque Isle; and when they want to really go nuts, it's
Bangor (pronounced "Ban-Gor").
Kate is short and energetic, a bit stooped; Robbin says her father's sister was very
pretty as a young woman. Warren is tall and straight and likes to talk about the little
events in his life—his last car, his flower garden, his heating oil bill. But I like him;
I do too.
[Candy gets into my face every so often for some affection. Now she's on the table a
couple feet to the right of the keyboard, sitting facing me and gracefully licking her
[Here comes Robbin out from the house. She wants to show them the family tree she got
from her cousin Carol in Portage. Here it is, she says. Stay, stay, stay, she tells Candy
on the way out the door. Candy follows her all the way back to the house with her eyes,
never moving a muscle.]
This is funny: Around 4:30, just before we went to Mark's I had Warren help me (i.e.,
stand in such a way that he is visible in my rear-view mirror and make helpful hand
gestures) turn the RV around so that we could easily pull out tomorrow. I had the car
attached, and even though there was a fair amount of room it took some effort (and moving
of Warren's car) to get the deed done. Apparently, I didn't make much of an impression on
Warren, because a little bit before we left, he got into his car and turned it around so
that it was facing out—I presume so that I wouldn't have to back his car out of the
driveway and probably kill us all. Get the joke, or do I need an exclamation point at the
end? Here's the humor: I could back that goddamn minivan for six miles down a goddamn
mountain road and never break a sweat!!!! Funny, huh?
Can you tell I've had a few beers? Do I sound different?
I need to speak to Art. But where's the phone? Not here. In the house. But I don't want
to go back into the house. It's so cool and windy and nice out here, I want to stay out
here and type on the keyboard and watch the screen seem to get farther and farther away
from my face and watch my arms stretch out to Mr. Fantastic lengths and if I keep this up
pretty soon I'll start to rotate over the keyboard the way I used to do on intense Quattro
Pro/DOS 1.0 sessions.
[I'm going to get my tooth thing.]
Yesterday Fall seemed imminent. Tonight is balmy.
September 14, 1993 Aunt Kate's Driveway Lee, Maine 7:15 AM
Up at 6:15 today. Robbin just headed into the house. I'm following her in five minutes
if all's well.
Didn't get hold of Art last night. Must try again today.
Didn't get hold of Eunie last night. Must try again today. It's *so* *hard* to not have
Should I call Big Brothers/Big Sisters and explain the situation?
There are kittens in the barn, Robbin says.
Candy wants out.
Trucks are loud whizzing by on this highway. It's like Fayetteville—when there's no
traffic, it's quiet. When there's traffic—like at "rush hour," it's annoyingly
The dirty clothes basket is sitting in the breakfast booth; that means someone has
taken a shower recently.
I made the coffee this morning. What's hard is cleaning out the grounds from
yesterday's pot—you hate to wash particulate matter into the gray water tank—and yet no
amount of shaking seems to dislodge a wet coffee granule.
It's 3 hours from here to Bar Harbor, Maine, which is near Acadia National Park. It's
four hours quick route and maybe a day, slow route, from there to the New Hampshire
Five minutes is up.
Wednesday, September 15, 1993 Sea Wall Campground Acadia National Park, Maine
I made breakfast this morning. Mediocre pancakes with fabulous homemade Maine maple
syrup, bacon, and coffee. The bacon was good too. Robbin was a good sport about eating
them although she doesn't like pancakes. (?) Why doesn't she like pancakes? What's not too
Last night we went into Bar Harbor, a cutesy little tourist town that shares this
island with the national park. We ate at a restaurant with a lobster special; Robbin had
the "twins," two medium-sized red lobsters which she ate efficiently. They're
served whole on a plate, one facing east and one facing west. Kinda gross, the main reason
I don't relish them as many people do. They're like big red insects. Hell, they
red, undersea insects.
After dinner we prowled the town, going into book stores, arty shops, and the like. Got
back to the RV around 9:00, and I was sure we were going to get nabbed by the local cops
for our one headlight. As soon as we get to Connecticut, I have to do something about that
headlight. Chicago cops have enough to do usually to not mess with a headlight. But small
town cops, that's what they live for.
Let me talk about yesterday:
Actually first, about the day before yesterday:
Robbin's Aunt Kate made us a supper out of a fish chowder. Very good and buttery. I
dipped my rolls into the soup. A great change of pace; plenty to eat. Then I drove us to
see their only child, 43-year old Mark. He lives half an hour away towards Bangor in a
dumpy house by the highway. The house is plain and sloppy looking. But one of their boys
surprised me with his detailed knowledge of various things. He's only eight, in the second
grade, but he seemed to know everything about dinosaurs and sharks. He'd memorized
essentially every fact presented in these two beat-up books he brought out to show me.
Very bright kid. He'll have a tough go coming out of that family, though.
Woke up early, early—6:15-ish. Trucks roared by on the highway about once a minute,
much the way they do in Fayetteville.
After hanging out in the RV for an hour or so, we went in and had breakfast with
Robbin's Aunt and Uncle. She said, what do you want? eggs? pancakes? English muffin?
cereal? I didn't want her to have to custom build me a bacon and egg breakfast so I went
for cereal; Cheerios—which has a low sugar content that makes it good for Warren's
diabetes control diet.
I took Candy on a walk behind the barn—we were stalked at one point by one of the 11
cats that live in their barn. Could've gotten ugly but I chased the cat away. Their yard
is beautiful, with the plants and the woods and all, but do they have bugs: flies,
misquotes, and everywhere, these gnats clouding around your head. Supposedly they're there
all summer. No wonder these people don't mind winter all that much.
I called Eunie again, after trying several times the previous evening. Margaret is
unchanged; the doctors didn't expect her to live this long. My mother was there and she
said that Margaret didn't look good; they're pumping blood from her stomach at a good clip
and she still has blood in her hair from the accident. I wonder if there was a bloody pool
at the bottom of the stairs where they found her. Probably, I suppose. But she's alive
now. Both of them went and talked to her yesterday and who knows, maybe Margaret heard
Robbin went on a half-hour walk in the woods with her aunt, and when they got back,
drove in her uncle's wine-red interior Dodge minivan to her grandma's ("grammy")
grave in a nearby cemetery. Meanwhile I talked to Uncle Warren in the RV. He was
interesting to listen to; he's seen a lot of things that I haven't in this life. He talked
for a good while about his service as a quartermaster on the Burma Road in World War II;
about K and C Rations and air dropping supplies and cigarettes, and crooked Red Cross
We got out of there around 10. In Lincoln, ten miles away, we stopped for groceries. I
finally got through to Art Carroll on a pay phone in front of the store; he was a
sleepyhead—doesn't have to be at school before 8:30 but at least he knows I'm out there
thinking about him. I need to send him post cards a couple of times a week and maybe a
letter. Boy, did I feel the guilt lift from my shoulders as I walked away from that phone.
It's an uneventful hour to Bangor on the freeway (formerly a tollway, as the 15 mile
and more distance between exits attests), then another hour and a half down a congested
two lane road to Bar Harbor and the Acadia area. As you get close to the ocean there are
tourist traps everywhere—but with a New England flair. Home made toys; Lobster pounds;
We stopped at a McDonalds which had a lobster sandwich for $3.95 on the menu. Robbin
said it wasn't too bad. I had a very ordinary cheese and mushrooms Quarter Pounder. As we
got up to leave, I took a no longer used key off my key ring, the tiny key to the tiny
padlock we used to use on the bike rack, but which I had to cut off when I lost my keys
for half a day in Lindsborg. Anyway, I left this key on the table and walked out. We were
almost to the motor home way out in the parking lot when an older McDonald's employee came
running up to give me the key I'd left behind. I smiled and thanked him.
The National Park Service got to Desert Mountain Island about thirty years too late;
The Robber Barons and their pals had already claimed it with summer homes and elaborate
mansions centered on the tiny city of Bar Harbor. In 1919 big parts of the area became a
national park, but on a map the land owned by the park is clearly interwoven with private
lands, and you see it as you drive, going in and out of neighborhoods. It really doesn't
look like a national park at all.
The land itself reminds me of the Monterey Peninsula—although a bit less spectacular.
Mountainous country running right down to the sea; lots of little islands and craggy rocks
breaking the surf. Trees and wind.
We were camped by 2:30 or so, and I spent a relaxing afternoon reading and snoozing.
Robbin ran and walked.
At 6:00 we went into Bar Harbor (a good 30 minute drive through multiple small towns)
and ate, as described above.
[Candy is on my shoulders, wrapped around me like a shawl. She's purring loudly and
licking my ears. Biting me, breathing into my ears and nibbling me like a lover. It's a
bit kinky, I suppose!]
Today's plan is to hike up one of the 1000+ foot "mountains" in the park and
maybe explore the town a bit more. We want to get to bed early because the plan is to have
wheels moving by 7:00 AM, and get all the way to Robbin's Mother's house by tomorrow
evening. That's doable. Most of the driving is in the state of Maine. It'll be a
five-state day, including four new ones: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and
Connecticut. I'll me her Mother for the first time.
I will probably have to make a trip to Chicago during our Connecticut two weeks. And I
may make a couple of other several-day trips. This is a good time for Robbin and I to get
some space. It's getting pretty close in this little motor home. Yesterday she cried some
because I told her I didn't want to hear all about her renter problems—she can go on and
on about getting her check in time, about this tree that's supposed to be cut down, about
her flaky well. I was a bit insensitive. I'm sure there was a better way to let her know
that I didn't want to hear all about these same old subjects again.
[Some motor home twit in the distance is running their generator. Who would run a
generator for hours at a time in the middle of a National Park campground? That's
insensitive at best.]
I'm back. Today we hiked to the top of Mt. Cadillac, the highest point on Mt. Desert
Island. The trail was listed as "moderate," and at 2.2 miles didn't figure to be
that difficult a challenge. (And it's not like it really was all that difficult.) But it
wasn't like any trail we've hiked on before. First off, big sections of it, perhaps 80%,
weren't a trail at all. Just a path across rock marked by cairns and once in a while, a
touch of blue paint. Some places the rocks were smooth; others, like climbing steps or
just plain climbing. Secondly, it is WINDY as you get near the summit. A steady 40 MPH
wind was blowing from the south and you feel the full force of it for the last ten or
twenty minutes. You have to share the summit with a couple of hundred tourists who've
driven up or ridden a tacky shuttle bus from Bar Harbor. There's even food and souvenirs
up there. We ate our lunch just below the summit, sheltered from the worst of the wind by
a five foot tall rock. We took some 3D pictures and shot lots of video. A sea gull joined
us but he wasn't interested in the apple and carrot fragments we had to spare.
It's a beautiful view, all the way up. You see the harbor, and the little sailboats.
You see the blue ocean and the green of the main island and the smaller islands beyond. As
you get higher, the view just gets better. At the top you brace yourself because the wind
at your back threatens to push you right into the view.
It was maybe an hour and ten minutes up; thirty minutes at the summit, and an hour
down. I wore my tennis shoes and got better results than I would have in my painfully
tight hiking boots.
Once down we headed for Bar Harbor; we drank ice tea on an outside patio and had some
flaky looking chicken wings. Then we split up for shopping.
I enjoyed the morning but started getting testy as soon as we pulled into Bar Harbor.
Am I getting tired, or what's the trigger for that? Whatever it is, it can last a long
time. I've been a little testy ever since, but maybe am getting past it.
[Robbin is opening a bottle of hair color solution to my left at the sink.]
She bought a lobster at the grocery store on the way back; they pick them out of a
tank, weigh them, and put them in a bar coded plastic sack like any other butcher store
item. Only these guys are still alive! I didn't see him move (although I wasn't trying,
believe me) in the car, or when Robbin put him in the refrigerator. But when she put him
into a couple gallons of boiling water I looked over despite myself and saw him moving
plenty. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I think boiling a lobster is too much for RV cuisine. You get
stinky steam everywhere and I have no interest in even watching the messy eating process.
[I had to get up and turn on a ventilator fan to keep the RV from stinking like hair
solution just now. Robbin's suggestion.]
October 4, 1993 Locust Lake State Park (near Mohonay City, PA) 6:20 PM
Twilight has arrived on our first day post-Windsor Locks. We made maybe 250 miles
today; feels like more. The Interstates were bumpy and crowded with big trucks and we
fought a headwind all day.
Didn't take as long to "break camp" from Verna's driveway as I thought. We
were ready to go by 10, even with a late (8:00) start from yours truly. Robbin thought it
would be quick. I was way too conservative.
I'm grumpy and impatient and generally peeved with Robbin these days. Are we getting
along? Not really. Today was quiet. Are we going to get back the way we were? When she
talks about Thanksgiving plans, or Christmas plans, I groan inside. Part of me really
wants it to be over—for me to be placing ads and responding to ads as soon as I get back.
Another part of me says that things aren't working out that bad, that some friction due to
the close quarters is inevitable.
Yesterday the three of us got up early and caught the 7:14 into the city. Three hours
later, we emerged in Penn Station. Looking very familiar and not near as threatening as on
my first exposure to it a couple of weeks ago. We caught a cab, no waiting, and he quickly
took us uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the huge, no-holds-barred art museum
that borders Central park in the swank 5th Avenue area. I wasn't all that into it, it was
something I agreed to do for Robbin, but I had a not-bad day viewing art objects dating
back to Egyptian times. Fabulous collections of Titians, Rembrandts, van Goughs, Renoirs,
you name it.
