Binge Driving

…can be more intoxicating than a collegiate drinking marathon.  We’ve all done it.  You start early, determined to travel from point A to destination B in a prescribed time frame; in this instance 2000 miles in less than four full days. Towing a trailer is a minus, inhibiting speed for safety, but a plus when reducing chances for DWI (driving while impaired), as the sensory feel of four tons tethered to your backside is an effective antidote to a road burn induced coma.

Jack and I are traveling a capella in a Chevy truck with a season full of personal ‘stuff’, headed for the Mexican border. 

dscn0183.JPG

Farewell from a forlorn excella, now under 36″ of snow 

No trailer this winter, the planned route is influenced by the weather channel.  The tedium begins less than two hundred miles out of the gate, on the flatland of central Illinois.  A welcome weather anomaly brightens an otherwise innocuous ride on Interstate-55.  It is a rare sub-freezing morning fog, only 24° F and the horizon, if it exists at all, has become a seamless pearl white mist.  Red tail hawks seek the highest point on iced trees, and in the translucent distance, the faint outline of blue ceramic Butler silos punctuate successful farms.  You can find red, white, and blue, nearly everywhere, if you take time to look, a grateful reminder that a dull driving day in the USA is an elixir for the soul….where else would I rather be ?

Nearing Springfield, IL, home to the nexus of Lincoln heritage, I’m passed by a Subaru Outback.  Both driver and passenger are 20 something males, and the SUV sports a Hawaii license plate.  Really.  In the middle of the midwestern prairie, from the 50th state, birthplace of a current president working hard to emulate Honest Abe. The chance glimpse of this plate triggers an hour of random thought, and 65 miles of boredom slips through the tread of Goodyear Marathons.

A lunch of rainier cherries, salted almonds and diet Squirt means no stopping, no high fats to precipitate the bobble-head doll syndrome, every four hours these blues brothers only stop to pee and fuel up with $3.59/gal diesel.

dscn5320.JPG 

Jack, proudly posing in his newly earned vest 

The interstate has become the skeletal system of the country__passage through the arteries, the metaphorical blood of goods, people, trucks and cars___allowing us (as an anonymous writer once remarked) to travel coast-to-coast without seeing anything.The capillaries, the blue highways, are the real exchange of O² and CO², the lifeline for the weary traveler.  Jack and I will soon find our favored westerly path, US 54, bucking the headwind across the great plains.  

Look out Linda, here we come.

dscn6052.JPG

Prairie Folk Art; “Linda”, as elusive as “Mustang Sally”

On the wings of a gull *

*alert:contains no trailer reference, delete at will.

Random thoughts while traveling solo, eight hundred plus miles, to eastern NY for a convention (older cars) allows for hours of quiet contemplation, in spite of the roar of a flapping canvas top and the whistle through aging rubber window seals in a 50 y/o roadster. 

An early obstacle is exiting the Indiana Toll Road (now leased to a French/Spanish consortium) at the eastpoint gate. There are no toll taker persons, only I-Zoom, credit card, or cash options at a vertical vending machine.  The wait is more than thirty minutes, as I was the fifth vehicle back.  You can’t make this stuff up. Although I was prepared to pay quickly, the cash receiver is too high to reach, the lane too narrow to open the door, and being 20 years older than the car, I am neither nimble nor agile enough to stretch up to the one-armed bandit.  I wished during those few moments to be transformed into the legendary comic book character, Plastic Man.  I’m torn between saying grácias or merci´ as I escape incarceration from my own state. Wally Buch, a Californian on a 2500 mile trek, relayed a similar untimely fate.  Ohhh the agony.

Ohio is a blur, a wet and stormy challenge to old Bosch wipers, an endless 241-mile car wash.  The only highlight, meeting up with the Ocean Spray Cranberry crew bus; you know, the two goofballs waist deep in a cranberry bog emulating a Grant Wood gothic, extolling the virtue of a juice that acidifies kidney function.

dscn5622.JPG

Buzz and Clarence in hip waders

Reaching Buffalo the following morning during rush hour, one might wonder why anyone would live here.  Really, I would select Buffalo ahead of say, Darfur, or Juarez, Mexico, if allowed only three choices, but get me out of here.  Pronto.

