Sunday, August 31, 2008


Leaving Klamath Falls, I headed up into Oregon where the landscape changed from prairies and hills to pine-covered mountains. Climbing past 5000-ft elevations, the temperature dropped and I started missing the heat I'd grown accustomed to. At the higher altitudes, the roads became more winding, and the clouds were down below the mountaintops, creating areas of mist and fog. In Portland around 6, I checked out the location of East End, the club where Mad Juana would be playing that night, and set off to find a motel. The iPhone still read "No Service," which was mysterious, so I located a Comfort Inn a few miles from town on a computer at a downtown hotel and checked in. The clerk told me they should have normal cell phone service, so in my room I reset the iPhone (keep forgetting I'm carrying a Mac in my pocket) and when it came up it connected to AT&T; so I got the last several days' worth of voicemails and contacted the band.

I joined them at the club for sound check, and hung out there for dinner until their midnight set. It was great to see them all again, including Fernando Apodaca, who directed their Valhalla video last year in which I appeared during last year's trip, and had joined the band playing electric violin. His addition, plus a newly added bass player, gave the band a richer fuller sound, and the crowd was ecstatic, smiles and dancing everywhere throughout their show. I had ONE glass of wine at the bar (rare for me), and on the way back to my motel I was alarmed to find myself zipping along at 85 mph on the Interstate. Pulling it way back, I was reminded of why alcohol is so perilous to mix with driving (esp. for me with my apparent sensitivity to it). That certainly won't happen again!

In the morning I joined the band at the house of a friend for brunch, and I offered Marni (the accordionist) a ride to Seattle in the Caddy to give them all a break from their tour travels with 8 people in their van. It was also a nice break from solo driving to ride with someone whose company I enjoy.

We met the rest of the band at the Seattle club, where I helped them load in, and then found another Day's Inn a few miles north of downtown. Back at El Corazón, I got a bad feeling about the club when the doorman wouldn't let me bring in a coffee, and signs like "No Smoking within 25 feet" outside and "Absolutely no drinks" at the entrance to the room where the bands played conveyed an oppressive vibe. Tight ship, alright. This show was on a higher stage, with better lighting than the night before, but the crowd was way more subdued (the other bands had been hard rock/metal). I tried to help them get loaded out after the gig, but no, the doorman wouldn't let me back in, so I stood and watched them lug their gear, shaking my head at him as they trudged past making more trips than necessary. We all hugged goodbye, hoping they'd be in San Diego when I made it down the coast in a few weeks.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Out of Burning Man

It was easy to get up early Friday, having turned in so early the night before. I had my last sandwich for breakfast, took down the tent and packed the car. The general reaction of the other campers was one of beffudlement - "You're leaving already, why would anyone want to leave?" I told them this was only one stop on my extended tour of the USA, that I was itching to get back on the road. No need to share my disdain for so much of what surrounded me there, and I headed back out the gate by Noon. It felt fantastic to be cruising on the highway again, and I really appreciated the fact that NV 447 north out of Nevada was paved! I took the same route north last year, when I left in the dark. That was interesting in its own way, but I enjoyed the scenery this time. When I stopped a few times in California and Oregon, people could tell I'd come from the Burning Man festival (by the dust on the car, the bike in the back seat, and my red skin), and asked about it. I gave it pretty positive reviews, encouraging those who said they'd always wanted to go to check it out at least once. I'm glad I did, and though I'm not planning to go back next year, I might consider it if I find the right group who wants to go (like for instance my Texas family - if JP and Zoe want to bring the boys, I'd gladly make a family trip out of it - but we'd have to rent an RV).

Checking into a motel in Klamath Falls, OR, I took the most enjoyable shower in a long time, and filthied up all their bathroom towels cleaning the thick layer of dust off my luggage before I could open any of it.
The iPhone said "No Service" everywhere in this town, but the motel had Wi-Fi, so I caught up on a few days of email, though I was too beat to get any work done. A hefty steak dinner and all-you-can-eat salad bar at a Sizzler restaurant next door was a great relief, and I looked forward to getting on up north. I figured I'd be able to catch Mad Juana's gig in Portland Sat. night as well as their Seattle gig Sunday I'd planned to attend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Burning Man 2

The temperature drops considerably on the playa at night, so it felt cozy in the sleeping bag when I occasionally awoke during the night. But by 10 AM the sun had turned the tent into a little oven, so I got up. In the Whiskey & Whores tent, I sat at a table and had one of the sandwiches I'd bought and a Red Bull for breakfast. I decided to venture out into the open playa beyond the City circle to see some of the massive art sculptures out there. The playa dust was pretty loose and thick this year, making pedaling off the Black Rock City (BRC) streets (which are watered down regularly by tanker truck sprayers) really difficult. That, and the incredible heat of the sun, wore me out after a short while, so I doubled back towards the camp. I stopped at the Weenie camp for a couple of free hot dogs before retiring to the tent once again for a late morning nap. In the afternoon, I walked back over to Main Camp again, where the talkers had been replaced by various folk singers. Again, the hippie crowd was fascinating, but only for a while. One old guy was sitting there giving out free pasties, which afforded him the opportunity to wipe off the nipples of women who took him up on the offer before rubbing them on nicely so they'd stick. (Nice schtick, why didn't I think of that?)