The Last Day of Baseball Regular Season and Everyone's Watching Football
All the while the crucial final games of the 1993 National League season were being
played out; Atlanta vs. Colorado, SF vs. LA. Both the Braves and the Giants were a
phenomenal 103-58. Turned out I didn't mind missing the games so much; the Braves
completed the season sweep of the expansion Rockies (13 wins, no losses). And a few
minutes after that game ended, the Dodgers pounded the Giants 12-1. But give the Giants
credit. They won the first three of that series, at LA, and did themselves proud, coming
back after a super Atlanta chased them down in mid-August. (Why am I writing this sports
article? Surely there's more to say than "Will Clark was 4-for-5 in two straight
All we did in New York was the museum; we had lunch there—expensive,
California-cuisine sandwiches served by an appropriately snooty, but effective waiter.
Pleasantly packed in with 400 other diners on the floor of a huge room with a sweeping,
arched ceiling. At 4:30 we met at the front of the museum and hailed a cab; this ride, the
traffic was much worse, but our driver did an amazing job in a couple of places and got us
back to the station in no more than twelve or fifteen minutes. There was time to watch a
few minutes of the Giants game before our train left, but the two sports bar opportunities
at the station had their sets on local NFL games, both the Jets and the Giants.
The ride back was even slower than normal. We had to sit in three separate rows. The
nerdy father next to me was hit by tiny chunk of ice. It was cold and dark when we got
back, and after 9:00.
I didn't find out the score of the game until we'd been home for a few minutes. Didn't
really break my heart. I hadn't paid that much attention to them this summer. If I'd been
back in SC, I would've, and it would've.
Robbin found this campground (Locust Lake), and a city of size sufficient to have
decent drug and grocery stores, looking at symbols on a map. But symbols on a map don't
tell you what a town will be like. And this town, Mahonay City, emanates the most
unpleasant vibes of any small town we have visited on this long trip. It's in the middle
of nowhere—in a narrow valley, in dense forest—but as soon as you get into town, the
housing is like you'd see in Boston: two and three story townhouses with no space between
buildings built right to the edge of the street. The young man who pumped $16 worth of
dicey 86 octane Sunoco gas for me had only one arm. And in the
wooden-floored grocery store, everyone
looked dirt poor: long gray hair on a man; a retarded man; two very fat check-out girls.
I used a pay phone right in the store, no privacy whatsoever and tried to contact Dr.
Campbell to get some BP pills—no luck. But I did get a call to Linda of Big Brothers/Big
Sisters I had been dreading out of the way. She wanted to know how the "Match"
was going. I said good, and talked about a couple of outings we've had, and she seemed
satisfied with that.
October 5, 1993 Shenandoah National Park 5:15 PM
I'm listening to AM Talk Radio because a guy is running his generator a couple of
spaces down and the sound is bugging me. Turns out, it's a woman sitting in for Larry King
interviewing a cable TV mogul.
Yesterday we were at Gettysburg (pronounced Gettisburg by locals). The place is
inspiring, spiritual. When you stroll out of the visitor center and wind down a gentle
wooded hillside, the meadow—Pickett's meadow—comes into view. Beyond it, about a mile,
the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge. And all around you, the Union guns and positions
that took the best the South could give that fateful day, July 3, 1993.
It was a cool, sunny fall afternoon; everything looks like it did 130 years
ago—there's a farm in the middle, a big farm, crops growing and a few cows grazing.
You can stroll around The Angle, and The Copse of Trees—a couple of hundred feet
around—where the South almost—but not quite—penetrated the Union Lines. We walked down
Cemetery Ridge on a quiet road lined with monuments—some grand, some modest—but all
Vermont 104th Regiment 352 Men 52 Killed 150 Wounded July 3, 1993
At the bottom of the ridge a short climb up a windy, wooded road brings you to Little
Round Top—a bit of rocky outcropping fought for bitterly on July 2—the second day of the
We listened to impassioned descriptions of Pickett's (or Longfellow's) Charge, from
earnest park rangers and an animated speaker who appeared to have his West Point Strategy
and Tactics 101 class with him.
Special place. Very special.
We camped only a mile or so from the southern edge of the battleground in an RV park.
Cost $17.15 for all hook-ups; I separated the car and went into town and scored cash at an
ATM machine—drove through a mini-slum on the way; poor black teenagers hanging out on the
corner near downtown, and fat black women in kerchiefs yelling at babies. They were,
ultimately, what the war was about. And here they are, still miles away from proper
integration into American society. Heavy meaning there, somewhere, I suppose.
I also got some blood pressure pills (Monopril, 10mg, $29 for 30) at a forlorn,
brand-new Peoples drug store on the east edge of town—right by the Wal-Mart (yes,
Gettis-Burg has its own Wal-Mart). Also a Wendy's, which I took advantage of. [I was
originally afraid Peoples was a local operation that wasn't working out, but I've since
seen them all over this part of the world.]
Robbin and I quietly read until about 10:00 when we went to bed. Chilly night, too.
I haven't had a beer in the last two days (today will be the third). That may not sound
like much, but consider that I've probably not had some form of alcohol on maybe 5
previous evenings on this 3 month trip. I am going to stay clean and sober until October
Not an alcoholic, but when you feel like you need a drink before you can get to sleep,
something's got to change.
We got up around 8:00—Robbin took the first shower and then went running.
I had a near-disaster: in hooking up the Festiva I misjudged the grade the car was on,
and when I put the car in neutral to drag it up to the hitch, it started going backwards.
I anticipated this, and grabbed the tow bar and dug in, but as soon as I felt that
car-weight pulling back, I thought, "Oops. I may not be able to stop this." It
dragged me about ten feet as I fought with it for dear life. Finally, I bulldogged it to a stop about
twenty feet from some parked motor homes behind me. I yelled for Robbin and she came
(after some delay) and set the brake. But for a while there, the little white car was
intent on dragging me into some nice trailers. Scary, for about ten seconds
wasn't clear if I could stop the car or not.
On the way out of town we drove past some additional battlefield sites
including the Peach Orchard, and the Confederate lines where Pickett
launched his Charge. There's
a wonderful statue put up by the state of Virginia to their men who fought at this battle.
At the top is Lee aboard Traveler, looking out across that same field to the Union line
along Cemetery Ridge a mile distant.
We hit four states today: Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.
Everything is close out here: Gettisburg can't be more than 100 miles from Washington, DC.
We passed Antiedem Battleground; the site of the deadliest single day of fighting in the
war. But didn't stop. I wanted an extra-easy driving day.
Thought we'd be camped by 1:00 or for sure by 2:00 but it took longer to get to the
park than I'd thought (doesn't it always?) and then we had a 50 mile drive to the nearest
campground up winding, climbing Skyline Drive. With a bunch of stops for looking and gas
and what have you, it took two hours to go that 50 miles.
Deer, everywhere, the last two days. All over the Gettysburg battleground. And today,
everywhere at Shenandoah National Park. Including standing around, elk-like, in this
campground. Robbin rescued Candy from a near-deer stomping. She saw a deer pounding a bush
with its foot, and sure enough, Candy was the active ingredient in the bush.
Going out to eat at the lodge tonight.
Right now we're camped at about the midway point of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah
National Park and we're about 70 miles from DC. And yet the traffic isn't bad—and there
are clear separations between towns, with lots of trees and farms. Virginia and
Pennsylvania are both green and tidy.
October 10, 1993 Bull Run Regional Park Centerville, Virginia 8:30 PM
Tonight (Sunday) will be our fourth night at this huge, quiet, and mostly empty
campground adjacent to the Bull Run Battlefield. It's twenty minutes from here to the
Vienna stop of the Metro subway system.
[You hear the sounds of gunfire (musket fire?) often from our campsite.]
Our first full day here was Friday. We parked the Festiva in the only open space in the
parking lot at the Vienna station and caught the train in (Robbin probably didn't buy
enough "mileage" on her ticket; I probably bought too much.). It's above ground
half the way; the McPherson stop is the White House stop. DC is sleazy! Very black and
gritty. Across the street from the White House is one of the dirtiest park restrooms I have
ever used in my life.
A girl at the subway ticket office told us, in essence, that we were stupid because we
thought it was strange/unfair that you could only buy a $5 all-day pass at the Metro's
central station—and that it costs $2, non-refundable, to get there. "The tourists
don't understand, you see," she said. I didn't see, of course.
Anyway, back to DC. We decided not to wait in the huge White House tour line, and after
walking down Pennsylvania past the Executive Office Building (exotic-looking and in the
process of being fixed up), saw a DC cop start to block traffic, and then realized a
motorcade was coming. Sure enough, in a couple of minutes, Bill Clinton rode by behind a
bunch of motorcycles and a larger limousine than the clunky looking one he was in. I think
I have him on videotape, which is more than all those people in line can say, I'm sure.
The good stuff in on the mall—a huge, grassy strip that extends a couple of miles from
the Capitol on the east to the Lincoln Memorial on the west with the Washington Monument
right in the middle and bunches of huge Greco-Roman revival buildings all around.
But be prepared to walk. We walked up to the Washington Monument, decided not to wait
in the short but slow line leading no doubt to another claustrophobic experience in a
National Monument for your faithful servant. Instead we headed to the Lincoln Memorial; on
the way is the Vietnam memorial. It took some research but I found my
cousin, Richard V. Blackburn, on
panel W-5. I'd forgotten his middle name was Vincent. That was his father's
name. Made me think of him more. He was
born September 18, 1951. Also saw Doug Cain in the book (but not on the wall), something I
regret a little bit now. Probably Doug didn't get anyone coming by that day, and I
could've spared the time.
Washington is crowded! And when you get close to the monuments, someone is always
taking a picture of someone and you kind of don't want to get in the foreground or
background of their subject, although I have little patience for the long focusers who are
keeping me from walking right up to the giant seated figure of Lincoln.
We used up two miles of my available foot duty walking to the attractive, but missable
Jefferson Memorial (Robbin toured Montecello in Charlottesville on the way
here). There are very few eating options on the mall, especially if you
don't count Chinese-immigrant run roach coaches. We toured the Bureau of
Engraving and Printing—the people who print money. Seemed sloppy and messy
and the tour wasn't that great, although it was tight and muggy in the
narrow tunnels they cram the tourists into for a glimpse of sheets of dollar
bills sliding along the top of presses.
These last two events were a bit disappointing.
We had a late lunch at an unlikely dining spot, the cafe associated with the new
Holocaust museum. Stumbling across the cafe was a lucky break because 1. It was there. 2.
The food wasn't bad. I had a knish with sour cream and a salad. A knish is a potato
Then we turned east and headed up the mall for the Smithsonian's Air and Space museum.
It was another mile; would I be disappointed again?
The Air and Space Museum is fantastic. They have wonderful educational displays, and
for relics, well, try this on for the first large room you come into:
John Glenn's Friendship 7 Mercury Capsule is right by the door. A bit behind it,
The Apollo 11 command module. Hanging from the ceiling, The Bell X-1 used by Chuck Yeager
to break the speed of sound. Also on the ceiling: Lindberg's Spirit of St. Louis.
Right in the middle, the Big Bopper of all aviation artifacts : The Wright Brother's
Wow!! What else: An X-15 rocket plane; On the left wall, Pershing II and a Soviet SS-20
In other rooms, V2 and Minuteman missiles. An entire DC-3. Early Goddard rockets. WW II
vintage Nazi jet fighters and a jet bomber. The second helicopter that ever flew. These
aren't just displays, mind you: These are real DC-3s and real helicopters and
real Voyagers, the plane Dick Ruttan flew around the world nonstop.
But we were beat when that place closed. We took a subway to a bar and had too much to
drink and Robbin started asking me if I love her and I couldn't really say that I did and
it made for a long night after that.
She came pretty close to leaving the next day; maybe, in time, that will look like the
best move for both of us—but it sure seemed like a bummer, major trip-wrecker at the
She declined to go into town with me the next day. I had a great tourist day: my feet
had bounced back nicely. I spent another hour or so at the Air and Space museum—didn't
want to miss anything. Then I walked to the Capitol, and thought I'd have to satisfy
myself with just the view from the top of the stairs. But it turned out, the place
open, you just have to go around to the other side. And one inside, you just
kind of go most
everywhere: I sat in both the Senate and House galleries. Plus two statues from each state
are scattered around.
Then I hit the Museum of Natural History for the sole purposes of 1. Eating and 2.
Seeing the Hope Diamond. The Hope Diamond was underwhelming, but the Eating worked out
Then to another, major, major hit: The Museum of American History. I saw everything I
hadn't seen in the A&S Museum: The ENIAC—the first computer. Roosevelt's little nose
pinch glasses. Andrew Jackson's sword. The Apple 1. A giant steam locomotive. Lots of cool
engines. Wonderful, diorama displays on Everyday American Life in the 1790s and also on
the black migration North, 1915-1940. Wonderful place; they had to throw me out at 5:30.
Wish it wasn't so crowded and I had more time.
I had a vision for a program come to me while walking around the clocks exhibit. I got
to thinking about Robot Wars—about automatons rattling around inside a digital universe.
Today I've refined that idea a bit into something pretty exciting. Picture a screen saver
that, instead of a fish tank, is an office building full of people that sit and their
desks and come and go and ride up and down elevators! It'd be a hoot! More later.
Robbin met me at the train station and we went to a movie: Malice, with Alec Baldwin
and Nicole Kidman. I give it no better than a six, but it entertained us on this rainy
This morning we opted to take a short side trip to Delaware. Turned out to be twice as
long as I thought it would take, and we got kicked off the freeway system in as scary a DC
neighborhood as I have ever been in, and we had a strange meal in the only restaurant I
could find in Harrington, Delaware, but still, it was fun. Did I mention that today is
about 30 degrees colder than yesterday? Tonight I expect it will be down around 40. One of
our coldest days on the trip so far.
