Now you go through St. Louie
And Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty.
You'll see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.
You’re welcome for that earworm.
The closest I’ve come to doing it was an unplanned drive from Omaha to State College in November of 1980 something. My father and his wife were driving home from a hunting trip to South Dakota when he had heart trouble in Fremont, Nebraska. After a stay in the local hospital, they flew back to Pennsylvania, leaving their Jeep Cherokee in the parking lot at the Omaha airport. I was visiting my sister in Texas at the time, so I flew to Omaha, dug the car out of the snow, spent the night with the parents of a good friend, and headed east.
Louis Sullivan designed bank in Grinnell, Iowa.
Herbert Hoover Birthplace and Presidential Library in even smaller West Branch, Iowa. Hot spots on many a bucket list, I know. I spent the night in Elkhart, Indiana, in a Red Roof Inn with the thinnest towels ever. I haven’t stayed at a Red Roof Inn since. In fact, whenever I see a Red Roof Inn I wonder if it has crappy towels, too.
I did have two nagging thoughts. In the tchotchke moving department, didn't M. remember that I was voted the clumsiest member of the State College Area High School Class of 1975? And as far as the driving was concerned, surely she knew that I was good at wrecking rental cars, especially in Arizona. Fortunately for my easily bruised ego, if Martha had doubts about me as a he-man tchotchke mover, she kept them to herself.
Rosa Klebb. The interview consisted of her asking me if I had any aliases. No aliases here, so I passed. She told me that I should have my clearance in about ten days.
It’s been 45 days since my appointment. Still no TSA clearance. They tell me on the phone that it’s coming soon, a promise along the lines of the check’s in the mail and I’ll respect you in the morning.
Since Martha was coming from Philadelphia and I was coming from State College, we arranged to meet at the Phoenix Airport. I had time to kill so I killed it by the tram between terminals. Yes, I’m easily amused.
I’d reserved a minivan, not because I was trying to pass as a soccer mom, but since Martha was unsure just how many tchotchkes we were picking up. And I got a GPS, too. Just because the specter of the Donner party isn’t lurking around every bend doesn’t mean it’s not lurking someplace.
Sonoran Desert, home of the saguaro cactus. That was pretty cool but there wasn’t much of it. Apparently saguaro cacti don’t reproduce as readily as big box stores and fast food restaurants.
Lots of people my age (as in old) complain about their parents (at least they have parents) and the nightmare of dealing with their stuff. By stuff, I mean their belongings, not their emotional baggage, though people complain about that too. I hear people complaining about dealing with their parents’ belongings again and again.
Martha’s mother isn’t exactly a minimalist; but wow, she’s leads a stuff-free existence. No, the condo wasn’t a Miesian glass box furnished solely with a couple of Barcelona chairs. Instead, it almost looked like a model home waiting for the stager to come by with attractive family photos and a tchotchke or two in order to lure an unsuspecting buyer into making an offer. It occurred to me that M’s mother wouldn’t have to downsize too much to chuck it all to run off to live in a commune or ashram or Amish settlement or wherever the whacky living arrangement of the moment is.
There was no enormous stack of newspapers that documented particularly newsworthy moments, no pickup truck load of Tupperware, only 1/3 of which has matching lids, no collection of VHS tapes of performers who only seem to show up during PBS pledge drives. There were no garden hoses, lawnmowers that hadn’t been started since the Reagan presidency, or a large box of trophies earned for exhibiting prized pigeons. My grandmother actually had large box of trophies that her second husband won for his pigeons. I didn’t even know that people exhibited pigeons. Crazy.
Once we got the lay of the land and had a good idea of how many packing boxes and so on to buy at Walmart, we headed into historic downtown Prescott for some, as they say in Westerns, grub.
After an evening taping boxes together and carefully packing tchotchkes, we hit the sack early.
By early afternoon we had the minivan filled with as they say in decorating mags, a "curated" collection of stuff: tchotchkes, art, some furniture, and so on. We were ready to bid a reluctant farewell to Prescott.
I fired up the GPS and we headed to our next stop, Henderson, Nevada.