The political atmosphere at Black Rock City was predictable. Besides the mocking tone with which the term "American Dream" was always mentioned, scattered throughout the camps of any theme were various defaced pictures of Bush, Cheney et al - even one portrait of Alan Greenspan captioned "Father of Global Misery". With all due disdain for the swindle that is the Federal Reserve System, somehow attributing the purported misery of the globe to him struck me as a bit much. And of course, thousands gathered to swoon as Obama's acceptance speech was blasted from a sound system outside the Black Rock City radio station (I was fortunately far from that scene). The only response I could muster up was to bring out my old 2-inch red, white & blue "I LIKE IKE" button that my father had me wear to 5th grade back during the 1956 election (saved by my mom, bless her soul). You want American Dream, here's a flash back to a time I remember before the ragged masses thought you had to be asleep to believe it. Not much of a costume in that environment, but I enjoyed the puzzled looks in reaction to my T-shirt bearing the 9-year-old zombie from Night of the Living Dead with that button on her forehead.

I struck up a conversation with some guys from Chicago, bought one of them a coffee, and we walked around the city for a while.
After another sandwich back at W&W, the techno blasting from Mal-Mart across the way sent me hiking off again. I try to be open to all different kinds of music, but to me techno is a substitute for music. I consider music to be something generated by humans, expressing inner feelings. When someone cleverly programs a digital circuit to make regular sounds simulating drums and such, it isn't music. And when humans dance to it, they're not tuning in to the emotions conveyed by sounds produced by another human, but allowing their bodies to be controlled by a machine; an experience which I think separates them from any humanity, a distortion of what music is. So the more techno I heard coming from the many camps, the more repulsion I felt for the entire environment. I came across many interesting works of art and theme camps on my wanderings, but there was always that.

The Man that towers over the crowds that mill about in the center of BRC is a totem of sorts, the central theme of the whole festival to many. There was a DJ booth set up out there, playing (you guessed it) techno beats, and a crowd dancing beneath The Man. The Man, standing there waiting to be burned on Saturday night, also serves as a beacon of orientation; when you're out on the streets and have lost your way, you look around till you see The Man in the distance and get your bearings again.
I'd had enough by 11 PM, and was greatly relieved upon returning to my tent to find that Mal-Mart had indeed closed down early again, allowing me to go to sleep. I decided I had had enough of the entire Burning Man experience, and that I'd get the hell out of there Friday morning instead of Saturday as originally planned.

Burning Man 1

The Burning Man vibe started to make itself known during the wait on the long line of vehicles at the ticket gate to Black Rock City. Signs were posted along the way at regular intervals, meant to be read sequentially like the old Burma Shave billboards on the highways of yesterday, presenting pithy sayings relating to the "American Dream" theme of this year's gathering. I started to spot bright-colored hippie-style decorations on cars and equipment, blond dreadlocks on people, and I once again felt the need to express the side of myself that distinguishes who I am from all that. So I put the new Gaggle of Cocks CD "American Trash" on the player and cranked up the volume. It was great to hear Pat bellowing "I forgot how to breathe" as the dust clouds kicked up by the cars and wind filled the air and gave me my first taste of playa suffocation. I was staking my claim to the airspace I knew would soon be filled by music I couldn't stand, enjoying letting "We are the pigz of agony... and I'm a fuckin pig, and you're all fuckin pigz" blast as I approached the sweet-faced ticket taker.

I knew my way around this year, unlike last year when I automotively groped around in the dark looking for the camp, so I headed straight for 7:30 & A, where my friend Ben's camp was located. He'd invited me to camp with his "Whiskey and Whores" theme camp, and although I hate whiskey and have no use for whores, it seemed like a better idea than just finding some random spot and pitching my little tent on my own. As I crawled through the streets at the required 5 mph, it was like being in the midst of a bizarre parade; just about every person and bicycle was decorated with some kind of strangeness, there were "mutant vehicles" crawling along with me, and I got a wonderful feeling of being back in that alternate reality.

The area around Whiskey and Whores was pretty tight, and I wound up pitching my tent in a little space between their stove and the next camp's shower tents. Ben told me to park the Caddy somewhere way off where they had all parked their cars, but I whined that I'd expected to have access to lots of stuff in the trunk; and the general reaction to the car was positive, so it was agreed that it could actually enhance the atmosphere of the camp by parking it right alongside the W&W tent, which I did, and which it did.