I've been watching football (Raiders over Jets) and baseball (Blue Jays over White Sox,
Braves leading Phillies after three), ever since we got back. Am I a couch potato?
Sometimes, and so fucking what?
Robbin spent an hour driving around looking for a Laundromat to handle a weeks worth of
clothes. She didn't find one—too nice a neighborhood.
We also have a big fat Sunday Washington Post to keep us busy in this chilly motor
Did anything amazing happen on the way here from Shenandoah NP? I don't think so. We
went to Monticello, as I mentioned. And Robbin found this wonderful, bargain park to camp
at. No water, but plenty of woods and privacy, and they do have electric. But they have
some strange rules: Each night costs $14.64, they don't take checks, and they require
exact change in the little envelopes. Leave too much, and a ranger will deliver you your
change. Why don't they charge $15 and keep the extra thirty six cents? Is someone going to
say, "You know, I'd pay $14.60 or so to camp here, but $15 is just too damn
Philadelphia just pulled ahead. I'm kind of for Atlanta, but don't really care who
wins. The Oilers are on tomorrow.
I haven't had anything to drink last night or the night before last or two nights
before that. But I had about 6 drinks after our first trip into the city. It's truth
serum, and I don't think Robbin and I can stand too much truth in our relationship these
I've got the heater running. It runs till it heats the place up too much, then doesn't
run at all for fifteen minutes and it's maybe 60. Bad thermostat or normal RV practice?
Who knows? Who cares?
October 11, 1993 Something Something RV Park Williamsburg, VA 7:45 PM
Robbin made spaghetti for us tonight; now she's washing the dishes. Earlier she washed
all the clothes. Am I bad, or what?
We got out of Bull Run Park by 9:15 this morning. Better than usual departure time. But
then it helped that we didn't have enough water for either of us to take a shower. In
fact, even teeth brushing was a strain. We got water on the way out but waited to take our
shower until we arrived here at around 12:30.
The purpose of this side trip was to see Williamsburg, and we did, and, it's no big
deal. Since I'm no history buff or antiques buff or Revolutionary War buff, maybe that's
not surprising, but basically, Williamsburg is a tourist trap. It's a small city from
colonial times that's been rather completely restored. A few people wander about in period
If you pay the CW outfit ("Colonial Williamsburg") $24, you get a ticket that
goes around your neck and lets you into exactly 12 shops where you can watch blacksmiths
blacksmith, milliners mill, Candle makers make candles, and so on, and I guess they do it
in charming period speech to go along with their costumes. It isn't a bad show they put on
here, but it isn't worth $24 and it isn't worth a major side trip. $24 is Disneyland
admission money, and this sure ain't no Disneyland, no matter how many old wooden houses
We spent more time in the shopping, modern part of town. I finally got a book on the
I happened to see on the Today Show this morning (I was getting pretty intense with the
TV there in DC) that a space shuttle launch is scheduled for next Thursday. So now I am
heading for Orlando by Wednesday evening in earnest. What a unexpected boon to see a
shuttle launch during the three days we're going to be in Florida! It would almost make up
for, nay, it would make up for the Ryder Cup debacle in Oak Park.
We did some Talk Radio on the way down: An annoying G. Gordon Lid for maybe half an
hour, and maybe 15 minutes of an unusually upbeat Rush Limbaugh. They need rebuttals
occasionally that usually aren't forthcoming from their callers, but they do keep me
October 13, 1993 Cape Canaveral KOA Titus, Florida 8:15 PM
Yesterday we did 500 miles and drove clear across North Carolina and most of the way
across South Carolina. Robbin did 2/3rds of the driving; we camped near Bulletin, South
Carolina. Very near Hilton Head Island and its elegant resorts and golf courses. Where we
were, in the Piney Rock (or whatever) RV Park, it was more like Tobacco Road RV park. A
restaurant we saw on the way through Bulletin was called "The Squat and Gobble." I'm not
making this up.
I spent an hour or two allegedly exploring Hilton Head Island but dark was coming and I
was scruffy and the best I could come up with was to drink a couple of beers in the quite
fancy Hilton Head Bowling Alley bar. A bunch of rich looking old women were bowling, and a
very presentable crowd, lots of ties, was in the very presentable wooden bar. The
bartender was perky, tanned, blonde, and named Buff. (Not the rich kind of Buff.)
I had two beers and an order of potato skins. I was no more comfortable than I normally
am in bars when I'm by myself. When I left I was paranoid about getting stopped with two
beers in me (that burned-out Festiva headlight is like a sign that says "Stop
me!" to all cops, especially small town cops. One of these days, I'll fix it.
The RV park could've been more polished but it sufficed; once I got the lady to come
out of her house, she and her two pet goats meandered to the "office" and filled
out the paperwork. The female goat was Nanny and had horns; the male (whose name I forget)
didn't have horns. But once you're inside your motor home with the blinds closed and a
ALCS game on the tube, it doesn't really matter where you're parked.
Today we made it the 250 miles or so down to Cape Canaveral by 2:30: by 3:00 I had the
car detached and was on my way, solo, to the Kennedy Space Center (Robbin didn't want to
come.) The signs herd the tourists into a huge parking lot and a glitzy tourist
attraction, but I wanted some "hands-on" touring so I bought a $7 ticket that
gets you a seat on a huge, two Decker bus that drives into the complex.
We drove past several blue signs reading "1 days to next launch."
But it's an unsatisfying tour. (Not as bad as the Hershey "Tour," though, by
a long shot.) They drive you to a nondescript building near an office complex, everyone
files out of the bus and into a building, and they show you a simulated launch in a
simulated Apollo-era control room. Then everyone piles back in and they drive you out to a
dusty field three miles from the shuttle launch pad. Again, you get out, this time to look
through a chain link fence at the giant truck they carry the shuttle from the vehicle
assembly building to the pad on. It's cool, but hey, we're here to see rockets. The
closest you get is 2.5 miles; at ground level, the Columbia is out there on Pad B, but
hidden behind the scraggly Florida trees. Then everybody crawls back on (each loading
takes about ten minutes—there's 100 people on this bus, at least).
Last stop is a demo
Saturn V laying on its side. Hey, I've seen demo Saturn Vs! I'm here to
see gantries, rockets, space shuttles, solid rocket boosters, *real* control rooms, that
kind of stuff. The tour guide/bus driver, a tired looking 60-year-old smoker of all-white
cigarettes talks a little on the way, but most of the talking is a recorded message; the
voice is high-pitched and fussy and some of the words are pronounced wrong and some of the
facts are wrong; for example, he credits the space program for "microchip"
Here they've got one of the great tourist attractions on earth, Cape Fucking Canaveral,
where Alan Shepherd and John Glenn and Apollo 11 blasted off, where the Challenger
exploded, where Walter Cronkite used to s-t-r-e-t-c-h during those inevitable, lengthy
holds in the countdown! Show us that place where he used to sit! Show me where these
things happened! Let me climb on an old Atlas gantry! Drive us by the shuttle on the pad!
How could that hurt anything?
Tomorrow's STS Launch
NASA doesn't have a space shuttle; they have the STS (Space Transportation System).
They don't have launch times anymore; they have "launch windows" that are open
for some period of time. Tomorrow's launch window opens at 10:53. We'll leave here fairly
early tomorrow and try to score a good viewing place along Highway 1 in Titus. It's a good
ten miles from the launching pad, but that's as close as the public can get.
I thought I'd have a drink at a topless bar on the way back, but I couldn't find any on
the meandering route back that I took, and when I finally checked a phone book the only
one listed is way the hell on the other side of town ("Teasers"). By then I
thought I'd better get on home to the little woman.
We were both starved by the time I got back and almost immediately got in the car and
ate at the first restaurant we came to, which unfortunately was Po' Folks. No beer, no
wine. No good food, although Robbin was a good sport. We were going to stop somewhere for
a drink, but never found a bar in the process of meandering back. I sure wouldn't mind a
drink, but since I stumbled yesterday, today I should be strong.
Did I mention that game six of the NLCS is on? Braves, down two games to three, at
Phillies. Cool night at the Vet. Scoreless after three or so, I think.
October 15, 1993 Lakewood South RV Park Orlando, FL 8:00 AM
Can't talk long; gotta get to Disney World as soon as Robbin gets out of the shower. We
got here yesterday around 4:00 after a short drive from Titusville, Florida.
We came within 30 seconds of seeing a shuttle lift-off yesterday. We got to a decent
viewing spot at around 8:30—hours before the opening of the launch window. But I didn't
know how crowded it would be, and I figured we might as well hang out near the water as in
the RV park. It turned out we were mondo early; a few people started showing up around
10:15 for the 10:53 launch. We parked on a street facing the cape, with a clear shot
across the inland waterway maybe 7 miles to the launch pad. The shuttle itself was small
but visible to the naked eye out on the horizon. A good place to watch.
A local AM station gave sporadic bulletins sandwiched around oldies, and we learned
that there was a weather hold. (It was hazy but not all that bad, it seemed to me.) 11:00
came and went without a launch. 12:00, ditto. It was warm and muggy in the RV but I read
my book and washed some windows and talked with three young Australians tossing a rugby
ball around. Around 12:30, there was talk that the weather had improved (and there
little sun and blue sky that wasn't there before). And I thought, "Aha, I knew there
would be a launch. I had faith it would happen."
Around 1:00 they restarted the
countdown at 9:00. There was a short hold at 4:00, then they restarted again. I scrambled
around, found a clean pair of sunglasses, got Robbin to do the videoing, I got binoculars
and went out on a small, private dock with one of the Aussies. Even Candy was watching
through the window. I waited and waited, staring at the pad through the binoculars. Then I
heard someone say "Another hold," and went back to the RV to hear some scary
mission control chatter—one voice in the mix said, "that's a no-go for today."
And then they formally scrubbed the mission. *That* close to seeing it. Well, it hasn't
taken off yet, and today is even rainier. Maybe I'll see it yet.
We got off the beach area without too much traffic; found a Wal-Mart near a Wendy's and
ate in one and bought contact supplies and diet Pepsis in the other. We got caught in a
pretty nasty traffic jam on the Bee Line Tollway to Orlando, but I more or less expected
that and it didn't freak me out.
Robbin picked this place out; it's not more than ten minutes from Disney World. We
checked in; we parked on a cement slab that turned out to be a patio, not a parking spot.
So we moved. Most of the spaces here are taken up by scuzzy old travel trailers that
aren't currently occupied. I mean 90%.
We went to dinner at a Sushi bar, early, so as to get back in time for Thursday Night
TV (Simpsons/Seinfeld). I made Robbin cry again; too critical. Something's got to change
I hope we have a good day together today. She's done; I've got to go in there now. Bye.
Later (6:30 PM)
We're back. We did EPCOT (allegedly based on the pretentious little acronym
Experimental Prototype blah blah blah.
By 4:30 this afternoon we'd:
This sucks! Who cares about the details? We saw Epcot. Robbin and I got along fair, not
great. We're both scared to get into very much. She doesn't like rides. If she could have
any job in the world, she'd be a podiatrist. She eats meal after meal of rice and corn.
She doesn't like movies. She doesn't like TV. She doesn't really like to talk.
But is this a reason to break up? She has good qualities too. She likes the outdoors.
She likes me.
At this moment, the aforementioned is out buying groceries; she's been gone an hour and
a half so far. It's raining here in central Florida. It's dark. I'm running the AC and
watching TV. A "Baby Jessica" retrospective is running on a tabloid TV show.
Hard Copy, it's called.
Robbin is going to visit her Uncle Skip in St. Petersburg tomorrow. I'm not going
The shuttle didn't take off again today. Next chance is Monday. Maybe I haven't missed
Candy is getting to be a real pain-in-the-ass sometimes.
October 16, 1993 8:40 AM Same Place
I'm sitting on the back cushion as Robbin gets her clothes together. She's taking me to
Disneyland, dropping me off there, and then driving the 90 miles to St. Petersburg to see
her aunt and uncle. I'm going to do Disneyland in the light rain, and maybe rent a car for
the day and drive around Orlando. I need a way home anyway from the park. No doubt I'll
spend at least a little time in one of Florida's famed nude dance bars, watching young
women dance naked as I sip Budweisers.
Robbin is trying on different scarves around her waist, posing in front of the mirror,
seeing which way she looks the most thin. Now she's got her head tilted back and her mouth
open as she slathers mascara onto her eyelashes.
Now she's doing her curly hair with the pick. Giving herself a pursed, pained look in
the mirror. I suppose it hurts just a little pulling that pick through her hair...
October 17, 1993 Same Muggy Run-Down RV Park in Central Florida 8:20 PM
Today we got lucky and more or less randomly went to Universal Studios instead of
Disney/MGM Studios. Universal Studios is markedly more fun, better looking, more modern,
and just plain *better* than either Epcot Center or Magic Kingdom. Who would of thunk that
Disney could be beat at this game? Yet the people who put together Universal Studios
Florida made a bigger, better, tourist attraction.
More on this later, but first, the facts. I was very lazy this morning. Didn't get out
of bed until 8:30. Read the paper and drank coffee, almost motionlessly, until 10:30. I
guess it was due to the drinking yesterday, but I felt like I could have easily have
killed the whole day right on the back couch. Especially on a football season Sunday.
