Took this photo at the American Jazz Museum before I noticed the tiny “No Photography” sign. But since this doesn’t show any of their exhibits, I figure no harm, no foul. Pentax K-50, 18-55 zoom, f11, 1/13 sec. Yeah, baby, that’s a little slow!
True blue skew ~
I’ve been having a good time playing with an iPhone photograph I took of tables and chairs at a Steak ‘n Shake in Goodland, Kansas. (I certainly took a lot more iPhone pix on my trip than I remembered having done.) Above is the version I like best. It’s highly cropped, with a watercolor filter applied, vibrance ramped up, blue ramped up. My favorites among the photographs I take tend to be those that look most like abstract paintings or that are clearly influenced by abstract painting. Applying a filter can, on rare occasions, turn an image into something more interesting. It also can, on rare occasions, save an image that is not sharp enough to work as a conventional photograph and make it worthwhile.
Here are two crops without the watercolor filter, and below those, the original photograph. I’m interested in feedback, so vote for your favorite if you’re so inclined. As a bonus, here’s a video of Lucinda Williams singing “Am I Too Blue.”
The Big Trip: The Nelson-Atkins and a quick sprint home ~
Days 14 & 15: Lawrence to Carbondale.
After an initial delay on Sunday morning, I made it at last to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City for my second visit. I spent most of my time in the Bloch Building, the 2007 addition to the museum by architect Stephen Holl. From the street to the east, the addition looks something like a series of connected trailers rising up a hill. But from the inside, it’s phenomenal, with light coming in from windowed towers and interesting angles everywhere. I hate to say this, but I found it far superior to my beloved St. Louis Art Museum’s more recent addition, both architecturally and in the modernist collections that both additions house. I spoke to a museum guard about the photos I was taking of the interior. He pointed out how each gallery opened up a new view via a few steps down into the next, leading the visitor through the building. In fact, he said, a photographer had been there earlier that day on behalf of the architect, who visits periodically.
I’ve included here small, low-res details of four or five of the works at the museum, hoping that constitutes “fair use” for copyright purposes. Most of my time was spent in the modernist collection. I never even made it to the photography galleries (irony!), and though I visited the main sculpture court, which has several Rodins, I was disappointed to have missed the Isamu Noguchi sculpture court. A next visit is in order. I spent my last 45 minutes at the museum trying to track down a still-life of lemons that I recalled vividly from my first trip. (I collect art postcards, and am often vexed that museums so seldom have my particular favorites in their shops.) I asked one guard if he recalled a painting like that. “Let me ask someone else,” he said. “I haven’t been here too long.” I couldn’t tell if he was actually contacting someone on his phone, and I told him Don’t worry, I’ll keep looking. I said I thought it was a European painting, and he said American.
I’d already made a mad dash through the European galleries, so I headed for the American art. No luck. I found another guard and asked her the same question. “Let me ask someone else,” she said. “I haven’t been working here that long.” She said she’d be back in a minute and I sank onto a bench to rest my feet and knees, still sore from the fall at Estes Park. Two minutes later she came around the corner with the first guard in tow. We both started laughing. But the first guard had, in the interim, gotten some information and gave me the exact number of a gallery that featured a painting with lemons.
Well, I’d been in that gallery, and this painting hadn’t stopped me. Memory is a tricky, tricky thing. Either that, or this was in fact a different still-life. It was a fine painting, and I took photos of it, but in my mind a very different painting still exists, with luscious, incredibly realistic lemon slices and…a fish, I think. Hmmm….
At closing time, I headed out of Kansas City for Boonville, where I stayed overnight. The next day, Labor Day, I was home by mid-afternoon, unloading the car and looking forward to getting the doggies out of the kennel on Tuesday. I was very tired, but I’d done my trip. It wasn’t like hiking across Africa or climbing Everest. It wasn’t even Paris. To most people it will seem a very modest achievement. But to me, debilitated after years of depression and anemia, this road trip loomed pretty large as an accomplishment.
I think I’m ready to do it again in a different direction.
The Big Trip: A perfect day in Kansas ~
Day 13: Colby to Lawrence.
My destination for today was Lawrence, Kansas. From there it would be a quick drive to Kansas City on Sunday. Knowing I had plenty of time, I took back roads much of the day.
