Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Rhythm of the Road

There are human societies so simple and unadorned as to possess no clothing other than the loincloth, no tool other than the stick or stone, no permanent dwelling place, no carving or other plastic art. But nowhere on this planet can you find a people without music and dance.

--George Leonard, The Silent Pulse: A Search for the Perfect Rhythm That Exists in Each of Us. E.P Dutton, New York, 1978.

The Missouri State Capitol Building
(Click to enlarge, then tell me what the statue is on top the dome)
Taken 9/21/07 in Jefferson City, Missouri

I was late getting out of my motel room in Columbia, Missouri. Fortunately check out was noon. I had not done my writing the night before, so even though I awoke at my usual 6:00 a.m., it was still almost 11:30 before I handed in my key and turned the Volvo back onto the road. If you’ve been following my travels, you know that I have done my darndest to avoid the interstate highway system. According to my map, I could cross the city on Providence Avenue which fronted my motel, and meet up with US 63 on the far side of town. Driving south, I saw the Café Berlin (and yes, they used the acute accent), which promised international cuisine. Pulling into their parking lot, I grabbed a book I had purchased in one of the used bookstores in Rapid City, South Dakota, George Leonard’s The Silent Pulse. I had first come across Leonard as an undergrad when his book Education and Ecstasy grabbed my attention. Seeing his name on the shelves of a Rapid City bookstore, I jumped at the chance to renew our acquaintance.

The Café Berlin offered several different coffee and tea drinks, as all such places do these days, and the breakfast menu had a compendium of various egg dishes. I chose “Menemen Turkish Eggs” which turned out to be three eggs scrambled with cherry tomatoes, onions, green pepper, and feta cheese. Four slices of pita bread were also on the plate. It didn’t resemble anything I had eaten for breakfast in Turkey, but it was good. While waiting for my food to come out of the kitchen, I picked up Leonard’s book, and opened to page one. After a quote from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, chapter one began with the paragraph I quoted above. I was hooked. The final sentence in that paragraph spoke to something deep within me. “But nowhere on this planet can you find a people without music and dance.”

I have often said that there are three things important in life: eating; dancing; and some third thing that begins with “s.” At times I have felt that dance was the only thing important in life. My greatest regret is that I never pursued a dance education, but then, as my father always told me, “Men don’t dance.” Oh poppa!

My eggs were delivered to my table, and I put the book down. I then noticed a card on my table—one that was on every table in the café. The card convinced me that I was in the right place. Let me repeat it verbatim here.

Welcome to

Café Berlin

We want you to know what you are
paying for when you buy a meal here at
the Café.

Our coffee is fair-trade organic, our
milk and meats are local, the soda we
offer is free of high-fructose corn syrup
(so is our pancake syrup and our
jams!), and we use as many local fruits
and veggies as we can get!

Our food may take longer to get to your
table than some other places, but it is
prepared to order with love by our
staff (who are paid a living wage), so it
is always fresh.

You should feel good knowing that your dollars
Spent here are supporting our community.

We love you!

OK. I’m a sucker for a good line, and that was a great one. As I listened to the customers around me, it became apparent that I was in a place filled with “regulars.” These people apparently loved the Café Berlin as much as the staff of the café loved them. And the food was good.

Having finished “brunch,” I drove through downtown Columbia and off into a gated community by a large lake. Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Missouri certainly has an abundance of them. The homes in this area were large and well maintained, as befits the covenants undoubtedly in force here. Beyond the fancy homes, I found myself driving through a conservation area. I’ll have to come back and spend time in Columbia. Between the colleges, the green spaces and at least one very good restaurant, this is a place worth spending some time.

First United Methodist Church
Taken 9/21/07 in Jefferson City, Missouri

US 63 is not part of the interstate system, but I had four lane divided road for the entire way from Columbia to Jefferson City. Chatting on line the night before with a fellow from Jefferson City, he suggested that I be sure and get a view of the capitol building from the riverside. Missouri’s state capitol dominates the skyline, built on a hill overlooking the Missouri River. Across the street were the grounds of the Governor’s mansion. Several other architectural marvels were within walking distance. I parked the car in a free zone (amazing! free parking across from the capitol?), grabbed my camera and started walking. All that slowed me down were the steep hills all around me and the heat. It had to be close to 90 out, and the humidity was getting to me as well. Still, I walked for several blocks getting the historic First United Methodist Church, the modern First Baptist Church, and the Cole County Court House. The sidewalks had several well tended flower beds per block and what I saw of the town was neat, well cared for, and visually fascinating. I would definitely like to spend more time in Missouri’s capitol city, and if anyone would care to serve as Native Guide, I’d jump at the chance to learn more about this town.