But we had my Nissan Altima rental car to return (did I mention the car I rented
yesterday? I'll get to that). Robbin followed me down the five mile Disney Drive to the
Auto Center (they have like 100 square miles of property around here) and the car rental
place. Then it was on to Universal Studios. Unlike Disney, Universal Studios doesn't have
a monorail or five mile, six-lane private freeway leading to it; it's just a big parking
lot in front of a big group of buildings; you turn directly into the parking lot off a
normal city four lane road. Like Disney, it costs money to park at their place. This is
wrong, I think.
You catch a ride from your way-far parking space on a trolley. You wait, just like
Disney, longer than you should have to, to buy a $35 ticket. (But we *did* get $3 off
thanks to some coupons passed back in the line by a total stranger ahead of us; genetic
Inside, Universal Studios is just better. For one thing, it's bigger. It has real
roads, not just footpaths. Disneyland feels packed all the time because the
pathways are too
narrow. At Universal Studios, you have a little space to walk in and still admire the
buildings. For another, Universal Studios has a simpler concept: Good Rides in Visually
Interesting Settings. Disneyland has a host of agendas: Their lightweight, out-of-date
cartoon characters; their child/family spin (too many kid attractions like the spinning
teacups or the singing bears); their "World of Tomorrow" slant that was cutting
edge in 1960 but laughable now.
To be fair, Disney is prisoner of its success. They don't want to mess with the formula
that made them so much money. But geez, they build a huge complex, a chance to straighten
out mistakes in the original park, but what I saw was cookie cutter duplication. Even
mediocre rides, rides that were dull the minute they plugged them in, like Mission to
Mars, or the overhead tram or about 50% of them. Why didn't they experiment, throw away
some stuff that didn't work and try something new!
It's ironic that they *didn't* clone Disneyland West's best ride, Star Tours. There
*is* no Star Tours ride in Tomorrowland, livening up that otherwise moribund part of the
Boring Kingdom. You have to go to the MGM Studio Tour to see Star Tours.
Anyway, we went to Universal Studios, rode some great rides, soaked in some great
ambience in the San Francisco/New York recreations, ate some really excellent park food,
and found a comfortable Irish pub to hang out in for half an hour.
Disney is for kids. If you're not a kid, especially if you've seen it once—don't
About that car; let me explain. Yesterday Robbin drove me to the Disneyland gates on
her way to St. Petersburg to see her uncle. Our deal was she was going to either pick me
up at 9:00, or I might just possibly find my way home by myself before that, through means
unspecified. I paid my 37 bucks and waited through various lines and walked through light
rain to Space Mountain, a ride that I remembered as one of the better ones at Disneyland
West I had just walked out of Space Mountain yesterday morning at 10:15. It was raining
lightly. Space Mountain hadn't blown my socks off. I walked the entire length of the park
in ten minutes, headed for the New Big Thing, Thunder River, and on the way, saw all the
old familiar rides. Thunder River looked like a slightly better than normal log flume
ride, and it had a half hour wait. Plus, everyone was there with someone.
Once I got home, I drank wine and watched the first few innings of the first game of
the World Series. Hey, it's a living!
Tonight, there's no wine, but I am doing the sports couch potato thing. Watched the
second half of the Cowboys/Niners while jumping back and forth to Joe Montana and
Chargers/Chiefs. Joe drove his team the length of the field with three minutes left to win
the game. Of course. He seems to still have it. And now I'm on his side. After the
football, it was Sixty Minutes, then the second game of the World Series.
October 19, 1993 Reed Bingham State Park Near Adel, Georgia 8:30 AM
Robbin is in the shower. This state park has water and electric and wide-open spaces.
For $10 a night, this is quite a find, six miles west of I-75, the road to Atlanta.
We got up early and were out of Gloomy Forest RV Park by 9:10. I figured that was early
enough to give us time to make it to Titusville to see shuttle Columbia take off, just in
case it would. And it looked like that was a possibility; the skies were blue and clear
for the first time in our five Florida mornings. I called 1-800-KSC-INFO and got a busy
signal but I just had a feeling the launch would happen, and on time.
We were low on gas (early "E" stages) and spent a precious 10 or 15 minutes
fueling up. Getting gas in the RV with the car back there isn't like gassing up a car. You
have to find just the right situation: A large, open gas island with room to pull up and
room to get out. Often the station is right but someone is using the only pump that fits
your situation. Anyway, after that, I knew that if there were no holds, it would be close.
We hauled left-lane ass the whole way down the Bee-Line freeway, hitting 70 a couple of
times and never letting the car in front of me pull away.
It looked like we were just
going to make it when we hit a thick tie-up at the last toll plaza, maybe 15 miles from
the cape. When we got through it, it was 10:35, with the launch still on schedule for
10:53. We hauled ass on non-freeway roads. I passed a big flat bed carrying stacks of turf
grass. With five minutes to go (we're listening to mission
control on local radio the whole time), we're still ten minutes from Titusville and people
have already pulled over to claim a little high ground here and there. We pressed on. We
got to the gates of KSC; it was blocked by police; they made you exit to North US 1. As we
came out of the exit loop, people were parking everywhere and milling around on the median
Three minutes to go. We started a new parking lane on the exit itself and people
immediately parked behind me. Fifty people were scrambling to the top of the bridge we had
just crossed before our exit, to get some altitude over the scruffy Florida forest around
us. I kept scanning the horizon where I thought it go up; I had the binocs, Robbin the
camcorder. I saw someone struggling to see a portable TV in the bright sun; I went over to
them; "Nine seconds," they said. Wow, I thought, It's really going to happen.
The TV guy counted down to 0. "Liftoff of space shuttle Columbia, for a 14 day
Life Sciences Mission." But we didn't hear or see anything standing there by the
bridge. I kept looking at my spot on the horizon. Then someone said, "There it
is." And where he pointed, a good bit right of where I was looking, a thick column of
smoke led directly into a cloud. No shuttle visible. Was that it? Damn!
A second later, the tiny shuttle burst out of the clouds on a tail of fire. Tiny, far
away, but clearly visible: white SRBs, red tank, beautiful white wings. The firetail was
many times longer than the spacecraft itself, and the smoke trail went all the way to the
ground. Still no sound. I said, "Go baby go." It kept going. After ten seconds
or more, we heard the first rumblings, not steady noise, but quick, separate explosions.
Never did get that loud. It kept climbing, leaving a thick plume that barely dissipated or
moved. It was getting tiny but still visible in my binoculars when the TV guy said that
the SRBs had detached. And I could see one of them, white and tiny tumbling off to the
right. It moved oh so slowly. By this time the Columbia had angled away from us to the
extent that it was hidden by its own plume. We walked back down the hill; grass burrs,
chiggers, and loose, wet sand. Maybe ten minutes total had elapsed.
Hey, I saw a space shuttle take off!
The rest of the day was lazy traveling. We cruised Hwy 1 through Daytona beach.
Nothing but tired motels and fast food places. Although I did find a Popeye's for lunch;
best of the trip so far.
Robbin did most of the driving today.
We stopped about 40 miles north of the border, in a tourist trap/factory outlet town
near a state park. The tourist trap has its own FM radio station; I picked it up loud and
clear 15 miles from town... The station is non-stop commercials for Big Frog or Frog King
or whatever it is restaurant and the "Adel Outlet Stores."
I caught Robbin with smoke on her breath coming back from "using the phone."
She admitted sheepishly that she's been smoking five cigarettes a day since Washington DC.
The park is nice. No discernable structure to where you're supposed to camp, but there
are plenty of water and electric sites and plenty of room. Candy was out last night a
bunch so she slept (and we slept) better.
October 20, 1993 Stone Mountain Park Stone Mountain, Georgia, just east of Atlanta
No time to talk. I *did* get the entry particulars typed, though.
Call Keith Palmquist! Tell him your arrival time!
October 21, 1993 Stone Mountain Park Stone Mountain, Georgia, just east of Atlanta 9:00
I did call my Dad. Had a better-than-average conversation; now I need to remember to
send him a card. I told both him and Mom we'd be there sometime around November 1. This
worked for them...
At 5:00, I entered the trailer, authentically bedraggled.
But Robbin wasn't worried about my golf game or beer on my breath or cigarette smoke in
my hair. She had bigger stuff on her mind. She'd just heard from a friend in Santa Cruz
(Veda), that her old boyfriend, Tom Oka, her eight year live-in back in her early
California days, had died. Died—not gotten sick—died dead.
She was considering whether to go back for the funeral.
Robbin and her friend Debbie just got back from a morning hike. Now we're going into
Atlanta for some tourist activity.
Candy is outside; I need to help look for her.
I found Candy. Robbin is back from ordering flowers for the funeral. She sent them to
his parent's house in southern California.
Did I mention: I caught Robbin smoking cigarettes the morning we left the campground
near King Frog...
Just now, I caught a whiff of smoke. And I looked in her pack and found toothpaste. But
now isn't the time to bug her about it. I'm no saint, myself.
October 22, 1993 Same Place 9:30 AM
It's raining; Robbin is outside doing the man-work of disconnecting the water, sewer
and electric. I'm not feeling that hot today and the less I wet I get, the better. I'll do
my part for the cause when I hook up the car.
Robbin went out today and picked up the Atlanta 1996 Olympics tee-shirts we left in her
friend Debbie's car yesterday. I have suspicions that she also smoked a cigarette or two.
Early this morning she wrote out sympathy cards to her ex-boyfriend's parents and
sister; they live in South Pasadena, in southern California. She was crying softly as she
We need propane and they sell it here, but Robbin researched it this morning and
allegedly, they can't sell it during inclement weather. Somehow it's dangerous. So we're
running on vapors for another day.
Did I mention that Georgia has the cheapest gas we've seen on this trip? Regular
unleaded in the high 80s.
Yesterday, after much fiddling around by her friend Debbie, we went downtown and did
some touring. We saw the Coca Cola museum. We went to the Atlanta Underground—no big
deal; I've seen strip malls that were more interesting. Highlight was having drinks in a
rotating bar on top of an 80 story hotel, the Westin Peachtree or something—and riding up
and down on an external glass elevator.
Also met her kids, Matt, Angela, and Christine. Matt is 14, 6-3, and has size 17 feet.
Also a crazy old guy that lives next to her father.
gotta run, gotta fly out of here.
October 23, 1993 Kentucky Dam Village Resort Campground Near Paducah, KY 8:50 AM CDT
I write this with a wonderful frost-painted meadow outside my window. It's chilly here;
and luckily our propane does not seem to be as expended as our gauges would have us
believe. We had hot water and a bit of heat for our showers this morning.
Robbin decided last night to not visit her friend in St. Louis. This friend goes back
to her Tom Oka days and she thought she wouldn't be in any mood to have fun seeing him...
So we're going straight to Ramona's from here. It's not that far, but there are no
interstates between Paducah and Springfield.
But that's fine with me. I'm getting interstate burnout. Yesterday morning I fought
traffic and trucks and rain for three harrowing hours getting from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
At least it seemed like three hours.
We jogged down into Alabama's northeastern most county and had a passable fast food
lunch at the trip's first Hardees in Bridgeport, Alabama (me: chicken; Robbin: Salad). It
seemed poor and ignorant but no more so than a hundred other towns of its size we've been
through on this trip. The girl at the Hardees had to ask Robbin several times a question
about a second salad dressing packet; I had a hard time understanding her, too. We never
did figure out what she was saying.
Robbin did much driving yesterday. She makes me nervous when she drives—always saying
oh no, and yanking the wheel. But she wanted to drive, maybe helped her forget about her
friend Tom's death. She sniffed a couple of times in the afternoon.
The park I found for the night is about half full; mostly elderly people in trailers,
with strands of lanterns attached to their awnings—I would guess that some of them have
been here for weeks. From the number of boat trailers I see, it seems fishing is a popular
activity; there's a large TVA damn a mile away.
It's perfect for us. Plenty of space for Candy to roam; no immediate neighbors. I hit
chips and short pitches with my wedge for half an hour last night; Candy entertained
herself by bounding after the shots. I do love that cat. The gate at the entrance is
unmanned; a sign directs you to site 145, where an elderly woman filled out my receipt and
took my $10.50.
It was chilly last night—I got too sleepy reading to properly get into bed; I just
crawled up there in the sweats I had worn all day and got under the covers seemed
accessible and put a book over my face to keep Robbin's reading light out of my eyes. I
had too much covers in some places and not enough in others.
Yesterday we crossed into the Central Time Zone, ending a good six weeks in the
Eastern. We're headed home; that's a sure sign.
I spoke to Ruby and Paul for a good bit yesterday.
Wow, Robbin's really been on a long walk.
(...later, around 7:30 PM, near Bolivar, MO)
I'm in my lounging position on the back couch, watching the Blue Jays take an ominous
first inning lead in the sixth game of the series. The Jamboree Ralleye is parked in
Ramona's driveway. (Now it's a three run lead.)
We mad-dashed across Missouri today. 250 miles, most on winding, two-lane US 60.
Highlights: Instant coffee to save scarce propane. But the propane still hasn't run
out—is the gauge way off?
Breakfast at McDonalds. I pass on the $3.99 AYCE buffet. The morning paper is the
Paducah Something or Other.
Just south of Cairo, IL, we crossed the Ohio to enter Illinois, then a few seconds
later, were on a tight, tall bridge over the Mississippi into the new state of Missouri.
We had the camera ready but the Show Me people neglected to erect a welcoming sign on this
We stopped for lunch at a Wendy's in Poplar Bluff; trying to get back on the highway I
pulled down a dead-end street of mobile homes and we had to disconnect the Festiva, back
it out, then back out the RV. I've been dreading this sort of move, but it really wasn't
all that bad. Took maybe 10 minutes to get motoring down the highway again.