My first stop was at an old favorite: the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. It was my third visit (I’m not making this up). There was a time years ago, before my late husband and I stumbled upon this place, when I no doubt thought barbed wire was barbed wire was barbed wire. Ha! Not a chance of it, and this little museum, which is always deserted, will set you straight. It has hundreds upon hundreds of variations of barbed wire, plus the tools needed to string and tighten it, plus all sorts of auxiliary items. The director estimates that about 500 patents exist for different types of barbed wire. But each patent can cover hundreds of variations; the total is mind-boggling. One Glidden barbed wire patent covers some 2,400 variations, for example. Among my favorite exhibits at the museum are two barbed-wire tornadoes and a huge crow’s nest made of scraps of barbed wire.
Before leaving, I asked the director where I might get a sandwich to eat. He suggested the Dairy Queen in Hoisington, about 15 miles to the east. It was an inspired choice, because if I hadn’t stopped at the DQ and idly picked up a brochure on the counter, I’d never have known that Hoisington was having a Labor Day festival and that one of the activities was helicopter rides, 40 bucks per passenger.
While I ate my cheeseburger I mulled that over. I’d never flown in a helicopter before, or even been inside one. The prospect was scary, yet enticing. When would I get such a chance again? I could at least look. So when I was done at the DQ, I backtracked, drove through (or rather, around) Hoisington’s downtown, and found the helicopter site. The copter looked awfully small. The pilots said they couldn’t afford to take up just one passenger. Okay, I said, I’ll wait a couple of minutes and see if someone else shows up.
Meanwhile I asked a bunch of stalling questions: Do I weigh too much to go? (Not even close; they could take a 300-pound passenger!) Wasn’t it too windy to fly? (No, helicopters love the wind!) I had fallen a couple of days ago and my left leg was hurting; would I be able to pull myself into the helicopter? (They’d help me!) I sat in my car, still ambivalent. Then a black SUV pulled up: father, mother, son, daughter. The son was first out, and it soon became clear that he and his dad were going up. The pilots waved me over, and I found myself plunking down two 20-dollar bills. I and the boy, who looked to be about 10, would be seated in the back, where there were windows. The pilot (a woman! yes!) and the dad would take the front seats, where there were no doors. “I’m scared,” the boy said matter-of-factly, without any visible sign of anxiety. “I guarantee you I’m more scared than you are,” I told him unwisely. “It’s bumpy,” he said (we hadn’t left the ground, but it did feel bumpy with the engines on). “Should we hold hands?” I said. “I’m going to hold on here,” he said, grabbing the bar between the back of the front seats. I did the same. And then we were up and off!
We were all wearing headsets so that we could hear the pilot and each other. “This is awesome!” the kid yelled as we began to fly over Hoisington. I was with him one hundred percent. I believe I might even have added “Woo!!” I was taking pictures like crazy, and the kid and I kept announcing how fun it was. It was wonderful fun. It was even fun when the helicopter banked significantly, though I was grateful I had a window next to me and not an open door. The ride, which lasted only four minutes or so, was far too short. I wanted to keep flying. Heck, I was ready to take lessons. But Lawrence awaited. I waved goodbye to the family, who were in fact from Hoisington, and headed down the road to Lindsborg.
This Scandinavian town was new to me. I got there at 5 p.m., so most places were closed except for an exceptional fair-trade shop called Connected. But Lindsborg hosts a sidewalk herd of painted dala horses. Wikipedia: “A Dalecarlian horse or Dala horse is a traditional carved, painted wooden horse statuette originating in the Swedish province of Dalarna. In the old days the Dala horse was mostly used as a toy for children; in modern times it has become a symbol of Dalarna, as well as Sweden in general. Several different types of Dala horses are made, with distinguishing features common to the locality of the site where they are produced.” In Lindsborg, the paintings on the horses may reflect the business where a given horse is located, or the interests of the sponsors or artist. One thing I noted is that the dala horses, which are chunky creatures, have no tails. I enjoyed photographing details of the paintings.
