Back Seat of a Greyhound Bus

Apology to the lyricist of “Ramblin’ Man”, we’re on US 41, imagining the early 1950s before Ike and the interstate system.  This road is a north/south noodle, perpendicular to the overly glamorized Route 66. 580px-US_41_mapHaving grown up less than a mile from 41, and only minutes from the view of Lake Michigan’s southern tip, this old highway is a mess; potholes, so deep, the water drains into the South China Sea, or at the least, burns a hole in your patience.

From the Indian Reservation in L’Anse, Michigan to the southern terminus in Miami, the most disgusting city north of Havana, the road is a life sentence with little punctuation.  Perhaps an apostrophe for NFL fans in Green Bay, but little else.  Highway tedium in search of a mood detector.  Anxiety, depression, and aggression beg for the release of serotonin, unavailable from the Walgreen’s or CVS that litter the highway.

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Headed north in Baraga County to the starting line in Copper Harbor, MI., however, is a traveler’s dream: 79 miles forward and 79 years backward in time.  Copper Harbor is in a time warp; souvenir shops with local items made of cedar, the departure dock to Isle Royale N.P., and the ubiquitous physical adventure travelers.  Helmeted.

You recognize them, shrink wrapped like colorful sausages, wearing plastic cycling shoes.  They drive an aging Volvo station wagon with kayaks on the roof and mountain bikes on the trap door.  Bumper stickers; Dukakis/Bentsen in 88, Greenpeace, ‘ I brake for mountain goats’.  With temples beginning to grey, each armed with a personal electronic device, they leave behind the fingerprints of apps, the footprints of consciousness.  No one has told them the news.

Roll over Beethoven.

We’re not ‘riding the dog’, as the title might imply.  This is the first non-medical trip in five years, the Excella awakened from slumber and performing flawlessly, taking a vacation from retirement.  Think of it as a 30 year old Airstream on a Medicare Advantage plan.

A stop for a nap in Champion, MI., pop. 297, is a highlight, the horse-pull capital of the Upper Peninsula.  The only saloon, featuring a sign, both neon and alcohol-free, was closed years ago.  The maple trees are tinged with yellow and red…fall arrives early north of 46º.

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Higley’s, dressed for Christmas

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Pretty in Pink

Headed north to Houghton, at 45 rpm, we’re off to tell Tchaikovsky the news…….

 

 

©insightout2014

Lessons in Green Valley

Bridge for the aged.  In a community where the dirt is younger than the residents, Green Valley, AZ.

The contemporary, 2014, game of bridge parallels grade school recess in the 1940’s.  Playground pick-up games of Red Rover, Tag, and Hopscotch by exuberant adolescents allow the teachers to have a well-deserved, twenty-minute, coffee and cigarette break.

Dateline:

  • The Wallace School
  • Gary, Indiana
  • March, 10, 1949
  • Monday 8:15 AM

Hazel Markwalder, 5th grade teacher, former WAVE (Women’s U.S. Navy, W.W.II) is the declarer and on lead;

“Class, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,

then sing our chorus, with gusto

O Columbia! the gem of the ocean,
The home of the brave and the free,
The shrine of each patriot’s devotion,
A world offers homage to thee

Curious I can recall the anthem, 65 years later, to the day, yet forget that a two club response over opener’s no trump is a request for a four card major. Stayman may as well have been Dustin Hoffman’s, Rain Man.

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Being held hostage, without restraints, in a large recreational facility with 100+ senior citizens, is voluntary.  The ratio, 4:1, women over men, is quite favorable.  And, too, makes the room smell nicer.  Estrogen and spanx vs. testosterone and athletic supporters will always end, legally or not, nolo contendere.  We’re here to improve our game of bridge, without being spanked.

SPANX

Substituting for Mrs. Markwalder is bridge guru, Brenda Sonderegger, a mixture of histrionics and humor laced with an accent residing somewhere between the south side of Brooklyn and the north side of Savannah.  And, eh, a touch of Canadian.

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L-R, Insightout, Brenda S.

She is patient, thorough, and has at her disposal the despised electronic gadget, PowerPoint®, but (insert smiley face) doesn’t need it.  Look, most of us are at an age where we can’t read the Snellen Chart at the eye doctors’.  The one that starts with the big E at the top.  I’d rather stare at the Periodic Table of the Elements, where, unlike the dictionary, Lithium comes before Lead. So help me Duracell®.

Spicing her anecdotes with mild expletives, she emphasizes the serious nature of the game; whatever their contributions to society, bridge opponents can be an important source of protein.

Around the room, her unpaid elves, all experts, carefully ‘tsk, tsk’ over the shoulders of erring students, while patiently providing guidance to the strays. The atmosphere is electric. Mostly AC.  The cost of this instruction….?….less than the price of a new undergarment.

Ms. Brenda is also a director of sanctioned* games, where everyone, expert and neophyte alike, is admonished to ‘listen up’ for announcements;

  • the hospital and necrology report
  • turn off your cell phones
  • no ‘snapping’ of cards (an irritation to the hearing assisted)
  • no perfume or cologne, please
  • watch the clock

Slow play. If you’re in a 3-way race with a snail and a turtle, and you finish 3rd…it’s time to speed up.  She works the room like the emcee at a Born Again rally.  Halleluiah, Sister B.

As for me, I look forward to the return of  beginner’s class in 2015, as soon as I locate a Spanx for Men store.  If unrecognizable, that’s o.k., just follow your nose; look for the artificially trim guy wearing a girdle and reeking of Chanel #5.

