Friday, April 01, 2011

You Did What in Wyoming?

Laugh, but I got up this morning and after an early breakfast and before I had to be at practice, I went to Wyoming. Why? Because it would be a waste to not touch my 48th state being only 87 miles away.

That little side jaunt is exactly why I started this blog in the first place. I learned this lesson years (OK, decades) ago: it's your own damn fault if you're bored on a road trip.

Let grandpa tell you youngsters a story about when we use to get on these big machines called buses and drive across the countryside to small little towns you've never heard of to play games. Hours sitting, followed by hours sitting in a hotel room, usually with no more than 11 channels on the TV and if it was a high class establishment you MIGHT get free HBO.

There's nothing to do in Natchitoches. Or Nacogdoches. Or San Marcos. Or Hammond. At least, that's what the old hands would say, as they sat around and waited for the bus to drive to the cafeteria for the next meal.

My father, God rest his soul, would have a fit in such circumstances. He told me more than once -- you'd learn more driving across the country in a year than all the time you'd spend in four years of college. This from a man who proudly had an 8th grade education but was undoubtedly one of the most shrewd businessmen I've seen -- a high-six (who knows, maybe seven -- a lot of that was kept under wraps) figure night club owner.

Now he was only half serious, he was quite desirous of his young son going to university to learn how to both spell and use words like "desirous". But the travel part, like so many of his pieces of wisdom, was spot on.

So stuck in so many one-horse towns, I began to avail myself of the local history, the kitschy culture and on those rare "special" trips to other regions never miss a chance to either go on my own or prod the coaches under the guise of "educating" the team to see the sites. I became the tour guide: the Road Scholar.

Along the way, I rooted out every local quality book store, every used book seller that didn't just specialize in turned in romance and sci-fi paperbacks, master the location of the area attractions and museums and along the way, got to soak in a huge part of the country. I used every road university library, found more out of the way little bits of special collections (no way I'd have found the Dahl papers for my dissertation except for the fortunate timing of a trip to University of Illinois; the coincidence of three road trips in two years to get into the Chennault papers at Stanford's Hoover Institute), visited more Presidential libraries -- thank you NCAA tournaments.

You might as well. The alternative back then was sleeping or watching those 11 channels of really bad local TV. Now it's sleeping, surfing the net or watching 57 channels of equally bad satellite TV.

So what did I learn today? That Curt Gowdy was well enough loved for Wyoming to name a state park for him. That the home base of the Budweiser Clydesdales happens to be next door to the largest brewery in north America -- and that's not in Golden, but near Fort Collins. That northern Colorado and Wyoming look just like Dances with Wolves, and more important, I can understand the beautiful desolation that the pioneers must have been in both fear and awe of.

While I headed north on I-25, I saw both the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and casks of nuclear waste material heading south. (You may fill in this space with your own joke). I've seen the Weinermobile at Walmart Shareholders, but never actually on the road and to have that light-hearted smile-inducing vehicle followed about 15 minutes later by the totally ominous nuke trucks -- two of them with three big cylinder casks each -- well you can't say it was a boring day). That you can tell when you cross the state line into Wyoming because the billboards that were missing in Colorado appear -- and they are trying to make up for lost space in a hurry. That when the wind blows across High Plains Road, and the sign says "Warning: High Winds Next Five Miles" believe it. Not only were both sides of the road lined with huge wind mills that were turning like a child's pinwheel (and they were those monstrous 150-foot jobs), a semi was turned over in the median, likely blown over. The little cattle ponds had white caps on them.

We use to joke back at Northeast -- there it is, Americana.

And that's where I went today. Got the picture to prove it.

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