Crossing upstate New York is a spelling bee gone awry.  Onontaga, Cheektowaga, Canandaigua and plenty of other words I can’t spell or pronounce, revel in the presence of casinos, a shameful and ubiquitous blight on our American landscape.  Billboards depict attractive 30-somethings dressed in eveningwear or exquisite casual clothing celebrating their financial bonanza, gaiety embraced with champagne toasts.  They are smiling.  They have white teeth.

The reality; spend a few minutes at the elaborate entrance of any casino and the dress code vacillates between wrinkled dockers and nursing home casual.  No one is smiling, so the paint code of the dentures remains a mystery.  I’m no anti-gambling zealot and tend to enjoy a spirited poker game, a half-cent a point bridge game, or friendly wager on Notre Dame football, but when did we decide that issuing gaming licenses to Indian tribes is somehow restitution for pillaging their birthright.  Yes, we’ve been told that the revenue skimmed from the losers is to benefit the tribes and public education.  But illiteracy, unemployment, and substance abuse remain rampant in most tribes, and I don’t see much improvement in our ability to educate youngsters either.  Fantasy is a popular illusion, but isn’t this just a disguise for a stupidity tax?

The reception at the four star Saratoga Hilton Hotel is much nicer than last night’s Comfort Inn.  I find that comforting.  Discomforting is the story in the WSJ that Hilton is broke and currently “restructuring”.  Could this portend a financial setback for that cute little celeb, Paris, whose talent, if it exists at all, has escaped me.  Woe for her cosmetic surgeon and tattoo artist.

Although I’m sizzled from road burn, the convention ladies registration table, like Lady Liberty, welcomes the wretched and weary.  Not only do the GWG wives wear attractive clothing, look good, they even smell nice, which prompts me to go to my room for a bath. You know when you soak in the tub with a mini plastic bottle labeled Crabtree & Evelyn Relaxing Body Bath, you are engaged in upscale pleasure….no need for Xanax here.  Accentuating the high-end experience: toilet paper ends folded in the popular paper airplane motif.  Terry cloth bathrobe, 800 count Egyptian cotton sheets, this is the life.

The convention template reflects past prologue…conviviality, a decadent amount of food and drink, interesting side trips, and the requisite greasy fingernail tech sessions, like small boys in the treehouse plotting a war strategy against erector set calamities.   And they are serious.

Rain dampened the Friday rally, however, we (the revered Pinky Winther, Bryant Kolle of Hagerty, and myself) still managed 150 miles, revisited the battle of Saratoga, a victory over those clever English waistcoats and their cute accents. We actually ventured into Vermont, part of so-called New England, where people have accents, a curious blend of Brooklyn mixed with Alabama, exempting the ability to pronounce the letter “R”.  We also met a couple from a neighboring state, ‘ noohampsha ‘, who, in spite of their speech impediment, seemed to be very nice.  Aside from people who talk funny, an overdose of quaint village antique shops, and farmstands, we are caught in a serpentine crawl of fall color leaf seekers.

Like driving through Buffalo, only everyone has a Toyota Prius or an aging Volvo station wagon.  The latter distinguished by bearded, pony-tailed drivers behind the wheel.  Even the men.   Where else will you see bumper stickers, “Libertarian on Board”, “Stop honking, I’m texting my hairdresser”, or “Dukakis/Bentsen in 88” ?  O.k., so I made those up, but these people are different.

Ironically, after three days of steady rain and overcast, the sun finally broke through on a magnificent Saturday morning…. ? so what did we do ?….move the cars to an indoor ballroom, the ambiance of fluorescent lighting and filtered air, and have a “car show” closed to the public.  This is not a critique of the convention hosts, who have worked themselves into exhaustion over a year of planning and successful execution, but who or what are we hiding from?  UV exposure? Carjackers?  Just a thought.  Outside, the most glamorous thoroughfare in the northeast, Broadway Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY, in the peak of the season, beckoned in silence.  Much like the Greek goddess, Persephone, an innocent maiden.

