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Friday, July 29, 2016

TOP O' THE ROCKIES

  Boulder, Colorado is at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. This national treasure is one of the few places where you can drive up, up, up to reach snow in July. Swooping though the two-mile high alpine tundra feels like flying.
    We soared in our van for a hour then wound our way down.
Soon we were camping in the green meadow where the Colorado River begins.
  The gentle brook in which we we dipped our tired feet gathers enough volume to carve canyons from here to Mexico. The Grand Canyon is only one of its many creations.  Our route west kept us next to the mighty river for the next three days.
    Sauntering into the woods we passed a herd of elk, fly fishermen, and later, a 1000-pound moose. 

 
     

You can't ignore the millions of dead pine trees in this park and all over the west. Drought and warmer temperatures have allowed the deadly pine beetles to kill millions of  them. Fifty years from now the dead forests will be green again, replaced by other species.

  We learned why the trees are skeletal at a park ranger campfire performance.  The young man wearing a Smokey hat also talked about the elk that were grazing nearby. He brought out two skulls attached to magnificent antlers.  Every fall the bulls compete for the love of the “women”. They do this by smashing head-on into each other until one of them says “Eeuh!” (elk for “Enough!”).  These two unfortunately got their antlers locked together. They starved to death that way. 
    The things we do for love.

    Francesca and I are long past the initial mating ritual stage. We’re now exploring the west on our way to California. We will spend a few weeks there, until it’s time for Francesca to return to her Miami job. I plan to stick around for Burning Man, a fantastic festival taking place in the Nevada desert every August. I haven’t been able to get a ticket yet but if I am persistent enough, I think I’ll be dancing under the stars with 70,000 other “burners” a month from now.

               ___________________________

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH


      My bachelor days are waning, in a few days I’ll hook up with my wife again in Denver, Colorado.     
    My hobo routine is thus, waking at dawn in some strange place then driving for three hours.  Breakfast is in some Ma and Pa cafe followed by hiding from the heat in a small-town library.  Occasionally I step out for walking tours. They reveal pocket museums, antique shops, and chatty inhabitants. I then return to the cool comfort of the library and research the road ahead. These book collections are roomy, wi-fi'd, and the bathrooms don’t stink.  


    Two days ago I was blogging away in an Iowan house of books. Last week an Illinois librarian gave me a stack of audio books to enjoy on the road, mostly westerns. North Platte, Nebraska, had another fine library and much more.    

    At 7 a.m. I happened upon a downtown sidewalk sale. Alan Hirschfeld, a fourth-generation haberdasher, sold me a spankin’ new cowboy outfit for next to nothin'.
   Suitable dressed, I had breakfast in the Expresso Cafe while Django Reinhardt played in the background. A brochure told me about the North Platte Pioneer Museum on the outskirts of town.
Beautiful old buildings have been moved there to re-create an 1880’s village.  Everything was open and free.
    
   A tin-roofed warehouse protected an outstanding  tractor collection. These much loved machines must be hard to part with. You see many rusting in fields traveling through the mid-west. 

There's plenty of room on The Great Plains for these aged iron horses.






   

    Before there were tractors horses pulled the plows. Buffalo Bill rode them with style. The wild west showman was the most well-known American a  hundred years ago. He made his home in North Platte at Scouts Rest Ranch.  
   William “Wild Bill” Cody serve as a scout for the Union army in the Civil War and later found his way to the rodeo stage. He shared the romance and the excitement of the wild west that continues to sell cigarettes and pick up trucks today.

 

 I visited Bill's house, and, did you know? Barbed wire collections are very popular out here.  Mr. Cody's ranch had 21 varieties arranged into a cowboy-style meditative mandala.





     In the early evening I travel for a hour or more, during these lazy hobo days, looking for the next campground.
   You have to head west for what seems like weeks before you finally see the Big Show, the shadowy grays of the Rocky Mountains looming on the horizon.  This is always an “Ah” moment.

   It was also a thrill to find my wife at the Denver airport.  Francesca laughed when she saw our mobile home had been turned into a bachelor pad.  That didn’t last long.  





GETTING BOULDER 


    We drove to nearby Boulder to visit Ruy, Francesca's son, and his wife, Meagan. What an unusual, ultra-hip city it is. Marijuana is legal but obesity isn’t.

     There are no fat people in Boulder. 


 The locals take great pride in huffing and puffing in non-stop outdoor activity. If you are not jogging, biking, or climbing a mountain, you must be in some other place. 

    I discovered Boulder in the early 70's.  It was hippie heaven. Many of my friends moved here.  Some never left. 


 
                    Parking lot with a mile-high view


    Boulder's farmers market was first-class.  It's a shame we can't have one just as good in Coconut Grove.

