Friday, May 26, 2006

Elkhart, IN

Don caught up with me in Ravenna, and I started to really move stuff out of my trailer into his. Kind of hard, the Airstream is my dream house. But I will eventually blend my self and my treasures with his. We left a bit early before my cousin got written up for running an illegal RV park. The Airstream just kind of sat demurely under the trees, but the fifth wheel is big and white and takes up a lot of space, both visual and otherwise.

Elkhart is where a large percentage of the RV’s in America are made and as we get closer, there are acres of them parked by their factories. Turn a corner and there are more and more. It occurs to me that the RV’s that were sent to LA and MS after the storms must have been only a small part of the output of this place. Most of the suppliers of parts and appliances have factories here too. We are here to see the RV Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame. And also it is a good place to stop on the way west.

The museum has a collection of early RV’s some of which we can go inside. There are tents on wheels, the early ancestor of the pop up, that are spare, just beds and an alcove to put a stove. I imagine codgers going fishing or hunting. There is an Autocar which looks like a miniature private railroad car, all dark wood and elegant fixtures with a Model T to pull it. There are “canned hams “ by Shasta and Mallard and an Airstream of course. The star of the show is a 41’ long Spartan, clad in aluminum with every part of the interior covered in honey colored birch veneer. Roomy and luxurious, it would be considered more of a park model, not designed to be on the move a lot. The Hall of Fame is a little opaque, although the father of Airstream, Wally Byam, is there, an early inductee, I don’t know any of the others which includes dealers and campground owners. They have broken ground and started construction on a new big building on the outskirts of town.

One of the best things about this town is there are RV surplus stores ! We visited one, and spend a happy hour lost in the maze of shelves and stuff piled everywhere. You could easily build several RV’s with the parts that are all over the place. We poked in boxes and explored. One of the problems with the fifth wheel as we bought it was a double recliner loveseat. When the slides were out, it sat at the end of the trailer and was pretty comfortable to sit in. However, it had to be moved 90 degrees to get the slide in and it was heavy. We hoped to replace it with two easy chairs that could stay in place. Looking on-line, the prices were $500 and up, but we found a pair at this surplus store for $125 each. I wish we had more extra cash, it would have been a great place to find a stainless kitchen sink, and maybe even one for the bathroom. I could have spent days poking around, and a whole fortune on great stuff.

We took the chairs back to the trailer and approached with some trepidation the removal of the lounger love set which is large and heavy. Fortunately, it came apart, and the owners of the campground said their cleaning lady would be delighted to have it. It was still a project to get event the halves of it out. The new chairs look terrific and can stay put when it is time to pull in the slides and move on.

I aim to organize an RV so that getting ready to go on the road requires an absolute minimum of putting away inside. In the Airstream, I had a lot of things velcroed to table tops or corralled in baskets that sat on non skid rubber mats. A trailer on the road doesn’t quite take the punishment that a boat on the seas does, but the bumps and vibrations will throw things down, so there is the same need for shelves with gates and strong latches on cabinets. We are still figuring out what we need to have right to hand on a regular basis, what can be put away deeper and (hardest of all) what we really don’t need to keep at all. Don weighed the trailer at a truck stop and it is 200-300 lbs. overweight, but that is with all tanks full. Still, the lighter we are the better the gas mileage.

Don is a wizard at finding cheap diesel, and so far we have done very well. I started to keep a record to see what my MPG actually is and find it running 13-14 even while towing, and up to 19 without the trailer, which is better than I expected. We weighed the Airstream too and it is a good 1000 lbs under its weight max which pleases me. I have done a lot of occasionally painful shedding of belongings, and that seems justified now.

We are traveling under 200 miles in a day, and are both relaxed at the end of each leg, ready to do a little exploring of the campsite and the surrounding park. In the morning we are under no pressure to get going in a hurry. Neither of us are interested in the usual touristy things, nor in shopping. We are content to see the land change as we drive and look at what we come across. A pair of comfortable shoes traveling together across the land.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

White Sox

We rolled on down towards Joliet IL, all on the interstate which is more like time travel than seeing much of anything. You enter the tube at one place and then it’s lots of dotted lines and trucks with maybe a bridge thrown in for excitement. It is a luxury to just drive and follow knowing that Don has his GPS and has figured out the route and where we will stay. So I can just zone out, and immerse myself in the flow of the traffic, like going down a river.

Ohio rolls a bit, a familiar farmscape, with industry here and there, mostly warehouses that cover a lot of square footage but employing few people. South of Chicago, we go around the bottom edge where the vast suburban sprawl of a major city rolls on like lava. Our goal for this leg is to spend 2 nights and go to a real live major league baseball game. For me, the very first time!!

The campground is a little hard to find as it is a membership only park and doesn’t put signs all over the place. In addition, the mapping CD thinks a road goes through, but in fact it ends at a 4 track RR, so we have some careful navigating to do. The campground is very nice, caters to events like company picnics and family reunions, swimming pond and pool, volleyball, shuffleboard, tennis and a pretty big pond in the middle to fish and boat in. I find a canoe, but no paddles, alas. Our campsite is right on the lake and angled so that the long side of the trailer with all the windows looks out over the lake. Picture perfect.

Next day we venture into Chicago, big muscular city, I hear Sandburg’s words and Walt Whitman’s. We are guided to the parking lot and parked and head for the stadium. It is windy and partly cloudy and the water in the lake must be still nearly frozen because the damp chill goes right through our clothes. Windy city indeed, and a lungful of gelid air that makes me think of Frost’s poem Fire and Ice, thinking that Hell must be freezing cold, not hot. . We can see the impressive sky line of Chicago up to the NE, both the Sears tower, and the Hancock tower have two enormous silver antennas each on them that are shining in the sun light and looking like huge robots with ears.

The ballpark is huge, relatively new, was Comisky now US Cellular, not the ancient Wrigley field. That is the home of the Cubs, we are at the White Sox. I know some folks who set as a travel goal to see a ball game in all major league parks. We are way up high between home and third base, it gives me a little tingle of the willies at the height, but soon I am people watching like mad. There is a lot of AV stuff going on in here, a big screen that shows videos of the plays, the players and the advertisers. Long narrow screens along the front of the stands have linked visuals dancing along, and there are various other screens sending out a blitz of information. Baseball is madly all about numbers, so two screens are just telling us every possible statistic on this game, another tells us all about all the other games in both leagues. There is a sign that tells us how fast the pitches were(usually 90mph +++) and another that tells us where in this mini city to get which foods and which souvenirs. There is the usual organ music that goes with the game, inciting us to clap or shout and then there is rock music played really load and even a Karioke moment so we can all sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game, lots of noise except during the pitch when we wait for the satisfying crack of the bat slamming into the ball and hoping for a Home Run. We are in the cheap seats, and are segregated from the season ticket holders and box holders and expensive seats down below, we go up 4 escalators and there is no way to get down with the rich folks.

The game is good, close and then the White Sox win it over the Twins, so there is much happy shouting and jumping up and down, booing at the opposing pitcher and also booing people who have Twins clothing on. Every time a home run is hit, they set off fireworks which are nice and noisy but not much to look at in the daylight. We are among the very few that don’t have on a White Sox shirt and hat, most of them black with white letters. Beer is $6.00 a can, and the food goes on up from there. We make do with bars from my pocket book having spent a lot on the tickets and parking.

I like the game, and Don is using an official score card so we pay close attention to it. But I also like the people watching. Right next to me is Dad and 8 year old son. The have autographed balls, the usual hats and jerseys’ and Dad spends a fortune on junk food. It is clear that Dad wants this to be a special day and son is having a ball, but they seem to get up to go spend money more than actually watching the game. I imagine that it is Dad’s visitation day and he is trying to make up for things.

Down in front is a row of college age kids in Twins jerseys and to my right a row of older HS kids in Sox outfits who are sort of daring each other to be badder and rowdier than they are OK with. They harass the Twins fan with the name of the pitcher on his shirt and get most of the section in on the noise. Nothing comes of it, but I can feel the beer and anger level ratcheting up.

Further in front an oriental family with three very little children seems to be forever moving because they can’t or won’t figure out which seats are theirs. There is a Japanese second baseman named Iguchi and I imagine that the family is from Japan and came to see him play. The children are way too well behaved to be American children.

Periodically a ball is hit foul and people scrabble to catch it, sometimes it looks as though there will be a scuffle.

Then it is over, and we all stream out of the ballpark like a break in a dam and somehow all get in our cars and ooze out of the city. The highway is nearly at a standstill and we hear truckers on the CB wondering how come traffic is so horrible on a Sunday.

I like the tribal feeling, the affiliation with a group that is as temporary or as deep as you wish it to be, and requires nothing but good lungs, enthusiasm and perhaps an outfit. I have long thought that sports is war ritualized into a safe tribal conflict, testosterone and assertiveness released more or less harmlessly. I also see that discussing and even arguing over sports gives people a common and safe ground to talk on, kind of like the weather but more fun. I will confess, having grown up in a family where organized sports were non-existent and tennis was encouraged only for its social value, that I feel a little outside of this world most of the time. It is still hard for me to get very stirred up over what a ball is doing. We see the World Series trophy there at the park, a ring of silver flag poles with flags, a line of people are getting their pictures taken with it. “Look at me, part of the tribe that conquered the world !”

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kent State

Kent State

After a few days of catching up with family matters with my cousin, laundry and being fed excellent and healthy food, my daughter flew in to join me for Easter. It was wonderful to see her. I laid down the table in the trailer, and put a board across the seats and filled the hole with foam, and it looks like a presentable sofa. It is a bit narrow for a single bed, but it works. So now I have a guest room for slim folks.

We spent most of our time catching up and reglueing our bond, she has thoroughly hooked me on Sudoku, the number puzzle. I tried it a bit in Natural Bridge last summer out of the newspaper, but she is a number cruncher by inclination and helped me with the tricks. She left me her book of “expert” ones and I really like doing them. It seems to use the same part of my brain that playing solitaire on the computer does: keeps me from worrying or dwelling on things by using just enough of my RAM to stop all those voices.

We seat out to explore Kent which is the next town west, home of Kent State University. I was drawn to see the spot where the National Guardsmen shot 4 students dead so long ago during the Vietnam War protests. Perhaps time has lessened the power of the memory, but I imagine that this school would rather forget a very bad moment. I am trying to remember how we college students felt back then, a bad war for the wrong reasons, covered up with lies from the government. And most powerfully, how the dissent was talked about, communists, un-American, outside criminal elements.

Quoting Wickipedia:

At Kent State, a mass of intoxicated bikers left a bar and began throwing beer bottles at cars and breaking downtown storefronts including a bank window, which set off an alarm…. Before long more people joined the vandalism and looting, with others remaining as bystanders…. a crowd numbering about 100 …appeared to be a mix of bikers, students, and out-of town youths who regularly came to Kent's bars. …

Kent's Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency on May 2 and, later that afternoon, asked Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes to send the National Guard to Kent to help maintain order.

When the National Guard arrived in town that evening, a large demonstration was under way and the campus Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) building was burning. Many believe the fire may have been set in protest, but the arsonists were never caught… At 10:00 p.m., [after the ROTC building had been set on fire] the National Guard entered the campus for the first time and set up camp directly on campus. Many arrests were made, tear gas was used, and at least one student was bayoneted…By Sunday, there were nearly a thousand National Guardsmen on campus to control the students.

During a press conferences, Governor Rhodes called the protesters un-American and referred to the protestors as revolutionaries set on destroying higher education in Ohio. "They're worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes," Rhodes said. "They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America. I think that we're up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America."

On Monday, a protest was scheduled to be held at noon, as had been planned three days earlier. University officials attempted to ban the gathering,.. .Despite this, an estimated 2,000 people gathered on the university's Commons,… [several units of the National Guard], chose to disperse the students, fearing that the situation might escalate into another violent protest. The legality of the dispersal was later debated at a subsequent wrongful death and injury trial. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that authorities did indeed have the right to disperse the crowd. One of the judges on the court was alleged to have said "You're going to have to use the Final Solution on these kids!" on this day. …A group of 77 National Guard troops advanced on the hundreds of protesters with bayonets fixed on their loaded weapons, in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The Guardsmen were wearing gas masks and had little training in riot control. They soon found themselves trapped on an athletic practice field …[thirty three national guardsmen were injured] …. When they reached the top of a hill, 29 of the 77 guardsmen fired 67 shots at the unarmed students. …The shootings killed four students and wounded nine. Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, were simply walking from one class to the next. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC chapter. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 265 feet (81 m) away. [end of quote]

And what remains ?

There are signs pointing on to a memorial, but they are few and halfhearted. We finally find it and park. I sort of recognize the place from the famous photo of the boy on the ground and the girl with her arms wide in despair. We wander around, unsure what we are looking for, it is clear that KSU is not encouraging this pilgrimage. Several other people are equally confused and equally determined to see and remember. The places where the 4 students were shot have a low raised edging of rough stone, in a 4” x 8’ rectangle on the asphalt of the parking lot. There are 6 4’ high metal lamp posts on the corners and midway on the long side, and in one corner on the ground a triangle of polished stone with the name of the student and the date. These 4 are not all visible at once due to parked cars, and they look more like pedestrian crossing paths or perhaps bicycle parking than memorials. To get a picture of all 4, I wanted to get up on the raised porch area of a building, but it is blocked off. The skeletons are not exactly buried in the closet, but they are hardly in plain view. The actual memorial is 40 feet away, a series of polished pink granite stones and a path. There are no words to indicate what this is, it might just be a study area over looking a grassy bowl. A most minimal response to the need to remember what happened here.

I remember that day, when we realized who the un-Americans really were, and remember the unraveling of the lies. I find it deeply and tragically ironic that we are right back in the same place, this time sending National Guardsmen to their deaths, and the lies are once again unraveling. Those of us who thought the war in Iraq was a bad and misguided idea now are growing in numbers and power, but still it feels as though we might have a flag stuffed down our throats if we speak out.

I was particularly struck by the words of the governor and the judge. I understand that they were afraid, an angry mob is terrifying. Alexander Hamilton feared that too much freedom would result in another French Revolution here in America, presumably complete with guillotines. Thomas Jefferson preferred to believe that the innate good sense of the people would prevent this anarchy. I doubt that there is anyway to settle that question, it is a continual stress on our government: in God we trust but do we trust the “people”?. And is “The People” all of the people or only some of the people ?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Virginia to Ohio-CB Rally and Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright to Kent State, OH

The Cherry Blossom Rally was great, 40 trailers in a field in a triple half circle with a nice three pole wedding tent in the middle. This is the main rally for my Washington DC Unit ( think boy scout troop ) it is a little early in the season, so it usually rains all day at least one day, and except for going into Washington DC, there are no real events besides eating and drinking. We did all those things. I had two pieces of carrot cake for breakfast each day. Scandalous.

I went into DC to the newest Smithsonian museum, the one for the American Indian. I wanted to see the architecture as it is sort of a take-off on the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. It is built using the same yellow stone cut rough, and has curves and windows that hide in the recesses like a cliff dwelling. The landscaping around it is very natural, grasses, weeds and a nice disorderly pond and trees on the side that faces the Capitol. On the side that faces the Mall there is a spirited waterfall over rocks again informal and natural, all of which is a nice contrast to the very tidy formal gardens that are the norm in DC. I. M. Pei’s addition to the National Gallery is right across the Mall and this building is a good balance and answer to it.

The interior is also exciting, lots of circles and curves. The floor plan is very like the serious of Kivas at Chaco Canyon’s ruins, but it isn’t as obvious to one walking around, lots of nice spaces and finishes however. They have a restaurant that serves absolutely fabulous food, all based on Native American foods, cooked perfectly, in a setting like the food court at a shopping mall, cafeteria style. Worth the whole trip to have buffalo and salmon and wild rice salad and tamales with peanut sauce. Yum.

I wish the displays had been as great as the architecture and the food. It was overly wordy, too much text, too many stories that I didn’t feel drawn in by. Different tribes had niches with some artifacts and explanations of their ideas of community, religion, use of the land, videos of elders talking etc. Good if you are a kid writing a report, but I was bored and confused by them. My hunch is that displaying this collection of artifacts, which belonged to a George Heyr, was likely to meet with resistance from the tribes. He probably did buy most of the stuff, and some legitimately, rather than stealing it. At any rate, it felt as though the designers of the exhibits got the tribes to tell their stories so they wouldn’t sue for the return of the artifacts. I don’t know this for sure, it might just be inclusion and PC taken beyond the bounds of my interest.

It was a good trip, though, in spite of the impenetrable directions on how to get a ticket for the subway out of the automatic machines. Another example of instructions written by and for people who already know how, leaving those who really need to know in the dark.

One of the AS folks, Peg VanBeveren, heard I was heading for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house in Mill Run PA and jumped at the chance to come along, so we made a little caravan of our own. It was fun to have the rally last a little longer. She has a new trailer and is still doing a shakedown cruise in it before taking her partner along so it was a good trip for both of us. After a little research we headed for a CG in Mill Run, PA called Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. Normally I avoid places like this like the plague, they are full of screaming kids on bikes and they pack the trailers in and have hayrides and cartoons and bingo and water slides and so on. But the state parks are not quite open yet, so we have to.

Fallingwater is closed on Mondays, I discover, but all is not lost, there is another F. L. Wright house nearby and it is open, so we start with that.

Kentuck Knob was built in the 50’s and is one of FLW’s Unisom houses, aimed to be affordable and smaller than some of the earlier piles. It is up on a hill, but not placed where a phenomenal view of the river valley and mountains can be seen, but rather back in the trees. It is low, made of stone quarried on site, and not a 90 angle in the place. This makes it interesting to look at and be inside, but it must have driven the masons and carpenters nuts. Inside it feels like the cliff dwellings again, a big connection to the out doors, but from under a low roof line so one feels protected, and wide open at the same time. There are gorgeous wooden details, closets with matching grain running horizontally, built in dressers and desks. The kitchen, in the center is hexagonal and has a huge skylight which is being replaced. As built, the sun made it unbearably hot, so a wooden screen was later added. Stainless counters, a funky oven that looks like a car grill and a stainless 4 burner stove that has flip up burners so the counter is clear if you aren’t cooking.

This house is owned by a British nobleman with an Italian last name (?) and it and the grounds are filled with expensive art. The sculpture meadow has a number of dreary metal sculptures, a host of red cutout figures aligned in rows and to my joy, two Andy Goldsworthy rock installations. First a circular wall, 6’ high of dry laid stone, with 4 openings, a sheep pen or a ruined hut or a temple. The second a conical pile of big round boulders maybe 20’ high, with horizontal grooves cut into the stones almost like water lines. This has a portentous presence, the size of the boulders implies might and power, either a great king with lots of slaves or a rich benefactor and a crane. Oddly, it doesn’t have any religious vibrations the way the round pen does, but there is no question about the authority it has.

Next day, we decamp and take the trailers with us to Fallingwater. Peg has to get back to NJ after our tour. Be advised if you go here, you MUST make reservations, even off season, due to bus loads of school children.

This early house of FLW is crouched over a waterfall, several round edged concrete balconies jutting out at three levels over the rushing water. These are cantilevered and tricky engineering, FLW apparently designed the house to only stay up for the lifetime of the department store king who commissioned it. Since it has become a national treasure, vast sums have been spent to keep it from slumping into the water.

The interior has the same deep cave with a great view feeling. I like especially the glass to glass corners where you expect to see a support and see only light. All the metal window frames, hinges and cupboard knobs are designed and specially made and painted “Cherokee red” a sort of venetian red, that is FLK’s signature color. I concur, if there is no particular reason to paint something a color, then the default is red. The bedrooms are tiny, the woodwork lovely. The living room has a fairly rough stone floor that is waxed to resemble the wet stones of the river, including a faux waterfall that comes out of the stone fireplace. In a rare triumph over FLW’s ego, the owners nixed his design for dining chairs and have three legged rustic Tuscan chairs instead, which work better on the uneven floor (who paid for all this anyway ?) Hanging next to the fire place is a big red spherical kettle that can be moved on a crane to sit over the fire. It has a Chinese look to it and while wondering why a water heater is needed in this luxurious home, I am told that it was to heat wine for parties. Slight mind boggle over that much wine being heated.

There is a stair that descends from the living room and stops at the water, no visible means of support. It looks like a swimming ladder, but I think the water is very cold, or maybe a place to fish. We are told that both things happened, but that mostly it is a way to get the cool air from the stream up into the living area. The opening is encased in glass doors to regulate the flow. It must be a sight when the stream rises up and flows over the through the steps and railings.

These two houses impress me with FLW’s authority and enormous ego. After looking at the tasteless pseudo-chateaux that the wealthy of FL favor, and the crushing weight of the “cottages “ in Newport RI, he has managed to keep his clients under his thumb and produce houses the way he alone wants them, right down to specifying the furniture. One lives in his sculpture/installation, not in one’s house. I wonder how many of his houses are lived in day today. They are impressive and theoretically comfortable, but leave very little wiggle room for us ordinary mortals to feather our nests as we see fit.

We part ways and I have an easy drive to Ravenna OH, where my cousin lives.

Inappropriate Toys

Hart Ranch is an upscale campground and the camping rigs reflect its status in the campground world. If you are wandering around in an old camping rig and wanted to stay here, you would be allowed in for three nights at $39.95 if you would sit through a sales talk about becoming a member. You can also stay here if you are a member of some of the courtesy discount membership clubs for RV’ers, such as Coast to Coast, or Resort Parks International which let you stay at affiliated membership CG’s for a reduced price, for a few days. These clubs require you to “buy in” to a membership park at $2,000 to $3,000, pay a fee of $150 and a yearly dues of $75 or so. This pretty well keeps the riff raff out. There are some elderly Airstreams and Avions and some other vintage trailers and motor homes including an old 1940’s Greyhound bus with pink trim, and the people who own them seem to be of an age to have bought them new, but there are few folks like me joyriding around in an old one.

A good number of the members are homeowners in the Rapid City area and store their trailers here in the large lot ( 600+ RVs !!). They can then call ahead to have their rigs moved to a site for them, so some don’t even own a tow vehicle. Since SD is one of the preferred states for full time RVers because of easy vehicle registration and no income tax, many of the license plates are SD, whether they have a home near by or not. If you are a member of this CG, you get to stay on a site for 21 days free, but then you have to move off for 9 days, either to the less glamorous sites in the “tenting” area and pay $16 a night, or go somewhere else. This forced mobility and the fact that you cannot get the same site over and over means there are no sheds, screen houses, fences, flamingos, mini gardens, or dead cars on the sites. Again this keeps the drifters and indigents out although I do miss the decorations of lights, cut out plywood animals and gnomes that local campers add to their summer campsites. There are outbreaks of wind`chimes, hanging ornaments made of sliced and everted soda bottles or multi colored PVC art, and some garden critters. We all have asphalt or concrete slabs to park our vehicles, picnic tables and lawn chairs on, but must keep the lawn areas clear for the horde of lawnmowers that are in constant action somewhere on the probably 30 acres of lawn.

The most expensive and biggest rigs are the motor homes, which look like buses decorated with swooshes and stripes, usually on a beige or dark background. They are tall, sometimes over 40’ long, imposing and can run as high as $1,200,000. They can have as many as 4 slide-outs which each give you another 36” of space unless it is the heavy kitchen stuff or a closet that slides out which is 18”. Inside they have marble counters, tiled baths, twinkle lights in the ceilings, king sized beds, Sub Zero fridges, washers and dryers, dish washers, leather couches, solid wood cabinetry and gas fireplaces. And wall to wall carpeting, with central vacuum cleaners. 42”Plasma TV including one outside in one of the basement bays so you can watch TV sitting around the campfire (which are not allowed here, too dry and also too messy). Many of these are custom built and look more like upscale whorehouses to me. So as to have something less cumbersome to get around in, most of them pull a “toad” a smaller vehicle, in a matching color if you are really doing it up.

Next down and we are bottom feeders in this class, are the fifth wheels. These can run you $100,000, but can be had for $50,00 and have many of the same things inside, but since the bedroom area is up over the bed of the pickup truck, you get a little more floor space. These can have as many as 5 slide outs and up to three axles. The roominess makes them a favorite of full timers, plus you get to use the truck to get around in. The trucks to pull the larger ones are huge diesel creatures made by Freightliner and Peterbuilt with mini-sleepers in them, a second row of seats, diamond plate storage compartments and sit way up in the air. $100,000 of trucker fantasy. Not my idea of what to take to Walmart. The fifth wheels tend to be white with swooshes or mountiany graphics and the big trucks are painted to match.

Fantasy in a big expensive package. The lure of the highway, freedom. Since we are no longer judged successful by our jobs and our houses, it appears to be necessary to have these monsters. Financially, their owners will take a bath, since the value of new RV’s tumbles dramatically as soon as you drive it a mile down the road, and there is no future for the manufacturers in making them last longer than the 5-10 years the over-the-hill gang has left. I hope that these folks have not sold everything they own to make this “investment”.

It is the age of the owners of these great beasts that is the scary part. A rig that would require a special license and training to drive if it were a commercial vehicle is being guided down the highway at 75 MPH by folks who have not been driving much more than a car for their whole lives, and whose eyesight and reactions are showing some deterioration, not to mention some stubbornness about their diminished driving skills. Many of the motor homes and fifth wheels are grossly over weight, which means they have a stopping distance akin to an ocean liner. They would never get through a truck weigh station. Imagine them on a construction area of an interstate where the concrete Jersey barriers have narrowed the lanes, or an older bridge with no extras on the side. As far as I know, purchasing one of these requires only that you have the bucks, and then you are free to go. I consider myself the bow wave of the Baby Boomers, and I have not yet actually reached the general retirement age, so there is an avalanche behind me. Plenty of people my age or even younger have taken early retirement and ventured out on the highways. Lest I be accused of ageism, there are many, many people younger than I whose driving skills are not up to being the captain of a huge RV. And then there’s road rage: 60,000 pounds of nearly unguided missile on the highway.

One wonders if they are having any fun. In the park here we have golf(18 hole PGA), the pool, hot tubs, tennis and volleyball, miniature golf, video games a pool table. Craft and Fleamarket every Saturday. And of course Mt. Rushmore, Reptile Gardens, Flying T chuckwagon supper and cowboy entertainment, Bear Country, the usual assortment of caverns and water slides. Since it’s the Black Hills we also have gold mine tours and gold jewelry outlets. I see a lot of time spend polishing their rigs, shining the chrome, buffing the big pick up truck. I don’t envy them, I would be bored to tears without a job to do.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I remember back in 1965 or so, a trip back east with my aunt and uncle. I must have flown out and they were passing through and offered a ride back from Wyoming. Unfortunately, they were returning from a disastrous honeymoon of climbing difficult rocks, something my uncle loved to do and my aunt discovered she did not like to do. I was confined to the back seat with books and pretty much kept my head down in the face of a stormy silence. I didn’t know at the time what went wrong, just that something was wrong. In their haste to end the trip, they passed by a number of things that I would have dearly loved to see: Mt Rushmore, Wall Drug and the Badlands. I’m pleased to report that as of right now, I have just seen all of them. But first the Badlands.

The Badlands are where the silty muddy bottom of the great ancient central ocean meets the beginning of the great upheaval and volcanic excitement that is known as the Rocky Mountains. We are still a good many miles from the Rockies, but the great piles and mounds of silt in colored layers stick up in impossible pinnacles. Every surface is runneled with water marks, and bubbles as though a pile of potter’s clay had been placed under a waterfall which was just shut off. Or some huge posse of enormous children spend a month making drizzled sand castles. There are towering pointy walls of soft stone, and canyons, in some places the silt is rounded hummocks, not pointy, and tinged with bright yellow and purple. The layers of vari-colored sediment all line up across the miles of peaks which gives a sort of optical nervousness to the view. There is a great grassy park on the upper level of the escarpment, and then on the other side it turns wild and bad and rough again for miles and miles. There were homesteaders who worked the upper grass lands, the visitor center has old photos of them dragging their wagons over the passes between the rocks.

It is a very beautiful but very alien landscape, there are few places on earth that look like this, lacking any plants, not because it is arid or toxic, but because every time it rains, it all loses another 1/16 of an inch of surface. Very hard to get a sense of the scale, what looks like a really tall peak suddenly has a person standing on it and we can see how little it really is. A grey day, but later on patches of sunlight that lit up one range, and left others dark. We did some short hikes to be on the ground, very rough going. One trail follows a watercourse, now dry, but showing the remains of yesterday’s hard rain, and then winds up the gully until there is a sort of rope ladder/stair of cables and logs we have to go up, the only way to give us a foot hold on this peculiar and unstable surface. We approach a notch in the wall of peaks and look through into another whole vista of peaks and canyons, all with matching horizontal lines of red or brown, and the sun does a great light show of highlighting one thing and then another.

We pass on through and head for Wall SD for lunch. Wall was a small town back in 1936, a RR stop, when Mr. Halsted, a pharmacist, arrived to open a drug store just about the time that people started to get in their cars and be tourists. He offered free ice water and put up the now famous signs to lure in passersby. His friend, Mr. Nicholson, went into the army in WWII and put up signs saying Wall Drug with the mileage to it all over the war zone. This was adopted by countless service men and the general public who placed the signs everywhere. 500,000 miles to Wall Drug. I remember a tiny town and a glass fronted store that I saw from the road as we drove by. Now the town is major tourist stop, the drugstore goes on for blocks, gift shops, restaurants, petting zoos, casinos, you name it they got it. Not my cup of tea, but there isn’t much else out here for tourists to do.

So now I have seen both of them.

Next day, we drive the last leg to Rapid City. After the Badlands peter out, the hills roll and swell, each one we go up takes us higher and the other side doesn’t really go down that much. In the distance, the Black Hills, a sort of overture to the Rockies. They are “black” because they are covered with pines, but really more like a dark navy blue which makes them look further away than they are. They are not quite high enough to be a big presence, the increasingly high grassy hills hide them from view most of the time.

Rapid City is a lot bigger than I expected. It is the only civilization for a long way and is a central shopping place for 200-300 miles all around it. There is a lot of industry, lots of homes, the RR of course and a lot of jewelry companies working with the gold in them thar hills. The gold was the reason for the town’s beginning: gold was discovered up in the Black Hills in 1875 and a group of disheartened prospectors founded the town in 1876, probably realizing that selling services to the gold diggers was a better bet than trying to find gold. Along with the beginnings of auto-tourism, in 1927, Gutzon Borglum began his work on Mt. Rushmore, arguably the most successful tourist attraction in the world, and Rapid City became the gateway to Mt. Rushmore and the rest of the Black Hills area which soon had caverns, zoos and casinos to entertain the tourists.

The campground is a good distance out of town, set among the velvet grassy hills. It is an enourmous campground, with some 460 sites, 65 cabins, a giant pool, hot tubs, restaurants, a full service gas station and on and on. They have left a lot of room between the sites and planted trees, and aligned and staggered the sites so that one doesn’t feel like a book on a shelf. Our site looks out on the hills and on the arena and stables of a university riding program, so I hear and smell and see horses all the time. We are settling in, the people we work with seem very nice, we even get our own golf cart to drive from fixit to fixit. It was a relaxed trip west, the right pace, lots of back roads, and now for the next adventure.