We listened to the Phyllis Schlafly show on the radio. Topic had something to do with
sex education in the schools starting too young. Production values of the show were low,
low, low. Funky music, muddy sound...
About halfway between Paducah and Springfield, I noticed that the people and
countryside had made a subtle change between "southern-ness" and
"western-ness." So the south changes to the west somewhere in Missouri. I'd
always wondered where that happened.
Robbin drove for a while, but found the wind-y, narrow roads too stressful.
I didn't call Eunie, and I didn't get a card on its way to Chelsea Evans, my little
niece. Two things to do tomorrow.
Got to Ramona's complex at sunset; met the fella with few teeth first thing (Bill). He
helped me disconnect the car and told me he was going to go coon hunting tonight. He said
they used dogs and lights, somehow.
With the blinds closed, like they are now, you can't tell if you're parked in Bolivar,
MO or Bar Harbor, ME. I like that.
I cooked two pork choppettes; had them with buttered slices of bread, my favorite
October 27, 1993--Ruby's House--Tulsa, Oklahoma 8:30 AM
I'm early-morning unkempt and drinking coffee at Ruby's kitchen table. My birthday
cake, white, with a gash between 7:00 and 10:00, and ten striped candles is on here with
my computer. Jon Nell and my old washer, dryer, and refrigerator are right behind me.
Ruby is hoarse this morning; might have talked too much in the last 24 hours.
It's cold outside, in the high thirties.
Let's review the last couple of days:
At Ramona's, Sunday:
Ramona's complex comprises three households: Ramona in the front house, Linda and Carol the lesbian, former truck
driving team in the middle house, and Bill and Janet's trailer in the very back. Very,
very country. Can't be more than 25 teeth among the four of the five people I've met and
most of them are fat. Bill and Janet have a son, Jeff. He has long hair and dropped out of
high school to work construction at age 16. Probably a good move for him. Living at home
with those two probably is no head start on life.
They all live on ten acres three miles west of Bolivar, MO, along with nine horses, 18
dogs, and 10 cats. No bullshit. And only Janet has a job; she works at a shirt factory.
They spend a big piece of their income on animal food.
Robbin's friend, Ramona, has a little girl's voice in her heavy, 86 year old, wheel
chair bound, body. Her house smells, but not as bad, Robbin says, as it did the last time
she was here.
Sunday, Robbin and I (I started to type "Jon Nell and I", oops) took Ramona
into Springfield for a day of shopping at the mall. It's every bit of 35 miles to the
Battlefield Mall—Ramona in the front with me, and Robbin sideways in the back seat,
Ramona's wheelchair in the way-back. I dropped them off behind a bus belching slow-moving
seniors and diesel fumes, with the plan that I'd pick them up at 4:30, a good four hours
I'd planned to maybe get out and explore the town a little but ended up just meandering
through the endless hallways of Radio Shacks and B. Daltons and so on. I had two hours to
kill after I got completely sick of mall-ing and took in The Beverly Hillbillies—a weak,
unfunny remake of the wonderful sitcom. A second team production from start to finish.
Ellie Mae was sure cute, though.
At 4:30 I picked them up and we drove to the nearby Olive Garden restaurant. No one was
very hungry because of mall-eating. I'd gone so far as to have a luxury hamburger at the
Ruby Tuesday's bar while I drank a beer and watched the Atlanta/New Orleans game on the
bar TV. I had a calamari appetizer.
We hit a big Wal-Mart on the way out of town; Robbin and I went in and shopped
Target-style, tossing items as disparate as pens, contact lens solutions, and a Crock Pot
into our shopping cart.
When we got back it was dark and I'd planned a low-key evening watching TV, but somehow
I ended up playing the guitar for Ramona, her daughter Caroline, and Caroline's
truck-driving and presumed lesbian partner Linda. They thought I was good. Maybe I'm not
too bad, singing and playing. I should learn a couple more songs all the way through.
Monday, October 25th, my 42nd birthday, was a driving day. We took our time getting
ready to leave. Robbin spent time inside with Ramona. I hooked up the CB antenna I'd
bought at the mall the day before. Bill (the toothless one) and Carol helped. I walked
Candy. I bought propane at Dalt's Propane in downtown Boliver, MO. I thought the Dalt's
people were going to be unfriendly at first because the guy gave me such a look when I
asked twice where to pull up. But by the end I was talking to him and his wife about
California and vegetarians and wine tasting in Napa Valley.
By 11:30 we were hooked up and pulling out of the driveway with a couple of farewell
toots on the RV's melodious horn.
We had lunch in newly-world-famous Branson, Missouri—a "big little town,"
like Reno—just north of Arkansas in the Ozarks. I ate a huge plate of hamburgers and
cheese-fries in a Steak and Shake—then went back to the RV where Robbin threw me a
birthday party complete with cake, candles, and ice cream. Boy, was I stuffed. Luckily, in
the RV life, there's always a bathroom to accommodate intestinal distress.
She also gave me a bike helmet mirror and a copy of Larry McMurtry's sequel to Lonesome
Dove which she'd bought two months before in Oak Park at a store that had it for 40% off,
absolutely the best price I'd seen on this book on this trip, and I've been looking. I
think I even commented once to Robbin that I should have bought the book in Oak Park, that
I wasn't going to see it that cheap again. She was probably smirking inside.
We drove down the Branson strip, Highway 76—stop and go traffic on the windy, two-lane
road for three miles. Saw the theaters and cheap motels and the seniors lined up to get
into the shows. Not my cup of tea, but interesting to me that such a Vegas-like place
would spontaneously appear in southern Missouri.
We selected a scenic route that would take us into Arkansas (to let us check off that
state) and also run through Bentonville, the home and headquarters of Wal-Mart (one of our
Trip Icons). It took a lot longer to get through the state and its mountain roads than I'd
thought and it became obvious we weren't going to make Tulsa at 5:00 as advertised. 7:00
would be more like it. Night driving is scary cause we don't have running lights on either
the car or RV—a problem I tried to work out at a truck stop by fiddling with the
well-hidden fuse-box, but couldn't. But I did get hold of Ruby from the flaky, dishonest
bank of telephones at the truck stop. You can't self-dial shit there, and I had to
verbally give out my calling card number with three or four other guys right there. I half
expect giant charges to start showing up on my bill.
Finding Ruby's house was a struggle, too. My vaunted "instinctive" driving
style produced a lot of circling and frustration looking for Will Rodgers High School
(alleged to be a block from Ruby's house). I stopped in the World's Friendliest Liquor
Store and got the older clerk to tell me exactly where it was, and then a client offered
to lead me there. Which I gratefully accepted.
But we found the house and got the RV and tow car up her steep driveway. It was great
to see Ruby and we sat and watched Monday Night Football (Bears/Vikings) and she fixed me
two huge cheeseburgers and another birthday cake. Charlie ate good on his birthday.
In the morning, Robbin and I were doing our slow, lingering getting ready thing, when
who should pull up but Jon Nell in her snazzy dark blue Cougar. I didn't know she was
coming over; Robbin was in the RV and didn't see her go into the house. I was a bit
concerned over the chemistry of the four of us, with me at the epicenter, but Robbin came
in and the four of us talked amiably for an hour about the trip. Jon Nell is about to get
a masters degree. her hair was real blonde, and long, and she was skinny.
She left about 11:00, and Ruby and I went in her '86 Cutlass (the New Rocket) to Oral
Roberts University for some touring. ORU is a bit sad now—well below capacity, and
saddled with the ugliest 60s-modern campus I have ever seen. They had to sell off their
gold and black skyscraper hospital and medical school across the road, the one that Oral
begged for money for (the one he said God would "Take him home" about if he
didn't get the money).
Highlight was a fancy diorama/multimedia presentation on Oral's life and
work—dramatic music and sound effects and lighting coordinated with the
program that would hit an old desk with the date on the calendar in 1947 and
Oral's voice as a young man telling his wife that God had called him to
bring God's Healing Touch to the people and that he would have to go.
Major megalomania this man has, coupled with balls. God talks to him, and
he tells us what God has said, you see. Winding their way through the rooms
of the show with Ruby and me was an older couple; in the last room, spacey
music plays and the lights flash against mirrored walls as the Voice of Oral
prays that God will enter our hearts and would we please join hands in a
circle. I held the woman's hand, and Ruby's, and the woman was shaking and
her face was pure bliss.
Then we left the prayer tower, walked past a few students (most of the guys wear ties
but not coats). The campus seemed under populated for the middle of the day, week and term.
We drove out through a giant praying hands bronze statue.
On the way back we went to a bank and drove by the outside of Jon Nell's house; I
would've liked to have seen Hank; he's supposedly 14 years old now and arthritic, but
otherwise, looks good. But we didn't stop in; didn't want to get caught by John.
Later we would go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant with frou-frou decorations 45 miles
from town. And boy, did I eat a lot again...
And that brings you up to date.
Now Ruby has brought me a couple of cinnamon rolls. Robbin is out walking and I'm trying
to get the nerve up to call Charlie T.
(...later, 6:15 PM, at Little River State Park 13 miles east of Norman)
Short day today...
Tough start this morning. We scraped bottom coming down Ruby's driveway and had to
rethink things; turned around in her front yard (minor grass dents), got out okay. I tried
to get the oil changed at a Jiffy Lube on Harvard, but they said I was too tall. Looked
like it would fit, to me. You know how I hate to be disappointed.
Ruby had a box of old record albums of mine and other junk: Boggle game, magnetic
chessboard, Polaroid camera, old stereo cords... The records are mostly Cheap Trick—some
I had forgotten completely, like the single "Everything Works if You Let It." I
have no clue how that goes.
The box went in the back seat of the Festiva, but barely. It wouldn't take much for me
to dump the whole box.
Ruby had laryngitis this morning—sounded terrible—still she came out in her orange
hooded jacket to see us off. Her good for nothing neighbor was out there still trying to
get his red Ford Escort started. Seems that's just about all he does.
Robbin and I had a good short drive today—we pulled off the turnpike and took Historic
Highway 66 when the toll was $8.25 at the first booth. $8.25 is $1.75 more than it would
cost to take the motor home and car through separately—and only a couple of bucks less
than they would charge a forty-ton, road-wrecking 18-wheeler.
I was in a pretty good mood most of the day until we ate at a restaurant in Norman
after being unable to park in my old neighborhood. Maybe I'm disappointed I didn't get to
see Charlie T.
At any rate, I could call him now, but I don't think I will.
This campground is almost completely empty; no threads on the far-off water spigot, but
otherwise, an ideal campsite. Perfect for Candy; she's having a great evening.
October 28th The State Park Outside Norman 8:00 AM
I've been up for an hour working on this journal—but on past days, filling in some
Last night it got dark and six, leaving us a lot of time to fill. We read—I'm working
on my civil war history, Robbin on Lady Chatterley's Lover. Later we played Boggle—Robbin
beat me in the last round. We ran the heat last night, and I was the first up...
In a little we'll be breaking camp and then heading for Wichita Falls.
November 6, 1993 The King's Place Fayetteville, Texas 9:00 PM
My computer just suffered a memory lapse as a result of me not using it for several
days. I don't know if I lost some work or not, but it seems like I was backed up *not*
*too* *bad*. Course, you have to be pretty aggressive to *not* backup a hard disk which is
really nothing but RAM disk on a five year old portable computer.
Anyway, for future reference, nine days without an entry in this journal is too long.
Evenings of October 28, 29th: Wichita Falls (the folks) October 30th: Denton (Kathy's)
October 31st: Conroe (Soren's) November 1-5: Houston, (Alex's)
I'll try to come back and fill in the first three stops a bit later; for now, let me
talk about Houston and my stay there with my good friend Alex Smith and his family.
We left Soren's place, a tiny cottage sharing a small lot with a trailer and another
tiny cottage behind a charming coin-operated car wash. We took showers in Soren's
bathroom, but he didn't have a shower so I washed my hair instead. When I got my wet
towels and other stuff out to the RV, I ended up with a coin medallion on a leather chain;
somehow picked it up when I gathered up my stuff.
I washed the tow car for the first time since we bought it three months ago. It was
pure white under all that dirt and dust.
I took a shot at washing the motor home, but the brush had brown crud on it and it took
me 15 minutes to get the RV as clean as it was when I'd brought it in...
[train whistle blowing in the distance; the 9:13 to Austin, I presume]
We got on the road around 10:00. I was excited, flowing on down 45 past the
increasingly familiar sights: the Woodlands, the (now empty) blimp base, the Greenspoint
area, my North Shepherd Exit, St. Pius High school.
I took Robbin for a spin into Shepherd Park Plaza—showed her the house I'd thought
about buying before my marriage broke up. Then we got out onto Ella and left-turned onto
Candlelight Lane and drove slowly past the house. I didn't stop and see George, because I
planned to do that later in the visit. Now I wish I'd stopped, because I didn't make it
After the neighborhood tour we hard-charged down I45, past downtown, and onto the Gulf
Freeway. I had no problem moving the RV down the familiar freeways of Houston. It's when
you don't know where you're going that RV driving can be a problem...
We pulled into the driveway on Country Road around 12:00, having homed in on the giant
Wal-Mart store that is my beacon for their neighborhood. No one was home—no car in the
driveway, but Alex had said on the phone that he might be a little late getting back from
a job interview. I wasn't sure it was Alex's house at first, although the address matched
my address book's version. The yard looked better, more landscaped than I'd remembered. I
had to stand on my tip-toes to look in the garage to be sure. When I did, I saw the
various works of art that used to grace Alex's various apartments over the years.
