Friday, April 10, 2009

New Home

At the end of March, I packed all my worldly possessions, including the motorcycle, into a small Penske van and moved across the country to Vermont, where my brother Jeff and I own a small parcel of land with a cabin on it. Since I am paying for this property, I decided to go and learn more about it, experience what it is to live there in the woods.

I learned that Vermont has a fifth season, "mud season". The road up Hampshire Hill was so muddy, the van couldn't get closer than several miles from the cabin. A couple days later, I borrowed Jeff's four-wheel-drive Honda Pilot to haul in some of my possessions.

Before I could reach the "hunting camp", I had to dig a path through this icy snow bank that a plow had pushed across our trail. It took me about an hour, during which I began to appreciate what Vermonters deal with all winter long.

The hunting camp that Jeff and I bought a few years back. I'll be hanging out here for awhile.

The inside of our cabin - very rustic. And just slightly smaller than my last apartment.

Moose print outside the cabin

The camp consists of 19 acres of wooded land, and this cabin

Someone has tapped into our maple trees and is collecting sap for maple syrup

Wrightsville Reservoir, near my new home of Worcester, Vermont

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Western Illinois to East Aurora, NY

Slept from about 10:00 last night until 7:00 this morning, awaking refreshed. I had spread the futon out completely and that made a difference. Much more comfortable! Overcast, with rain forecast later on today. In Peru, Illinois, I stopped at the “Starbuck’s” and enjoyed the brief interaction with a woman about my age. Her rough, countryish edge was all the more endearing. The ever-present “Starbuck’s” corporate soundtrack (this time classical) would drive me crazy if I had to listen to it constantly. (The commitment businesses make to providing an environment with music sometimes has unintended consequences.)

Suddenly thrust into a cold gray wintry landscape, with cracked and heaved pavement, dirty snow and prematurely rusted vehicles, I sensed a growing depression. It is beginning to hit me: "I’m really moving!" But there’s no going back. I need to take responsibility for my decision.

Back on the road, south of Chicago, I heard a wonderful speaker on the Moody Broadcasting Network: Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer. His sermon “Running to Win” condemns the “deity of mankind” and “globalism”. His voice drips with guilt-inducing judgment and contempt. It's marvelous stuff!

Forgiveness is a huge theme in Christianity. Forgiveness is essential, because we are ALL SO GUILTY!

Afterward, I heard Nancy Turner interview author Jill Savage on the subject of “moms and religion”. I had to laugh (heathen!) because it sounded just like the famous “Pete Schweddy” interview on "Saturday Night Live".

It concerns me that this mind control cult dominates the airwaves. They place conditions on “goodness” (though they claim to love all mankind). And they talk of how persecuted they are for their beliefs. (Hardly! They would persecute the non-believers - and do so throughout their broadcasts.)

The Indiana Turnpike is expensive, in more ways than one. Gas stations that hold the service area concessions charge ten to twenty cents more per gallon than stations just off the tollway.

Having enough of Christianity, I turned to NPR, which I’ve managed to receive across most of the country. They featured a story on small-scale logging in New Hampshire. The woodcutter spoke of the “transition forest”, which is unusually diverse. It made me eager to get out and see what’s on our Vermont property. He said the “mud season” puts a stop to their logging, and that it seems to be coming earlier each year.

“Fresh Air” featured an interview with Dr. Robert Martinson, author of A Life Worth Living. He discussed “end of life” issues in the hi-tech age, where the ability to keep people alive artificially may just perpetuate their suffering and be contrary to their wishes.

Through the day, the wind moved around from southeast to northeast, which seemed to indicate I was moving into the counterclockwise "curl" of a low pressure area.

Sean Hannity enlightened me. According to my buddy, the “media elite are controlling what you see and hear.” Well, I guess we all kind of suspect as much. But who's your boss Mr. Hannity? Don't you think that Mr. Murdoch would qualify as "elite"?

I couldn't resist going back to the Christian networks. Listened to Bible stories, embellished to better fit the current culture. The preachers invent little details where needed (we won't call them "untruths".) To emulate the behaviors Christians insist are the path of "righteousness", there is no need of religion, no need of a mythical higher power, no need for the promise of Heaven nor threat of Hell. It is in our nature, sillies. It is called "conscience".

By the way, I hear that West Virginia just passed legislation permitting “In God We Trust” license plates. (I had just seen one today, though I'm not sure what state it was from.) At least it doesn't say "In a Christian God we trust." (Not yet anyway.)

Suddenly ("out of the blue", but perhaps in response to the jostling from rough roads) it occurred to me – leaving the bike on the sidestand was probably not a good idea. All the rocking is bound to fatigue the metal. One of these days, it’s simply going to fall over on me. (Note for future travel!)

Crossing the northeast corner of Ohio and into Pennsylvania was a relief to the senses, as the land is covered in rich forests, and grass is beginning to grow. And just over the Pennsylvania line, the pavement turns perfectly smooth. My focus was set on Erie as a final stopping point today. I would settle into a hotel room, rest and work on notes, then leisurely move on to East Aurora once Priscilla signaled she was ready for my arrival.