 

  
 

 
 No visit to Boulder is complete until you go to their tea house.  It is a gift from their sister city in Tajikistan.

   They follow the rules here. At 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning -with zero traffic-  I saw a woman speeding along on an expensive bicycle.  She came to an empty intersection and actually stopped for a red light. She stood there statue-like, for the longest time before the light turned green. That would never happen in Miami. Bicyclists are bolder there.







    When we weren’t hiking and biking the young’ns were taking us to drink beer at micro-breweries.
These are warehouses where you sit surrounded by huge tanks filled with fermenting grain.         
                                                         Ruy and his mom

   Happy waiters offer you 85 varieties with ridiculous names. Not being a fan, I took a few small tastes. All of them looked like foaming urine and tasted (to me) like Budweiser. I ordered wine or water at these houses of (beer) worship. 

    Taking this Boulder “I’ll drink anything” maxim further, I went to a “meadery” to try wine made from honey. Mead halls were very popular twelfth-century England where the Terrys originated. This hall’s six varieties reminded me of Mogan David White with slight notes of bee excreta.  Oh well. 

   Pot is legal here but being in Colorado, we were already a mile high. Photos in tourist brochures try to make gnarly wads of expensive weed look attractive. All with ridiculous names, one variety advertised was “Trumpjuana”, “One toke and you’ll forget he ever existed”.  Tempting.
     Ganja is big business. Huge corporations will soon be selling it like Budweiser. 

GETTING READY FOR THE ROCKIES                                   
    Pot and beer were plentiful but we didn’t come to Boulder to get wasted. Being with friends and family -where the range rises up to The Rockies- was enough.  

    In north Boulder we stayed with friends, Linda and Hap. They live where the city turns into wilderness, where the deer and the antelope play.

    On their back porch we drank coffee. In the yard Bambi grazed and raccoons dug for worms. This was so refreshing as in Coconut Grove you only see them digging through garbage. One afternoon three up us formed “The Raccoons”, a Radiohead ukulele cover band. 
   The worm diggers loved us but now it was time to pack up and head up to the mountains.
            

                    ____________________

Friday, July 22, 2016

MISSISSIPPI CROSSING

 
   Crossing the Mississippi is a big deal. A bridge lifts you from the East and sets you down in the West, in my case LeClaire, Iowa. I loved the Mark Twain-ness of this cute-sy
berg. An old paddle-wheel steamer was displayed next to the Big Muddy which was adjacent to the  Buffalo Bill Museum. 
William (“Buffalo Bill”) was a big deal too. He starred in his own Wild West show that toured the world.  One sign said he the most well-known American in the 1890’s.  
     Locals insisted that I visit the home of a TV show called “American Pickers”. I assumed it was a banjo players paradise but no, these “pickers” are two guys that roam the country buying old junk.
 
   All you can buy at he Pickers store, really, are t-shirts, mugs, and their Guide to Picking.
    I’m told the show is quite popular and it’s home base, a converted garage called “Antique Archeology” gets a big crowd. It is well-designed junk store with a Big River view. If you need some vintage clown shoes this may be the place to go.
   True junk stores are crammed with stuff for sale. This joint’s junk is illusional, the coolest stuff is marked, “NSF”.  Interspersed amongst all the old signs, rusting metal and the flaking clown shoes are $25 mugs and t-shirts. They allow you to become an American Pickers billboard 
Antique motorcycle engine that you can't buy

  There are many young, pierced, women running the place. Wearing big smiles and dark tattoos they are happy to take your money.
  
     I walked out with memories of this mini-museum dedicated a TV show that I’ll probably never watch. 
   Now I was also remembering my cousin Jeff, who live six miles north. I asked him if I could visit but never got a response.  While I haven’t seen him in 54 years, we are "friends" on Facebook. He lets me know that Hillary is the devil, Obama is a Muslim, and that he owns over 200 guns. It would have been an interesting visit.
     But I had to plunge through Cornhusker Country and Nebraska beyond, to reach the real west. In four days Francesca would be waiting for me at the Denver airport with fresh mangos. 


Future tackle, Cornhusker football team

This was my chance to putter along for 500 miles, an opportunity to play hobo.  I chose to camp in strange places, far from laughing children.  This first night I laid my head in a corn field (no surprise there, both states are totally corn). A corn stalk is Iowa’s state tree. 
   I also bedded down in a city park and an I-40 rest stop. Nobody bothered me but if they had, I was carrying  an electronic mosquito zapper (not 200 guns) for protection.

           The adventure continues....                ___________________

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

FORGET THE MURDER RATE, VISIT CHICAGO!

