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.

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