Return to Kansas

As I write this I am at the end of the fourth day of my road trip to Kansas University, where I will once again hang out with skilled and insightful writers who are willing, nay, eager, to help me become one of them.

This odyssey has been different than some in the past, and I’m having a tough time putting my finger on what has changed. Normally when I get out on the road I pop reflexively into a literary frame of mind. Everything I see is a symbol or a metaphor or some shit like that. This time, not so much. It’s got me a bit worried.

The Road Ahead


For instance: Day one, even before the Emergency Broadcast Mystery, I was passing a beat-up pick’em-up-truck and its exhaust pipe fell off. Thump clatter clangety-clang-clang as the motorcyclist behind him swerved out of the way. Someone in the heavy traffic behind no doubt got a nasty surprise. There should be something more to say about that. I had been directly behind the pipe-loser only moments before.

Inspiration? Bueller? Bueller?

Then there was the truck I passed. On its rear-view mirror, just above the convex part of the mirror, in white block letters, was the word “GOAL”. So every time that driver looks in the mirror, he sees GOAL printed neatly over what he is leaving behind. It’s probably an acronym for how to be a better driver, but it’s still kind of sad. No matter which way he goes, he’s driving away from his GOAL.

The Road Behind


Speaking of better drivers, I’m a pretty good driver most of the time (above average, like most drivers), but sometimes, every five years or so, I do something really stupid. Thanks, giant red pickup with anti-lock brakes in Ely NV, for not demolishing me.

I have never seen Nevada so green. Maybe it’s just timing, maybe Nevada looks like this pretty often, but I’ve traversed the state a few times and I saw green where I didn’t even think there was vegetation before. Three days through the desert, happy for the new wipers and water-tight top each day.

Rain-Washed Miata in the Desert


I added time to my pilgrimage this year with the express goal of taking lots of pictures. It hasn’t gone as planned. There were many complicating factors – a run-down bar facade I wanted to shoot simply isn’t there anymore. Highway 50 is not as lonely as it used to be, so I couldn’t stop in the middle of the road to take pictures when no pullout was available. Mostly, when I looked at the results, I realized that I had forgotten almost everything I had learned while shooting landscapes in the past. The pictures just weren’t that good. I slap my own forehead now, seeing the same mistakes I made my first time through the desert repeated at higher resolution.

Roadside Reflections


Next time. I think a co-pilot would be a huge help.

Either I missed a 40-foot-tall sign marking the entrance to a military base, with a rocket at the top that I would love to turn into a (technically challenging) pinup shot (sexy ’50’s-style cowgirl riding the rocket, ruby-red lips and white teeth, her hand holding her turquoise cowgirl hat high… chaps? yeah, I think she’s wearing chaps.), or the sign is gone. Perhaps the base was closed. If so, that sign should be in a museum somewhere, and I will go to that museum. All I saw was a simple green sign pointing to (if I recall correctly) bombing range B-17.

One of the advantages of taking a couple of extra days for the trip is that you have more flexibility to dodge the weather. This presupposes that you pay attention to forecasts. Last year I had a thoroughly unpleasant time moving east through Kansas as thunderstorms knocked me about and generally tried to kill me. “Not this time!” said I, and put in a long day to get from Ely (rhymes with mealy), Nevada, to Boulder, Colorado. I drove right into a massive thunderstorm as I crossed Vail Pass. Whee.

A side note: Don’t people put crowns on roads anymore? This highway was freshly resurfaced, and there was no effort made whatsoever to encourage water to flow to the sides of the road. Good God Almighty, does the highway department think water behaves differently these days? I settled in behind a car (at a safe distance) and when great geysers of water flew up from his car, I prepared myself for the same. Slowly, sanely, we all made our way down off the mountain.

View out my window this morning


Overall, I-70 west from Salina, Utah to Golden, Colorado is the most consistently scenic 400+ hundred miles of road in the US interstate system. (If you have a few extra minutes, highway 60 west of Golden is an excellent aside – today I followed the course of the pure rocky mountain spring water muddy rocky mountain thunderstorm runoff almost to the brewery gates.) As with any road that spans hundreds of miles, there are a couple of boring stretches, but overall no amount of engineering could overcome the joy of driving through the rocky mountains and the majestic deserts of eastern Utah. (The goal of the interstate system is to engineer out all joy of travel in the names of safety and efficiency.)

I’m in rural Kansas right now, conservative as it gets (or at least Republican). I look like an old hippie. Kansas folk are friendly, though; they just can’t help it. All they need is a little help from me, a friendly hello, a smile, and then “he may be an old hippie but he’s a nice man.” This is true pretty much anywhere; people want to have a friendly interaction with you most of the time, so just help them out.

View out my window this evening


Latest Google Search: Does too much turkey jerky cause hemorrhoids? Followed closely by: God, is there any other indignity you would care to thrust upon me?

Yes, in my short time here in the Bible Belt, I have already become a man of prayer.

6

The Question I Really Wanted to Ask Tonight

“So, are you guys prostitutes?”

Road Trip by the Numbers

My sweetie and I just made a quick road trip from here in San Jose down to Tucson, Arizona, and back. The light of my life happens to be the light of other people’s lives as well, and one of her closest friends has been having a tough time of it lately. It was time to go lend a bit of moral support, and to introduce me to part of my sweeties (non-genetic) extended family.

Time was limited, however, and cash not as plentiful as we would like, factors that combined to make this a long drive with little rest. Here are a couple of interesting stats:

Waking hours spent driving: 50% (about 33/65)
Increase in car's mileage: 5.5%

That second number may not seem that significant, until you realize the car is ten years old:

Miles per day, first ten years: 33700/3650 = 9.2
        (includes a road trip from San Jose to Los Angeles)
Miles per day, last four days: 1880/4 = 470

The last stat of note:

Beers consumed: 0

Yeah. Next time, we’re flying.

And then there’s Mikie

The real beginning of this blog, on Road Trip Day 1 of Muddled Year Zero, a happy occasion, also marks the end of my years with Mikie. The first two days of that road trip are the last time I ever saw the guy.

Had I been serious about this blog earlier, your opinion of me, dear reader, might be different. We had some times. Getting kicked out of Las Vegas and driving through Trona with two chihuahuas. Karaoke violence in Louisville, KY. Strong drinks and slurred words. Mikie and I, we go back.

I just heard from him recently, and this Kentucky Derby brought back memories. I’m just sitting here right now, thinking about all the things we did. Most of them, I’d do again.

Most of them.

1

Tunnel Vision

Back when I lived in Prague I used to laugh about the crappy service in pubs and bars. They don’t work for tips over there, so pissing off the guests really doesn’t matter much.

Right now I’m sitting at a place called BJ’s, which is practically part of the Apple Campus. My service today has been worse than anything I saw in Eastern Europe. The problem: tunnel vision.

For example: I am sitting next to the main thoroughfare to the kitchen. Every waiter and waitress passes my table regularly. Yet, when I wanted something, they all strode directly past me, steadfastly ignoring my increasingly urgent gestures. Finally I got the attention of a hostess, who stopped a waiter and asked him if I was his table. He shook his head no, eyes fixed on the stone tiles ten feet ahead, and pressed on into the kitchen.

The hostess then asked me, “do you know who your waiter is?” and I found myself feeling apologetic for not knowing my AWOL guy’s name. Anger at myself fueled my current state of indignation. The right answer: “I don’t give a fuck who my server is, and neither should you.”

I suspect my guy was on a break and hadn’t handed me off properly. He’s been very attentive, and even cool, since then. But I’ll tell you this: if I was manager of this place there would be jobs on the line. “Not my table” is no reason to ignore a patron. That I was ignored by so many people indicates that the problem is institutional. If I was owner, the manager’s job would be on the line.

As I was writing that last paragraph, my server came over, told me he was taking his dinner break, and introduced me to his stand-in. Chris will look out for me, I’m sure. My needs are modest. But I still have the feeling that it’s just Chris. If he’s tied up, I’ll be out of luck.

Update: Unlike my previous cry in the wilderness, this one was answered. I got a message from the manager of the local BJ’s, taking my message very seriously. He even asked to meet me personally next time I come in, but I’m not sure I want that level of attention.

It is a sign of good management to take criticism as valuable feedback and use it constructively.

Drink What Now?

It’s Thursday, and I blew off a free concert (with free beer!) thrown by the iTunes group to have a little beer-blogging time. It’s been tough, lately; they keep putting hockey games with the local team on Thursday nights, and the bar fills up and it’s hockey so it’s intense — and, well, fiction doesn’t happen.

Tonight, things are calmer.

The bar features a pretty wide variety of beers on tap, from the basic American lame-ass beer to some nice microbrews. This spectrum is not broad enough for two guys at a table near mine, however. They are drinking Old Milwaukee. From cans.

ADDENDUM: On one the TV’s here in the bar, I just saw an ad for “Badass American Lager”. Genius. Now you can say “badass” — and believe you are one! — while you drink like a pussy.

1

What I Want to Say Right Now

“Excuse me, but can you stand farther away from me until your perfume drops below the bleeding-eye, exploding-nasal-passages level? The guy in the mohawk next to me is hurting too.”

This is the worst since I was in Sam’s Place, so very long ago. I’d link to that episode, but I’m hurting right now.