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Four corners and three sheets to the wind

Weddings, I’ve discovered over the years, are as varied as anything—wildflowers, thumbprints, coffee stains. In my life, I’ve been to many, many weddings, including:

  • An actual shotgun wedding in which the bride’s father really had a rifle nearby
  • A last-minute wedding of two friends whose parents had discerned were about to elope
  • A wedding for a friend who had very recently converted to Jehovah’s Witness—still my personal record holder for longest sermon ever
  • A Minnesota wedding in which a few of the guests showed up in sweatpants
  • A wedding in which my siblings and I got so rip-roaring drunk the maitre’d asked if he could cut us off
  • A lesbian wedding held at the infamous Salahi’s Oasis vineyard in Virginia—yes, those Salahis

Then of course there’s my wedding, and we all know what happened there. In case we don’t know, it was a splendid, oppressively hot day and in the middle of the reception, I blew out my left ACL. Apparently, this is a common event, so don’t mock me too badly.

We received word that our friends were going to get married this summer and immediately, reflexively, my mind ran through all of my prior nuptials experiences, culminating, unsurprisingly, with the Why I No Longer Dance to Billie Jean moment. I was ready to move on, as I’m sure everyone else who knows me is, too.

These good friends fall solidly in the “hippie” category of person. What kind of wedding would we see?

We heard from the bride-to-be, who is, among other things, an interpretive dancer, that there would be interpretive dancing. I remarked that their wedding may be the gayest ever we’d seen, even gayer than the gay ones. But the dancing turned out to be lovely. Choreographed by the bride, it highlighted what we were about to experience from the ceremony itself, which also had an original song written by the bride’s father, burning sage and a pagan-lite blessing, a communal turning to the four corners, and a linked touching thing or other, in which we all put a hand on the person next to us, all the way to and including the couple. This would have been a sweeter activity were it not for the 97-degree daylight beating down on us and making the majority of our skin sweaty and damp. The bride and groom accepted our love and support even if it came with some measure of perspiration. We were touched by the sentiment, nonetheless.

The ceremony took only about 40 minutes, meaning that it failed to beat the time of the longest ceremony I’ve experienced, which went for more than 2 hours. People would have died of heat stroke if we’d had to sit out there that long. We made our way to a cocktail hour, sipped at some cool beer, and then seated ourselves for dinner, which was a tasty barbeque buffet. This meant that Susanne ate three pulled pork sandwiches in two days. Suffice it to say she won’t go anywhere near a pig product for a while.

One guest ran up to us, half-drunk, asking if we could locate any empty tin cans so she could attach them to the couple’s car. I looked over and saw that there were already six balloons taped to the windows. I smiled and made a note not to let intoxicated people decorate my car.

After the sun set it wasn’t long until Susanne noticed a bright light at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. How obnoxious, she exclaimed. Then we realized it was the moonrise. Score 2,000 points for this wedding, the first I’ve attended with its own moonfreakingrise. Our friends stood outside, watching it and feeling whatever overwhelming emotion they must have noticed at that moment.

Their friends who are in a zydeco band struck up a set and people danced and drank, danced and drank, until the guests, en masse, were snockered. There came a point at which my own level of sobriety became incompatible with theirs—I could see that they were having fun, but we were on different planes of existence. We hugged our friends and wished them well. They were getting ready to settle in for a few days at a resort in Mexico. We were headed back to our B&B and a nice bath with water jets. Same difference, I’m sure.

Cavern of luxury

We’d received warning of the Beetlemania 2010 at our hotel, so online Susanne and I scoped out other options and landed on a B&B. We memorized the Google maps screen, tossing aside any notion that pen and ink would serve us better than memory after being on the road for more than 3 weeks. Who needs things like ink? It was just too 17th Century for us. So off we went, traversing Route 66 through Haymarket, Virginia, Front Royal, and down a smaller highway into Luray. We knew we’d arrived too early to check in, so we met up with a friend for lunch at her hotel, a former hospital during the Civil War. Which side it housed we didn’t know, although our waitress explained that Luray was a Union-held town for much of the war. I appreciate getting a history lesson with my meal.