There's nothing like the traffic flow of humans and machines on the promenades of Burning Man. Something like a cross between a Halloween party and Mermaid Parade, with something of a science fair influence from all the modified cars, bikes, golf carts and other wheeled things. A tsunami of cleverness and personal expression.
The camp directly across the way, "Mal-Mart", had a several-story tower that people could climb and dance upon, and their massive sound system was blasting techno. I really tried to make peace with this sound - watched people dancing on the high platforms of their tower, tried to move to the beat, even thought I might get to like it, keeping a positive attitude and open mind. Still, I could see I'd be out walking a lot. By the time I got all unpacked, relaxed, and ready to take a walk with Ben, a huge RV had pulled into the space next to my tent, boxing it in entirely. I had come out to camp on this vast playa, and it wound up feeling a bit like I was squatting on a NYC tenement fire escape. Whatever, I figured I'd be roaming a good deal of the time.

Ben and I walked out to The Man, in the center of the circle of Black Rock CIty. I was in my standard shorts and crocs, a spectator; Ben wore a variation of pirate garb, 3-cornered hat, and dragged a plastic whiskey bottle on a string behind him. He wore a 'wheel of fortune' device on his chest, inscribed with various tasks. People would spin the wheel, and if they performed the random task, he'd give them a shot of whiskey from the bottle. Nearly everyone has a "playa schtick", and this was his. Makes for many random interactions, alright.

I recognized some mutant vehicles from last year, but many more new ones, and new theme camps, most blasting some kind of music, which produced a constant backdrop of combined sound; as you walk around, the sound of the nearest camp drowns out the others (mostly), and the soundtrack becomes an ever-changing morph between techno, afro-drum, techno, funk, techno, 80s dance, techno, and so on. We visited the Main Camp, a circular tent at 6:00 on the inner Esplanade, where people gather and you can buy coffee and other drinks. There's stage where something is always going on, with an array of deep couches before it holding tired bodies. There's often music, but this evening some mellow dude was giving some kind of self-help/self-realization lecture that sounded like some intolerable NPR show, and I couldn't get far enough away from it. OK, I knew Main Camp was never going to be a "main attraction" for me, but it was still fascinating to be surrounded by the costumed burners milling about.

We wandered out of there and across to the camps on the other side. Just when I thought there's be no escape from the techno, we went into the Fallout Shelter camp, where they were blasting TOOL! A welcome refuge, I thanked them profusely for being there, and stayed and danced with myself a while.
Off again, up the street we found a 20-foot tall ketchup bottle, which contained people at a counter giving away free fries (with ketchup, of course). At another camp, there was live music in a big tent, pretty funky stuff with a great brass section; it made me want to dance, but the tightly packed crowd was filled with people doing that hippie-style dancing, totally at odds with what I'd associate with what was playing, and I was repelled from the place. Out into the night again, taking in the sights and sounds, trying to cauterize my musical taste so as not to be driven insane by all the techno. There was much more to the environment than just techno, of course, but that's what sticks in my mind (throat). So much to look at and take in - one camp around the 9:30 area was shining an incredibly intense green laser beam which seemed to reach the stars, or at other times was lowered so as to go right over our heads and other camps; the fire camps and installations were shooting their choreographed flames skyward, with the corresponding "whoooff" sounds impacting your attention if you were looking the other way. And all across the playa, the lights on the many vehicles, and spinning on all the bicycle wheels, made a continuous dazzling display.

After taking in hours of this splendor, I got back to my tent around 3AM - Mal-Mart had closed for the night, so I was able to sleep after a long adventurous day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Getting to Black Rock City

I had breakfast in a cozy Battle Mountain diner to the sound of slots, and took off along I-80. At Winnemucca, I found a supermarket and stocked up on food supplies and an ice chest. Expecting to be at BM for only a few days, I bought a couple of 4-packs of Red Bull, 3 take-out sandwiches, and 5 gallons of water. There are plenty of camps giving out various kinds of free food at BM, so I figured that ought to hold me.

The recommended route to Black Rock City (near Gerlach, NV) is down I-80 to Fernley and 75 miles north up route 447. But I spied some roads straight across the desert to Gerlach, and plotted out a more direct route on the iPhone, cutting off about 100 miles. Seemed simple enough - leave I-80 at Imlay, follow Pioneer Road till it meets NV Route 49 and on to Gerlach.
Pioneer Road turned out to be a dirt-gravel road, but I figured it was do-able. Of course, the quality of the road deteriorated significantly once I'd traveled a few miles, and I had to hold the speed down below 20 mph most of the time. I'd find a "smooth" stretch, get the speed up to around 20, and hit a piece corrugated with rivulets which set the whole car shaking as though it were on some kind of factory endurance test machine. It sounded like every single screw and bolt in the old thing was being vibrated out of its place. But I was determined to press on, no matter how long it took. This "desert" is really more like high prairie, sprinkled with sagebrush, and the road twisted in many tight turns as it climbed up and down intervening mountains. The view was fantastic, and it was a thrill to be away from the traffic (and all civilization). But thoughts of survival started to press in upon me, as the likelihood of breaking down seemed to grow to inevitable. "Let's see, I have 3 days of food, a tent, so I can survive out here if I get stuck (though there's no telling how many days it might be before anyone passes on this route!)". Then I remembered the bicycle in the back seat - of course, any trouble, I'll just bike back to some town for help.