Arizona Monsoon. I’m not the brightest bulb on the string; I only watch the Weather Channel during big storms and even then only when the weather jocks are easy on the eyes. I thought a monsoon was something they had in Southeast Asia. Wrong. It rained like hell. And then it would stop. And then rain like hell again. It was easy to understand how unsuspecting yahoos could be immortalized in Weather Channel b-roll infamy when their cars floated down a dry wash that had turned into a serious river.
Fortunately, the bad weather cleared up before we got to Henderson where my friends Tracy and Rick were hosting us for the night. We enjoyed a dip in their pool and a delicious dinner with lots of laughs.
Martha’s books on her shelves. Tracy washed a shirt for me. No surprise there, Tracy always washes a shirt of mine when I visit.
After a delish homemade breakfast—except for the muffins which we all agreed had many hockey puck like qualities—we were out the door. After refueling the van, we were ready to head off to California.
Alien Fresh Jerky. Yes, jerky as in beef jerky. Baby boomers may remember that Beef Jerky was going to be Jethro Bodine’s stage name when he thought about becoming a movie star in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. In terms of choiceness, Alien Fresh Jerky is right up there with the Clampett family.
As we approached the exit for Baker, California, I said to Martha. “Let’s stop at Alien Fresh Jerky. What’s not to like?!” I’m not sure that Martha agreed with my assessment of “what’s not to like” but she was more than amenable to stopping.
The Greek Tycoon starring Anthony Quinn as “Theo Tomasis” (wink) and Jaqueline Bisset as “Liz Cassidy” (wink again). There was a disclaimer on the poster that said: "The characters in this film are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental". Whoa Nelly! I thought that movie was about Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy!
So, we reluctantly bid farewell to Baker and once again pointed the tchotchke-laden minivan towards the highway.
The next place of note was Barstow. It looked pretty bad from the freeway, even if it’s immortalized in the lyrics of Route 66. So we took a pass on stopping to check out the local attractions. What's more, I believe in saving something for the next trip...which to Barstow might be never. We left the freeway at Barstow and headed onto CA 58 north.
Though we skipped Barstow, we never considered passing the little town of Boron. Did you think I could pass up the 20-Mule Team Museum and Visitors’ Center? I drove up to the town’s main intersection and thought to myself, “I bet this place has a meth lab.”
We were the only visitors at the place, which was in an old house that looked as if it had once been part of the Green Acres set. If I had to guess, I would say that we were the only two visitors in a long time. A LONG time. The exhibits were old, really old. And tired, really tired.
While the 20 Mule Team Museum and Visitors Centre was bad, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Saxon Aerospace Museum right next door. It’s not hard to spot, there was a Vietnam era F-4 Phantom parked in what passed for a front yard. A large, scary woman with bad teeth was sitting on the front porch of the museum. She welcomed me and told me that admission was free.
|This is an actual museum display.|
And so without staying to linger over an iced drink or buy some locally made meth in downtown Boron, Martha and I got back in the minivan started on our way again.
Borax Visitors Center. We could see a great industrial complex in the distance. Of course we stopped. I’m glad we did; it was a highlight of our trip.
After a few preliminaries, our visit started with a well-produced video from Rio Tinto, the facility’s owner about borax and the borax business. Borates have lots of uses. They are used in agriculture, ceramics, detergents, glass, insulation, specialty applications, textile fiberglass, and wood protection, among other uses. Most importantly, Martha used borax in her diaper pail. This is not a recent usage, since her kids are almost out of college, but it remains an important moment in the history of borates.
Industry on Parade, the mini documentaries from the 1950s with the anti-Commie message. My brother and I used to watch on TV before Saturday morning cartoons. I understand that Donald Trump learned everything there is to know about manufacturing from watching Industry on Parade.
Death Valley Days, sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Borax.
When I got home, I looked up borax on the internet, and on YouTube, which as conspiracy theorists know, is the truest part of the Internet.
According to 20 Mule Team Laundry detergent, it controls "teen odors". Yay!
Many people are saying borax is an aphrodisiac for men and women. Double Yay!
Borax “improves attention, both short and long term memory, perception, hand-eye coordination, and manual dexterity.” Sold!