And then, as I was leaving the vicinity of Lindsborg, serendipity struck. I finally found what I’d been looking for all over Kansas and eastern Colorado: sunflowers! A whole big field of sunflowers with their heads still up (though, oddly, not facing the sun but facing east). I did what I could with my Pentax and my not-so-long lens, trying to get the best photo I could for me and my sunflower-loving friend Dinah.
At Salina I rejoined I-70. The rest of the drive to Lawrence was tedious, but it seemed to me that, all in all, I’d had the best possible day on the Plains.
The Big Trip: The Rockies, and then not ~
Day 12: Estes Park to Colby.
Yesterday evening was the sort of evening that reminded me of the disadvantages of solo travel, and today was the sort of day that made me grateful I was traveling alone.
After splurging on a cabin (technically, I had one-third of the cabin) on Fall River just west of Estes Park, I went into town, had a bite to eat, and then tripped on a step I didn’t see. Down I went on the concrete on my palms and knees. The only thing I remember thinking, other than “I can’t stop myself,” was “How will I get home?” I was close enough to the café to call for help; two of the wait-staff brought me ice and got me to my feet. I found out that I could drive if I was careful. I got back to the cabin just in time to catch the manager, who was on her way out, and she kindly brought me more ice and towels. I spent the rest of the evening feeling thankful that I hadn’t broken any bones or hit my head, and that it seemed I’d be able to drive a longer distance than the three miles from the middle of Estes Park to the motel.
The next morning I headed, somewhat gingerly, for Rocky Mountain National Park. I intended to spend only an hour or so. I wanted to visit the place where my sister and I had scattered our parents’ ashes 12 years ago, but I wanted to leave early and drive as far home as I could, because my calculations had shown me that, once again, I was due to reach Kansas City on a Monday or Tuesday, precluding a return visit to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum for the sixth consecutive time. So I determined to drive two long days and get to K.C. on Sunday.
In the park, however, I took a wrong turn and found myself heading up into the mountains on Trail Ridge Road. That’s okay, I thought, I’ll just go as far as Rainbow Curve (the second major overlook from the east), see how I handle the altitude, and turn around.
I handled it fine. It felt so good, in fact, and the weather was so cool and delightful, that I made an abrupt change of plan: I’d drive all the way across the park, come down to I-70 on the west side, stay the night somewhere, do things in Denver for a day or two, and stretch out my arrival in K.C. to Wednesday.
By this point in the trip I felt that my 10-year-old Prius and I were practically fused, a virtual woman/machine hybrid. We were at one with each other, it seemed. Until Rainbow Curve. Shortly after I pulled out of the overlook, the car began laboring badly. I nursed it along, hoping it would shake off whatever the problem was. No such luck. At Forest Canyon overlook, 11,700 feet above sea level, I decided to turn around, get the Prius back down to Estes Park, and see if I needed to find a mechanic.
In town I got lunch at a place I’d noticed called “You Need Pie!” Yes, I did: that was truth in advertising. The car had no pie but seemed to be doing better nonetheless, so I headed toward Denver, a route that descends from about 7,500 feet to about 5.000. And soon the car was running normally again. I reverted to my original travel plan: drive like hell toward Kansas City. The car and I ended up in Colby, Kansas, together, reconciled, and back in our own time zone.
The Big Trip: Hitting bottom and rebounding…artfully ~
Days 7-11: Boulder, Loveland, Fort Collins.
After my day recuperating in Fort Morgan, I headed toward Fort Collins but found that I would get there by mid-morning on a Sunday. So I detoured down to Boulder first, where I spent far too much time and money at the Pearl Street mall. It was a recapitulation of sorts: I went to exactly the same shops as when David and I were there, and I got a veggie panini at the same place we’d eaten. I was disappointed to see that the contortionist who folded himself into various containers, such as a little, clear plastic box, was no longer among the street performers. I wanted to donate to all of the performers, but my cash is dwindling alarmingly fast. I didn’t stay to watch the torch-juggler act, and I didn’t tip the guitarists or the accordion player, and I arrived too late to see a very popular act involving a performer balancing atop a tower of chairs, and I walked past an older gentleman in cowboy garb painted to look like a copper statue, and I skirted the guy in an African-type mask who was playing the bongo drums, and I felt terrible that I wasn’t leaving money for any of them, but there were just so many.