The iPhone, which has been such a help on this trip, really saved me on this adventure. When you ask for directions, it saves all the steps along the way and the local road views associated with each, so even out there with no access at all, I was able to step through the directions for the many turns required. There are many small "roads" out there along the way (most looking like nothing more than driveways to non-existent houses), and no directional signs or road names.
So it was a matter of following directions like "turn right - 2.3 mi; turn left - 8 mi; etc). The direction of the sun kept me somewhat oriented, but after a couple of hours I had no idea of whether I was on the right path or off on an extended detour. And the dust! The land is covered with a fine layer of dry dust which gets kicked up at any speed, covering everything in the car. And though these are referred to as "gravel" roads, it's not the kind of little gravel you see back east or in driveways - these were jagged rocks up to 2-3 inches across; so the decision to have bought new front tires and leave the old balding rear tires in place felt like a mistake, as the possibility of a puncture plagued my mind. Yes, with front-wheel drive, you're only dragging the rear wheels along, but you do need them inflated to move! At one point, I came upon a gully across the road which seemed certain to be impassable except by 4-wheel-drive vehicles. I had no choice but to chance it, summoned up my courage (madness) and eased my way through. I scraped bottom pretty badly, but it sounded like solid frame hitting the ground, not sheet metal which would have indicated ripping the gas tank. But this was getting crazier by the moment.

I finally reached a T-junction which seemed to be NV-49, the final run to Gerlach. I had thought state "highways" were all paved, but this too was the same kind of gravel road; and I wasn't sure it was NV-49, it just seemed like a good guess out there with the iPhone in my lap.
After a time on that, I seemed to be getting to Playa country when the dirt road disappeared with a dry lake bed in front of me, the "road" indicated only by a few tire tracks across this mini-playa. At least it provided a short break in the intense vibration, but only for a while. Then, over a hill, I viewed a large expanse of desert in the distance, which could be the Black Rock Desert of Burning Man. If the road curved leftward, I knew I was on the right path; if it went right, I was all wrong. It curved to the left, and I knew I had somehow taken all the correct turns and forks along the way from Imlay! Still constrained to 15-20 mph, I was now going along the south edge of the huge playa on which Black Rock City is situated.
After a long time, I could see the structures and tiny vehicles of Burning Man off in the distance. How I longed to cross the land between, but it was rough brush-covered prairie, and I could see the railroad line parallel to the road, which couldn't be crossed even if the intervening prairie were passable. So it took another 45 minutes to get past Burning Man and over to Gerlach, where I joined the procession of vehicles which had followed the normal route up from Fernley.

This harrowing adventure was made possible by the iPhone and Google. These guys are amazing - not only have they stocked their databases with countless coordinates, directions, and street views, but they apparently researched this route enough to describe the route from Imlay to Gerlach as "101 miles - 4 hrs 25 mins". I usually use this feature to estimate distances and times, but reduce the time estimate, figuring they take speed limits into account. But this wasn't a matter of legal speed limits - some Google person must have driven this awful road and timed it, as it took me just about 4 hrs 45 mins to get across. I should have realized the road didn't have a 25 mph "speed limit" - or that it was limited by condition, not by law. I had considered asking someone at Imlay about the route to Gerlach before setting out, but nah, I don't ask directions, I find out myself. Well, I found out the hard way this time.

So it around 6PM when I approached Black Rock City on the road up from Gerlach. There was no traffic on the road as there was last year, no long line until I got off the highway and on line for the ticket takers. I had already experienced enough dust to last me, and I knew I had more in store on the Playa. But it was good to back around people again and close to my goal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Idaho - Nevada

Despite having stayed up late talking about all things with my friend Ellis, I managed to leave his ranch by 11AM. It was enlightening to see the curvy dirt path over rolling hills from his house back to the dirt road by daylight, having navigated it blind the night before in the dark with a few feet visibility. Having inherited the ranch, settled by his grandfather way back, he has donated the 950 acres to a non-profit Idaho organization which preserves natural lands so as to prevent development, and he lives there under a life-long tenancy. It's good to know so much land will remain intact in its natural beauty, and that somebody cares.

