Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nine Thousand, Three Hundred, Eighty-One

If you have any idea what this is, please let me know.
It may have historical significance to my family,
Or it may just be costume jewelry.
Taken 11/26/07 in Smith River, California

After returning from Nashville, I decided to give WVU-P one more chance. On Tuesday I drove out to the campus and went directly to the head of Human Resources. Acknowledging that I was going to ask a question that she probably would not be able to answer, I posed my query: “If I haven’t heard by now, does that mean that I won’t be hearing anything?” After I explained that should the school want to hire me to teach Spring Semester, I would need to drive cross-country twice before the January session opening date. To her credit, while she did not directly answer my question (and I know enough about HR stuff to know that she couldn’t legally answer), she did tell me that phone interviews had been completed the day before and barring any complications with the top five candidates, if I hadn’t already heard from the search committee, I probably wouldn’t be hearing from them.

Ah, so much for my dream position. And there’s one of the biggest problems with American academia today, in my opinion. Our graduate schools are still putting out more PhDs than the market can bear. When a small school, in an out-of-the-way location, does a national search, they get hundreds of applicants. WVU-P had advertised this position in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and you don’t get better national coverage than that. Of the hundreds of applications, few, if any, are from people who have a real interest in teaching in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Instead most are looking for a place to advance their careers, a stepping stone to some larger, more prestigious place. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to move up the ladder. It’s the American way. But ultimately the real losers are the students at these schools who end up with faculty who have no connection and no interest in forming a connection.

Many years ago The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the way that the University of Georgia was handling exactly this problem. Every fall UGa put the new faculty on a bus and took them on a tour of rural Georgia. The administration felt that the best way to form a connection between new faculty and their students was to introduce that faculty to the families and towns which sent the students to Athens. I don’t know whether UGa is still in the tour business, but the concept makes a great deal of sense. And for those of us who really want to teach at a school like WVU-P, well there’s always the adjunct route—if you have the financial resources to be able to live on the pittance that’s paid these non-tenurable, no benefits provided peons.

The Emerald City--or maybe just Indianapolis in the early morning
Taken 11/19/07 near Indianapolis, Indiana

That said, it became obvious to me that the time for my extended vacation was nearly over. I set up a farewell dinner with Sharon, Ron and Derwin at a location of Sharon’s choosing. She suggested Kokomo’s, a place overlooking the confluence of the Little Kanawha and the Ohio. I had seen the sign for this restaurant many times while visiting the Parkersburg Yacht Club where Sharon keeps her jet ski and her camp trailer. Ron and Derwin seconded the suggestion, so in the midst of the heaviest rain fall I’ve seen in many a year, we set out. Because of the heavy rain, we had the restaurant to ourselves. Also because of the rain, we couldn’t really enjoy the deck and the dock facilities that allow Kokomo’s customers to arrive by boat. We did, however, enjoy the “All You Can Eat” ribs that Kokomo’s offers on Wednesday evenings. Sharon choose the catfish, but the three men had man-sized meals of ribs, pulled pork, buffalo wings and spaghetti. We ended up taking most of it home with us as the portions were so large, we didn’t need to order a second time around. And all this for $7.95. Sharon, Ron and Derwin all agreed that they’d be going back to Kokomo’s which has all you can eat specials several nights a week.

Thursday I began packing up my stuff which had been left partly at Sharon’s and mostly at Ron and Derwin’s home. I’m not sure how I got it all back in the Volvo, but somehow things fit—as long as I didn’t need to get anything out of the big boxes in the back. I planned to speed my way west—taking the Interstates this time instead of the back roads. If I worked it right, I could be back in Missoula in three days.

But there were still two more visits I had to make in West Virginia. I hadn’t seen my cousin Vikki since first arriving in the Mountain State. She had had family matters that had taken her to Texas, and when she returned to her home in Ravenswood, she ended up taking care of her mother who spent the better part of a month in and out of the hospital. I couldn’t leave without saying good-bye for now, so instead of driving west, I began by heading south.

The second stop I had to make was in Charleston, where Robert EagleClaw Parkins lives. I had met Bob at Longfork Campground and we’d shared some good times. Robert is one of the founders of Applachian American Indians of West Virginia, and a published author. He’s written three books and was interested in turning the first into a screen play. I had agreed to look it over and see what, if anything, I might do to help in this endeavor. With this in mind, having left Vikki’s home, I continued south to Charleston and Bob’s place.