In fifteen minutes, "Big Al" showed up; he had on a nice gray suit and looked
every bit the professional, desk-surfer he's trying to become.
I played a lot of Uno with Lance and Laura. I made several visits to the Wal-Mart, most
trying to get my Monopril prescription filled. I had a head cold/sinus infection coming
on, and I tried to nip it in the bud by going to the doctor. The best I could do was a
Mexican clinic that didn't take checks or credit cards. But wow, it only cost $15, and
they threw in some sample decongestants.
Make a note: You don't like the way decongestant pills make me feel. I'd rather have a
stuffed head than get that vaguely feverish, weak feeling these pills cause.
The second day Alex and I took off for the Westheimer area—Robbin bailed on the trip,
and when she did, naturally we ended up at a couple of topless clubs. (First we had a
wonderful lunch at Papasito's on Richmond and went by the old Procomp location on
Hillcroft.) The first place (I didn't get a name, "Blondes," or something) was
too dark and what few girls there were there weren't coming over to talk to us. The second
was Lipstick, which we pulled into after prowling the old Orchard/French Quarter apartment
area for a spell; it's become a major Spanish-speaking area—a barrio in the making. We
also went by the old Procomp building—it's home to a bizarre collection of fringe
businesses like Chinese buffets and an Arab delicatessen and an Arab video rental place.
I summoned my courage and called Phil Moore; we had a great conversation on the phone
and planned a get-together...
I played golf one day at the old Bear Creek Executive course. 90 miles round trip from
Alex's, it's called the "Challenger" course now. But it's the same old place. I
was going to hit balls, I should have hit balls, but my old "somebody might get ahead
of me while I'm hitting balls, horribly slow somebodies, a tournament of wheelchair
golfers, betting on each hole, probably" attitude surfaced and I was teeing off with
an old fellow named Doug and a younger guy named Butch within fifteen minutes of paying my
You know you've been away a long time when you miss the turnoff for your golf course,
which I did. I was looking so hard for Bear Creek Road I missed Highway 6. By several
I hit the ball miserably this round—nearly whiffed a tee shot with my three wood on
number 6—rolled the ball three feet forward and left. I didn't have to break my stance to
pick it up. But I still shot 86. Many scrambling pars on the par threes—in fact, I parred
the last five par-3s—lots of good chips and solid 4-8 foot putts.
Butch turned out to be a contract technical writer and after Doug left at the turn, had
a wide-ranging conversation touching on everything from good places to live (he's from
just outside Redmond, Washington) to the computer business.
If I hadn't triple bogeyed 10 and 14, I could've had a really low back side. But I've
got to learn how to hit the ball one of these days.
What else happened at Alex's?
The get-together with Phil and Maureen happened. We went to their small house in the
Heights—met Molly, cute as a bug with her bobbed hair at age 4 and 1/2, and Sean—who's
big, but still looks like he did as a kid at 6 or 7 the last time I saw him.
I think Phil and I were "mad at each other" for a couple of years before I
left Houston, because it seemed like I was ten years out of date, not six and a half...
We had a great visit, and a good dinner at a kooky seafood place on Weskit over by
Memorial Park; I'd been there with Jon Nell at least once. They have phones on many of the
tables that actually work.
We talked and ate for hours. Cougars were playing Texas in the Dome before a pitifully
small crowd.... On a Thursday. SWC football has fallen far in a short time.
Maureen has aged or gained weight or something. She didn't look that much like I'd
remembered her. Kind of gray almost.
Friday, Alex, Robbin, and I went into Galveston. We tentatively explored the new Moody
Pyramid-Thing Tourist Attraction, but didn't spring for any of the $6 attractions.
We saw the ocean, but it was underwhelming, somehow, even though the waves were pretty
radical by Galveston standards. Galveston is such a tired white-frame-building town. The
Gales Hotel, parts of Broadway, and the Strand are its only redeeming features. I had a
hard time bragging about the place.
Last night Lance and Laura slept with me in the RV.
This morning Lance had a soccer game; we all bundled up against the windy, 45-degree
weather and watched them whip the yellow shirt team 1-0. Lance played good. Even though he
falls down a lot, he was one of only maybe four kids out there who had a clue about the
game. Laura was too cold sitting in her tiny chair despite her parka and spent most of the
game at her mother's breast under a blanket, in a Candy-like pose.
When we got back, there was pizza and an impromptu birthday party for yours-truly.
It's great to have friends. I know that Alex will be my friend for as long as I like,
and Wanda, and those kids, too.
We took on some cargo at Alex's—some stuff from my old house, including the chair and
Swedish lamp of my Grandmother's. Somehow, it all fit. Although it didn't hurt that I left
the big box of records I'd just picked up at Ruby's.
[Robbin looks sleepy]
Alex's kids, Lance and Laura, are great. Well-behaved, fun, and smart—I don't know if
I've met kids that were more fun to be around at that age.
We pulled into the driveway on Edgewater at 1:30 PM; half an hour late, owing to heavy
headwinds faced on the drive down from Norman. At one point we saw a truck on its side
that had blown right off the road, I believe.
We met Mom in the yard, and Dad came out a minute later. Standard CA-to-Parent greeting
pleasantries. Then Dad whisked us into their custom van; we were late, see, and might miss
out on the short lunch hour at his current restaurant, a nearby Mexican place. Dad's
restaurants are typically Mexican; uncrowded—i.e., not especially popular—average food
places. This one was all of that. We were treated to the usual banter with the waitresses.
After all the south wind we'd driven into, the air started to warm up; by the next
morning, it was nearly in the sixties. Then the fan switched to the north and it blew for
another 12 hours in that direction, bringing in some bitter cold. By noon we were ducking
our heads into the wind and light rain on our way to the local Popeye's. (Me, Robbin, and
Lynn.) By 2:00, when the three of us left Wal-Mart, it was sleeting. By the time we got
home, wet snow flakes were blowing across the yard.
My parents replaced their 3 and 4 dogs (lost last year in a freakish dog
murder/suicide) with two short-haired shelties; I normally don't like small dogs, but
these two, named Amos and Andy, were cute; Andy can't weight more than eight pounds. You
can pick her up as easily as a cat. They're hyper, but hey, you expect that in a young
(Alex's dog, Blaze, is hyper-er.)
Mom cooked for us the second night; roast beef with potatoes and gravy and a host of
other nutty vegetables (like fried green tomatoes and a zucchini casserole).
What sticks out in my mind about this trip? Lynn, she of many phases and places, is
doing better. Simply having her own apartment and being her own boss and made her chattier
and more competent. Like many Americans, she watches too much TV—but she's getting by.
She almost engages in conversations, that she almost starts, these days. Robbin was
impressed; I had painted a darker picture of her.
Saturday Mom, Kathy, Robbin, and I traveled to Denton. The RV was covered with ice and
snow; ditto the tow car. The power cord was so stiff it could not be coaxed back into its
box without first laying on the sunny side of the RV for 15 minutes.
I enjoyed that drive; Mom sat in the front with me and pointed out various highlights,
this car dealership, or that highway restaurant. Lynn sat at the back and looked out the
window, with that head-tilted-back happy-thinking posture she gets into.
At Kathy's, we were greeted by lots of screamed "Unca Charlie Unca Charlie"
cries, which made me feel good. Chelsey and Sigorney had a blast in the motor home; they
especially like the ladder up to the sleeping area. They'd get up there and say it was a
house and would I like to come visit? Very much like Lance and Laura later.
Kathy had to clear much toy and general-purpose junk out of her driveway to hold the
motor home; her yard is filled with toys and junk; the girls play there rather than the
back yard, which I'm sure is filled with dog shit. The dogs, Vladimir being one, were in
the garage the whole time I was there. Kathy's only encounter with them being a bunch of
loudly shouted "Get back you stupid dogs" as she helped me beat them back so I
could plug my orange extension cord back behind her dishwasher. With the girls and going
to nursing school and working, she has no time for Vladimir and his bird dog look-a-like.
I also met Iromara and her baby, "Sorena Palmquist." The baby is cute,
and Iromara is friendly and wants you to like her, but I'm reluctant to join
the rest of the family in welcoming her as a sister-in-law, because she
simply *isn't.* Soren hasn't married her, isn't planning to marry her, made
it clear from the moment he found out about the baby that he wasn't going to
do any of these things. He doesn't love this girl and would just as soon not
see her again.
But somehow Iromara got moved in with Kathy; you walk in the door, there separating the
kitchen from the living room, like a strange entertainment center, is a crib. On the dark
L-shaped lounging couches that get so much use in Kathy's house is an infant seat with the
Mom and Robbin and Lynn and Kathy and Iromara and Chelsey and Sigorney and Sorena and I
went to lunch at the Homestead, the "home cooking" restaurant near downtown
started by a couple from their old Denton church. Charlie's Angels—I had Country Steak
Dinner, the most expensive thing on the menu at $4.95. With dessert and tip, the bill came
to $47. Not bad for nine people.
Edwin, Kathy's soon-to-be ex, came by to pick up the girls and made a big fuss about
how he hadn't been told we were coming down. Then he started to cry. He looked me right in
the eye with his mean/crazy/about-to-cry look and said, "We're still brothers,
right?" She threw him out eight months ago for drinking and being mean and moody, and
it seems like he hasn't gotten any better. Later he pitched another fit about how Kathy is
turning the girls against him. I'm glad I'm not in Kathy's overworked nurse shoes; Edwin
seems capable of anything. But Kathy has a strong personality and can handle it better
We went to supper at a Luby's down by the new mall; there's a bypass just down from
Juno that takes you right to the damn place. No University Avenue or downtown Denton or
I35 required. We were going to meet Dad there and pass Lynn and Mom off to him.
I had the roast beef and the wonderful mashed potatoes and the standard cole slaw and
one of their soft, flat, yellow dinner rolls. Dad showed up after we'd been there an hour;
he had along with him one of those dumpy minister-chicks with him. I thought I'd met her
before so went up and said hello; but I think she just reminded me of someone. Dad doesn't
seem to make that many friends; I always see him with different religious zealots on my
visits. He had come from some kind of Cursillo training session; Cursillio is a
weekend-long, "spirit-filled" Christian encounter group thing where ministers
and lay people and husbands and wives get together for some emotional pedal-to-the-floor
singing and talking and preaching. Not for me, but Mom seems to really enjoy it; it really
gets her "spiritual organ" glowing. (Soren and Robbin and I had a long
conversation at the steak and ale during which I described some people as having a coil or
bulb in their brain that can be made to glow red-hot with the right spiritual prodding;
with some people (like the three of us), it hardly ever glows at all.
Soren's House (October 31)
We drove from Kathy's driveway to Soren's during Halloween Day. We made better time
than I'd expected, and got there a good two hours before I told him we'd be there. It was
tricky even figuring out which house in the 1010 Frazier complex belonged to him—we
knocked on one door and an old lady, who turned out to be his best friend's grandmother,
had us come in while she made a phone call and got out the word. Meanwhile I put up the
antenna and got a great golf match (Greg Norman leading in a big money tournament at the
Olympic in SF) and Sunday pro football.
Soren showed up in half an hour and let us in. Tiny house. Enough for him, but tiny. He
pays $250 a month in rent and $250 for his car. Brings home maybe $1250 a month. Man, I
didn't know how good I had it—he's been working in the field for five years and makes
$20K a year. Anyway...Soren's little house is stacked with old medical
equipment, role-playing game stuff—a couple of action movies were ready to
be returned, sitting on the coffee table.
We'd quickly made plans for a Halloween evening: Steak and Ale for dinner (I bought),
then a movie rental. We finally got to see Falling Down with Michael Douglas. Good, but it
seemed to go on a bit too long. We slept out in the RV with the understanding that he'd
leave the front door open when he left for work early.
In the morning it was chilly. I told Robbin I was going to buy us some coffee, and
figured I'd have to drive to get it, but as luck would have it, one of those ubiquitous
Texas gas station/convenience store places was right on the other side of Batteries Plus.
So on foot, getting paper and coffee took five minutes, tops. Did I mention that Soren's
complex is between Batteries Plus and the coin-operated car wash?
November 7, 1993 Llano River State Park South of Junction, Texas 5:20 PM
It's getting windy and chilly here in the cloudy sunset time of central Texas. Probably
will freeze tonight; had frost at The Kings Place this morning. We'll be lucky if we get
through this trip without some major weather along the way; not freakishly lucky, but
lucky. Usually, there's some episode of intense thunderstorms or freakish winds or early
blizzard on a long trip. And this has been a long trip.
I got testy about an hour ago. Couldn't stand the way Robbin was driving or hooking up
the hose or practically just standing there. I hope this will pass now that we're parked
and quiet. Why does that happen?
[Robbin moves me from my couch spot to look for her copy of Travels with Charley.]
[Then Candy encounters a ranger while crossing the road. Luckily, he is friendly; I'm sure
we're breaking at least one law he could hassle us about. Now I have wet socks.]
The testiness is passing. But not gone yet.
Rules of thumb: I get testy in the afternoon, usually after hard driving days. I don't
always get testy, but often. When I get testy, anything that draws my attention gets
criticism if it is less than perfect. So Robbin shouldn't do her driving during my testy
period. I should try to be by myself when I'm testy.
I'm going to spend a lot of time writing tonight, but not in this entry; it'll go in
But I will tell you that I'm not so testy now, three hours later. I had polish sausage
sandwiches for dinner, milk to drink.