I stopped in Pocatello after a few hours to shop for a bicycle and supplies. Home Depot (located in a mall found via iPhone) had no bikes; neither did Sears. So it was off to the often-maligned Wal-Mart, where I found a trim ladies dirt bike for $70. Turning south at Idaho Falls, I stopped to view a huge river canyon with a massive bridge built in the 1940's, and continued on down into Nevada. The rolling prairies of Montana become broader and yellower as you get to Nevada, interspersed with patches of desert.
Dividing up the remaining driving time to Burning Man, I stopped at Battle Mountain to leave a reasonable amount of driving the next day to still arrive at BM before dark. Already, every coffee shop and store has rows of slot machines - I sometimes forget this pervades the entire state, not just Las Vegas and Reno.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wyoming - Idaho

Another day started out waking up to the early alarm, leaning back on the pillow "for a minute" and waking up an hour later. I was concerned about making it to Idaho by nightfall, knowing that I'd have to drive at reduced speed through Yellowstone Park. I didn't want to actually visit the Park, but I had to loop through it, around the lake, to get where I was going. The $25 admission seemed like a waste. At the gate, the agent told me it was $25 "unless you're over 62." I handed her my driver's license, she asked for $10, and handed me a pass which admits me to all national parks and monuments free for life! The advantages of growing older pop up from time to time.

Circling the great Yellowstone Lake, I was struck by the stunning beauty of the place. I can see why they made this a park. At one junction, I saw a sign for Old Faithful only 17 miles out of the way, and I had to make the detour. I've had a bookmark in my browser's bar for some time of the live webcam from Old Faithful, and often leave it on when I'm not using the computer, just to see if I catch it spouting (never have), so I thought I ought to check out the real thing. It was supposed to erupt soon, and it was spurting steam and occasional little 10-foot water spouts. The anxious crowd was growing, cheering with every spurt like a live audience at some reality show. I didn't need to wait around for the big squirt, saw enough of that scene, and took off again on my way.

South of Yellowstone, I passed through Jackson Wyoming and past the Grand Tetons. This is French for "Big Tits" (yes, "breasts" are "seins" in French). I imagine the early French settlers referring to these mountains, "go down 20 miles past the big tits and turn left" - somehow, I doubt the name would've lasted into today's vocabulary had it been translated into English. There are two large peaks alright, but they're pretty scraggly as tits go. Those French guys probably hadn't seen a woman in months, and these were the only tits around.

My friend Ellis (NYC, 1970s) had moved to his family ranch some years ago in the wilds of Idaho, and had given me directions on the little roads leading to it. No cellphone service out there, and no land line for Ellis, so this would be tricky. Leaving Wyoming into Idaho on a small road, I saw a sign "Next services 55 miles", and though the tank was nearing empty, I didn't know how far back I'd have to go for gas, so I risked it, figuring Ellis might give me a couple of gallons. I followed a dirt road for the several miles he'd instructed me, stopped at the only corral on it around 6:30, and the gate was locked. I climbed the fence and walked the 1/4 mile to the house, and left a note on the door. Must've been some screwup with the schedule, as I thought he was expecting me. OK, I set out hoping to make it 35 miles down to Soda Springs, keeping the speed down to save gas. I dealt with the disappointment of missing him, figuring I'd get that much closer to Burning Man today. At Soda Springs, there was cellphone service and I got a voicemail from him saying he had been expecting me. So I turned around and drove back up to Wayan. The gate was still locked, so I drove several miles further down the dirt road (now it was dark) and found nothing. On the way back out, I stopped at a house on another road and asked the resident if he knew Ellis. He described the location and corral gate more accurately, so I returned to the dirt road and detected another closed corral gate which had to be it. Opened it, drove along a dirt path in the dark till I came to a little house over a hill, and there he was. He spends winters in Boise and summers on the ranch, where the snow is over the roof in winters. It was great to catch up on each other's lives, and see an alternative to the city life, and I was glad I'd gone back without giving up.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

North Dakota - Montana - Wyoming

I set the alarm for 8:30AM in Bismarck, got up in time for the free Day's Inn breakfast(!), and got on the road by 11. Feeling more confident than ever with the car, cruising along past more rolling hills and fields of North Dakota.

In the western part of the state, I noticed a strange formation at the roadside. It turned out to be one of several large metal sculptures made of scrap metal along the Enchanted Highway, a 100-ft-tall sculpture of Geese in Flight. Big art out on the prairie!

Moving on through Montana, the hills and countryside got bigger. The Eldorado that seems so big back in NYC is just a speck moving across this broad expanse. I managed to pull into Cody, Wyoming just before sunset, and checked into the Irma Hotel, the original 19th-century hotel frequented by Buffalo Bill and other notable Western characters. A great diversion from the standard Day's Inns and modern motels. Total cowboy atmosphere, deer heads on the walls, old style saloon, beautiful woodwork, even a chain-pull toilet, the works.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

North Dakota

I got up early enough to say thanks and good-bye to Michelle before she went off to her first day back at work, and got out of Minneapolis by 11AM. I-94 is a few blocks from her house, and it was a straight run all day on that route, as far as I could make it. I usually prefer to take the old scenic roads, but time presses and I have to maintain maximum speed.