After lunch, we made our way to Luray Caverns, where we strolled through a large bey of stalactites and stalagmites, and the most amazing, Dream Lake. I couldn’t believe my eyes—the almost-still water reflected the ceiling perfectly, making everything look like we were on the inside of a gigantic clam shell. We curled around the walkways, taking in the formations and enjoying a break from the stifling late-June heat, but it did get a bit crowded in the caverns. This is what I dislike about traipsing through nature: there are too many damn tourists. I don’t have a leg to stand on, given that I’m a tourist, too. It’s not the same as being a resident of DC and feeling some moral justification in condescending to everyone in shorts and Teva sandals.

After the caverns we attempted to find our bed and breakfast. Susanne thought it was on Court Street. This was light years ahead of me, who didn’t know where in the hell it was, having looked for too long at the Google map the night before. We pulled up to the building, finally, after asking a lady in the Luray Visitor’s Center, who thankfully knows the location of each and every standing structure in town. Knocking at the door, nobody answered. Fortunately we knew that this B&B was part of a small conglomerate, so we made our way to one of the other three inns and hoped someone would be around.

Susanne caught the innkeeper just as he was heading out. When she inquired about how we checked in to the other inn, he punted. Just stay here instead, he said, as they didn’t have any guests for that night signed up. Really? I was surprised. He told us the rooms were nice, he wouldn’t charge us any more than we’d already booked for, so heck, we hauled our bags to the second floor and were astonished to receive the keys to “The Boudoir Suite.” Ooh. Boudoir. I hadn’t seriously thought about boudoirs since a senior colleague asked me to meet him at his boudoir, thinking it was a synonym for “office.” I attempted to correct him, but he would have nothing of being told he was wrong.

Inside, we were greeted by a four poster bed and a two-person Jacuzzi in the next room. Not too shabby! We’d lucked out and strangely enough, had beetles to thank for our good fortune. I hoped that this suite wouldn’t be plagued by frogs.

We geared up for the rehearsal dinner by enjoying a 2007 Chateauneuf de Pape wine with Dr. Wine Aficiando, Jody. It was tremendously good, and we compared notes, which Jody took the time to write down, not wanting, heh, to rely on memory alone. What a smart woman. Things go more easily when we write them down, don’t they?

At the rehearsal dinner, which had nothing to do with a rehearsal, we dined on some barbeque and Susanne ate her second pulled pork sandwich of the day. This was not going to end well, I figured, especially since the next day, the wedding day, came complete with barbeque buffet. It may be a while before Susanne heads anywhere near a pig.

Welcome to Luray!

goat on a treeOur trip to DC ends this weekend with a visit to Luray, Virginia, for our friends’ wedding, which is on some kind of animal farm. I have not yet made any jokes about this and promise I will refrain from any undue humor, at least until the nuptials have concluded. But I do wonder if late June is not on a collision course with animal dung in a very foul-smelling way. I suppose I’ll see on Saturday.

Hopefully the text messages we received last night from other wedding guests who’ve trekked out there a few days early are no oracle of doom. For apparently there is a beetle infestation at the hotel where the room block was made. I suppose we should have realized that we weren’t going to get the greatest hospitality experience for $62 a night.

We went online to find another place to stay. Unfortunately for us—and probably the tax base of Luray—there are not a lot of hotels in the town. We didn’t have many options.