Eventually I sat down near one of the street performers to drink a lemonade and rest my aching feet. This particular guy—I believe it was a guy, though his act was mute—was impersonating a sort of ragdoll dog. His costume was made of tiers of short, pastel-colored pieces of fabric, so he could shake like a puli. He sat like a dog and looked hopefully at passersby. He’d try to attract children by getting up on all fours, or rolling on the ground. A couple of women with a little boy were taking pictures of him, but not leaving any money. That isn’t nice, I thought. I approached the performer and, looking over at the little boy, said, “I think this dog wants a belly rub, don’t you?” The “dog” promptly rolled onto his back. I reached down and rubbed his belly and he made some appreciative doggie-like grunts. “And maybe some scratching around this ear,” I said, still looking at the little group. I scratched one of his “ears” and he pumped one of his legs the way dogs often do when you’ve hit the right spot and they’re just loving it. “See?” I said. “I made him kick his leg.”
I dropped a couple of bucks into the performer’s bowl and then realized that a number of people had stopped to watch this joint act. In one last attempt to get this endearing performer some tips, I put out my hand, and said, “Shake?” He lifted an enormous foot so I could touch the bottom of it. It was more like a fist bump. Still no action from anyone in the crowd. It was a hot day and the street performer must have been terribly uncomfortable underneath his shaggy costume. I felt like whispering to him, “Well, I tried,” but I wasn’t sure if he could hear a whisper inside the doggie head he was wearing, so I just walked away. Ineffectual! Alas.
On the plus side, I was thrilled to see that the problems I’d had with the altitude in 2012 were gone. Three years ago, I’d walk a few feet, then have to rest. Walk a few more feet, then have to rest. Sit down repeatedly. Lean on David’s arm. This time around, I could walk without resting. The iron infusions clearly get credited for this improvement. I sat down only because my feet and legs began to ache almost unbearably. I haven’t built up my endurance very much yet, and they’re not used to this much walking. Added to that stress was driving much of the day without cruise control (I was on a variety of roads, from city streets to the interstate, and the traffic was very heavy everywhere).
In Fort Collins, I was forced to take yet another rest day on Monday. This time I didn’t even leave the motel. I am frightened of my debilitation and I am ashamed of being frightened. I know why I’m here and at the same time I feel I’ve lost sight of why I’m here. I’m reading a book where a man is being “reprocessed,” via amnesia-inducing injections, over and over; we don’t yet know why. Now he has been reprocessed to the point where he has no ambition or autonomy beyond his basic daily functioning, and he will be left to live the rest of his life in the “reprocessing village” (one of many) because he is considered cured. I.e., he no longer poses a threat. To what or whom, we don’t yet know. (To himself, it turns out; the book is called “A Cure for Suicide,” and the cure involves losing all the complexities and nuances and worries of life. I can divulge this because no one ever reads books that I recommend.)
Probably I should not be reading this book right now. It is beginning to affect me strongly. I think that I am like this man, not living a meaningful life. I worry that I’m breaking down, and that would constitute a great failure in my eyes. My sister suggested something I’d already thought of, that I could fly back home and that there are people who will drive your car back for you. But how do you know whom to trust? I would start driving back tonight; since I’ve slept all day I’m confident I could drive all night if it weren’t for the fact that my legs are swollen and hurt very much.
After this, I didn’t do any more writing during the trip, so I’ll sum things up briefly. On Tuesday I felt well enough to continue. I toured three independent-living facilities for my sister, two in Loveland and one in Fort Collins. Then, during a phone conversation with her that evening, I discovered that she didn’t want to live in the Fort Collins/Loveland area, she only wanted to live in Denver, and not in an independent-living facility. This would have been nice to know before I left Carbondale. I was completely open with her about my ideas and my agenda, so I was simultaneously vexed and confused. The trip now seems to have been misguided and misfocused. I considered heading to Denver for the next three days, then realized that Denver would involve a lot of upfront Internet research in order to focus a search. In addition, everyone I’ve talked to has told me that Denver is much more expensive than Fort Collins. Finally, I realized that my energy and navigational savvy simply didn’t extend to a big metro area like Denver on this particular road trip. So I decided to treat the rest of the journey as a vacation.