I had reservations in central Illinois for the night, so back in the car, fill the tank, and, oh no. The key won’t turn in the ignition. This has been an intermittent problem, and the guys at Swede One know that when I return to Portland, they’re going to have to replace the ignition cylinder. This is a major operation, and involves ordering the part direct from Sweden where the cylinder has to be matched to my car’s VIN. It takes at least three weeks once the part is ordered. My only concern is that I finish the trip and make it back to Portland with no further complications.

After what seemed an eternity, and several tries at taking the key out, turning it over, reinserting it, opening the door, locking all the locks, unlocking all the locks, etc. The key finally turned and the ignition took. Breathing a sigh of relief, I pulled away from the gas pumps and headed east.

So far I hadn’t seen any flat land in Missouri, and the hills were beginning to get even steeper. Deciduous forests are a novelty to me—they don’t exist in the West—and everywhere I looked were trees in full leaf, with some just beginning to turn color. This bodes well for my chances of seeing a real fall spectacular once I get to West Virginia. I was on US 50 heading toward St. Louis, and driving along the Gasconade Ridge. Passing one sign, I wondered whatever would possess someone to offer, as the sign did, “Bland Antiques.” Well, sure, I think antiques are pretty bland, but I’d bet my friend John in Missoula wouldn’t agree with me.

The side of the tractor/trailer rig next to me
They look so young. Why are we sending them off to be killed?
Taken 9/21/07 in East St Louis, Illinois

As I got closer to St. Louis I noted that there is no way to cross the Mississippi unless you’re on an interstate. Truth to tell, I was getting tired of driving through endless suburbs at 35 mph, so when US 50 merged with I-44, I gladly got on the highway and accelerated to the posted 70 mph.

No, I didn’t stop in St. Louis, and in some respects I’m sorry. The city has lots to offer and I will return. For now, however, my trip isn’t about cities. I crossed the Mississippi and the Illinois state line, and saw the Arch only from a distance.

Central Illinois as seen from Illinois Highway 161
Taken 9/21/07

Priapus Pines, the clothing optional gay male campground where I would be spending the weekend is about 60 miles east of Saint Louis off Illinois Highway 161. Driving east on this two lane road I finally was in flat land. There are the occasional hillocks, but for most of the drive I was crossing farm land that stretched on as far as could be seen. I was beginning to wonder if the only crops grown in America are corn and soybeans. Since I left the sunflower fields of South Dakota, all I have seen are corn and soybeans, corn and soybeans, and then more corn and more soybeans. This worries me as much as the monoculture vineyards that are taking over California.

Which reminds me. In Iowa, my hosts had pointed out vineyards south of Des Moines, or rather they told me that there were vineyards “over there.” In Missouri, and now in Illinois, I saw signs indicating that down this road is a vineyard, but I haven’t seen a single grape arbor since I drove through Kennewick Washington almost three weeks ago. Then again, I haven’t heard anything about tasty Iowa, Missouri or Illinois wines. They haven’t filled the shops in the stores I visit.

Driving through Centralia, Illinois, population 14,000, I looked in vain for a Wells Fargo Bank ATM, but no luck, so I paid the $2.00 fee and got my cash from some other bank. Priapus Pines is just twenty miles east of Centralia, and I arrived in time to get my tent set up before dark. The campground consists of 60 secluded acres with lots of trees (mostly oak), lots of very loud insects, lots of ants, and a great deal of privacy. I’ve been alone and naked for twenty-four hours now, and have enjoyed the hot tub this morning (Saturday) and the pool this afternoon. I’ve finished one book, and started another. I’ve had the place to myself. It’s quite a change from the week I spent at the Raccoon River Resort, and there’s nothing here that makes me feel “at home.” Still, it’s a lovely spot, and I can see how I could do something very similar with my land in Montana.

There is no cellular service here, either for my phone or for the internet, so I’ll have to wait to post this until I can get a good signal. That will be sometime tomorrow (Sunday), for unless something extraordinary happens tonight, I’ll be heading on into Indiana once I’m up in the morning.

Yes, I am camping!
Priapus Pines Campground
Taken 9/22/07 near Iuka, Illinois

By the way, it’s now officially fall and the weather is dry and warm—around 90. I miss the coolness of the coast.

1 comment:

Carl said...

I'm finally getting to reading your blog, and the first installment (for me) is delightful, especially with the wonderful quotes from the very different sources.