I should by the whole damned mine!
As fun as it would have been, we couldn’t hang out in Boron all day. We had tchotchkes etc. to deliver. It was time to head back to the main road.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. Shortly after we left the place, the car thermometer registered 106. Since it was a dry heat, it felt as if it were only 105.
Like manna from heaven (something that eluded the Donner Party) an exit appeared, as if on cue, and we were soon filling up the minivan.
With a gas in our tank we pushed on, and soon enough the freeway went from two lanes to four lanes and then some as we neared the Bay Area. We passed lot of wind farms as we drove through the coastal mountains. It was as windy as hell; whoever decided to put those wind farms there knew what they were doing. The temperature dropped like a rock and I wondered if I should have brought a sweater along.
I think we arrived at our motel in San Rafael at 7:30 or 8:00. It was 40 degrees cooler than it was earlier that afternoon in Buttonwood. It was not a dry heat. Yes, I should have brought a sweater.
After a drive of about 600 miles that day, Martha and I weren’t up for a Lochte-esque night on the town, so after a light dinner w Martha’s family and a convenience store beer, we turned in.
Theresa and Johnny’s Comfort Food as soon as it opened at 8:00 the next day. The décor was plenty funky, and of course, the servers had enough visible tattoos to make me shake my head (trust me, it doesn’t take many). The tasty apricot jam more than made up for the watery mess substituting for Heinz ketchup in Prescott two days earlier.
We had some time to kill before going to Martha’s mother’s to unload the van so we walked around downtown San Rafael for a bit. The Museum of International Propaganda (yes, that’s a real place) wasn’t open yet, so we drove over to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Marin County Civic Center for some bona-fide architectural tourism.
First Church of Christ, Scientist across the bay in Berkeley. It’s a real jaw-dropper, and I have the slightest personal connection—my grandmother—the one stuck with the box of pigeon show trophies—worshiped there a long time ago.
Perhaps there isn’t much demand to see the building, or perhaps, the congregation isn’t up to tourism, but it didn’t seem to have regular weekday hours. M. had looked and looked online for visitor info as I steered the minivan up The Five. The First Church of Christ Scientist's presence in the cloud leaves something to be desired; perhaps some tech and tourism savvy Christian Scientist will read this and address the problem. Though we weren’t entirely sure, it seemed as if the building is only open to the public on Sundays. Drat. I guess I have to save that for my next trip.
When we’d had our fill of Wright, we picked up M’s sister and went over to their mother’s new apartment to unload the minivan. I hung pictures while they unpacked boxes. It didn’t take long for the place to look more like a real home and less like a model home. Martha’s mother thanked me over and over for the help. My guess is that she was astonished that I didn't break anything. Hell, I'm sort of astonished that I didn't break anything!
Museum of International Propaganda. Yes, that’s really what it’s called. Two Marin locals, Tom and Lilka Areton, have rented some retail space and are sharing their collection of posters, paintings, and sculptures produced by some favorite totalitarian regimes. It’s a trip.
|The People's Army and Workers Shall Free Kimchi from Western Imperialists!|
Not long after I finished with the museum it was time to return the rental car. Martha was staying on in California for a few more days and didn’t need a minivan. I got to enjoy some freeway traffic on my way to the rental agency in Oakland. I’m from a small town and if I have to sit through a light or two on my way someplace, I think it’s the end of the world. I’m not sure if I could ever acclimate to commuting to work at a snail’s pace, six lanes deep. The good news was that I learned on that very slow freeway that a GPS could tell you to bear right while bearing left. Who knew? I lead such a sheltered existence.
|Nothing like a Google search to find the just the right photo!|
The restaurant was great, and it turned out that one of two guys at the table right next to ours was a Wahoo. We recognized each other's secret decoder rings. (It happens.) And of course they knew one of my classmates from UVa and showed a cell phone photo of him and his new-ish husband. What were the chances of that?
Then again, what were the chances that I could succeed in helping my friend Martha transport her mother’s tchotchkes and so on 1,000 miles across state lines without a hitch? Donner party, eat your heart out. (Oh duh! That's pretty much what they did!)