I ran the fuel tank nearly empty, limping into the Erie metropolitan area. Exited the freeway and into the most ugly of human blights: the big box super centers. Miles square of asphalt, retail outlets, traffic and signals. And the intense energy that derives from this capitalist craziness. To think that they replaced the forests with this hell! Quickly refueled and moved on. Up the road, I inquired at a “Day’s Inn”. $70, $60 with AAA. The property was decrepit and neglected.

A few miles beyond, I found a brand new "Holiday Inn Express". $100 a night. It is curious that although the hotel was set high enough to have a view of Lake Erie, it was sighted (perpendicular to the shore) so that none of the rooms faced the lake. I guess this way, all rooms would have a glancing view of the lake.

I talked with the manager, a young South Asian fellow who had moved from Cleveland this past winter (and found the winter here much more harsh.) I told him I could not afford the price this time, though I was well-acquainted with their hotels. He recently attended a tasting of local wines and was impressed with the selection. He said there were 20 wineries in the area! I of course had to burst his bubble, replying that there are about 400 in the local area around Santa Rosa. A regrettable display of self-importance!

Stopped at the first New York State Thruway Service Area. Trucks are not allowed to idle their engines in the Service Area. (If they can do this here, why is this not done at other truck stops?) They offer free wi-fi, but my computer battery was dead. I was determined to find an outlet I could plug into. After fifteen minutes of searching, I was incredulous. They had done well in their campaign to prevent plug-ins and people "camping out" on the wi-fi. I could have stayed overnight in the parking area, but a look at the map showed a campground at Evangola Beach. I set out in search of the place our family had visited over 50 years ago.

Along the way, I stumbled upon a “Tim Horton’s” and stopped in for a soup, sandwich and coffee combo. I asked one of the teenagers behind the counter how to get to Evangola (within 5 miles of the restaurant) and she shrugged, indicating she had never heard of it. Fortunately, a customer gave precise directions. But the campground was still closed for the winter. So I followed U.S. 20 toward Buffalo, alert for deer crossing the dark highway. Reached East Aurora around 9:00.

It was too late to disturb Priscilla, so I drove to a public park a few blocks from her house.


11:00 p.m. Parked at Hamlin Park, East Aurora

A train just passed nearby, a helicopter (life flight?) earlier, and there's a surprising number of cars driving this old neighborhood. But when these sounds are absent, it is incredibly quiet. Lights burn in the grand old houses encircling the park. I am painfully aware of the noise I make pulling into the parking slot, closing the cab door, rolling open the cargo bay door. I feel I must be under the scrutiny of a dozen pairs of eyes. A couple bunnies prance around in the grass. A mild breeze is picking up – out of the south now. I’m hoping for rain to sooth me to sleep. I lie down in the back of the truck, the roll-up door partially opened to the park. I hadn’t expected to reach East Aurora today, and was very reluctant to surprise Priscilla.

Again, it's starting to sink in: "I’m actually moving."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Across the plains..and the Christian Nation

Up again at 6:00 a.m. - not a bad rest, considering the circumstances. On the road by 6:30. Though a chance of snow had been predicted, there was no trace. No snow, but the landscape is a wintry brown. Actually browns, grays, gold tones and a sprinkling of dark evergreen.

Nebraska feels more civilized than the states to the west. Maybe the grass helps, but it also feels like there is more respect for the land. The rest stops are nice – a far cry from those crude and poorly-maintained stops in Nevada. The road is in good condition and there appears virtually no litter along the interstate.

The radio continued occupying most of my attention. It was quaint to listen to two DJs on a Northeast Colorado station spend five minutes just talking about “wind”. A conversation as normal as any. They said it was a crazy year, and it echoed last night’s conversation at McDonald’s.

Approaching North Platte, a yellow haze hung below the stratus cloud layer. Soon I came upon the source: a huge coal-fired power plant located between I-80 and Wetland. “Clean Coal”? I always laugh when I hear that marketing-generated sanitization. Maybe the wind usually “takes care of the problem” - that tell-tale haze of sulfurous fumes - but it was not the case this morning. It would be interesting to study the relative incidence of lung disease and asthma downwind of the plant.

In North Platte, a welcome sight: Starbucks! I was going to take photos as I used Stacey’s gift card at Starbucks stores across the country, but my “take it slow” trip had succumbed to impatience. Inside the coffee shop, a couple of guys are talking about hunting ducks out on the ice. The staff is all middle-aged women, friendly and chatty. A rinse of my face at the bathroom sink feels refreshing. With coffee and a pastry, I sit thinking about the Starbucks supply chain. It’s almost invisible, which is a compliment. I’ve never seen a truck supplying them, yet each coffee shop has fresh, consistent product.

The high temperature today is predicted to be 35 in Western Nebraska, 55 in Eastern Nebraska. Suddenly, I am eager to get out where the cold and warm fronts meet - see some weather!

It’s a bit difficult writing notes as I drive. Here is one place a tape recorder would be helpful. (Assuming of course there might arise an occasion when I have something significant to say.)

Maybe I’ll take a room in the next few states? Take time to rest and clean up.

Back to the radio and the Christian Nation. Always referring to God as “he” reinforces the patriarchal order of Christianity. Woman’s proper place is as man’s servant. It is obvious to me that you don’t need God or Jesus to be good, to follow “the Golden Rule”. How, in the Christian teachings, are you supposed to “forgive yourself” while being constantly flogged as a sinner?

The Bible is taken as the literal truth, but only the New Testament, which somehow replaces the “defective” Old Testament. So the 2,000-year-old truth is relevant, while the 3,000 year-old truth is not. Even then, the preachers conveniently pick and choose their admonitions. Thou shalt not kill. (Well, in war it’s okay. Or it’s okay to kill “terrorists”.) Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. (Except we should not pay taxes to irresponsible governments.) Thou shalt not bear false witness. (But slander “the enemy” at every opportunity.) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. (It doesn't say anything about children.)

Having personal experience with cult mentality, I recognize a regimen designed to maintain a passive, compliant, guilt-ridden, uncreative population. We called it “formatory thinking”, and little did we realize at the time we were among the most “formatory”.

When I hear interpreters of the Bible refer to minute details of Jesus’ life, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion (as if they were there,) no one ever acknowledges that it is all "hearsay". Not in the now common sense, but it was an oral tradition passed on for decades before being committed to parchment, stone or whatever medium was used. And we know how stories passed down are subject to alteration and embellishment. (Indeed, when compared to one another, the Gospels abound with important discrepancies and omissions. Why? Because it is myth.)

I listen in amusement as Sean Hannity struggles to reconcile his own contradictions over murder: abortion is murder because the fetus is “innocent”, whereas a death row inmate is not. He labels himself part of the “Conservative Underground”. What a joke. Underground? What could be more in-your-face than Fox's campaign of fear?

There is really very little variety in radio these days. Networks have been consolidated under a few large corporations. All are selling a product - nothing more. (The Fox affiliates seem to be bullish on gold right now.) It is an unfortunate use of the medium. Radio certainly could serve a higher purpose - to educate and inform. As much as any network, NPR attempts this, however, (since much of their funding has been killed by conservative campaigns) they are conducting a nationwide pledge week, so much of their content has been curtailed. In Central Nebraska, I pick up “93.5 The Hawk”. I don’t know why “classic rock” stations require these studly names, but they all seem to originate from the same dull marketing agency.

Near Grand Island, as the plains gave way to cropland, I picked up a headwind. Until now, I had enjoyed a tailwind much of the time. My general sense is that wind flows from west to east across the U.S., but obviously, there are many exceptions!

On the outskirts of Omaha came the first sighting of a Cracker Barrel restaurant! In celebration, I had to indulge. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but there is this thing about travel. Ordered the “Chicken Fried Chicken”, potatoes and cole slaw, along with a raspberry lemonade. Oh…I should have resisted.

Things improve as we move eastward: Iowa rest stops offer free wi-fi! Rolled across the hilly Iowa countryside and set my sights on Moline, Illinois, where I figured I’d take a room at the same “Best Western” motel and visit the same Mexican restaurant from a previous journey. After dark, I crossed the broad expanse of the Mississippi River. On the eastern banks, low-lying areas are flooded, much like southern bayous. Ramshackle homes seem just a few feet above the waterline. What a tenuous existence. In Moline, I was a bit surprised at the deteriorated conditions. The roads were bad. Found Los Agaves restaurant. It’s parking lot was atrocious, with potholes everywhere. Crawled through, hoping not to upset my cargo.

I ordered dinner, though again, I really wasn’t that hungry. The chicken fajitas were good, but the portion far too large – possibly enough to feed four! Unwilling to carry leftovers in the truck, I left half the meal on the plate. Los Agaves was not such a great idea. Having spent too much money on food today, I decided I would avoid the added expense of a room.

Considered driving on past Chicago, to avoid tomorrow morning’s rush hour traffic, but my eyes were fatiguing and judgment deteriorating, and I couldn’t trust my reflexes in the woodlands of Western Illinois, where deer might present a hazard. At a rest stop near Princeton, Illinois I turned off I-80 for the night. This facility separates the trucks from the autos by a wide grassy area, so the engine noise was less intrusive. Backed the truck to the curb, so the rear of the box would face away from the interstate. And tonight I searched out a pair of earplugs to assure a good rest.

About 2,200 miles traveled thus far – in about 48 hours. Crossing the country by motorcycle in recent years, I was increasingly eager to avoid the interstates. Driving a truck is a different matter. Extra miles and frequent stops are expensive. This ride is purely functional – get to the opposite side of the country.