We played Boggle for an hour and Robbin kicked my ass.
I wrote seven postcards. (Turns out, my postcard database was trashed in the disk
I forgot to take my 4:00 antibiotic till just now.
I found a lone, ice cold beer in the refrigerator and drank same.
Our black water tank filled right to the brim today. We've learned that when you start
to smell sewage, it's pretty damn full.
Now Robbin is reading a new book.
About Being At The Country
This morning I woke up at the country, for possibly the last time in my life. It was
chilly, with frost on the ground. Candy wanted out, and I let her; she and I did some
frolicking. I rescued some old tools of mine from the house—little things that I bought
and paid for and aren't a necessary part of the house—like a pair of channel-lock pliers
and an old jigsaw.
We hit low-hanging trees pulling in yesterday; probably the worst tree scraping we've
done on this trip. The opening to the yard is getting so overgrown in a few years cars
won't be able to get in and the place will become a dim Fayette County legend, like
Sleeping Beauty's castle.
Candy loved the country. She followed me everywhere.
At one point, when I was walking around the house putting out the rat bait boxes I just
started crying. I cried pretty good for maybe two minutes. I cried for my marriage that
didn't work out and for the plans she and I and Ruby had made that were not going to work
out, ever, and all the hurt we've gone through and for Bill Kroegle not being alive and I
don't know what all. But I do know that the house made me sad. When I came back to the RV
I had a big tear coming down my cheek that I hadn't wiped off because I had the rat poison
on my hands. Man, it's a sad place—something about that house whispers of failed dreams,
of lives gone by, of dust-to-dust, of things out of my control, of the dark, overcoming
November 8, 1993 Same Scrub Brush Campground 7:15 AM
I think I figured out last night that I was feeling sad because I was looking
backwards—at old plans, old dreams. You can't do that very often and live a happy life.
You've got to look forward, to new plans, to new dreams.
That sad old house in the country is many old plans and old dreams to me: my marriage
to Jon Nell; my life as a Texan; my plans to fix that place up. But now the house is cold,
gray, and dead, and those plans and dreams are just as dead. But that doesn't mean I am.
So today, away from the house, I look forward to new dreams.
It was dark this morning at 6:30—we're down to 10 hours of daylight a day. When we
cross into New Mexico, we'll shift an hour of that from the afternoon to the morning—but
it's still just 10 hours. We're going to have to change our ways to make the most of it.
We've got to be moving at first light.
I just spent 30 minutes noodling with PKZIP. Now instead of running MS directly when I
want to edit one of these files, I run a batch that unpacks it from a master zip file,
runs MS on it, and when done, puts the file back into the master zip file.
Does it work? Let me check...
Yep, seems to. All this really buys me is the marginal convenience of having all my
trip text files on RAM disk while preserving a little more room for those ever-growing
Sidekick temporary files.
Wow, what a transition: from soul baring, intimate secrets, to PKZIP noodling.
We have miles and miles to go before we sleep today.
This is an experiment...I'm typing as we drive. As Robbin drives. Sitting in the
We're playing tapes today. Right now the Clapton Unplugged tape is on. We haven't
listened to all that much music on the trip. [wow, I am rocking and rolling back here.
Going to move up to the passenger seat to see how that works]
It's a bit calmer here. Candy has woken up from a three hour nap; wants a little
petting before she turns in again for another three hours. We're going to stop a little
past Fort Stockton for lunch and gas; that's another half hour from here.
November 9, 1993 Guadalupe Mountains National Park Far West Texas 7:00 AM MST
bCampingMode = TRUE;
We're back camping. We're parked in an RV campsite at beautiful, desolate, mountainous
Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The campsite isn't much—basically, a driveway next to
a picnic table, but from here I can see the warm morning sun color the huge, craggy
mountains that form a three sided bowl behind us. Before me, thousands of feet below, the
west Texas plain.
When I left the RV this morning at 5:15, dawn was only a dim, hopeful band beyond the
valley; the stars were startlingly clear. Orion with his belt and sword bright and obvious
as any constellation I've ever seen. In thirty minutes, the band in the eastern sky had
gotten pink and orange, and the stars, not so intense.
When the sun finally made an appearance, preceded by a spot of brilliant yellow on the
horizon, it was 6:00. And even Robbin was awake by then.
Yesterday's travels gave us a couple of scares. We made our 450-odd mile travel
goal—but at one point couldn't get the RV's motor running. That was in Balmorhea, Texas.
Robbin was driving, and pulled over to let me drive. For some reason, she turned the
ignition off, even though I was right there to take over. When I restarted the motor, it
ran poorly and wouldn't idle. I waited a minute or two and the same thing happened. Damn!
Stranded in Balmorhea, Texas, population 700. How are we going to get a motor home fixed
I had a theory it could be vapor lock, restarting the engine and stumbled to the only
gas station on the east side of town. We stalled in front of the pumps. But I leisurely
pumped $36 worth of expensive gas, bought two home-made burritos from the Mexican girl
running the place, and we ate them right in front of the pump. When we restarted 15
minutes later, it started and ran fine. Whew!
We should've stopped in jumping' Van Horn, Texas—a tacky, bustling little highway town
filled with RV parks, restaurants, gas stations, diesel repair places, etc. Reminded me of
some of the desert oasis towns in Nevada. We turned north in Van Horn and drove 60 miles
on a narrow, almost completely deserted state highway—saw three cars the whole way.
Rugged mountains lined our path on the left.
Finally we arrived at even taller mountains, the Guadaulpes. That's where this new
national park is. But our mechanical scares weren't over yet. As we were cruising the
campground looking for a site, the tow car started making scary grinding sounds—like
someone had thrown a handful of metal scraps into some key moving part. So we stopped,
detached the car, and I looked into it. Turned out the sound was coming from the right
front wheel. I took the wheel off—five short words standing for the painful, hour-long
process of taking everything out of the back of the car to get to the jack and tire tool
and then struggling with ultra-tight lug nuts. A ranger helped me to the opinion that grit
trapped in the disk brake calipers was making the sound... We cleaned the rotor as best we
could, and when I put the wheel back on and test drove, there was no noise. Course, today
the damn wheel could fall off.
Candy went for a walk with me while Robbin ran this morning. We saw four deer, bounding
down a rocky wash.
November 10, 1993 A Grocery Store Parking Lot Taos, New Mexico 1:45 PM
I'm here with my cooking pork chops and Candy in the parking lot while Robbin buys a
few things at the grocery store.
We've been in Taos for an hour and a half; all we can spare in this accelerated last
part of the trip as we turn for home.
Last night we stayed at a perfectly nice KOA in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. We didn't make
as good a time as we thought we would on the road yesterday. For one thing, we didn't get
out of Carlsbad Caverns NP until 11:15. While spectacular, Robbin was right in predicting
that three hours would be too much of it. After an hour and 45 minutes, I'd seen enough
unearthly landscape in a dripping, clammy environment. Best part of our "Blue
Tour" was the climb down into the cave mouth. You're descending into the bowels of
the earth, and that's just how it looks and feels.
We stopped in Roswell for gas, groceries, cash, and Denny's. That took another hour and
a half. So we didn't have time to make it to the more scenic parts of northern New Mexico.
It was cold last night, I can tell you that. A foot-long icicle had formed on our
electric access door from water dripping from the hose hookup. The sewer cover was frozen
shut, and I shook ice out of the sewer hose when I put it away.
This morning we were on the road by 8:20. Got to Taos right at noon, our only stop
being one of the trip's more expensive fill-ups at $46.
Taos is interesting, but I don't feel bad that we're doing it in a half-afternoon. They
have the adobe buildings, but way too many are occupied by indifferent souvenir shops with
the same merchandise: key items: pottery; Indian stuff; anything having to do with chili
[Robbin is back now. I'd rather drive than write. Boy, do my pork chops
"chicken" smell good. She bought soap and red wine and nice hazelnut
decaf coffee and blueberry bagels.]
(Later, 4:30 PM)
We're comfortably parked at Twin Rivers RV Park in Chama, New Mexico. It was a
beautiful drive through lots of snowy mountains to get here from Taos. Less than 100 miles
on the map, but long on the road.
(Later, 6:06 PM)
Just got back from a three-mile walk into town and back to rent a movie. Advertised as
one mile by the girl at the supermarket, we trudged in the dry chilly air past dumpy
trailer dwellings, umpteen small, unsuccessful restaurants and a half dozen beer joints.
This town looks poor, poor, poor. The video store was manned by a Mexican woman and a
teen-aged boy. They were only running the store on behalf of an anonymous woman who
decided to get into the video rental plus electronics business. I'm sure we were the first
customers to step foot in there in an hour. Movies less than number 6600 are 99 cents.
There's no catalog. Movies that are checked out have a little red sticker on their sleeve.
Yet another video store rental system. The store opens at 11:00, so we're going to return
the movies (Point of No Return and what was supposed to be Clan of the Cave Bear but when
we got it home turned out to be True Grit. Well, I haven't seen True Grit in years).
For dinner I'm eating my crock-pot pork chops. Robbin's making rice and broccoli. We
bought a bottle of big red back in Taos.
It's supposed to get down to 18 degrees in Chama; it's supposed to snow
November 11, 1993 Holbrook, Arizona The Local KOA 6:05 PM
Drove through rain and wind, lots of it, today.
Visited an All-Navajo supermarket; I was the only non-Navajo in a store of maybe 75
people. Lots of signs in a strange language with lots of apostrophes.
I woke up with a sick headache—too much Big Red last night, plus a little altitude
sickness factored in. I threw up intensely three times, each time preceded by 30 minutes
of growing nausea—the cycle of despair. Somehow I got going in the cold Chama dawn and we
were doing our pull-out chores before 8:00 AM: gassing up; filling up the fresh water;
buying propane. But I still wondered how I was going to get through a day of curvy roads.
It was a one-minute at a time day from 5:30 AM till 11:00 when the nausea subsided a bit.
I can't put into words how miserable nausea is. You just want to die, you're just hanging
on. And then you vomit! The first time a child vomits, he must think he is dying.
New Mexico is filled with trashy little towns. Chama's neighbor to the south is nothing
but 50 trailer park compounds with an assortment of wrecked cars and other trash. Since
there aren't many trees (nobody took the time to plant any?) in people's yards, you see
every piece of rusty sheet metal.
We visited the Aztec Ruins—an ancient Pueblo Indian habitat dating back 800 years. A
walled-in Holiday Inn with round rooms for men and religious ceremonies. Built thick and
sturdy with sandstone bricks and what appears to be cement mortar.
[The Flagstaff news crew just said it is starting to snow in Flagstaff. The weather is
going to be crazy here to the end of the weekend.]
Today's low: 35. Today's high: 39. You're talking a cold, rainy day.
I innocently went to check my messages after hooking up; it was cold, but not raining,
which is lucky because I had 15 solid minutes of messages. I didn't bring a pen. But Eunie
called. Wants me to call her. Paul left two messages: In the first, the rendezvous in
Vegas was on. In the second, it was off. He also passed on the factoid that Bob Warfield
had quit. Not surprising, given his recent fall from grace.
Then three messages for Robbin. Then two heart-wrenchers from Art: "Charlie, where
are you? I'm scared. I thought you were going to be home the week after
November 12, 1993 Grand Canyon/South Rim 5:30 PM
We're here, at the granddaddy of all American natural wonders, the one, the only, the
Got here after a fast, uneventful 3 1/2 hour drive on I40 through Flagstaff and then up
State Highway 84. Our only stop was for gas, at a chuckhole-filled truckstop just west of
Flagstaff; I put the nozzle on slow fill, then went inside for a pee and to put in my
contacts; by the time I was done, I had a $45 fillup; they're proud of their gas in this
state, I suppose.
The weather was nice when we started, but by Flagstaff it was raining and when we left
the gas station, it was snowing lightly. It's been too warm for much snow to stick, but
it's been snowing or sleeting since we got here. We went for a walk first thing after
making camp in the huge, virtually deserted Trailer Village campground (site F29).
I had Candy out in the snow and ice for five minutes, long enough for her to chase a
huge black raven out of the area.
We walked through the snow and sleet, appropriately bundled up and not cold; it was
fun—I do love the falling snow. We went to the big campground store; I searched for a
window thermometer for the motor home, but no soap. We had lunch at a nearby cafeteria:
Beef tips in mushroom sauce over mashed potatoes, with mixed vegetables on the side and
hot tea, thank you. I called Eunie at a pay phone by the cafeteria. She was glad to hear
from me; I think things are a little tough for her now. She's lonely, and started to cry
at the end of the call. I will invite her out next spring. She has plans with friends for
the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays, which is good.
I didn't call Art, because he wouldn't be home now. But I should try him later tonight,
We got to the canyon itself, snow coming down, and a chilly wind, around 1:30. It was
too hazy to see much—although you could sense what a steep drop-off the canyon wall has.
At a couple of points the fog parted and you could see down to the tiny ribbon of the
We shopped leisurely at a couple of the better souvenir shops at the South Rim lodge
area. Me for the damn thermometer, that I should buy at Wal-Mart for $2, Robbin for gifts
for her friends.
When we got back at 3:00, I settled down to read the morning paper and nap, and Robbin
went out for groceries for tonight's spaghetti dinner spectacular. [It's cooking
now—onions & fresh garlic and Italian sausage—no mere Prego on noodles tonight.]
A half-hour ago the low, setting sun broke through the overcast on the west, but it
looks dark everywhere else. Chances of good viewing weather tomorrow are 50-50 at best.
