Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mental snapshots

As we traveled through the green and boggy South, green corridors of the East, green farmlands of the Midwest, and then home again to our beloved dry desert Southwest (but still greener than usual), we realized that we weren’t taking as many pictures or writing journal entries as we do during a bicycle tour. In fact, the only time we did write journal entry was when we went for a bicycle rides.

We also wondered if the bicycle has trained us to tour in a certain way or if bicycle traveling had just fit us from the beginning. For example, we don’t tend to go out of our way for the traditional tourist sights, (like monuments, seeing where someone died or was born, etc.). We used to think that this was because those extra turns of the pedals just weren’t worth it or were way out of our way. We were fulfilled by watching and talking to people, landscape changes, and just being together and sharing experiences. But after our last little road trip, traveling in our little truck pulling our little pop-up camper, we began to notice that we still didn’t go out of our way to look at names carved in granite or a reenactment of the good ole days of the “Founding Fathers, or see where General Stoop N Poop “lost” everything (Would that have been a statue with the General upon a horse with the horse squatting on his haunches?). What we did was watch people, talk to folks, and enjoy the changing landscapes. It was like we travel on a bicycle, but hindered by the element of speed.

Chugging down the road in our little truck allowed the landscape to change very quickly as our eyes were glued to the window watching it all pass by so quickly (even though we traveled at about 50-60 mph). Even this slow speed was often way too, too fast as one beautiful or interesting “snapshot” after another presented itself again and again to our eyes. While we were able to snap off quite a few pictures of what passed us by, many times the camera was not attainable quickly enough or a bush blocked what we had just seen by the time we did get the camera, or the camera just wouldn’t turn on quickly enough that we began to joke about it. We developed a motion of taking a picture by tapping our forehead with our finger and then with an invisible camera and called out “Mental Snapshot!” We got some really great “MENTAL SNAPSHOTS” on this trip. Can’t show ‘em to you though. Unfortunately only the two of us can see them and, you know how that is, they will fade quickly without some external stimulus. Oh some will pop up much later at the mention of, say, the Shenandoah Valley, or that campground on the Louisiana coast. Alas, most will fade like the memory of yesterday’s clouds, lurking somewhere in our minds, but with no way to retrieve them. Still we had a good time and a few laughs tapping our heads, mimicking snapping an invisible shutter and yelling “MENTAL SNAPSHOT”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What have we been doing?

Traveling in tandem in a more traditional mode: a truck pulling our little '72 pop-up trailer (tandem packed--of course!).
After 3 days in Washington D.C. we feel the weight of seriousness and, dare I say, even piety, of all these somber memorials and institutions. We feel uniquely blessed (along with several thousand other people on any given day) to have been able to see it. I enjoyed it, I did, but 3 days was about all we could take. Obviously there were many more things to see and do, but we tasted the flavor of the whole thing.
Our first trip to Capitol Hill was by bicycle. We stayed at a National Park only about 12 miles from the Capitol Mall so the distance to the "sacred ground" was not too far (there and back and around-about 33 miles) While it was nice to see all those places that I've heard about and seen in the movies, it was the streets of D.C. that were memorial. First it was just the trying to figure out where we were and secondly, the adrenialine rush of riding in crazy traffic, but even more it was the smell and sights of the neighborhoods and streets that provided more of a "Wow" factor than all the big buildings and statues of dead people.
Sitting on a bench on the Capitol Mall, watching a really diverse segment of people walk by, I was once again struck by the how much humans LOVE symbols. From giant edifices, to names on walls, to uniforms, to pagents, we really love the "dressings" as much, maybe more, than we do the substance. I know that I must fall prey to the majestic lure of symbols myself, but a good portion of humanity seem to have their heads stuck so far up their ass that they never even really see the difference and that's got to make life simpler and grander for them. God bless America, apple pie, and Nike.
Kamala and I are also struck with how much more one sees from a bicycle seat than a car seat. We are moving too fast, most of our pictures are taken out the car window and, of course, the best shots are missed. Interstates, since we hit Lousiania have been huge corridores of trees which cut out most culture with the exception of large billboards every now and then. You may get there faster, but you sure as hell miss a lot. Therefore, while we do at time take to the freeway, most of our travels have been on back roads. That gives us a bit more of the cultural flavor, but America is experiencing the homoginazation of it's local culture by all the Walmarts, Pizza Huts, Wendy's, etc . . .

On an earlier note in the trip:

God's Will
The fickle finger of fate. Sometime during one's early years, providing one's intelligence is slightly above the amoeba level, each of us rubs into that nice little paradox of freewill and predetermination. Some people ask the right question of their learned elders, receive a convincing answer and tuck the question away and should it ever arise again they just parrot the correct answer and allow any built up stress that it might have caused to just dissipate. The key to this approach is just don't think about it. God Bless 'em. Most of us wrestle with it 'til we are completely frustrated, give up as a lost cause, an unanswerable question or, like I'm beginning to see, answer the question according to the situation and whatever makes you feel best. That being said, God chose our path across Texas. Yep! Well not all of it, but a lot of it. You see we (freewill) decided that the first leg of our little jaunt would be to Kermit to visit with Kamala's sister and family. So on to Kermit it was, but on the way we look out the window on our truck's windshield and read, backwards, of course, 08 - 11. This means that our safety sticker was due in November of last year. Now God or the Spirit of Texas takes over. We now know that we are doing something illegal and therefore it is only a matter of time before we get busted. Now, of course, if we had not noticed the expiration date we would be innocent and could drive all around this big state without getting caught like we did last Christmas. So now we are forced to stay in Kermit an extra day to get a safety sticker. We arrive at the inspection place early on a Monday morning, but he has run out of stickers and won't have any until the UPS man delivers them around noon. Unrelated factor in delay? I think not. It's God wanting us to stick around. Probably saving us from some great traffic disaster by keeping is off the highway for the morning. So feeling relieved for missing such a calamity we blow off the morning and return at 1 o'clock, but when he sees that we are from El Paso he informs us that we need to have an emissions check that can be obtained in only the higher populated counties of the state and the nearest one is El Paso, now 250 miles away.It's decision time. Do we proceed as outlaws to a big city, which we usually try to avoid, make a run for the Oklahoma-Texas border? We choose to alter our path from slanting south across Texas to going straight east for Dallas/Fort Worth. And since we didn't get stopped and we did see some purty scenery, we must have chosen right for God to smile on us like that. But there was still one more catch. When we got to Weatherford in the same county as Fort Worth we stopped at an inspection station and, "Yes, we do stickers, but No, we can't do yours because it's a 91 model and vehicles that old have to be set on one of those thingamyjigs that you set the tires on and speed up to 30 miles an hour." Well we felt bad but the old man, who must have been an angel in disguise, sent us to a place where the truck passed with flying colors. We got our sticker and we were now legal and had gone a long way off of our original route all due to God, a few angels, and our own freewill and an UPS man that I'm still not sure about.
Next attached is a notice on the washing machine that we saw while doing our clothes in a Laundromat in Mississippi. NO PUTTING PEOPLE IN THE MACHINE. Now that's just one more thing that is sucking the joy out of life. Actually I had not thought of stuffing some little person in one of those twirlly washing machines with the window until they told me I couldn't, but now I want to and I want to even more because I know that someone else must have beat me to it for them to have put the warning label on the machine.