The Legend of Stoney Gilliam

In the rear view mirror, what once was referred to as a cold front, then redefined as an arctic blast, has now morphed into a Polar Vortex.  The weather media have fallen into the exaggeration trap of their newsy colleagues who have given us the fiscal cliff, quantitative easing, the dreaded taper and the nuclear option.

Embarking on a four day, mid-winter, cross country trip over the Great Plains is always an adventure.  I make my first overnight stop, a popular, cheap hostelry that rhymes with No Tell Kix (to avoid being sued).  This in memory of my dearly departed dog, Jack.  This chain allows pets because they place you in a room with linoleum flooring.  The bath towels, roughly the size of a diaper, have the absorbency of a sheet of cellophane.  R.I.P. little Jackster, it’s only for one night.

Miles southwest of Albuquerque, I’ve taken an L-shaped route off Interstate-25, the hard right turn westerly on lonely U.S. Highway 60, which slices through the heart of parched, west-central New Mexico. The loneliness from Socorro, NM to Springerville, AZ, 154 miles, is palpable; should this desolation escape you, do not drive, get breathalyzed.

These San Agustin plains were chosen for a radio astronomy observatory because the isolated location away from large population centers, and the partial shielding effect of the surrounding mountain ranges.  This is peculiar to New Mexico, the state known to issue driver’s licenses to extra-terrestrials.  Locals of every ilk, perhaps on uncontrolled substances, enjoy regular visits from inter-planetary friends. This gives credence to the state motto warning: Land of Enchantment.


I have, however, taken a personal turn for the worse.  A three course tamale dinner at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque has tasered my gut lining from the tonsils south, septum to the rectum.  Urgency rhymes with emergency.  From the glove box of my aging Silverado diesel, a spare roll of TP and bottle of hand sanitizer become my two best friends. With only a single passing car every 1/2 hour, the entire county has become a personal port-a-potty.  Toxicity without vanity, I harbor some shame that this is not a ‘best practice’ health and sanitation policy.  Here, however, only the neighborhood rattlesnake population would issue an APB, a toxic intruder alert.

Next stop, Pie Town, NM, an unincorporated bend in the road, a cult restaurant, the Pie-O-Neer, and a clean restroom.  DSCN1314DSCN1315


Saying grace, PieTown, 1940, before dessert

I pass on America’s favorite dessert.  The combination of red chile, tamales, clostridium difficile, and cherry pie might translate into the first nuclear disaster since the Fukushima tsunami.  I opt for a single bottle of Coca-Cola to ward off dehydration.



30 miles west, in truly, the middle of nowhere, the worst is yet to come.  The dreaded “check engine” light illuminates the dash………..


…to be continued


insightout© 2014




Bridge over Troubled Squatters

The languid, and often liquid, sticky days of summer are closing down, in a rinse cycle of friendship and the gibbous moon.  Relocation to Rochester, two months +, and gaining momentum, we have encountered a full measure of “minnesota nice” ***, in spite of our classification as (pick a number);

  1. transients
  2. interlopers
  3. vagrants
  4. runaways
  5. squatters

A serious health issue for Lynn, my silver girl, prompted the move to MN.

Sail on silver girl

A visit from the welcome wagon, Kathy Johnson, the Rochester greeter, encouraged us to embrace the community.  And so we have.

Sail on by

Inhabiting an aluminum womb, in a lovely RV park with a rural setting, provides contentment but little intellectual stimulation, so we did what most elderly couples would do; went directly to the Pure Pleasure Adult store on US63 to view their inventory of “devices” and request the location of the nearest tattoo parlor.  Of course that’s not true.  O.k., so what if it is, the point being that overcoming the urge to get inked up is a serious challenge to fans of reality shows, like the NBA or Project Runway, where entire bodies emerge indigo blue with enough body piercings to set off the TSA siren.  Not desirous of impure pleasure, I’m forced to shift into reverse.  Lynn moves forward by meeting with women who enjoy sewing.

Your time has come to shine, All your dreams are on their way

Lynn suggested I explore an old passion, playing competitive bridge, having retired during the first Nixon administration.  The easy explanation, like golf, where I was also not proficient; the stolen hours away from a young family and a busy career.  The real reason: the players were often repugnant, ill-mannered, unkempt, and the majority smoked non-stop.  That was on their off days; when they arrived to play it became a logarithm on the Richter Scale of rudeness.  Although guilty of most offenses, I did not smoke.

Home to bridge “athletes”

Fast forward 40 years to the Rochester Duplicate Bridge and a welcome as a visiting royal, first by a person, who, for reasons of personal privacy and security, will only be referred to, anonymously, by the fictitious nom de plume, Sue Greenberg.  Curiously, that corresponds to the photo and name on her driver’s license, arrest record, financial statement and passport.

She provides a sheet describing Zero Tolerance for Unacceptable Behavior which defines gloating, poor personal hygiene, badgering, intimidation, profanity, and threats of violence as not commendable.  They even have a law, 74A1, that allows you to state, “this player is interfering with my enjoyment of the game”.  Already I’m feeling a bit uneasy, and unwelcome.  I mean (alert: dirty word tweet) WTF ?  I had played duplicate bridge in a private setting for years with a close circle of friends, mostly old physicians, where restrained war whoops,  borderline tribal behavior, and impugning the character of the opposition was not only acceptable, but laudatory.