Finally, the car and its issues faded into the background. I was sailing along at 75-80 with no discernible weird noises, and it felt great crossing the great plains of ND with their scattered cylindrical tootsie-roll hay bales and lush green grasses under a bright blue sky. I stopped at a no-brand gas station along the way, with several grey-haired mechanics in blue jumpsuits. One asked about the car, I expressed some doubts about making it all the way. "Let me hear it, I'll tell you if she'll make it." I started it up, he listened, and declared that it sounded fine, all cylinders firing well, and that I'd certainly make it. His vote of confidence bolstered my damaged faith, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the long ride to Bismarck even more easily after that.

In Bismarck, I stopped at another Day's Inn for the night. Tried to find "downtown" and some classic diner, but it's all so spread out, and as soon as the street numbers go to double digits, it's deserted. So I wound up in old reliable Denny's. Amazing place, this country out here - every person I see is extraordinarily obese, except some school-aged kids who must be into sports (who are husky rather than fat). The sight of all the rotund Denny's customers at tables with immense heaps of food in front of them was a chilling reminder of the condition of society.

Tomorrow will be an even longer drive if I make it to Cody Wyoming, so I'll try to get up earlier so as to drive in daylight.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Started out my first (only) day here going out with my sister to Firestone to get those new front tires. Dropped the car off, it'll be ready in an hour, so we walked downtown, walked along Hennepin and Nicolet to find someplace to have a bite. In the bagel place, I tried to tune in to the energy level of the customers and servers. SO laid back, like: what would you like, I think I'll have that, no hurry, smiles all around. Contrasted it to the equivalent scene in NYC: Next! Next! BLT Down and coffee! Right! Next! Next! Anxious feet shuffling on line, cell phone chats being broadcast live, vibrant (frantic) vibe.

Back at the house, I formed a wood block and taped it inside the fender to hold the fender skirt tightly against the body. Put away the tape, left the keys in the trunk. First time ever, it had to be now. Pop-a-lock sent a guy out, who, after exhausting the efforts with all sorts of picking tools, removed the glove compartment to get at the back of the trunk release switch I'd never known was there. Ran a wire from the battery (+) terminal, touched a switch terminal, and voom, the trunk popped. A $135 reminder to Put The Keys In Your Pocket Immediately After Opening Trunk.

I drove over to St. Paul to spend some time with my nephew Wolfgang, at Luther Seminary. In serious preparation for his career as a pastor. We drove around, grabbed burgers at the seminary bar on Como Ave.; I heard of many "famous" Lutheran pastors of past generations who drank at this very bar decades ago (names strangely familiar to me from my early life as a Lutheran). We got into our respective analyses of the various dynamics between various members of our largely dysfunctional family. He's been doing counseling, learned something about family matters, filled a napkin with triangular dynamics diagrams involving various triplets of our family members. Kinda surreal, and it all came back to the Wolfgang-Bobby-Michelle relations and the question of whether I'd return to my sister's house alone or with him for family hangout time. I went back alone, his mother called to invite him, he didn't really wanna come anyway, but he felt wanted - "It's all good" as they say out here an awful lot.

Gotta head outta here early tomorrow, make it as far across North Dakota as possible. It seems like a dream to think the car will make it with no new problems. But it's all good.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wisconsin - Minneapolis

Jamie's boyfriend Mike drove the water pump down from Mpls on his motorcycle at night, dropping it off around 2:30AM. Ray said he'd be here at 8AM to tow the car to his place, so I got up with a 7AM alarm and had breakfast in the incredibly spacious truck stop cafe. He showed up at 9, dragged the Eldo up on the flatbed for yet another ride, and took it down the road. With no internet access here, I went back to sleep, after setting the MacBook back to work converting the last of 6 reels of full-res HD movies of the 2007 trip down to 720 QuickTime videos for easier viewing and handling. Still no sign of him at 2PM; I called, left a message. So my Minneapolis visit is cut down to one full day. Familiar syndrome, planning too many things within too short a time. But better than being bored.

Ray called around 2:30 PM. With the new water pump the car started, but the alternator wasn't charging the battery. So he installed a new alternator (I hadn't thought of telling him there was a spare in the trunk). The battery still wasn't taking a charge, so he installed a new battery as well. All that, with the towing charge, came to $350 - an amazing bargain, considering that I'd have paid at least twice as much back home.