Now then, without knowing anyone from the town, and having never set even a toe upon its soil before, we really only had the pictures supplied by each hotel, which we know from prior experience are visual manipulaitons, like Stalin cutting former allies out of his photos, and user-generated reviews, like Yelp and Yahoo!. Here is a sampling:

  • This hotel is very run down, out dated and dirty feeling. I’m sorry, dirty feeling? Did you rub something between your fingers, like grit? Or did you “feel” it was dirty by looking at it?
  • Two weeks later, there was this missive, of the same hotel—Rooms were being renovated, and ours smelled of paint, but not badly. No more whining about dirty feeling rooms. Whew!
  • The food at the Victorian Inn left little to be desired. Breakfasts were delicious and included an assortment of fresh fruit. Val made certain that no one went away hungry. This seems like more our speed! No gritty rooms, no paint offgassing, and best of all, no beetle infestation! Sign us up! But just to be sure I kept up my legwork on the potential pit stop.
  • One review for a cabin was so rip-roaringly funny, in a “oh that must have SUCKED” way that I really can only link to it in its entirety, but trust me, it’s worth the three minutes of reading time. We hadn’t been planning on renting a cabin, so no worries there.
  • The bathroom was old and smelly and a cockroach ran across my arm while I was lying in bed. Hmm, I thought, I may actually prefer a beetle infestation to a cockroach using any of my limbs as an Autobahn.

Overall, the reviews weren’t helpful. The majority of them were positive, but the ones that were negative were so awful they brought down the average rating. And I didn’t want to have to do a regression analysis just to pick a hotel. So we picked the hotel with the Jacuzzi tub, hoping we wouldn’t find a wad of hair floating in it.

We relayed our change in plans to our friend, who replied via text that she’d seen some really bad reviews of the place online. We did not impart to her that we had already read them. It seemed a little like asking the scare crow which was the way to Oz and getting a crossed arm, “both ways” reply.

I shall take copious pictures while I’m in Luray, during my first-ever spelunking expedition. But I’ll note how it goes at the hotel/B&B. So I can add to the din of confusion, of course.

A new kind of stick shift

This post contains adult content.

There were a few odd moments on our 3,500-mile journey to DC, not the least of which was the “I have no guilt” stockbroker cheering on the recession in Lava Hot Springs, ID.

Then there were the children, all through Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Screaming children, temper tantrum-having children, sobbing, inconsolable about something children. There was even one kid who started hitting his mother while Old Faithful was going off, because she wanted to watch it and he, apparently, wanted to do something else. Buy some moose fudge, maybe. Note to self: if my 3-year-old is hitting me or Susanne, I will need to rethink my parenting approach.

We noticed out in the wild West that many things that call themselves “hotels,” “inns,” and “suites,” are in reality, motels. If you drive up to your room’s door, it’s a motel, people. It’s okay to be a motel. Don’t worry, motel owners, that people still think Psycho when they see you. I don’t really care if it’s a motel or hotel if the inside of my rented room is nice, and free of a boil water notice (it’s happened before).

The Corn Palace, in addition to serving as basketball arena, community center, and kitsch emporium, is also a venue for corn-created ethanol gas. There were two or three displays about ethanol with some misrepresentation of corn’s value—corn is actually the toughest crop to turn into the substance, with switchgrass being one of the easiest. I also didn’t care for the subject-verb agreement of the following sentence that was in one of the displays: Guess where livestock gets their food?

Collective nouns, people! Livestock is a collective noun, like army, staff, or herd.

But the winner of our strange, hilarious, bizarre moments on the road belongs to whoever owns this car:

dildo on a WV dashboardThis was in the parking lot of Old Faithful. Lemme tell you about some old faithful!

I think I prefer seeing a daisy in the bug-standard flower vase.

Our trip in pictures

Starting out in Oregon:

Oregon hills

Next, Wyoming:

MIllion Dollar Cowboy Bar

Jenny Lake

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone hot spring

South Dakota:

Bighorn National Forest

Mt. Rushmore

Badland National Park

Badlands and bad attractions

badlands national parkAfter seeing the Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks, I wondered if my retinas could take in any more amazing landscapes. Not to worry, apparently we had Bighorn National Forest and Badland National Park to get through, and those blew me away. Before last summer I’d never had occasion to climb around the side of a mountain high enough that I could gaze down on all of it like an eagle. And though I’ll always love my Jersey shore and the calm I feel just listening to the Atlantic surf, I also think I’ll never tire of the euphoria of being at the top of a mountain chain. If I wasn’t such an accident-prone scaredy cat, I’d seriously think about climbing to an actual peak.