An Illinois Rest Area off I-74
Taken 11/19/07

Once again, I had a fine time with Bob, and picked up both the published book and the computer disks with Bob’s first two books ready for my editing. The published novel is titled A Prejudiced Resentment: American Cultures in Recovery and tells the story of how a Native American contractor runs afoul of an unprincipled EPA and lives to tell about it. Based largely on Bob’s own experiences dealing with government bureaucracies, the book has several sections of judicial proceedings inserted directly into the narrative. Bob’s hope was that I could find a way to make these sections more readable. All I can say is that I’ll give it my best shot. The book, by the way, is available through and you can order it here: A Prejudiced Resentment: American Cultures in Recovery

Unable to sleep, I left Bob’s home at 1:30 Saturday morning, heading west on Interstate 64. While still in West Virginia, I turned off the Interstate to drive along the Kanawha River, crossing into Ohio at Gallipolis. US Highway 35 is part of the Applachian Corridor System, and from the state line on west I was on four-lane divided highway all the way to Dayton. The last part of my drive across West Virginia was on the straightest, flattest highway I had driven in that state. I wish I had driven it in daylight as I had no idea what the surrounding countryside was like.

I continued across Ohio, catching up with Interstate 70 at Dayton, and soon crossed over into Indiana. Needing both a rest stop and a geocache, I pulled into the first rest area on the Indiana stretch of I-70, but it was too dark to find any caches in the area. Parking the Volvo, and pulling a pillow from the back, I took a break from the highway. Unfortunately, even with the sun coming up, I was unable to find the cache hidden at this rest stop. Fortunately, there would be others I could find heading west.

Indianapolis rose like the Emerald City over the flat horizon of the Hoosier State. I skirted the city and continued west, now on Interstate 74, toward Illinois where I picked up a few more rest area caches. My ultimate goal for the day was Des Moines, Iowa, where I would spend the night with Fred, Harold and Sadie—friends from my visit to the Raccoon River Resort back in September.

The miles kept accumulating as I crossed Illinois, surely the most monotonous landscape in the country. Mind you, I’ve not driven across either Kansas or Texas, but they couldn’t be any more boring than downstate Illinois. Illinois does have fantastic rest areas, however, and at one I got into a discussion with the caretaker. He had seen the back of my car with all its rainbow and bear flags and my marriage equality bumper sticker. He asked where I was headed, and when I told him Montana, he asked if I were married. When I told him that I had a partner in Montana, he replied that his partner was waiting for him at home and that “he” (the partner) would be very glad to see him (the caretaker) when the workday was done. Goes to show you just never know who or what you might meet while traveling.

Just east of the Illinois/Iowa state line, Interstate 74 merged with Interstate 80, the route I would take across Iowa. A call to Fred to give him an update brought the news that we were all going to see the national touring production of Avenue Q that evening. Mind you, I’ve now been up since midnight Central Time, and on the road since 12:30. I’m not sure just how I’ll handle being in a theatre that evening, but I’ve wanted to see Avenue Q for a long time, so….

I pulled into Fred’s driveway about 5:30 which gave me time to climb in the Jacuzzi for a quick soak before having dinner with Fred and Harold. We arrived at the theatre in time to find our seats—second row right under the speaker system. No chance to fall asleep here, and I did thoroughly enjoy the play. After intermission, however, I was getting a bit drowsy. Fortunately the second act isn’t as long as the first, and in no time I was climbing into bed at Fred’s place. Total mileage for the day was just shy of eight hundred miles, and a long day it was too.

Another view of the same Illinois Rest Stop
Taken 11/19/07

Sunday I followed the Lord’s advice, and rested, but Monday found me driving across Western Iowa, then north on Interstate 29, staying on the Iowa side of the Missouri River until I crossed in South Dakota just below Sioux Falls where I picked up Interstate 90.