On Wednesday I met up with my friend David M., dedicated Marlovian and self-described “world’s oldest white rapper.” We stopped by Colorado State University’s trial gardens, where new varieties of garden flowers are being tested, on the way to the big Campbell’s soup can replica that CSU art students constructed to Andy Warhol’s specs and that he signed on a trip to Fort Collins. Dave kept mentioning some black-and-white photos in a gallery that he wanted me to see. Turns out that the gallery was the Center for Fine Art Photography, one of the very places I’d hoped to visit in Fort Collins. Although we arrived just at closing time, one of the curators kindly gave us a personal tour. Then it was on to an Italian restaurant and a quick drive west of the city and up a steep, winding ridge to Horsetooth Reservoir in an attempt to catch the sunset. We were a little late, but the view was beautiful nonetheless.
The arts scene seems to be thriving in Fort Collins and also in Loveland, just to the south. Public sculpture abounds in both cities. Both have taken to painting those big electrical boxes you see all over the place in fanciful, colorful designs, turning them from eyesores into attractions. Fort Collins also paints old pianos with whimsical scenes and leaves them in public places—even alleyways–for anyone to play. In one of the photos above, Dave is trying to talk me into playing the piano so he can get a video of it. So great is my performance anxiety that when I finally sat down, I began “House of the Rising Sun” in the wrong key and never did get straightened out. (Dave, I hope you’ve deleted that video.)
On Thursday I broke my new “vacation-only” rule in order to tour one more facility in Fort Collins, in the interest of doing a reasonably thorough job of what I’d come more than a thousand miles to do, and then toured an apartment complex just across the street. Afterwards, I headed for Estes Park, where I’ll pick this up in the next installment. The writing will get shorter from now on; I promise. We’re on the home stretch.
The Big Trip: Searching for sunflowers; finding sopapillas ~
Days 5 & 6: Hays to Fort Morgan.
Everyone who has flown across the Great Plains has seen the crop circles made by pivot irrigation. They are a potent reminder that we cannot truly grasp the way humankind has remade this planet without seeing it from the air. But we also must see it from the ground—and we can, a little bit, in this case. When you’re driving in Kansas, anytime you see a pivot irrigator near the road, watch as the edge of the crop circle recedes from you on the far side. Often you can see the edge on the front side as well, if you’re paying good attention.
Irrigation circles are plentiful after Hays, which is high-plains country and where you begin to see gates at the entrances to the interstate, to close it off in case of heavy snow. I exited I-70 at Goodland, took an inordinate number of photographs at a Steak ‘n Shake (of all things), and drove back roads north to Haigler, Nebraska, right at the corner of the state. The last part of this drive finally satisfied my need for isolation.
One of my hopes for this trip was to see the fields of sunflowers, the flower that Kansas has made one of its state symbols. Eventually I saw two fields of cultivated sunflowers, but their heads were all bowed down, like a crowd of penitents. Drought? Too close to harvest? I’m not sure. The roads are lined with wildflowers that look like native sunflowers, rather small and not very tall growing, but I was able to get only one decent photo of them.
The county roads in Kansas, or at least this part of Kansas, are lettered rather than numbered. CR X amounted to a pair of barely discernible rutted tracks mounting an arid hill. CR Y seemed like a lament; a few miles later, CR YY seemed like a command. CR Z felt like the end of the world. After I headed west from Haigler and crossed the border into Colorado, I saw that the county roads here are numbered. One of them was CR 92 1/2. I am still puzzling over this and have come up with no plausible explanation for it. How can you have 1/2 of a road? I was hoping things would deconstruct even further, to 1/4 or even 1/8 of a county road, but I never spotted so much as one other 1/2.
I made it to my intended destination, Fort Morgan, Colo., but then I crashed. A pattern seems to be emerging: two days driving and/or seeing “attractions,” one day in bed at a motel. My do-not-disturb sign at this absurdly expensive Hampton Inn in Fort Morgan, Colo., says “Resting.” I noticed that someone else’s, however, says “Relaxing.” They’ve got me pegged. I’m surprised mine doesn’t say “Recuperating” or even “Restructuring.” The door plates here each have a black-and-white photograph next to the number. Mine shows an old-fashioned air pump from a filling station. I’ve checked out eight or nine other rooms and so far each photo is different. A pile of horseshoes. An old church bell. An antiquated alarm clock. A little boy sitting against a bale of hay. A parking meter. I like these.