Gotta rescue Candy from the great outdoors...
November 12, 1993 Grand Canyon 7:45 AM
A slow starting morning. I've read yesterday's papers for the third time. Robbin is out
either smoking or power walking, depending on how suspicious I choose to be.
There's some blue out there this morning. Some gray, too. A thin blanket of white snow
covers everything but the roads, which are ice specialists.
I'm wearing my hiking shoes in anticipation of hiking down into the Canyon a little bit
I'm a bit stir-crazy, having been in this camper since 3:00 yesterday afternoon.
Candy is looking up at me and making questioning meows. She's trying to ask me
something. Does she want to sit on my lap? Does she want food?
[Here comes the hiker now..]
(Later, at Page/Lake Powell RV park in Page, AZ)
We split a day early from Grand Canyon and drove two and a half hours to Page, at the
Glen Canyon damn / Lake Powell. We drove through some of the most beautiful, unearthly
scenery getting here. Red bluffs and eerie jagged rocks and mountains. Every streambed a
deep, vertical canyon. In the setting sun, red and even more eerie.
Luck was with us today as the weather cleared up over the canyon and we were able to
see it in all its glory. The trails were icy when we started out; you had to be careful on
the rim trail to keep from falling—steep stretches were impossible—you had to detour
around them. I walked out on a promontory only four feet wide—the sweep and grandeur of
Grand Canyon all around me.
The Bright Angel trail to the bottom was open, but we went the first couple of hundred
yards: frozen and semi-frozen mud. Didn't look passable, although later we saw that a mule
trip had gone out even earlier—donkey shit littered the frozen trail.
We shopped at a gem/gallery store right on the edge of the canyon. Robbin bought a
small vase for a friend, and almost left my wallet on the counter. As we were going out, I
heard a clerk ask a woman, "Mrs. Anderson, did you forget your wallet?" It took
a few seconds to sink in, then I thought, "hmmm." Sure enough, the wallet in
question was *mine.*
We had a relaxing breakfast at the fanciest of the resorts on the south rim—the El
Tovar. Cloth napkins, tablecloths and dressed-up waiters, but pretty much standard
National Park Fare: average food at average prices. I had the world's strongest decaf
Then we walked east to the first lookout point. The canyon was spectacular.
Robbin called her renter; I called Art and left a fancy AT&T voicemail message.
We decided to take advantage of the good weather and head up toward Bryce Canyon today.
Packing up to leave was messier than usual, in both the literal and figurative senses of
the word. I mistakenly connected the sewer line to connector that only *looked* like a
sewer. And as luck would have it, I was dumping black water. Shit shot everywhere;
luckily, no one was around our campsite to see me do this, or to smell it. But I got some
on my shoes, jeans, and cheap white (gray, by now) gloves.
November 14, 1993 Generic RV Park Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah 12:30 PM
Robbin is suffering a major adrenaline high at this moment. She's walking across the
snowy highway to make a phone call to her renter, Rafael. She's nervous about the call.
The renter is jacking her around, as renters are wont to due. He's bounced one check. He
hasn't given her the November check (we think). He's asked to have this month's rent
pro-rated because he's planning to move out next weekend, in spite of a one year lease
that doesn't expire until April.
It'd be a problem for me, too, but Robbin is much hotter and up tight about it than I
would be. She has shaken and cried in anger a couple of times in the last day or two.
Anyway, back to the trip diary...
It took us maybe 2 hours to reach this tiny town in southwest Utah this morning. We
crossed the Glen Canyon dam a minute outside of Page; it's a smaller version of Boulder
damn, a steep sheet of cement plugging a deep, narrow canyon, with a skinny blue reservoir
backed up behind it for a hundred miles.
The road was flat, uncrowded, and visually interesting: red-colored cliffs, unearthly
rock formations that look like the homes of giants from some dark, prehistoric area. We
started getting into snow, and by the time we made it to Mt Carmel Junction, it's several
inches deep—arrived last night, according to the friendly kid at the gas station that
doubles as the rental agent for this small but workable RV park. We have a couple of
neighbors tonight—both with snow-covered antennas flying. Probably watching football.
More snow is forecast for tonight, and the cold, gray skies I'm seeing certainly jive
with that forecast.
I bought a stick-on thermometer yesterday at the Page Wal-Mart store. They had 15
thermometers to pick from, and I got just what I wanted for $1.24. Can't beat Wal-Mart.
One tacky thing that I don't think they should do much of—They were selling a thick stack
of last year's edition of the Rand McNally Road Atlas for a cheap price; they should leave
flea market marketing to others.
[Robbin just arrived back. They weren't home.]
November 16, 1993 Hotel California RV Park Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada 7:15 PM
We've been in Vegas for a little over 24 hours now. We had a busy day yesterday: In the
tow car by 8:15, at Zion Canyon by 9:00. I had a breakfast-on-a-bun at a lodge, fairly
plain accommodations at the bottom of the steepest, reddest canyon you can imagine. We
took a two mile hike out a point where the Virgin River (Zion) Canyon narrows to thirty
feet. Thirty feet wide, with 1000 foot vertical walls. Craggy, shale-y rocks hang
overhead, threatening to break off and reduce us to a thickness of millimeters.
There's a narrow tunnel that you drive through in Zion National Park, 1.5 miles carved
through the soft red stone.
When we got back to home base (Mt. Carmel Junction RV park) we quickly hooked up the
car; I had Robbin videotape all my outside "breaking camp" chores, like
unplugging the electric umbilical and topping off the fresh water tank.
From Mt. Carmel it was maybe four hours to Vegas; the route Robbin chose took us into
and out of Arizona no less than twice.
The first few miles after hooking up with I15 were spectacular—we were hauling ass out
of the high elevations of southwest Utah, cutting directly through huge, craggy mountains.
Things got interesting, when I conservatively (for a change) stopped thirty miles
outside of Vegas, and with my Campgrounds Guidebook at my side, went into a truck stop to
make some phone calls and assure that we would have a spot to park when we got to Vegas.
Turned out the truck stop didn't have pay phones—but they did have phones on every table!
I didn't buy any food, or even get water served. I just sat there and made phone calls for
fifteen minutes. Got through to seven places; all seven were booked.
Our fall back plan was to find a suitable strip-center parking lot in which we could
stash the RV for a while, while I went and registered for Comdex and Robbin got on the
phone and called seven *more* RV places. So that's what we did.
Welcome to Vegas! On pulling off I15 at Sahara Ave I found my path off the ramp blocked
by a disabled white van. He'd pulled off to the left enough to let lesser vehicles
through, but I was blocked. So now *I'm* blocking this major off-ramp. I didn't know what
else to do. I got out of the RV and helped the two Mexican guys (who had run out of gas)
push their thing on up Sahara enough for me to get by. They wanted me to push them to a
gas station with the RV! Fat chance.
Strangely enough, the plan worked out. I was at the convention center and had my
Exhibits Only badge in 40 minutes—something that could've easily taken three hours that
morning—between parking hassles and the mayhem in the badge tents. I decided to see a bit
of the show before returning, it being only 4:00 or so. Borland has another large, tacky
booth. They have a Groucho Marks impersonator doing the You Bet Your Life show, complete
with old-time microphones and a George Pheneman soundalike announcer/sidekick. I only
recognized two people in the whole booth, out of the fifty or so that were that—Eric from
Tech Support (demoing QPW) and David I doing a show on the language products. QPDOS was no
where to be seen.
To make the long story short, I got back to the parking lot where I'd left Robbin and
the motor home (almost freaking out because there was a suspicious old Lincoln Continental
parked right next to it, and I feared foul play—I really did). We had a quick sushi
supper just up Sahara Avenue, then drove caravan-style to the RV park Robbin had found. It
was a little wild, driving the RV on three beers with no taillights through Las Vegas
rush-hour traffic. But we made it to the 300-site, all concrete, partially
under-the-freeway California Hotel RV Park. Ten bucks a night, it costs, and judging by
the turnover in our immediate area, people tend to stay here a while.
After getting settled in we went walking out into downtown Las Vegas—it's getting
seedier, not better, as I had heard. The Golden Nugget is the only first-class hotel down
here, although for gambling Four Queens or Fitzgerald's are all you need. I was up $150 in
early Blackjack action. Robbin played some video poker with me at a bar. Then we caught a
cab to the Mirage—it looked great and even Robbin was impressed, although she thought the
tiger "cage" was cruel. The two big white tigers in there looked as happy as
could be, to me.
Then we took the people mover over to Caesars Palace, where I saw the new shopping
arcade for the first time. A big crowd was gathered around a large sculpture of Nero and
some smaller Roman gods—Nero was talking—as well-implemented an example of
audioanimatronics, I've never seen. Overhead, stars appeared and comets flared and lasers
patterns flashed as the corpulant, crazy-looking Nero-statue rolled his head and turned
around in his chair. And this just the entrance! Farther in, a domed plaza has clouds and
blue sky projected on the ceiling—it looks just like day, only dimmer. Supposedly, night
and day follow each other rapidly every few hours in this wild place.
More gambling followed. I gave back some of the money. We ate a slice of pizza at the
pizzeria/bar there at the back casino. A group with a Jerry Lee Lewis clone girl
singer/piano pounder was playing. Liked her, hated the band. Guitarist had an ultra-wimpy
tone, and finger picked everything. They had two superfluous keyboard players. Should've
been the girl, the drummer, and the bass player, and a lot more volume.
We got back around 11:30. Slept better than I expected to given the recurrence of my
sinus infection and the freeway thirty feet from our back bumper.
November 17, 1993 Still Under the Freeway in Downtown Las Vegas 8:00 AM
It's been a long night. My head cold/sinus infection, whatever it is, has got me
sneezing and spitting and has my nose plugged most of the time. I have laryngitis as well,
and can't speak above a whisper. I woke up at 4:00 AM and felt so bad that I just got up.
I slept a little on the back couch, but it was too cold for real sleep. But enough of
that! What happened yesterday?
—Robbin dropped me off at Comdex
—I ran into Steven Boye around 11:00
—We made plans for dinner, then I split to catch a cab (30 minute wait in front of the
Hilton, but a some friendly people in line made the time go quickly—two Japanese—one
just off the boat and living in a small town in southern Missouri—the other a San Jose
graphic artist who didn't know a word of Japanese.
I got back to the RV horny, but Robbin wasn't in the mood—can't really blame her I
guess with all the sloppy sneezing, spitting, and coughing I've been doing. It'd be like
making love to a person with leprosy or some other disease featuring open, runny sores..
I caught her smoking again yesterday. She denied it, but in unconvincing way. Later I
caught a whiff again and said flatly, "You just smoked a cigarette." She
admitted she had. I don't mind the smoking, but the lying is bad. Robbin's insecure about
things; she thinks "bad things" will happen if I catch her smoking. The reality
is, I don't really care that much. I want her to quit, but I'm not her parole officer.
I've strayed a couple of times on this trip myself, especially on my New York trip when I
bought at least two packs and smoked myself to the edge of a headache almost every night I
Later we met Steven for dinner at the Excalibur—we got there early and ran into
Charles Dickerson and had a couple of beers at the bar talking about his engagement (to
little fox Barbara) and his take on Borland . Our waiter was fun, although his service
could've been better. I had rack of lamb. I ordered an '88 Berringer Cabernet, and he came
out with a '90. I said, what's the deal—and he claimed the "88" was a bin
number, just a handle for finding it. We drank the '90, but it was real young.
Driving to the Excalibur we saw the new MGM Grand, standing huge and dark and silent
against the desert sky, ready for its opening next month. It will draw some people to the
southern strip. The Luxor, the pyramid hotel with the kooky beacon on top, is out there as
We're leaving for Santa Cruz this morning...
Robbin has showered, now I should, sick or not.
(Later, 5:10 PM, Lost Hills KOA, Lost Hills CA)
Robbin did most of the driving today and got us within three hours of home here at Lost
Hills—at the corner of I5 and State Highway 46 that takes you to Paso Robles, which is
not that far south of Salinas, which is commute distance from Santa Cruz. So we are
certainly getting there.
On today's drive we saw mostly deserts. As soon as you cross the border into California
you begin a slow ascent from 2000 feet or so to 6000 on incredibly straight sections of
highway. No switchbacks here—the road just goes straight up the mountain as far as the
eye can see. And with my cold, every ascent portends plugged ears.
We had lunch in Baker, California—a gas station town on I15. I'd seen signs for the
"World-Famous" Bun Boy restaurant with the "World's Largest
Thermometer." So of course we went. I had a decent hamburger. Robbin, two large
plates, one with refried beans and another with Spanish rice.
My voice is completely kaput. I can't make a sound louder than a whisper, and not a
very loud whisper at that. It made for a quiet trip, given Robbin's taciturn nature. I
sneezed and generally produced sputum the whole way—the floor was littered with
snot-heavy wads of toilet paper.
They're getting ready to vote on NAFTA, according to the local Bakersfield news that's
playing on the TV.
November 18, 1993 Lost Hills KOA 7:10 AM
This is a special morning, because if things go as planned, we'll be home at 1:00 this
It's the last day of the trip.
No more chilly mornings. No more bumped heads. No more tight showers.
No more seeing new things almost every day.
I slept terribly last night; my head cold is still raging, although my temperature is
always *exactly* 98.6. I produce more snot in six hours than you can believe. I slept on
the couch last night, half-wrapped in some blankets...
Robbin is making up herself, and when she's done, we're out of here. (Although at first
we won't go any farther than the Carl's Jr. two blocks away.)
Thanks for listening!