* sanctioned—an adult game, with rules = to tag, red rover, war, and hide & seek, only someone keeps score.  A day at the beach, where every player has different sizes of buckets and pails, yet we all go home with sand between our toes.  Adultery, an unsanctioned activity, down two and vulnerable, may result in a bad board.

credits:
“Bridge is the last game in which the computer is not better”…Bill Gates
Spanx® logo, by permission, Sara Blakely
PowerPoint®, Microsoft Corp.

©insightout2014

The Legend of Stoney Gilliam, II

The dash warning light is real.  Within minutes the truck has lost  power, reducing 70 mph down to 25 mph, so I choose to turn on the warning flasher and ride the shoulder.  Sans a GPS, I can only estimate that the next town, Springerville, AZ, is fifty miles distant.  Although the very large array of radio telescopes passed an hour ago may be able to detect visitations from other galaxies in the universe, I have zero bar cell service.

For more than an hour, rumble strips, a sick engine, and a few passing cars are all that are seen and heard. 35 miles on the clock.

And then, an angel.

A white SUV slows as it passes then pulls aside and awaits the sick driver and sicker truck.  Her name is Karla, a solo road warrior, with an innate trust for a fellow traveler in distress.  I could be Ted Bundy, serial killer, in disguise, armed and dangerous, a felon preying on good samaritans, but Karla didn’t hesitate. No questions asked, she tries her cell phone, to no avail.  However, her car is equipped with On-Star®, a clever satellite service that promptly answers and offers to call a AAA wrecker.  We part with a warm handshake, and within an hour the truck is loaded onto the flatbed tow, headed for the recommended service center, Round Valley Garage, Springerville, Arizona.

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Stoney Gilliam is stoic, soft-spoken, a weathered mechanic choosing his words carefully and sparingly.  He has the rugged good looks of NCIS’s Mark Harmon.  A late afternoon gaze at the truck through piercing eyes from under an old baseball cap and the computer scope reveals a very serious NG…failed injectors at 193,000 miles.  This had happened once before, in 2008, a whisper above 100,000 miles, and a shadow past the seven year  extended warranty.  GM, sympathetic, politely punched my tough s#it card, and wished me better fortune in the future.

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dateline: Springerville, AZ

nearest big box store, Show Low, AZ, 48 miles away

closest interstate ramp, I-40, 82 miles distant

Stoney’s son drives me to the vintage, 1960s, El-Jo Motel, conveniently located adjacent to a favorite local saloon/eatery, The Safire.  Not a misspelling to be confused with the lovely blue gemstone, The Safire had once been named The Safari, but a Phoenix restaurant of the same name requested the name be changed to avoid confusion.  Fat chance.

The claim to fame for the Safire; the Duke, John Wayne, frequented the place in the 60s.  He had been part owner of a large ranch just west of neighboring Eagar, AZ.  The cheeseburger was delicious, but the seat in the  dining room booth still retained the sculpted shape of the Duke’s rump, like the trusty saddle on an old gelding.

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The Duke, after lunch at the Safire

I spend the next morning, on foot, exploring the town.  A walk to the airstrip, a visit with the ladies in the Safeway store, the local museum where everyone important was named Udall, McD’s for an egg mcmuffin, and a brief busman’s holiday at the Western Rexall.  This is a hardscrabble town with little veneer.  You don’t live here to be monetarily rich.  Five interviews with ‘locals’ were consistent.  You’ll find characters, but no drunken Toronto mayor, or a Jersey FatGov; people seem to enjoy the isolation, fresh clear air, no parking woes, no traffic, and very little crime.  Everyone knows who you are, what you drive, and where the herd of elk was last seen crossing SR 180.

Because the repair, a 14 hour task, and parts would take several days to arrive, over a weekend + the vicious storm covering most of the U.S., Stoney offers to drive me to Show Low that afternoon, both to rent a car, continue on to Phoenix, and meet my wife, Lynn, arriving by air.  He promised me, unequivocally, he would have the truck ready in a week, and would not release it until he was certain it was 100%.  Believe me, his word is gold.

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L-R, Stoney, Chas, and the mended Silverado background

Strange, this bump in the road, a major inconvenience when I needed it the least, enriched my life, reinforced my faith in the basic goodness of people, and lead to quiet contemplation on the ride on AZ-80 from above the Mogollon Rim down to the Valley of the Sun.

Becker Butte Lookout

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Straight from the pages of Arizona Highways, the breathtaking scenery is as welcome as the thirty minute stop to remove fallen rocks.

Below, a genuine American Indian princess and AzDOT employee shares stories and candy with me while waiting.

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My sincere thanks to the support team and I wish them all the best:

  • Karla 
  • The wrecker driver with a clean sense of smell
  • Stoney, Nicole, their son, and staff at the RVGarage
  • The ladies at the El-Jo and the Paint Pony Lodge, in Show Low
  • Show Low, AZ., Hatch Toyota rental rep, Jolene Dailey, for the Rav4, efficiency, and a smile that can melt gloom and lighten the room
  • Princess SummerFallWinterSpring and her avalanche stories

A trip planned to cover 1800 miles in four days had turned into an odyssey of 2400 miles, over 14 days, sleeping in nine different beds, losing seven pounds, five days of food poisoning, and a small dent in the travel budget.

It was worth it.

 

insightout©2014