We headed out from Cody, Wyoming, after our quality time with Old Faithful and its friends, first stopping at the local Albertson’s to get a few provisions. It was there that the cashier told me that 9 people had been struck by lightning at Old Faithful just two days earlier. Egads! And nobody was talking about it when we were there, not that I walked up to the rangers and asked if there had been any bizarre accidents near the geyser lately.

The actual spewing of sulfury goodness was pretty fun to watch. Old Faithful should have a subtitle of The Big Tease, because it spews a little and stops, vapor billowing out the whole time, then some more water, back and forth until kablam! the thing is off to the races. An annoying guy who kept trying to make eye contact with me had a devil of a time trying to capture a photo of the lead-in frothing before the big release, but he kept failing because he insisted on turning off his camera between attempts at getting a shot. People, charge up your camera batteries before you attempt to take pictures for hours. Or just buy a nice, professional photo in the visitor’s center. They have plenty.

So with our educations edified about the safety hazards of Jellystone, we departed our friendly grocery store and started pushing eastward again. We’d gone a ways from the main interstate to get into the national parks, so  we were cutting our way back when we spotted a small post office. I for one love small post offices, for several reasons, including the lack of long lines and the earnestness of the service—smacking just the tiniest amount of desperation to see another human being, but mostly just free from the crushing bitterness that comes with being a public servant in a busy, crowded office. We pulled into the parking lot, which had three spaces in it, and headed inside.

A lovely transgender postmistress greeted us, and we chatted with her for a few minutes as we figured out our postage needs. It’s always hard for me in those kinds of moments not to jump up and down and do a trans dance, but truth be told, there is no ballet of the trans, as much as I’d like for there to be one. And there’s no way not to sound creepy with any such announcement, so I just bit my tongue, trying my best to look extremely happy to procure stamps. We left, wondering what it is like for her in a town with a stated population of less than 100. Were people supportive? Had she lived here her whole life? It didn’t escape us that her employment came from the federal government and not say, from the local farmer’s cooperative or some other local business. She was cheery and smart, and I figured she’d won most everybody over with her charisma, but maybe I just like thinking that. We were fairly satisfied that we’d met the GLBT community for the tiny town, if not the vast majority of it.

Maybe I’ll send her a postcard sometime and tell her how much I appreciated the experience, but probably that’s still too creepy.

Eventually we made it to a 75mph road and triumphantly made our way into South Dakota. This meant we drove through Bighorn National Forest, which looked like this:

Yeah, that was what we thought, too. We had set our compass for Mt. Rushmore, mostly because we didn’t think we could miss it while driving this close to it, but also to see what we presumed would be grandeur and awe. As opposed to shock and awe, which neither of us, frankly, would drive to experience.

Roughly 2.7 million people visited the monument last year, which means that nearly 3 million folks were disappointed in spending the $10 parking fee to see some sculptor’s ego carved into the rock. The guy was a little kooky, preparing to sculpt “famous Americans” and put them into a vault called the Hall of Records for what, some alien civilization to discover? Something that would stand the test of time after we’ve obliterated ourselves from the face of the earth? I don’t get it.

We saw the monument, and I didn’t appreciate it because it was football fields away from me, giving me to sense of its real size. The curating of the exhibits were fourth grade level and didn’t answer any of my questions about why those presidents, why that order. I much prefer the Lincoln Monument in DC, the FDR Memorial, the exhibits that allow some kind of intimacy with the work and the subject, but I grant [sic] that that’s just me.