       Need a relaxing getaway?  Chicago may be your kind of place. The pizza is superb and most murders take place on the bad side of town.
      
  My college friends, Mike and Christy, took me in for a couple of days.  (Francesca had flown back to Miami to get more mangos. She'll re-join the tour soon). 
The Jones's live on the good side, a couple of miles north  in Evanston.  


    No AC's are needed with cool air blowing in from Lake Michigan. 




 I loved riding in Evanston's
designated bike lanes. 
 Maybe Miami will have them in twenty years.



    We did all the un-Chicago stuff like  reminiscing, playing tennis, and attempting to win $540 million in the lottery. I'm not a gambler but Mike has spent his life promoting that sort of thing (he ran the Illinois lottery for years).
We didn't win but what the heck, I was hangin' with Mr. Lottery. I gave it a shot even though my chances of winning were the same whether I bought a ticket or not.

   When we got home Christy was pulling one of her famous pies out of the oven.  Was it delicious, my favorite, key lime. That, with a shot of original Czech herbal brew, Becherovka, hit the spot.

      Buzzing on Bech we took headed along the lake shore. Mike insisted that we visit his neighborhood's treasure, the Baha'i Temple. Using pre-cast concrete, it took 50 years to build. 
    
The Baha'i faith was started 140 years ago by an Persian fellow who's name may have inspired the Gene Vincent song, "Bebop a Lula" (His name, 'Baha' u'LLah' doesn't quite inspire visions of rock n' roll for me).  
It seems like a pretty good religion as it promotes peace, world unity, and the production of inspiring concrete domes.
____________ 

     Thus inspired, I set my sails for Western Illinois. My mom spent her early years there until
my grandparents heard how great Miami was.  

They packed up their Model T with kids, a dog, a few chickens and headed south. Once they arrived they got blown away by The Great Hurricane of 1926.  It's a wonder they didn't head north again.

            

    Everyone in Illinois stayed safe except for my cousins,  Henry and Robert Hawk.  Both brothers died in the Civil War. I visited Henry's grave with my cousin, Joe Besse.  I had visited Robert's in Chattanooga earlier. Joe's grandfather was born before that war and he still remembers his stories.  
 
   He and his son, Mark, farm 1700 acres of corn and soy beans. They have an intimate knowledge of the earth and an obvious love of tractors.

   Joe's $12,000 lawn mower is almost as big as one. When I drove it its 36 HP engine nearly gave me whiplash.  

   Wacky weed grows next to the hog shed.  No big deal here.  Locals farmed it long ago to make rope.
   
It was great to be on the farm again, a place of simplicity, loving relatives, and childhood wonderment. When I have more time I'll tell you about my cowgirl cousin, Brenda, and her family's

enduring love of Buicks (Said Cousin Joe eying the photo below, "Them old ones had big teeth!").

   That's Joe with his wife, Millie, in the middle. Millie died a couple of years ago. They were married 65 years.

Gotta go.
It's time to cross the Mississippi.
               ___________________________

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DOO DAY DAY

   The Fourth of July was amazing, I got to march in my first Doo Dah Parade in Columbus, Ohio. This is the crazy event the King Mango Strut folks had helped start 33 years ago.



   Lacking a beard, I could not join the "Marching Fidels".


 The topless jousters already had people to pedal them and

the zombies were too weird (even for me).
 

 Many people just did their own thing like Wheel Man, Three-legged Guy,

  Captain Columbus,


 and Majorette Boy.





  I decided to follow my own instincts and, my green thumb. I would sell peas.
  My sister, Joan, had given me a hat and I painted it appropriately. 





In July Fourth's Doo Dah I marched a mile encouraging thousands of fans to eat more peas.


I told anyone who would listen, "They are delicious, better than candy!".   Many seemed to know that already. Several gave me handfuls adding cheerfully, "I picked them this morning!"  They were delicious.
   Others sang the Beatles song, "All we are saying..."   

   I ended up trailing a group of prancing politicos 
who called themselves "The Dance Party". They blared soul music and got everyone, including me, dancing in the streets.
    Everyone had a blast. The Doo Dah was a lot like the Grove's King Mango Strut parade but the participants were much younger and much more organized.  This was their 33d year and it seems their celebration of independence will continue for a long time. 


                                __________

THIS WOMAN NEEDS TO MOVE TO COLUMBUS!

  I read in the Chicago Tribune that a local woman, Rachel Hoover, is miffed because her drivers license was cancelled.  Seems she insisted that her photo be taken while wearing a spaghetti strainer on her head.  She said it for religious reasons but state officials didn't buy it.  

Rachel needs to move to Columbus, Ohio. People there will take her seriously.
                                _________