The concours did provide a quiet and private reunion between three friends; me, a very happy and proud Frank Spellman, and my old hardtop, as shown below;

dscn5686.JPG

I must concede that Frank’s new “coupe” dazzled the voyeurs and resulted in a well-deserved trophy.  Macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy be damned, his presentation of options displayed is the finest in the world. The Saturday evening formal banquet came and went, yet again, without receiving an artistic trophy creation of Tom and Linda Bau.  I’ve concluded that, unless I agree to host a convention in remote Detour Village, MI, my chance for one of the masterpieces is nil.

For a “D-lister”, I was fortunate to secure seating at the northern California table (translation: A-List, Power Table) for the banquet.  For an old Hoosier, I felt akin to Gomer Pyle, but the Golden Staters were thoughtful enough to bring copious amounts of vintage wine.  Once we were all liquored up, they treated me like Meg Whitman.  I need to change perfume.

Since my wife Lynn was unable to attend the convention, I opted to leave before the dancing with the stars portion of the evening began.  Confined to the two-step and the waltz, I need those footprint illustrations glued to the floor for guidance, and I’m a stranger to rap and/or hip-hop.  Should y
ou allow the true beauty of your soul to be exposed on the dance floor, you are not attractive.  You are leaking.

Alone back in my room, haunting questions nag the very depth of my soul.  Who has the deeper voice, Carolina’s Ted Bready or the MB classic center’s Tom Hanson?  Either one could challenge Richard Sterban, bass for the Oak Ridge Boys.  And more vexing, which convention wife was rumored to have appeared in no less than nine different ensembles in the short 96 hours ?  Yes, one 5 mgm. Ambien should be enough.

The return trip was not a mirror reflection of the week before.  Allowing an extra day, eschewing urban torture, I wove my way back through dozens, perhaps a hundred or more small towns with a single preplanned stop in Galion, OH to examine and appraise a 123 chassis 280 CE coupe.  It was very average, worth barely a 1/3rd the widow’s asking price.  You never know.  As long as there are barns, there will always be barn finds.

There were more stories, but little time left to share.  Not a single interstate, not a single toll, and without a passport, I wasn’t sure I would be allowed entry in to Indiana after a week in exile.

Post Script

On an excursion to Gloversville, NY, we were privileged to tour the car collection of James Taylor.

dscn5655.JPG

Tucked away in the corner, an early motor home fashioned on a Ford chassis, that had been used to extol the virtues of the gospel. It had been used by the the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to spread the word. Or spread something.

dscn5646.JPG

A spartan interior, and twin beds, to insure that only the Bible gets thumped

A smile south of Washburn, WI; just call me ‘Bill’

It happens infrequently while you travel slowly, the intersection between luck and serendipity, that yields the endearing moment you least expect.  On remote highway WI-13,

dscn5218.JPG

meet Bill

Once a gravedigger, he stopped shaving and began woodcarving when Nixon waved goodbye from that stairway on the helicopter.   Not content to dance to our drummer, his path of least resistance leads to a modest workshop/studio/shed and bed, breathing sawdust and sculpting life.

dscn5221.JPG

Path to the inner sanctum

No stranger to camping, he fashioned his own classB motorhome on the rusted chassis of a Chevy truck.  “Don’t use it much once I passed 75…I’m too old and that’s too fast”

dscn5216.JPG

Where’s the circus ?

We tried to buy a beautiful fish, shaped and polished from burled walnut, but it was NFS, one of his favorites he could not part with.  “Most of what I have in the studio (it was crammed with wooden art, every piece he had done himself) is only for display.

“However, if we express interest in a raven topped totem pole seen below in its infancy, he might be able to talk.

dscn5217.JPG

A stranger to personal hygiene, he is in remarkably good health and spirit, and recommended we stop down the road to look at his favorite truck, a 1927 Ford.

dscn5210.JPG

We don’t want your arms, we don’t want your legs, just give us your tows

Bill doesn’t have a cell phone, a TV, or a computer, only a Motorola portable radio that ‘needs new batteries’ and he’s never heard of a social networking site.  I asked him if he remembered Elian Gonzalez and Janet Reno and the tug-o-war with Cuba in 2000.

“Vaguely”.

How about the oil spill ?

“Oh, yes, but I didn’t know where it was in Mexico or when it started.  Is it fixed?”

There aren’t enough Bills in the world.