Next up was the Corn Palace, which not one but five friends insisted we stop and see on our drive. The last time I listened to such pushiness was for taking the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, and it didn’t let me down. So naturally I presumed this would be pretty awesome in all of its kitchy-ness.

It wasn’t. While once upon a time the corn palace was completely redone every year, now only the panels on the building change, and they’re mildly interesting, but not interesting enough to warrant driving through Mitchell, the townies of which must just hate all of us tourists. It was fun enough, and I remarked that it was better than Mt. Rushmore because we didn’t have to pay for parking and we got some very tasty popcorn to boot.

Finally, we hit Sioux Falls on the east side of the state and met up with my friend Anna for lunch at the Phillips Avenue Diner. Note to everyone: fried cheese curds are an excellent bad for you snack, and I recommend them when they’re on the menu. Sioux Falls had an interesting feel to it, somewhere between Portland’s sprawl and the downtown of a small city, like Savannah. Anna showed us the actual falls, which cascade over pink quartz. I can not believe how much rock there is in the United States. Why don’t we export more rock? Where is the rock economy? Nobody is talking about rock getting us out of this recession, and we’re sitting on so much of it! We have to play to our strengths, people.

Clearly, it is time for breakfast. Pictures galore in the next post.

Enter ye springs of heat

I have been dreaming of sitting in a hot tub for months now, knowing that we’d planned it for the first leg of our cross-country journey. Having spent a week in Radium, British Columbia, last summer, I had some expectations about what Lava Hot Springs would be like in Idaho. It’s actually the first set of expectations I’ve ever had for Idaho that didn’t involve either potatoes or white supremacists. And while I’m sure that’s not entirely fair to a state that hasn’t actually done anything to me personally, I have driven by Disciple Way in the northern part of the state, and it made this Lebanese boy rather nervous.

Our original plan was to leave early today, the day after we vacated our house, but the thought of getting up at 6 in the morning to drive for seven hours was just overwhelming. I didn’t think we’d manage it, actually, or if we did, we’d be off on the wrong foot, all cranky and overtired. So we caught our second wind yesterday and drove as far as we could until it was time to turn in. Well, logistically speaking, we had to figure where we’d be likely to find safe and decent accommodations, so we identified that it would be either Baker City or Ontario, OR. We pushed it and made it to Ontario, which made Walla Walla seem like a veritable metropolis.

The front desk of the Holiday Inn was happy to tell Susanne that this was a full-service hotel, I suppose because it had a “Tap Room” and a sit-down breakfast available at the Country Kitchen. We had hit the big time. As it was, we were excited to get out of town quickly, so we pulled into a Burger King and got breakfast: two crossanwiches, two orange juices, one water, one coffee. I drove away as Susanne popped open her orange juice, the iPod humming with some catchy pop song dittering along. My coffee was way too hot drink for a while, so I looked for some OJ.

“Oh no, they only gave us one,” she said, looking around.

I eyed her small container expectantly. And I was astonished at what she did next.

She saw me seeing her juice box and rushed to get her mouth around the straw so she could finish the last sip! Yes, she raced to finish the juice!

I drove with my jaw hanging open.

“I really wanted that juice,” she explained, as if articulating her awful behavior would somehow provide impunity. I muttered something about sending an email to Burger King.

lava hot springsAfter five hours, we rolled into Lava. It wasn’t nearly as pristine as Radium, but at least it didn’t have any kitchy fake Bavaria presence. We quickly changed into our bathing gear and the warmth was all around us. Susanne and I positioned ourselves in front of two hot water jets. The joy was indescribable. After 20 months in Walla Walla, a week of constant packing, and months of anticipation, we were here, our feet floating in 104 degrees.

On the other side of the pool, an interesting conversation emerged:

Older woman who identified herself as a beekeeper: So what is it you do?

Guy who had been chatting up everyone at the springs: I was a stockbroker for 30 years.

Beekeeper: Oh. So I suppose you haven’t been doing very well in this economy.