Back on the road, switched to 50s music on the XM radio, and it felt OK cruising at 70-75 for the 4-hour ride to Minneapolis. But the first time I stopped, it took a lot of turning over and pedal-pumping for the engine to ignite. It was fine cold, but trouble starting up hot is a bad sign. More to deal with, I'll have a shop look at it in Mpls (where I still have to buy two front tires).

It was great to see Michelle again, and Wolfgang, and Jamie and her two beautiful girls. I'd had no internet access in two days, but divided my time between family and mail/web updates as best I could. We set up the tent (which hadn't been opened since it was packed up wet in Texas last year and sat in the trunk since then) in her backyard, and Mimi sprayed the inside with disinfectant.

I'm anxious to get into "normal" road mode, hoping I can cover the long distances between here and Burning Man via Idaho without further automotive incidents. How many more things can go wrong with the car? We'll find out (the hard way).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I got hold of Tanya's mom Peggy first thing on waking up in the Day's Inn. She was having lunch with her parents, so I drove 30 miles up to West Bend to meet her afterwards. I could see her daughter in her, and her voice showed me where Tanya's bright side came from. I learned tidbits of Tanya's history, like her being senior prom queen, and at 18 being the youngest girl to be recruited as a dancer for the NBA Milwaukee Bucks. Despite the acknowledgment that these things meant less to Tanya than they did to the other girls, to whom their West Bend life was everything, Peggy's parental pride beamed while telling me of these local honors, as it did whenever she spoke of her charmed girl. It was clear why Tanya had to get out of her home town as soon as possible. Some old photos of the bleached blonde teenager were a great sight as well. It was pretty interesting to explain to the mom my transition from initially having a crush on her girl last year, to today's "Uncle Lundo" role which seems to be unavoidable.

Starting out for Minneapolis from MIlwaukee at 3:30PM, I knew I'd get there after dark, but I held the speed to below 60-65 mph to avoid overheating. Switched the soundtrack away from the old standards station to 60s-on-6, giving me a higher-spirited ride along I-94. Cruising along at the relaxed pace, all the other cars and huge trucks whizzing by me, I just grinned - you guys are all driving cars, I'm out here in the sun having a party! But the water pump nagged at me. What does "water pump is shot" mean? Is it still pumping, just making bearing noise, or has it stopped pumping the essential cooling water around the block? The GEN idiot light went out completely for the first time since I've had the car, leading to theories. I never knew what was wrong with it, but that whole harness is probably miswired - the GEN light could actually be the inverse of the signal meant for the TEMP light, and going OFF might indicate overheating? Who knows? Along the way, I ate in MacDonald's while letting it cool down and filled the radiator with coolant before setting off again. I thought I might just make it to Mpls, now keeping it around 50-55 mph. But after stopping to piss about an hour later at New Lisbon WI, it wouldn't start up again. Same old story, now I'm thinking the engine is seized up hot. But a close inspection showed the brand new red wire on the alternator had come separated from its little spade lug, so the alternator wasn't charging the battery again (hence the dark GEN light?).

I tried jump-starting it, but no luck turning over. So maybe it's seized up as well. The woman who helped me has a husband 3 miles down the road with a service shop. Being the accountant for the trucker's motel attached to the Mobil station where I'd stopped, she got me a $25 room (people are so NICE here!). Ray will tow me to his shop in the morning, and darling Michelle agreed to drive down here as early as she can with the new water pump from Cadillac King that arrived at her place today. I need a new wire with terminal, battery recharged, replacement radiator hose (the one on the car spurts water from a crack when I loosen the radiator cap), and the pump installed.

I've got to leave Mpls Sat. morning in order to have time to visit Ellis in Idaho on the way to Burning Man, and that's assuming all goes smoothly with the Eldo after the fixes are done. If I can make it past Seattle, it doesn't really matter if the trip turns out to be a series of repair stops, as I'd have to have those things done back home anyway. But I won't be daunted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


By the time I woke up and called the auto shop at 10AM, they had fixed it! Same broken wire as on the PA Tpke in April, and I was outta town by 11:30AM. According to Google directions , I might just make it to Muskegon by 4PM, so I skipped breakfast and lunch and tore up through Michigan. I rationalized keeping maintaining 75-80 mph just for this day, vowing to keep the speed down through the rest of the trip to keep the engine heat down. I did indeed pull into the Lake Express Ferry terminal at 4:15. No room on the boat - or on either daytime boat Wednesday! Apparently reservations are required. (Of course, if I'd made a reservation, it would have been for Monday, which I missed in any case). So the only option was to book a crossing on the 11PM ferry, and cross the lake in the dark. I had read that the fare was $80 and decided to go for it, a one-time experience. Oh, but that's just for the human, it's another $90 for the vehicle. The $170 is about what I'd have spent driving down around the lake via Chicago, so I paid it and put it out of my mind.