Just west of Sioux Falls I pulled off for lunch at a place that advertised buffalo burgers, and while the café itself was closed for the season, the store had a grill and I ordered two burgers. Over lunch I had a fascinating conversation with an old codger who may have owned the place, or maybe just hung out there, sitting by the fire reading. He was heavily into Elaine Pagels’ work and we discussed the history of Christianity, Mormonism, and other facets of Western Civilization. Not quite the lunch time conversation I was expecting, but hey. Remember what I said about the people you meet when traveling.

Driving I-90 across South Dakota was similar to the drive I’d taken three months previously in the other direction on US 14. The temperature was a bit lower, but not much, with daytime readings in the 60s all across the state. It was dark by the time I reached Rapid City, and by the time I got to Belle Fouche (remember the center of the U.S.?), I was ready to eat.

US 212 heads northwest out of Belle Fouche and crosses the northeast corner of Wyoming before entering Montana south of Alzada. My goal for the day was Miles City where I was going to spend the night with Eric Brandt whom I had met on the trip east. He’s the one who made up my business cards, and I still plan on getting him to build my next desktop computer.

Soon after crossing the Montana line I hit snow. Gary had warned me about the snow that had fallen over the weekend in Missoula, and the storm was now on its way east. In addition to the falling snow, I got to contend with more deer along the highway than I’ve ever seen. The rest of the drive to Broadus then north to Miles City had me watching constantly for deer. Somehow I don’t think the hunters in southeastern Montana had done their job well.

I pulled up to Eric’s place (well, his mother’s place to tell the truth) around 11:00 p.m. Mountain Time. Total miles for the day came to just over 850, even longer than Saturday’s drive.

Tuesday morning, Eric and I were joined by my friend Ed, and we had breakfast before the two of them headed to work and I continued driving west. Instead of the balmy 60 degree temperatures I had seen in South Dakota, Montana was white, icy and under 25 degrees. I wondered if I’d be able to drive all the way to Missoula, but my luck held and with one stop in Belgrade for lunch and gas, I pulled up to the Missoula house in the late afternoon. Today’s mileage was a mere four hundred eighty-eight miles, but when you add to it the Montana mileage from Alzada to Miles City, thirty percent of my driving had been in Montana, and all of that involved snow. I was glad to be off the road.

Unfortunately, the strain of driving almost twenty-one hundred miles in four days wore me out. I had no energy, no will, and felt like a bad cold had taken over my body. All I could do was sleep, and with the outside temperature hovering around fifteen degrees, I couldn’t get warm. After spending Thanksgiving with Gary and the kids, Friday morning I had a brief conversation with the man in my life. That discussion led me to believe that I would have to return to California and deal with the property issues there (and, I hoped, warm up in the process). Friday afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving, I was back in the car, this time with Gypsy, and heading further west.

Saturday afternoon I pulled the Volvo into the garage in Smith River, and now, over a week later, that’s where I remain (although not in the garage). There are important decisions I have to make, and I appeal to my readers for their help. If you have any suggestions as to what a 58 year old openly gay male should do with the rest of his life, and where he should plant himself, please feel free to let me know. All I know is that I am still feeling down with the cold and am a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of rearranging my life.

The Full Moon Over Smith River
Taken 11/25/07

I’m glad for the trip. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I met fascinating people and visited wonderful places. I look forward to seeing many of them again. If I can find a way to make such trips pay for themselves, I could happily spend six months a year on the road. Drop me a note and invite me to visit. I may just take you up on it.

Oh, and the 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive, well as you may have supposed from the title of today’s blog, the actual mileage was nine thousand, three hundred, eighty-one, from the time I pulled out of the Smith River driveway back on September 4th, to my pulling back into the garage in Smith River on November 24th. What a wild trip it’s been.

1 comment:

Don said...


I've been following your travels for some time and have enjoyed reading about your experiences. You must be about the friendliest guy on the planet the way you meet people. It's just NOT my way. Most travel blogs are retired folks in RVs. Yours was different: you are younger than a lot of them, in the way you traveled and the places you went.

It's too bad that the road can't go on forever but I guess it is just the start of something new (in disguise). My wife and I have done some RV travelling and are now hoping that we'll get to explore the East Coast via an old trawler yacht. There is the small matter of disposing of a lifetime's collection of trash and trinkets and a house in Florida. Maybe one day you'll be able to read our (probably extremely dull) blog.

Anyway, thanks for many hours of enjoyable vicarious travel. Good luck.