Asshole stockbroker: Oh, this is when people make the most money, actually.

Beekeeper: And how well do you sleep at night?

Asshole stockbroker: Oh, I sleep fine.

We decided we liked the beekeeper, who also took the guy to task over saying the mortgage industry collapse was all the fault of poor people who couldn’t afford their houses.

Afterward, we started driving again, through valley system after valley system, cutting through five or six rows of mountains. As soon as we would get used to one style of mountain—say, tree-lined—we’d round a corner on a pass and would then befall a new style, like snow-capped rocky outcroppings. All above us, clouds and sky. The sky is so big out here, actually, that just standing on the bottom of the canopy one can see entire weather fronts, rolling this way and that. When lightening strikes it gives all of itself away, from the start to the terminus, and for 50 miles around, everything is bright, just for a few seconds.

Finally we drove along Stateline Road that divided Wyoming from Idaho, and I’ve never seen anything as informal as that boundary. It’s not like the state line between Washington and Oregon is lined with armed guards or fences, but there are signs denoting the two states’ territories, and oh, road lines. This was a rung or two up from a seasonal road, and it was barren of all markings, as if each state were refusing to spend money on painting the surface. Unleashed dogs ran around on the shoulder, and buildings that had been abandoned long ago had also at some point given up their ghosts and just crumbled to the ground. It was a rural brand of poverty that made me realize a little better how many Americas there are in one big country. And all that mountainous beauty amid such a dispossessed people. When we finally came across rich houses with four-car garages, I sensed my own frustration at the inequity.

million dollar cowboy barWe motored on, driving under a ridge of a T-cell storm, the rain literally on one half of the car, and pulled into Jackson Hole. I’m not sure where the tourists are form who visit here, but there are a lot of tourists. It was late enough that most of the shops and tourist-boutiques (read, fake nice things) had closed for the day, but we wandered in to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, or perhaps I should say we sidled up to it. Sure, sidled is better. Susanne and I ordered up a buffalo and an elk burger from the window and watched a local band belt out some country music. I still can’t see country folk and not think they’ll have Southern accents, but I’m trying.

Then it was time to turn in. We’ve got some exploring of the Grand Tetons tomorrow. I wish I’d never realized that “teton” is French slang for boob. Crazy French trappers.

Leaving Liar House

To start off, a few numbers related to our move out of faculty housing:

6 rolls of packing tape

32 boxes of books

50+ pieces of fragile pottery to wrap and pack

3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, 1 living room, 1 dining room, 1 kitchen, 1 basement and 1 garage to pack up

5 hours to move everything

$625 to move everything

6 hours to clean everything (including 45 minutes on the oven alone)

3 minutes on walkthrough with the maintenance guy to check everything over, downstairs only

0 minutes on walkthrough upstairs

3 friends at final dinner before heading out, featuring food from taco truck (delicious)

3 hours to Ontario, Oregon, landing at a Holiday Inn with the softest, most comfortable bed ever

And on the way here I had to pull over to take this picture:

Then we saw a rainbow off our port side. As the sun faded, the rainbow lost the shorter end of the color spectrum, leaving only pinks and reds. We drove through the Blue Mountains, then the Wallowa Mountains, and it occurred to me that you couldn’t put two more unlike mountain systems any closer to each other. The Blues are covered in sage and scrub brush that looks like soft velvet from the highway, while the Wallowas seemed barren, rocky, so jagged they cut the fat clouds of the late spring storm. I caught my first glimpse of ball lightning in what seems like years, as rain falling from the sky typically barely makes it to the ground in Walla Walla. I will note though that we had a fairly wet spring. Wet for the desert, that is.

Driving closer to Ontario, the sky turned yellow-red, and we knew, living next to Washington State’s death row prison, that it must be a correctional institution. Sure enough, there was the sign. And this is just one of many things I’ve learned about since I moved to Wallyworld.