But lo, she then invites us to her farm for dinner with her husband Rich, a charming self-described nerd from NY, dog Max, and, to a picnic two weeks hence for an annual get-together of family, friends, and a celebration to honor a vegetable (they harvest the sweetest corn in Olmsted County, MN as a hobby).

Back seat driver Max directs Rich, hayride driver of the vintage John Deere

Vulnerable bridge players contemplate corn-on-the-cob, doubled


In the month that followed, I joined the ACBL , played 2 to 3 times weekly, and met really wonderful people who have been genuinely warm and compassionate to both of us in our time of need.  Too many to mention, they know who they are, and saying thank you, in bridge lexicon, is an insufficient bid.

See how they shine, When you need a friend

If you neither play nor understand bridge, welcome, I don’t either.  The lure of the game is not complex; (a) you can never be perfect and (b) you can never learn enough.  Like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, warfare, battle strategy, heroic endeavor, and reason….the game, a ladylike mirror into our souls.  At the table we might quietly revel, for the moment, disemboweling an opponent, yet walk away friends.  No different than children in a sandbox.  Not everyone has a bucket and a shovel, but we all go home with sand between our toes.

An accomplished partner, at a team event, described my play as follows; your bidding is weak, play of the hand suspect, and defense poor, but you make a great dummy.  And I was flattered……batting average .250.  I have earned points, and a ranking (junior master) which is similar to a Boy Scout merit badge.  The points, however, have no cash value and are not redeemable for senior discounts at Coldstone Creamery®, an upgrade from business to 1st class on Virgin Air®, or a gift card at the Pure Pleasure Adult.  Ice cream, sex, and airborne abstinence are incompatible with bridge, so help me God.

Our time here may soon come to an end.  The prognosis, the clinical outcome, are a metaphorical walk on a razor’s edge of an abyss.  Often, the only courage I can muster is irreverence, and looking deep into the eyes of the woman I love.

When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes

The certainty is that my playing days in Rochester dwindle down, to a precious few.  The bittersweet paradox, the concomitant embrace of sadness and happiness, compelled me to share these random thoughts.  A kind gesture, no matter how small or insignificant, is never lost in meaning, and for that we are truly grateful.

It is nice to be in Minnesota.

Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind





*Garrison Keillor discusses “Wobegonics”; the  language of Minnesotans which includes “no confrontational verbs or statements of strong personal preference”

**the academic study by Peter Rentfrow, Samuel Gosling, and Jeff Potter in 2008 found that Minnesota was the second most agreeable and fifth most extroverted state in the nation, traits associated with “nice”.

lyrics, Simon, P., 1969

Hidden in Plain View

Dateline: Plainview, MN , pop. 3408,

The Heart of the Greenwood Prairie

Saturday, June 25, 2011
Country Breakfast on the Farm
Location: Little Valley Dairy
Donny & Holly Thompson, owners

Rochester is in the rear view mirror as we drift eastward through bucolic Olmsted County, a county without a lake, not a single one, in a state with the motto: Land of 10,000 Lakes.   Planning to neither fish nor swim today, as investigative journalists our objective is a 5 dollar pancake, cheese, sausage breakfast, on a “reported” dairy farm, with “supposedly” 182 Holsteins☀, 1 crossbred, and 1 Brown Swiss who are “speculated” to produce 27,000 pounds of milk a year.

This is an obvious undercover scam, because we all know milk comes from a refrigerated wall at Trader Joe’s®, produced in plastic milk cartons, free of rBST, @ $1.99/half gallon, between the 2% Greek yogurt to the left and the organic brown eggs on the right.

However, we arrive at the Little Valley Dairy on CR 10 NE, nearly 4 miles south of Plainview, along with 100’s of families who have been duped by this sign:

Time: 6:30 am – 11:30 a.m.
Details:  Enjoy a pancake breakfast.
Sponsor: Rochester Ag Committee, Olmsted County Farm Bureau Federation

Do these people look like someone you might trust ?

Tents, tables, vintage tractors, modern combines, milk parlor, barns, hay, more hay, cows, more cows, and celebrities;

“Victor”, the suspicious official mascot of the Minnesota Vikings attempting a ‘field goal’.  Behind the facade of this uniform, the now retired Brett Favre, who, has at last found a real job.  He still knows how to make a “pass”.

L- Mutant corn on the cob; R-Undercover agent

Donny Thompson in profile, Hollywood material for “Survivor-Dairy Farm”, a series coming to you soon

In spite of all the misconception, the people watching and the breakfast were both delicious.  Armed with a full tummy we learned that:

and except for a Dairy Queen, no one can consume 7 gallons of ice cream in a single day.

The sights, sounds, and the aroma combine to make this the most memorable Saturday morning ever.

Thank heavens for holsteins, John Deere, and little girls

¤Holstein- a black and white milk producing hybrid between a buffalo and a dalmatian, with four, very large, ice cream dispensers.

We came away, convinced, that the photo below is true, that milk subsidies are essential, calcium builds strong bones, and running a 970 acre dairy farm is fun, demanding, and at times, very dangerous, and the debt we owe Donny and Holly Thompson defies translation into words.


p.s. These two “tired” imps tried to convince this investigator that hamburger comes from feeder cattle and NOT McDonald’s, so I am off on a new assignment:

ooo❍❍❍OOO are you really Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC ???