November 18, 2017

Zigging and Zagging My Way Home to Deep River

Our veteran cross-country traveler John Guy LaPlante gives us another update on his extraordinary journey by minivan from California to Deep River, Conn.

All alone on the road, for miles and miles, along a parched. and empty land. Often the case in the High Plains of Texas. Good thing I enjoy my own company.

All alone on the road, for miles and miles, along a parched and empty land.  Ever experience that?  It can be the case on the High Plains of Texas.  Good thing I enjoy my own company.

I’m moving along happily, always ready to  jump off the Interstate  to go see something interesting.

As I write this, I have entered green and beautiful Missouri.  So refreshing to see real green!  It’s making me homesick for Deep River.

I have driven 2,285 miles to date. It’s surprising how little has gone wrong.

My adventure is continuing as well as I could expect.  As you know, I’m not doing this just to get home.  I’m crossing the USA  to enjoy the ride and have fun.

I keep a journal every day.  Just raw notes, hand-written.  I have done this for every significant trip and, in fact, many significant undertaking in my life for many years.  Our memory plays tricks on us.  Important to write down the facts.

The journal-keeping is a job in itself.  I’ve just finished my last entry for today at a Burger-King.  It’s 10:35 p.m. and it will close at 11.  I’m the only customer left in here.

I’ve been here for more than two hours–my typical evening routine.  A clerk—a nice young gal—is now giving me dirty looks.  Twenty minutes ago I went up and ordered one more thing.  An ice cream cone.  Mostly to keep her smiling.

I still have to find my way a few miles up the road to a Super Walmart—meaning one that never closes and sells just about everything, including full food and groceries.  Even gasoline at some, and always cheaper.  You may not know it, but it takes 600 employees—excuse  me, associates–to do the job in a store this big.

My road atlas tells me the Walmart is there.  That’s where I’ll sleep tonight.  I’ll be lucky to slip into my bunk by midnight.  In the morning, I’ll go in, use the bathroom, and buy a few things.  This trip would be impossible without Walmart.  I mean it.

My trip is fun, but there’s a heap of work (notice the Western expression?) to a trip like this.  Yes,  work.  I’m busy from morning until night.  I do take a nap every afternoon.  As some of you know, I nodded off on a highway some years ago.  In mid-afternoon.  Doing 65.  For just three seconds, maybe five.  Awful!  I ran of f the highway and bounced off the rear left corner of a parked car.  It had a flat or something.  The three in the car were standing off at the side.

My airbag exploded.  I smashed the windshield.  Police, ambulance, the works.  No injuries but I totaled my beautiful Buick.  Damage aplenty to the parked car.  I was not penalized in any way.  Talk about good luck!

If I had hit that car square, I’d be dead.  Once like that is more than enough.  I’m not embarrassed to tell you I take a mid-afternoon nap.

As I look over my journal, I see far more in my many entries than I can tell you about without exhausting myself typing it up.

So, this report is not complete.  The reason is that I’ll be sending you  reports soon about three big experiences I’ve had.  One is my cruising Historic Road 66 for hundreds of miles–the Mother Road, our first modern highway across a vast stretch of the U.S.A.

The second is about my four days in Bentonville, Ark.  It’s the small, very ordinary little town where Sam Walton started Walmart and where he continued to live all his life, although he got to be worth multi-billions and could afford to live in a palace in the glitziest spot that suited him in the world.

And how small  Bentonville is now the world capital of Walmart and Sam’s Club, which he also started.  And how Bentonville has been vastly and beautifully transformed because of all the Walton and Walmart money.  And what a good time I had exploring Bentonville and soaking up all I could about Sam.  Four days was too short …

The third was my visit of several days in Independence, Mo.  Another small and indifferent city.  And how that has been transformed by another remarkable man, Harry Truman.

President Truman was a poor farm boy who never went to college.  Getting into politics and rising steadily, he was chosen to run with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in FDR’s fourth and final presidential election.

How Roosevelt spoke to him only once after the election.  And how after only 82 days as VP, Harry Truman suddenly found himself President of the United States of America.

Everybody thought Harry was in deep, deep water.  I think he thought so himself.  But he startled everybody with a dramatically effective tenure of seven years.  A tenure with truly historic moments that brought great changes.

How he retired to little Independence, which he considered the center of the universe.  How to his dying breath he remained deeply in love with his wife Bess.  And how he steadfastly refused to make a dime off his service as President, contrary to numerous other Presidents.

And how today he is regarded as one of our truly great Presidents.

Well, Harry transformed Independence just as Sam Walton transformed Bentonville.

My time in Independence was too short, too.

But now, let me tell you some highlights of my trip as I mosey along from California across America home to Connecticut.  I hope these highlights will give you a good idea of the good time I’m having.

~ ~ ~

My first time in a pawn shop in 60 years!

Dumas in the Texas Panhandle is a nice, very neat little city of 15,000.  On Main Street, I spotted $EZPawn.  That’s how it spells its sign. I hadn’t been in a pawn shop since I was 20.  I stopped in.  Small but very clean and well laid out.  I was surprised.  Hundreds of items.  Only one clerk, Sonia, about 28.  Taking inventory.  I said hello and she smiled back.

I was amazed by the wide variety of stuff—electronics, tools of all kinds, musical instruments, household appliances, tools, cameras and binoculars and jewelry, auto stuff—just about anything of value.  But no clothing or shoes.

You'll understand in a minute why I felt I had to stop in.  Many pawn shops out here. None close to Deep River!

You’ll understand in a minute why I felt I had to stop in.  Many pawn shops out here.  None close to Deep River.  We could use one.

I told her this was only my second time in, yes, more than 60 years, and she was amazed.  “So many people use pawn shops …”

$EZPawn is a regional chain, she said.  This store has been in business 40 years.  The only one in the area.  Solid reputation, she said.

“We do two things.  We lend people money on stuff they bring in, and we buy things from them.  Mostly we pawn.  Lend them money depending on the value of the item.

“And yes, prices can be discussed.  It’s a fact.  We try to work with people.  We hear lots of hard luck stories.  That’s expected in this business.”  I pointed to a nice electric drill, only $16.  And a small digital camera.  Only $8.  “Such low prices.  Are these things guaranteed?”

“We test everything.  Make sure it works.  And we give people 24 hours.  They can return anything.  After that, sorry!”

“What’s the usual pawn deal?”

“The stuff they pawn is the collateral.  We give people 30 days to pay back the money we lend them.  And two days of grace.  We charge interest, of course, but the rates are controlled by the state.  If they come in late to reclaim something, even one day late, sorry!”

“When you buy something, how do you set the price?”

“We look at it.  If we’re interested, we get a model number or a good description of it.  We go online.  To Google or Bing or others.  We check going prices.

“That’s our starting point.  Then we go up or down, depending on the  condition.  We try to be fair.  It’s the only way to stay in business.

“If something doesn’t move, we mark it down.”

“Do you yourself buy stuff here?”

“Of course!”

“An example, please.”

“An i-pad.  Excellent condition.  $199.”

“Wow!”

“Yeah.  The price was good to start with.  And I got my employee discount.  But you said you used a pawn service years ago!”

“Yes, I did. I was 20.  I was crazy in love with Pauline.  A big college prom was coming up.  Had to take her.  She was counting on it.  I was short of money.

“My Uncle Jack had just come back from World War II.  He was a grunt in the Infantry, fighting through France and Germany.  Like every GI, he came back with souvenirs he scooped up.  Gave me a pair of German Army binoculars—Carl Zeiss.  World-famous name.

“Well, I pawned them.  Got enough money for the prom.  Pauline was radiant.  She was chosen prom queen.  I had 30 days to get those fine binoculars out of hock, as you explained.  Never came up with the money.  Lost the binocular!”

She laughed.  I laughed, too, but not as much as she did.  The memory still hurts.  I’m glad my Uncle Jack never heard about it.  It would have killed him.

“You learned a lesson!”

“And how …  I swore I’d never pawn anything again.  I never have.  But I’d buy a few things here. But I think I’d try not to think of how bad people must feel when they come in to pawn something.  They’re desperate, I’m sure.”

“Yes.  For sure.  But we do offer a good service.  Lots of people come in.  May sound strange but we have some regulars.”

~ ~ ~

Ever see a Sonic Drive-In?  I hadn’t.

I’m still in Dumas.  Cruising main street.  I noticed a Sonic Drive-In.  Its sign was so tall and the Sonic was so busy that I couldn’t miss it.  It was at least the umpteenth Sonic I’ve seen on this trip.  I pulled in.

A classic drive-in.  We don’t have them back home.  You nose into a parking spot facing the restaurant, park, and stay right there in your car.  Each parking slot has its own big bright menu offering a thousand choices.  Select what you want.  Pay with a plastic card right from your front seat.  Relax.  A clerk in a nifty Sonic outfit brings you your order.  Pay him with cash if you prefer.

You can enjoy the food right there in your car.  Or drive away with it as take-out.  Rain or snow won’t be a bother.  Not much of either of those here, anyway.  No need to worry about whether you’re dressed sloppily or anything like that.  Plenty of advantages to choosing Sonic.

Sonic has become the classic American drive-in. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Why not in Connecticut?

Sonic has become the classic American drive-in.  Hundreds of them, maybe thousands.  Seem as popular as McDonald’s.  For folks of all ages.  Why not some Sonics in Connecticut?

But you can also go inside to order and eat, or eat on the covered patio.  My server was Ruben.  I saw his name on his badge.

Just out of his teens, I guessed.  I liked him right away.

“Ruben,” I said.  “Know what?  This is the very first Sonic I ever come in!”

“Honest?”

“Yep.  We don’t have them where I come from.”  I explained a bit.

“Well, welcome, Sir!  We have an awful lot of Sonics out here.  Folks love Sonic.  All kinds of people come in.  Especially in the evening.  Our floats are half price …  We keep hopping!”

“This is nice service you give.  Do people tip you?”

He paused.  “Some do.”  But I could tell right away that tips are rare.

A huge list on the menu, as I said.  Ice cream items are big.  Soft drinks, too.  But burgers of all kinds, too, fries, corn dogs, salads, on and on.  Breakfast all day.

I told him I wanted to take a picture for my family and friends.  Sonic would be interesting to most to them.  Would he pose for me?

He didn’t like the idea but agreed.  A nice young fellow.  And I took a shot of him by the big menu.  He was smiling, which was great.  I showed him the picture and I saw he was tickled.  Then off he went back to work.

In a minute he came back with a big, jolly man in a Sonic shirt.  The manager.  Again I explained this was my first Sonic ever, and he could see I’ve been around a long, long time.  Nice guy.  He dug into his pocket and gave me a fat plastic coin.  Red and white, with the Sonic logo.

“This will give you a free Sonic soft drink,” he told me, and smiled.  “ We have a thousand combos of flavors.  You tell me your pleasure.”

I don’t drink such things, but I didn’t say that. “I’d love one. Got a dietetic one?”

“Sure.  What’s your favorite?”  He pointed to the long list on the menu.

“You choose.  Give me your most popular flavor!”

“Ruben will bring it right out.”  He shook hands (Ouch!), gave me another smile, and went back inside.  Ruben tailed him in.

A couple of minutes and Ruben was back.  He had my drink.  Cherry something, he told me.  I took a sip and licked my lips.  “Great, Ruben!  Thank you!”

Big smile.  He was pleased.  I was pleased.  Glad I stopped in to check out the Sonic.  I don’t think I’ll ever cash in that plastic coin.  I’m going to hold on to it as a souvenir.

~ ~ ~

Too often folks don’t appreciate their home town.  I think it’s so sad.

I’m still in Dumas. It’s a small town and I’ve taken a good look around.  I like it.

In town after town I’ve said to folks, “I’m just passing through. What should I see here?” Including here in Dumas.

They think and think.  They’re hard put to think of something good to tell me.

Twice here somebody has said.  “Go see our history museum!”  I’ve done that and I enjoyed it.   I’ll tell you about it in a minute.

It’s curious they can’t think of something worthwhile.  I believe it’s because they haven’t seen many places.  Don’t have much to compare their town to.  They’re blind to the nice things they have.

Here, for instance.  If they had gotten around more, they’d realize that for a place its size, Dumas is impressive.

It has a busy shopping center with just about everything that’s needed.  Fairly prosperous, I think.  One reason is that Valero—Valero Gasoline—has a very big plant nearby.

Two people told me another big reason.  Next door in small Cactus –that’s the town’s name–is one of the biggest meat-packing plants in the world.

Another is tourism.  It’s all-important here for sure.  All the hotels and motels and restaurants and shops of all kinds on the main street tell me that loud and clear.

I noticed that it has a hospital and nice schools and a branch of a community college and banks and a library, and even that nice museum and art center.  I’ll tell you about them in a minute.

Dumas is carefully laid out and the streets are in good repair and the houses are well kept on street after street that I’ve looked at.  Nothing ritzy, but nice, neat working-people homes.

On my way here for more than 100 miles I went through only three itsy-bitsy little towns.  Just three!  Not a big grocery store in any of them.  Not even a McDonald’s or Burger King or Subway.  How about that?  I was so happy finally to ride into a community that, small as it is by our standards, offers so much.  Dumas here, I mean.

True, I wasn’t asking these folks if they liked Dumas or not.  I was asking them what I should make sure and see.  If I asked if they liked it here, they might have quickly said, “Yes, sir, Dumas is a nice place.”  But maybe not.

Somebody should be doing more hometown PR for folks here.  But I believe that’s true in community after community.

I had no idea how hugely important the chuck wagon and the windmill were in making life better out here.

I had no idea how hugely important the chuck wagon and the windmill were in making life better out here. How far we’ve come!

About that gem of a museum that few people bother to go see.

You never know when you’ll find a gem.  That small history museum which two people told me about was a gem.

This is a small city so I expected a small museum.  This was a big museum, in its own building, with a big parking lot.  Right on the main drag.  Right across the street from the impressive Visitor Center.  It stood out clearly from all directions.

The museum was the centerpiece of a huge outdoor exhibit with all kinds of big and interesting things.  Most related to farming, which is big here, and oil.

It was 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning when I pulled in.  Only one solitary car in the lot.  The museum is closed, I thought.  But it was indeed open.

A cheery woman greeted me.  “Come in, sir!  Come in and cool off!”  She had good reason to say that.  It was already in the 90’s.  “Enjoy our museum!”

One glance around and I knew I would.  The exhibits went on and on.  All truly beautiful.  This was not an amateur volunteer operation.

I allowed myself an hour.  But everything was so interesting that I went on for an hour and a half, then two.  I paused at this exhibit, then at that one.  So much to learn here.

I did skip some, just to make time.  An exhibit on women’s clothes over the years here on the High Plains.  Another on kitchen stuff.  Another on native wildlife, as well done as it was.

Some exhibits riveted me.  One on barbed wire.  We don’t think much of barbed wire but that was a key invention in the settlement of the West.  Finally a rancher could fence in his livestock.   Didn’t have to go riding all over the place on his horse to find them …

Amazing how many kinds of barbed wire got invented.  Hundreds.  Maybe thousands.  Each slightly different, but different enough to get patented.  The museum had tray after tray of samples.  A huge job to put this exhibit together.  It deserved to be in the Smithsonian!

Another on hand and power tools.  Tools that I never imagined.   The ingenuity behind all this! Another on farm tractors—they had a collection of hundreds of perfect toy models.  Again the ingenuity …  Another on windmills, another huge invention.  They harnessed the wind to suck water out of this parched land day and night.   The only labor involved was minor upkeep.

A ranch chuck wagon.  That sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it was another enormous invention.  It carried the cook’s whole supply of equipment and food on those long cattle drives over sometimes hundreds of miles.

The cook finally had a real kitchen on wheels, even a prep table.  And besides the food, the wagon carried the cowboys’ bedding and sparse extra clothes.  Fantastic.

The museum went on and on.  I could have spent twice as much time there, all of it exciting.  But I had to leave.  In all that time, I was the only tourist.

I was about to depart when that nice lady said, “Sir, you must go look at our Art Center!  You’ll see what talented artists we have here.”

I was pressed but I said okay.  The Art Center was very nice.  But it didn’t hold a candle to the museum itself.

I stopped by to thank that nice lady and express my terrific satisfaction.  She was the director.  I said, “How many people stop in?”

Without hesitation, and proudly, she told me, “Five thousand a year!”

I was appalled.  That was only 100 a week.  Aghast!

“You should have  50 thousand!”

She looked as me as if I were nuts.

“You’ve got so much going for you.  This is a four-star museum!  The town is so lucky to have it. A perfect location. You have such talent as curator and exhibitor.  The place has great visibility.  Wonderful easy parking.  Right across from the Visitor Center.  Close to all the big hotels.”

I couldn’t help myself. Started making suggestions of things the museum might do. Hey, for many years I was a PR consultant. Used to get paid to sound off like this. Many of my suggestions didn’t require a ton of money.

“So, so interesting!” she told me.  “I’ll mention them at our next board meeting.  Thank you so much!”

“This really is a gem.  All that’s needed is promotion.”

She smiled.  I smiled.  I walked out.  Somehow I got the feeling not much would change.  Hope I’m wrong.

~ ~ ~

About that meat-packing plant I didn’t want to go see.

A waitress was the first to mention it to me.  She said it was in the next town, Cactus.  That’s really the town’s name.  It’s a huge plant, she said.  A Swift plant, she believed.  Swift is a giant in meat-packing, of course.

I asked whether they did cattle, or hogs, or sheep.  Cattle, she said, but maybe the others critters, too.  Wasn’t sure.

I said, “Could I tell what they do there if I rode out to take a look?”

“No.  It’s just a great big factory, sort of.  Lots of semis, though—you know, big trailer trucks.  Bringing in animals.  Taking meat away.”

“Does it smell?” I asked.  I still remember when I visited Battle Creek, Michigan, long ago.  It’s famous for Kellogg and Post and other big cereal smakers.  The minute I got close I noticed a strange smell.  But I liked that smell a bit

Of cereal cooking, of course.  Being converted into corn flakes and bran flakes and oat flakes and rice flakes and all the others.  We never get to smell that.  In Battle Creek it’s part of life day and night.  The ovens are going all the time.

A big meat-slaughtering plant must give off a smell, I thought.  She smiled sheepishly. “Yes, it does.”

Maybe a good smell, but the way she hesitated, I didn’t think so.  Believe me, I have no interest in driving over there.  I don’t even want to think about what they do there.  I feel good that I’ve stopped eating animals.

~ ~ ~

 I’m so glad I didn’t skip the PPHM!

I’m in Canyon, Texas now.  It’s up there in the incredibly flat and treeless Texas Panhandle.  So sparse.  The High Plains, it’s called.  Look at a map of Texas and you’ll see why this is called the Panhandle.  Elevation more than 5,000 feet.  A strong wind all the time, it seems.  That wind must be razor-sharp come winter.

The wonderful museum I’m talking about is the Panhandle and Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) here.

This small town, by the way, is like my hometown in Connecticut, Deep River.

It is named Deep River because it is located on the Deep River, a small stream but it provided all the power for our big piano factory to do its work a century ago.  That factory was the high-tech center of the piano industry back then when every middle-class family had to have a piano in its living room.

The factory is a nice condo now, and I’m happy to live there.  Quiet corner unit.  High ceilings.  Great big windows.  I look down on the dam and sluice that drove the huge turbines in the factory.  Lots of sunshine.  Nice neighbors.  Well, 97 percent of them.  But that’s a higher percentage than average, I suspect..

Well, this town is named Canyon because there’s a huge canyon here.  It’s the Palo Duro Canyon at the nearby state park by that name.  The Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in North America.  I was surprised to hear that.  And I nearly skipped it …

This little town is about 20 miles south of Amarillo in the Panhandle.

I went out of my way to come here because of  the PPHM Museum.  That’s what the locals call it.   It impressed me in the AAA handbook about Texas.

The PPHM is a separate great big building on the campus of West Texas State University, which has a  campus more impressive than I expected.

It turns out that the PPHM is the biggest history museum in all Texas.  And Texas is the biggest of our 48, as we know.  And by far.  With huge cities, and many history museums.

Through no fault of mine, I got to the museum at 3:45 p.m.  And it closed at 5 …  Should I bother, I wondered?  Then I realized it would be closed tomorrow, Sunday.  So I went in.

The ticket seller saw my problem.  “Come in, sir!  Be our guest.  But you’ll have to rush.  There’s an awful lot here!”

He was so right.  What hit me right off was the scale of everything in here.  No teeney little exhibits about this and that.  All the exhibits were big.

Right off I beheld a real, full-size derrick to drill oil, moved here from its last big drilling job in Texas.  It was 87-feet high.   Wow!  A special wing had to be built for it.  Massive timbers.  Huge pulleys and gears—bigger than on the biggest steam locomotive.  Ropes and cables as big as a strong man’s bicep.  A mighty machine capable of punching a hole 3,000 feet into the Texas rock—a hole big enough to drop a cantaloupe down it.

I just had to stand back and stare at the cleverness and the huge size of it.  This at a time when the petroleum industry was just getting started here.  As we know, oil and gas were big in this huge state.  And still are.

That derrick exhibit set the pace for all the exhibits in the museum’s many halls.

Then a wonderful exhibit about windmills.  They still mark many parts of the parched West, using the force of the wind to draw water up from the bowels of the earth.  How they made life possible.  Some were incredibly huge.

It took skilled mechanics to keep them running smoothly.  Windmillers, they were called.  Look in phone books here and you’ll still see windmillers offering their services.

Here’s a fact that will surprise you folks back in Connecticut.   The windmill that opened the West to settlement was the invention of a Connecticut man, Michael Halladay, in 1869.  He took his idea West to where it was needed most, and it took off.

Then I went onto the remarkable geology of this part of the country, and its incredible Ogallala Aquifer.  That’s the water that the windmill made it  possible to suck up.

That aquifer is the huge and broad unseen reservoir of water that lays deep under this enormous state and its neighboring states, too.  But a reservoir that we are slowly and steadily draining to meet our increasing demands for water.  And I had never heard of it

The message is clear.  If we don’t get smarter about using water, we’ll run dry.  Guaranteed!

Then a super-size exhibit about the nearby canyon, the Palo Duro.  Another about the amazing weather that makes this area so difficult to live in—the dearth of rain, the frequency of violent tornadoes.  Texas gets a lot of tornadoes, which are often deadly.  And hail storms, too—hail as big as ping pong balls and even tennis balls.  So destructive.

Then the museum has a  super-size exhibit on the native people who migrated here and managed to survive by sheer wit and tenacity.  Another on its natural history and prehistoric animal life, so varied.

The museum was enormous.  I rushed and rushed, and was sorry when I had to quit.  I was the last person out.  I thanked the young clerk at the door, who was counting the money in the till.  “So, so glad you told me to come in,” I told him.

He smiled. “We’re very proud of it here in Canyon!”

On the way out, I felt it was so appropriate the PPHM adjoins the university.  As a student, you could easily get the equal of a bachelor’s in a lot of these subjects.  All you’d have to do is come in and soak up all this knowledge.  It would be a lot more fun than leafing through a dry textbook.

One result of my vist it that I made another trip out of my way the next morning.  I drove on the big flat empty land to look at the Palo Duro Canyon.  So glad I did.

~ ~ ~

Texas has its own Grand Canyon!

The Palo Duro Canyon outside small Canyon here is greatly touted, as I’ve mentioned.  Shoud I go?  After all, I have been to the Grand Canyon–the biggest in North and South America–twice.   To both North and South Rims.  Why go out of my way to see another hole in the ground?

I went.  Amazing.  I was on a vast, boring flat table land.  Nothing around.  Nothing.  Suddenly, this huge hole.  Really huge.  So impressive.  Why this hole?  How come?  It’s another of so many mysteries.

I entered the park, paid my admission, but still had misgivings.  Was I wrong?  I realized that the minute I reached the first overlook and stood on the edge of the 600-foot drop.  That’s a lot deeper than it sounds.

Sorry, folks. I wanted to take a photo that would show you how awesome this canyon is. This photo doesn't do it. So use your imagination!

Sorry, folks. I wanted to take a photo that would show you how awesome this canyon is. This photo doesn’t do it. So use your imagination!

Gosh, much more vegetation down there than up top where I was.  Even great big trees.  I made out a paved road threading its way way down there.  Sun reflected off tiny cars down there …

The sun was perfect to study the canyon.  On its enormous walls I could make out the many different layers of geology…like a huge multi-layer cake.  Many different earth colors, especially a brilliant rust, but whites and grays, too.

To my surprise the road I was on led me way down there.  A sign said, “Go down in low gear!”  Glad I listened.  The road snaked down, going close to some frightening drops.  Here and there chunks of rock had tumbled down.  Imagine being hit by one of those boulders!

At the bottom I found buildings–all park buildings–and many hiking rails going off this way and that.  I saw some young people starting on them.  Not very smart.  They should have been wearing hats and sleeves.  And carrying water.  That Ol’ Man Sun was sizzling.

I knew there was a river down here.  That’s why the vegetation was so thick and green.  But I never got to see it.  Where was it hiding?

Other cars were down there.  People were picnicking and lounging and playing ball.  At the end of the road I pulled into a nice small campgrounds.  RVs and tenters there.  I parked under a tree–what a blessing!  Great big hickory trees, with wide branches thick with leaves beyond number.  So cool and refreshing.

Enjoyed a nice picnic lunch in my van, with the windows and big side door open.  So pleasant.  I even stretched out on my bunk.  Just 20 minutes.  But I got up a new man.  I love my van.

Then, slowly I turned course and drove up and out, gawking all the way.  The park seemed so much busier suddenly.  The ranger had told me 25,000 people a month come in.  Even more in the summer.

The reason hit me!  Nearly all those visitors live on that vast, flat, hot mesa up top.  No trees.  So little up there of interest.  They come down here for the beautiful trees and verdant growth and the refreshing breeze and the many shady spots.  I’d do the same if I had to live here.

On the way out I finally found out what Palo Duro means.  Hard wood!

And there’s a fascinating historical tidbit about the Palo Duro Canyon.  When the pioneers came here and discovered it, a very smart young guy rushed and claimed a chunk of it for himself.  At the very bottom, where, because of that river that I never got to see, it was green and lush.

He raised thousands of cattle down there where they grew big faster and brought prime prices.   He loved living in this hole.  He was the envy of the other ranchers who weren’t as far-seeing as he was.

The State of Texas took possession of the canyon  many years ago.  By eminent domain, I suppose.  A wise move, I think.  Now everybody can enjoy it.  Even somebody like me from Connecticut.

Hey, if we didn’t have the wonderful Grand Canyon in Arizona, all the huge crowds there would he here, enjoying the Palo Duro instead.  Gosh,you can’t drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

It sure would have been dumb of me to skip Palo Duro.

~ ~ ~

I see a lot of big trucks here we never get to see where I come from.

Out here in the High Plains, you see the livestock trailer trucks coming and going.  What they are is giant steel cages on wheels.

Coming, they’re full of animals.  Cattle, or swine,or sheep—I believe the different kinds get delivered to different slaughter houses but I’m not sure.  Going, the trucks are empty–on their way to get another load.

Even more of these trucks at night.  Maybe it’s easier on the animals.  Maybe the lighter traffic is a factor.

When you see a loaded truck go by, you know the four-legged passengers are running out of time fast.

At these plants, they’ll be quickly shoved off to run a gauntlet of steel-helmeted men in white coats and pants, with heavy boots, and armed. Armed with stun guns and big saws of a kind you’ve never seen.