As usual when I’m exhausted and hurting, depression sets in. After sleeping all day and then texting a good friend for encouragement, I finally pulled myself together around 5 p.m. and went out to eat. At the Acapulco Café I had my biennial BLT (no more bacon for me for two years), which came with fries better than anyplace in Carbondale makes them. And then for dessert I ordered the sopapillas, which can’t be had anywhere in C’dale as far as I know. These were served on a monstrous plate with a mountain of whipped cream in the middle, and they were the best I’ve ever had, even better than the ones at the diner in Santa Fe that I can’t remember the name of that’s just off the market square. I offered to share my order with the only other diners, a young woman and her little girl, who are staying next door to me at the Hampton (I recognized the woman’s dress). She turned me down and apologized in advance for her girl, who was talking incessantly, interspersed with shrieks that reminded me of the birds in Hays. So I ate almost all of them myself. I thought I’d regret it, but I didn’t; I felt just fine. They did me a world of good, I think.
Then I went a block down Main Street (which does not seem to be thriving here in Fort Morgan) to the old-fashioned movie theater. I could have seen “Straight Outta Compton,” which seems like a hilarious choice out here on the high plains, but instead I went with “Ricki and the Flash.” It isn’t a well-written movie—1970s rock ‘n roll really isn’t the quick fix for a rock-bottom relationship with the mother who deserted you when you were young—but Meryl Streep is a good singer and she learned to play the guitar for this movie, at least enough to get through the 11 songs she had to perform. Her singing was the part that interested me enough to pony up the eight bucks this small-town theater must charge just to survive—that plus the fact that I didn’t want to see any of the other three movies playing. I talked to the theater owner for awhile; he and his movie house are hanging in there, he says.
And then I did my laundry at the Hampton. Given that I plan to shorten the trip considerably, I may not have to do laundry again until I get home. So hurray for that.
I’ve been plagued with memories ever since I left Lawrence. I crossed Kansas once with my first husband, several times with my (now-deceased) second husband, and once with a (now-deceased) boyfriend, and it saddens me greatly to think of all of that potential life lost. Two of those trips were occasioned by my parents’ deaths. It will soon be September 8, the day Mom died 18 years ago. If I had had a baby that year, that child would be going off to college now. It’s a fact that almost stops my breath. I’m a ruminator by nature, and the comparative isolation of the Great Plains reinforces that tendency.
The Big Trip: Jazz and jumping beans ~
Days 2 & 3: Boonville to Lawrence.
Yesterday morning I left the Boonville Comfort Inn before 10:30, ready to face the “major delay” promised at mile marker 77. There turned out to be no delay, so I ended up parking outside the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City a little before noon. This is in the 18th & Vine district, where Charlie Parker came to prominence, so I listened to some of Parker’s music while I was driving to K.C. to put me in the right mood. (For those who haven’t seen it, “Bird,” starring Forest Whitaker as Parker and directed by Clint Eastwood, who is a jazz aficionado, is excellent; see what Roger Ebert had to say about it here). The museum was small but had lots of listening stations. I wandered around looking at the exhibits and listening to some classic jazz. The place was deserted. I would like to also have seen the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which is on the other side of the same building, but my legs needed a break and my stomach needed lunch.
I decided to look for a lunch place while en route to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which had been a disappointment when David and I visited in 2012. Why the Kemper? Because the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I always seem to be going through Kansas City on Monday or Tuesday. Argghh!
On the way a no-left-turn sign diverted me from my route and I found myself in a couple of gentrifying blocks. I photographed the sign for Bellicose Church, on the assumption that it was indeed some sort of place of worship and not, say, the design studio of someone who’d given himself a peculiar name. The typography was uncommonly good for a small church, or for pretty much any church. But I thought it was funny, whatever it was. (I just now looked it up and no longer find it funny. It is a church—a “missional community”—with this action statement: “We named our church Bellicose because we don’t believe that Jesus wants his church to be passive. Therefore we’re inclined or eager to fight for people’s hearts (John 15:13), aggressively hostile to the gates of hell (Matt 16:18, Matt 11:12), and warlike against sin (1 Pet 2:11, 2 Cor 10:3-5) — we’re aggressive in our love for God and people.” Well, at least they’re honest about it. But God save me from people who are aggressive in their love for God. So is ISIS.