But now here we are on our roadtrip, and I promise many photos and hopefully, laugh-inducing stories of our latest road trip. For now, friends in Walla Walla, take care, and we’ll see you soon. Friends in DC, here we come!

Driving mechanics

railroad track signReflecting on all of the intersections within Walla Walla, I can’t recall a single NO LEFT TURN sign. Not by the Bi Mart, south side of town. Not at any point on Isaacs Road, which is a straight shot east into the Blue Mountains and which is littered with fast food shacks, auto parts stores, car washes, and oodles of plain gray parking lots. Not in the small downtown, even though every other city I’ve tromped through has boasted at least one stubbornly red sign.

It’s a small thing, I know, but it takes on a bit more meaning once one ventures into a large city with any kind of traffic issue. One finds oneself in a strange place and on the wrong street, and once the first battle with orientation is settled, realizes that the quickest way back to the tiny quadrant one does know is forbade by the local powers in charge. And then one is faced with a decision: break the law and feign innocence, or try to find another way over to the relief zone.

In DC, drivers could find themselves hitting a series of NO LEFT TURN signs, their frustration building quickly as they creep along, stuck behind other tourists, bicycle messengers, and a lot of men in suits with big briefcases.  And here the visitors thought government was trying to go paper-free. Little do they know that those are more likely the private sector guys. There are 50,000 practicing attorneys in Washington, DC.

In DC, defensive driving means watching out for all the Lexus owners texting while driving, the cars with fake paper license plates in the rear windows that add the important note, “STOLEN,” and the truly clueless in RVs. Who the hell RVs to a major city? Sometimes I would stand on a corner and laugh while they circled the block, trying to find parking. I wasn’t trying to be mean, it was just such a great pastime. Twice in DC my car was hit while I was idling at a red light: once from a guy who slid into me on black ice, and once when a driver in front of me backed up, trying to make room for a turning tour bus. These things just don’t happen in Wallyworld.

In Walla Walla, defensive driving means looking out for small children who’ve broken free of a parent’s grasp, slowing down for momma and baby ducks, and watching the red light runners, which I’ll get to later. These things tend not to happen in DC, although there is a street over by the army hospital with a goose crossing sign, and the two days I was on that road, I did in fact have to stop for crossing geese. It was almost as if they waited for my car just so they could cross, which I’ll note is the logic most pedestrians in the city, use too.

I’ve been made aware of the split between this corner of the United States and the world inside the Beltway that ensnares everything in the District. It has come in the form of massive snowfall. And it has come in the total lack of snowplowing afterward. It’s shown its face in the 5-minutes-to-anywhere nature of the city confines, a distinct difference from DC, in which most things are at least 35 minutes away, no matter how one travels. 2,800 miles away from the Capitol’s epicenter, how government really functions is invisible to people, who have en masse decided to decide that everyone in government has their worst interests at heart. And I try to explain as gently as possible that the government is just like every other office they’ve worked in, with all of those personalities working against and with each other for 8 hours a day.

These discrepancies remind me that we fear what we do not know. I’m not a subscriber to the “if we educate, we’ll have world peace,” because I’m far too cynical to believe that bigotry, oppression, and anger are only the result of ignorance. People have stakes. People earnestly believe their group (read: race, nation, state) has stakes that are threatened by some of other group. I could no sooner “educate” Rush Limbaugh and inspire him to be a bleeding heart liberal than I could teach a worm to fly, and I say this feeling pretty certain that even Rush doesn’t believe half the crap he spews out into his microphone. But Rush has a stake in his persona, and like everything else, if he’s not being increasingly conservative, he risks becoming irrelevant. And so he spews.

In the same way, people dig their heels in about what they think government represents, who they think it represents. It’s been a long time since I heard anyone say they feel personally supported by the Federal government, even as they drive on interstate highways, take their kids to the public library, call 911 when their kitchen’s on fire, or go to their child’s high school graduation. Instead when they make the pilgrimage to DC they get caught with one-way streets and NO LEFT TURN signs and it signals to them that they’re unwanted, when all it really means is there are way too many cars on the roads in the city and someone is trying something to make the system keep working.