In minutes these animals will be dead.  With their heads and legs sawed off and their bellies ripped open to spill the blood and guts and excrement.  I’ve never seen it.  Never want to.  But I’ve read about it.  That’s enough.

Soon they will be meat.  Quickly loaded on big reefers kept chilled to a precise coolness for delivery to meat lovers all over the country and abroad.

I spotted such a truck in a rest stop.  Empty.  The driver was standing by the cab, relaxing with a cigarette butt.  I walked to him.  And smiled.  He looked me over.  Friendly enough.

“We never see trucks like this where I come from.  I’m from Connecticut.”

“Where?” he said.

I could see he knew scant English.  “Connecticut.  Con-nec-ticut.”  And I pointed to the East.  “Way over there. On the other side.”

He shook his head and threw up his hands.  It was clear he didn’t know where Connecticut is.

He told me he delivered 45 head of cattle in his truck.  Big ones.  Then he held his right hand down by his knee.  “120 little ones.”

A good job but not easy.  Had to load them on fast and safe. Didn’t want them to break a leg or something.  Had to take care not to brake hard.  Had to get them all to the plant in good shape.  Didn’t want to have one dragged onto the killing floor.

I noticed his soiled boots.  And his jeans.  Some of  the work involved was messy.  But it was a living.

He finished his butt, then stomped on it with his boot.  He started his truck, gave me a curt wave, and pulled out.  To get a rest at home and pick up another load, I’m sure.

~ ~ ~

It’s okay to slaughter cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, turkeys.  But not horses, some think.

Back in New Mexico a few days ago, I spotted an unusual story in a big newspaper.  A long-time meat man was preparing to open a slaughterhouse to process horses.  Not for pet food.  And not for sale in the U.S.  For foreign markets.  He saw a good market for horse meat.  And it would help the local economy, of course.

Readers were angry.  Everybody thought the idea was horrible.  The paper wrote an editorial. “We will not tolerate killing horses for human food!”

Well, it’s a fact that many people in the world enjoy eating horsemeat.  In lots of countries considered highly civilized.

In World War 11, I remember horsemeat markets in the U.S.  I remember my Aunt Bernadette serving a big thick horse steak.  My Uncle Jack loved it.  I pretended I liked it.  Already I was building up my aversion to meat.

In France, “equine markets” are not an extraordinary sight.  I’m not speaking of years years ago.  I mean right now.

In my opinion, if you’re a meat eater, you should be open to eating any kind of meat.  Of course you can prefer this kind or that cut, but you should not be offended by some people enjoying all kinds of flesh.  I mean, from any animal.

It’s not that long ago that Americans ate buffalo.  You know what their favorite part of the buffalo was?  The tongue.  Who eats the tongue of anything now?

Not long ago that Americans relished all kinds of game.  Including rabbits and squirrels and crows and eel and anything else they managed to shoot or hook or trap.  And glad to have it for dinner.

To me, from what I have seen, it’s the Chinese who are the most rational about it.  They will eat anything with legs or fins or that crawl or slither.  And any parts of them.  Not just the white breast or a drumstick or a nice filet.

Visit a Chinese meat market and you’ll see ducks and turtle and gulls and octopus and squid and snakes.  And dogs and cats and bunnies.  Some of these things will be slaughtered on the spot for you to take home.  That way you’re guaranteed it’s nice and fresh.

~ ~ ~

 Eat Steak Tartare? Not me!

This isn’t completely relevant, but I’m reminded of a personal experience years ago.  On our first or second trip to France.  We were celebrating with dinner at a nice restaurant in Paris.

We studied the large menu.  Most of the items had little meaning for me.  I found it a guessing game.  I was a meat eater then.  But queasy.  I spotted Steak Tartar.  Sounds good, I thought.  Ordered it with a glass of red wine.  The others chose other things.

In due time the natty waiter appeared with my dinner and with a graceful swirl of his hand placed it in front of me on the gorgeous tablecloth.

“Bon appetit, Monsieur!” he said, and started back for the kitchen.

I was shocked.  Absolutely shocked.  What I was looking at was a neat mound of raw hamburg, crowned with a raw egg yolk!  Red, fresh hamburg!  With a sprig or two of parsley.

“Garcon!” I said to him.  “Wait! Wait!”  And he came rushing back.

“Please!” I said, throwing up my hands in disgust.  “Please take it back.  I did not understand.  I am an American tourist.  Cook it!  Fry it!  Please!”

Now he was shocked. “Monsieur! This is a classic dish. Delectable! Merveilleux!” And he kissed his fingertips—the Frenchman’s supreme gesture for delicious!

And couldn’t resist adding, “This is the very finest beef, Monsieur! Thevery finest!”

But reluctantly he went off with my plate, shaking his head in disbelief.  I hate to imagine what he said about me when he got to the chef.

My companions were totally sympathetic, by the way.  They were so glad they had not chosen Steak Tartar.

Well, he brought my dish back.  Fried.  I ate it. But somehow the evening was spoiled.

People at other tables had seen it all, of course.  I don’t think I helped the cause of Franco-American friendship at that fine restaurant.

For sure the Chinese would have been shocked by my behavior, too.

~ ~ ~

Well, I’m doing fine so far.

I’ve made it all the way through California, New Mexico, and Texas and Arizona in fairly good shape.  You’ll be hearing more about this the next time, as I told you up top about my traveling for long stretches on Route 66.

I’ve had plenty of small problems.  How can you get through an adventure like this without problems?  If I wrote a list, it would run right off the page.  The good news so far is that all have been small.

One small one persists.  I believe there should be a place for everything and everything in its place.  At home.  At work.  Everywhere.  I’ll bet you agree.

It’s vitally important on a ship, even more so on a little boat.  I know.  I’ve had small sailboats. It’s also vital in this nice van of mine.

The minute I started packing it for my trip, I found a perfect place for every single thing.  But a day or two later, I would find a better place for something and would make the shift.  And would do it again a day or two later.  And I’m still doing it, many days into the trip.

One result is that now I go reach for something and then find I put it in another place.  Oh, the frustration of it!

But I’ve become neurotic about it.  Can’t help myself.  I’m always finding a better place for the salt or my socks or my stash of extra cash.  Some mornings when I go searching for something, I feel I’m going nuts.

While I’m at it, let me tell you about my problem with GPS.  Mike Malvey, the nice guy who sold me the van, bought me a new Gamin immediately when I told him the bad news that the navigation system in the van wasn’t working.

I’ve experimented with the Gamin and I’ve given up on it.

“You what!” I can hear some of you yelling that right now.  “John, what’s the matter with you!”

It’s a long story.  Let me just say I have a big hearing problem.  Let’s leave it at that.

One result is that I’m continually searching for somebody that I can ask directions of.  Very hard.  For the simple reason that it’s rare to find someone on a sidewalk any  more.  Who ever goes for a walk on a sidewalk?  Do you?

But I persist.  Have to.  Otherwise I’d never get anywhere, despite those huge accordion-fold maps that AAA still hands out but hopes you’ll never ask for because they cost.  I have 14 of them, for every state I’ll transit, I also have my big road atlas, and my smaller road atlas, and all the AAA guide books I have for all the states.

But something dawned on me.  If I used the Gamin GPS, one consequence for sure is that I would get to speak to far fewer people.  I might cross an entire city or even an entire state without talking to anybody, except a gas station attendant or a clerk in a store.  That would be awful.  I’ve told  you that I count on Serendipity to get me into interesting situations.  Well, Serendipity would have much less opportunity.

I’m keeping my Gamin in the glove compartment for the duration.

~ ~ ~

 A wild idea I got.

My happy bottom line is that I’m still glad I’ve undertaken this trip.  I’m still having fun.  And I’m learning so much.  Including a thing or two about myself.  Yes, at my age.  That’s really exciting.

Just a few miles into Arkansas, my odometer rolled over to 2,000 miles.  That’s an interesting number.  Because the shortest mileage from Newport Beach, CA—which was my departure point—and my home in Deep River via Interstates is 3,050 miles, give a mile or two.

Well, my odometer will reach 3,050 miles long before I get home.  As you know, I’m zigging and zagging quite crazily.  How long before is the big question.

Maybe I should start a lottery exclusively for you, my friends.  Let you pick my total mileage getting home to Deep River.  The one of you with the closest number to my total mileage would win $500 cash.  Tickets only $20, three for $55.  (That would help pay for the humongous gas bill I’m running up.)

Sorry, I would not answer any queries about where I plan to go and what I hope to see before I turn off the key in Chateau for the final time.  Truth is, I’m tempted to change my route every time I look at the map!

All ticket buyers would be invited by email to a wine-and-cheese party at which I’d announce the owner of the winning number.  Perhaps you!  And let you all look over my beautiful and comfy Chateau!  I’d let you behold the luxurious accommodations she has provided me for my sleeping and eating and recreational comfort and pleasure these many miles.

And, oh, one more thing.  Even the emergency toilet which I invented!  Still haven’t had to use it, by the way.

And I won’t try to impress you by cleaning  up Chateau in any way or organizing things in her better.  I’ll let you see her the way she really is.  But I’m really not a bad housekeeper.  Chateau is truly my happy little home on four wheels.

I’m just joking about the lottery.  But gosh, it’s such a good idea that I may re-consider …

Adios!

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