After photographing the church facade, I went into, and back out of, a place called the Corner Café. I am indeed a total rube when it comes to food. I’m reluctant to try anything with ingredients that I need to have defined or that seem bizarre. For instance, one salad came with espresso vinaigrette, which seemed to be overreaching for originality. Every lunch entreé involved one or more such oddities, so I after I visited the Kemper Museum I sat in my car in the parking lot eating the string cheese, carrots, and almonds I’d packed, which was much cheaper and probably more healthful.
I spent very little time at the Kemper, which was again a disappointment because the main building has only a couple of small galleries devoted to their permanent collection. However, included in those galleries was an absolutely wonderful purple painting by Helen Frankenthaler called, appropriately, “Bacchus.” It alone was worth the visit. I took some photos, none of which begin to do it justice. Then I fell for a ceramic vase in the gift shop, which is precisely what happened the first time I went to the Kemper. Don’t go in museum gift shops when you’re tired and hungry: That should be one of my mantras. There is a vacation phenomenon whereby you give yourself permission to spend money on such things even though you tell yourself not to. And here I’ve been getting rid of as much stuff as possible at home.
I decided not to take the turnpike to Lawrence, but to go the southern route, through Overland Park. Once I got off 470 and onto Kansas Route 10, it seemed like I was in Lawrence in no time. I found the main drag easily, ate cheese ravioli and spanakopita at a Greek/Italian restaurant, then hit the nature store and the toy store that I’d spotted on my first drive-through. Oddly, given that I’d just mentioned Mexican jumping beans in my recent blog post on spirit animals, the nature store had some of those little clear boxes of beans on the checkout counter–the first I’d seen in years. The sales clerk, an older woman, knew about the larva, and about why they jumped. Some of the beans were in sunlight, and they did seem to be jumping more than the ones that were in shadow. “Here,” she said, handing me a section of newspaper. “If you put that over the display, they’ll stop jumping.” I did it, and bingo, the jumping stopped immediately. That was impressive. I did it a couple more times and told her about my blog post. I bought a 50-cent plastic lizard as a mascot for the trip and also an inexpensive but lovely fossil, an orthoceras–an ancient cephalopod that navigated by squirting water out of its body. The toy store, which was jaw-droppingly extensive, made me wish I knew someone with a little kid. It would have been great fun to explore the whole place and buy tons of presents.
This morning, in my motel room in Lawrence, I decided that I needed extra sleep before going to the Spencer Museum of Art, my main reason for stopping here. I ended up sleeping all day. In the evening I called the museum, which the AAA Tour Guide said was open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays, and a recording announced that it was closed for renovations until sometime in 2016. So that was that.
I’d forgotten that when I sleep in the daytime, my dreams tend to be more nightmarish than usual. Now I’m feeling very bad emotionally, with my legs aching from driving, and I’m beginning to think about aborting the trip. The drive out seems overwhelming, and the drive back, impossible. Given everything I’ve learned about Fort Collins real estate in the last two weeks, it seems a fool’s errand to go out there. I’m also worried about my sister back in Carbondale, who has descended from hypomania back into depression, and I feel guilty about leaving the dogs in the kennel for so long. I’ve decided to put off the decision until tomorrow morning. I showered after getting up at 5:30 tonight, so tomorrow I can just get dressed, throw everything into the car, and take off. Whether west or homeward, I don’t know.
The Big Trip: Of A&Ws, highway signs, and iPads ~
Day 1: From Carbondale to Boonville.
Good lord but that A&W root beer was sweet. Most of that is going down the drain. I’m in the Comfort Inn in Boonville, Missouri. I’d hoped to make it to Independence today, but I hit the wall in Boonville. I didn’t sleep last night, and today I drove several hours after dropping off the dogs at the kennel.