Walla Walla is a place where people run red lights all the time. I was astonished when I saw the first runner, because I’d been conditioned out of it from all the ticketing cameras that have grown into the East Coast traffic system like kudzu, and because I’m such a law-abider, my exception that of speeding. I never saw a speed limit that 7 more miles an hour didn’t make better. But going through a red light, to me, was just jaw-dropping, in the same way that any minimally suicidal tendency is, like intentionally gaining 500 pounds, or BASE jumping.

But maybe it says something about the garden variety Walla Wallan. As if the rules don’t apply out here. Or that my neighbors and fellow car drivers won’t mind. It’s just one light. It’s just today. It’s just that it’s 3AM. It’s just that I see other people do it all the time.

In this kind of context, what else can the government represent but an angry nanny, an everything-is-rules custodian who seeks to end pleasure and red light running, out of spite? I shouldn’t be surprised at the level of distrust, I suppose.

I wonder what 20 months in Walla Walla has done to change my perspective, what new kinds of things I’ll see as we drive back across the country, and what I’ll miss that I wouldn’t have before. I am the guy who wants to discover the hidden world in the sidewalk crack, a focus on fascination that I’ve carried with me since I was 3. I want to start seeing where we come together because I am damn tired of seeing how far apart we are. I want people in DC and Walla Walla to know that they are closer than they think: in both towns I was a regular customer of several businesses, laughing with them about inanity. Both towns boast big, tree-covered parks. Both towns struggle with caring for their elderly, face cutbacks to their education budget, struggle with aging and fading infrastructure. We could learn a lot from each other.

I am not looking forward to being told I can’t make a left turn. But I won’t blame anybody about it, either. I’ll try to take the laissez faire attitude of the Northwest to the Type A personality of DC. I’m a peace ambassador.

Had me a blast

us with mary tyler mooreSo we’ve sketched out and thought about and worked our way through to some summer plans, and wireless connectivity what it is, will be relaying our journey on this very blog, in what will wind up being a reverse travelogue of our trip in August 2008. Once June rolls around I will also be guest blogging for Bitch magazine, so I will have to get a bit creative in the early part of the month on ways to get my posts published. But as far as trans/plant/portation goes, here is a preview of our trip back east:

Hot springs in Idaho—non-sulfur pools like the one we’ve been to in Radium, British Columbia

Grand Teton National Park—Susanne revealed to me that “tetons” is from the breast-like mountain silhouette. Yeah, she had to go make it dirty.

Yellowstone National Park—we’re aiming to reach this park on my actual 40th birthday, because I can think of nothing as wonderful as standing next to “Old Faithful” when I enter my 41st year.

The Badlands of South Dakota—I have no expectations, but I am told it will be breathtaking, so I’ll bring some extra air with me.

Mt. Rushmore and the Corn Palace—I feel an itch to write this blog post very badly, juxtaposing the majestic grandeur of the presidents with . . . corn.

Minneapolis/St. Paul—no trip cross-continent would be complete without at least a short visit to the land of the Fargo Accent.

I think it may be fun to make some kind of flip book like I’ve seen for little kids. It could combine the destination, the beautiful feature of the destination, and how I could wound or maim myself. Roughing out the idea a little, here are some examples:

Everett got splinters | taking pictures of trees | in the Grand Tetons

Everett got sunburned | looking at the sculpture garden | in Minneapolis

Everett was bitten by a bear | hiking the stunning cliffs | of the Badlands

Mixing and matching only makes it more fun! I see a children’s book here, really.

After all of this traveling, we will land in DC, just in time for the DC Pride weekend, which will, it nearly goes without saying, be completely unlike Walla Walla in tone and demographic. And just watch, I’ll probably get overwhelmed from so many people. The desert’s always greener, or something.

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