Now I had 6 hours to kill in Muskegon. A tour through the "downtown" area revealed a ghost town - around 5PM, the streets were totally empty. Old factories with broken windows were evidence of the changes of the past few decades. You see the same thing in many towns across the USA. People live outside of town now, and don't drive to town when the suburbs are covered in more convenient malls.

The ferry clerk had recommended Dockers seafood restaurant, near the lake, so I checked it out, starving after no food all day. It confirmed that the higher the price, the smaller the portion - tiny piles of food in large elegant plates must establish them as "fancy" to some, but I wished I'd found a Greek diner. And the grilled salmon was covered in barbecue sauce (called "barbecue glaze" by the waitress). Unheard of! Dockers is in a condominium development, surrounded by many identical houses, overlooking an inlet with many yachts. Awful food in a totally alien environment, surrounded by khaki shorts and alligator T-shirts (or the modern equivalent - do they make those any more?).

The 80-mile crossing in the dark wasn't so null and void - the nearly full moon made a beautiful reflection on the water, and the catamaran-type ferry sped along at a good clip. I thought it was a 90-minute trip (11PM-12:30AM), but there's a timezone change, so it was actually a 2-1/2-hour trip. The iPhone came through again - googling "Day's Inn Milwaukee" located one 5 miles west of town, one tap of the finger to call them. Totally different from last year's "get-into-town, find Starbuck's for internet access to find motels" procedure.

I hear the Caddy water pump showed up at Michelle's house in Mpls, so I'm hoping the bad one will last till I make that 5-hour drive tomorrow, and I can get it replaced Thursday.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Starting out Monday, I was determined to make it up into Michigan, past Toledo, so as to leave time to get to Muskegon Tuesday for the 4:45 PM ferry to Milwaukee. Having refilled the transmission fluid at a gas stop in Ohio, I pulled into a service area to check the oil, having heard some noises along the way. It was two quarts low (after an oil change last Thursday!), so I added the only quart I had. When I went to start up again, nothing but clicks. I figured the starter had gotten too hot and seized up as it did in Florida last year after hours of 90 mph driving. And the engine might have overheated for all I know, since there's no way to test the TEMP idiot light.

I called AAA, for a battery boost and possible (probable) tow, and a truck came after an hour - without battery cables. Second truck brought out cables after 45 mins., and after considerable starting efforts, the guy sprayed starting fluid (rocket fuel) into the carb. I remarked that this was a bit like taking pain killers when you have a broken arm - you don't feel the pain, you use it, and make it worse. He laughed a little, but the car actually started up. He was pretty proud as he had me sign the papers, and he drove away. A few hundred feet after I started driving (still in the lot, luckily) the engine just died. Tried to start, nothing, not even clicks.

It was 11PM when I called back to tell AAA to send the truck right back, but another two hours passed before another truck showed up. He towed the car to Tuffy's service shop in Amherst and dropped me at a motel. I spent hours imagining all the things that could have gone wrong, including complete engine burnout from driving around 80-85 with too little oil, completely rearranging itineraries throughout the trip. The thought momentarily passed through my mind of even canceling the whole trip until I had a reliable vehicle, but I squashed it as I would thoughts of suicide (if they ever occurred, which they do not!).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Launch Day

I had hoped to leave Sunday "morning" (rare as it is for me to see morning). I wanted to make it to Toledo Ohio the first day, to catch the Monday afternoon ferry across Lake Michigan.

Well, Saturday night was the memorial for dear departed JudgeCal, which went late, and I stopped by 3 of Cups (after driving one of JP's lovely friends from back in the day to Sunset Park), went out to eat after that, and got home at 6 AM. So much for morning.

By the time I got packed and ready to leave, it was 4 PM. Adjusting that itinerary as the moments pass. I had to stop in Bay Ridge (around the corner from where I grew up), and when I was nearly there I realized I had left the ticket to Burning Man at home. So it was back up to Greenpoint, for the ticket and take two of the departure at 7:30 PM. Drove into the sunset over the Verazzano Bridge, and took a wrong exit in Staten Island, heading up to the Bayonne Bridge instead of down to the Outerbridge. Wandering Victory Blvd, no idea where the southbound expressway was, I pulled over and checked the iPhone map function - spinning gear, no access, I resorted to asking a human who gave me directions. Those legacy methods still work!

Getting up to speed on the NJ interstate, I was overcome by an exhilarating feeling of "it has actually begun!" But it had been a long day after a short bit of sleep, and I only made it as far as Hershey PA where an overpriced Holiday Inn caught my eye.

No wireless in the rooms, just "wired" Internet - with a cable coming out of the nightstand only long enough to allow you to operate the computer in bed! So I moved the furniture around, put the table between the beds, and here's the typical setup of the coming weeks.

We'll just stick an extra day on the front end of the westward journey, reach Toledo Monday and take a Tuesday ferry. I'll have to do some extra long days out west to get to Burning Man on time after Minneapolis.