Utter exhaustion led to utter lack of will power, which in turn led me to order fries with my fast-food sandwich for the first time in…well, I don’t know when. And I drove three miles into town to get the root beer, because who knew that A&W restaurants still existed? But I can’t drink things that sweet anymore, it seems. This town is built on hills; it must be close to the Missouri River. (Later confirmed that yes, it is.) Even the drive-throughs are hilly. I noticed in passing that Yummy’s Donut Shop sells kolaches. I’ve forgotten what those are. Must Google it, since nobody in Carbondale, to my knowledge, sells kolaches. Are they Polish? (No, Czech.)
Nothing of note appeared on this leg of the journey, with the exception of two blue state highway signs between Wentzville and Columbia that said “ATTRACTION EXIT XX” but then had nothing listed underneath. Did these benighted places once have an attraction which then eroded, got up and left, or in some other way disappeared, or is the Missouri Department of Transportation unduly optimistic that an attraction will someday appear in the vicinity of these exits?
The only other notable thing is that I spent a good chunk of change before I even crossed the Mississippi by stopping at a Best Buy in Fairview Heights to purchase the iPad Mini 2 and keyboard folio on which I’m writing this, under the illusion that I will actually document this trip. My other excuse was to use the iPad to serve as a backup for the photos that I will ostensibly take. So far I’ve only taken some iPhone photos of the right front end of some monstrous pickup or SUV that parked next to me at the Boonville rest stop. (See example above, which I like despite its technical flaws.)
Some of my vacation photos may be a little different from the norm.
The Big Trip and the pleasures of solitary travel ~
So here’s the deal: Despite my lousy physical condition, I decided to take a road trip. I’ve been hankering to go on a road trip for at least a year now. My family took road-trip vacations every year in a fully packed VW Beetle (this would now be considered child cruelty) and later a VW Squareback. Such a practice either turns a child against road trips for life or puts a nostalgic love of road trips into a child’s blood, where it causes lifelong wanderlust. In my case, it’s in my blood.
But various things caused delays, most notably something that wasn’t in my blood: iron. It took a year and a seemingly ridiculous number of tests for a family practitioner, a gastroenterologist, a rheumatologist, and a hematologist to collectively rule out explanations, both mundane and ghastly, for my severe iron-deficiency anemia. (The final diagnosis: Iron-deficiency anemia of unexplained cause.) The delay also included a three-month trial on iron supplements. Those supplements did very little, so just over 12 months after my anemia was discovered, I finally had a series of iron infusions that brought my iron levels up to normal. This newfound normality (my sister might suggest noting here that I am normal only in this one respect, so there you go) didn’t seem to give me any energy boost, but I was determined to attempt this trip nonetheless.
I live in southern Illinois, and my primary goal was to travel to Fort Collins, Colo., to see if it might be a good place for me and my sister to move. My second goal was to find some lonely back roads in order to match my mood over the past few months and years, which I would describe as “high lonely.” My third goal was to take photographs, and my fourth was simply to see if I could carry out what I planned. So I prepared to spend as long as a month on the trip, because I knew I’d need to build in time for periodically crashing at a motel and sleeping through the next day.
There were some bad days and a couple of scares, but: I did it! And it was great. It’s fortunate I was alone, because I changed my plans frequently, sometimes on the slightest of whims, sometimes depending on how I felt at the time, and once on account of the car (more of that later). Only the most easygoing companion, someone with no agenda whatsoever, could have put up with this. For me, it was liberating. I didn’t have to worry about whether someone else would object to a given route, or a given activity, or a given eatery, or a given anything. So I planned well but I also did what I pleased, some of it on the spur of the moment. The trip didn’t rid me of my desire for a life partner, but it proved decisively what shorter solo trips had hinted: Solitary travel has its joys. I savored them.
The trip by the numbers:
Days: 15, 3 1/2 of which were spent crashed at a motel
Photographs taken: don’t know; more than 1,000
Photographs saved: somewhere around 600; much more pruning needed
Average temperature: hot, but tolerable due to the much lower humidity
Highest elevation reached: approx. 11,700 feet, Forest Canyon overlook, Rocky Mtn Natl Park
Cost: yes 😦
Next up: some photos and some of the writing I did while on the road.