Wednesday, December 12, 2007

no place like small town montana

i entered the clubhouse of the paradise united methodist church after an absence of four months and found instant warmth and welcome from the five women gathered there. dorothy had invited me to come help make gift bags for the residents of new horizons, the assisted living facility in wild horse plains, montana.

dorothy, betty, and charlotte had gone shopping a few days before to purchase the gift items; the others, judy, mary lou, and shirley were there, like me, to create the bags. dorothy handed me a white gift bag and told me to let my creative juices flow. wow! what fun!

she brought a boxful of sewing notions left over from projects in years past. others brought magic markers, colored pencils, and photos of the two churches in paradise and plains. shirley must have been a stamper in the past, because he brought christmas stamps and ink pads for us to use in decorating the bags. dorothy brought a hot glue gun to use in attaching the various colorful ribbons and balls to the bags.

dorothy had a list of the thirteen residents, and each of us personalized their christmas gift bags. after an hour, the bags were done. then came the fillings--candy, candy canes, an orange, an apple, a cross in your pocket card with a cross, and finally, a red-ribboned christmas bell. we left the red ribbon hanging out of each bag, anticipating how each person would pull that out of the bag first and put it around their neck.

i was saddened when i chose the names of the people for whom i wanted to make the bags, as i had my favorites every thursday when we went to new horizons to sing, talk, laugh,and reminisce.

"why isn't phyllis' name on the list?" i asked, remembering the small 94-year-old witty, bright woman who had captured my heart.

"phyllis died in october," answered judy. my heart sank. i was looking forward to seeing her most of all. i knew phyllis would be fine wherever she was, so i was sad only for myself and the others who will miss her.

soon, our job was completed. we cleaned up and departed for lunch at kathy's whistlestop cafe. we'll go to new horizons on thursday with the gift bags. we'll sing christmas carols accompanied by cliff on his guitar, joke, listen to each other's holiday memories, and i'll become attached to a new resident.

like i said, there's no place like small town montana.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

the end of my sag career

yesterday at 4:30 p.m., i completed my professional sag driver career. that day would have made anyone quit.

it all started out in a little town in minnesota. i couldn't make hide nor hair out of the directions on the cue sheet. luckily, i saw a few bikers across the street talking to a local guy, so i turned around and he told me how to get out of town.

on the way out of town, we were to turn on county road 9, but when i arrived there, it was closed under construction. my phone rang about then and it was jan. she was up ahead and told me to tell everyone to go on to county road 11. nine riders were at the construction sign, so i told them i would go ahead and find road 11, then come back and tell them.

i sped ahead three miles and surely enough, if you turned left off of 160 north, there it was. i raced back, found a turn-around, and told them it was straight ahead. then i decided to go back to the construction block and leave a message for the other riders.

i found a black marker in my purse and a rumpled paper on the clipboard, then wrote the directions on it, taped it to the road closed sign, and hoped for the best. i then raced ahead of the front-runners to give them a sag stop. i then waited for the rest of the group.

right in the middle of groups, i received a call from janet saying that vickie had been knocked to the ground by a big dog about a half-mile from where i was. i waited for the other riders, then drove quickly to the rum shack to await the front-runners, of which vickie was a part.

vickie was still riding, but her mouth was badly swollen and she had road scrapes on one arm. she didn't want me to call 911, so i went into the rum shack, got her some ice, and kathryn fashioned a neck-piece with ice inside it so they could continue on the ride. talk about tough!!

next, it was time to go see how the ones in the back of the pack were doing. i had picked up georgia along the road because her cracked ribs were giving her fits. thank heaven for her. she was navigating and answering the phone on this terror ride.

we found everyone else at the pub and grub. the best thing about that place was the proprietor, whose t-shirt read: i'm in the business of pussy and business is great. i guessed this was a red-neck place. he was talking about the three funerals in the community that week. we couldn't see a community, but surmised it was the farmers who lived nearby.

getting ready to leave after a huge blt sandwich, the phone rang. it was a voice saying, "we're six miles from town and need a ride." we didn't know who it was, but there was a note of desperation in her voice.

georgia and i sped off, trying to keep our promise of being there in 15 minutes. suddenly, we saw a sign pointing to the left: little falls - 11. we took a left, then ran into highway 10.

"none of this is on our cue sheet," georgia said.

"maybe we need to turn around," i said.

re-tracing our path, we finally found county road 35, which we had completely missed the first time round. about four miles down this road, we found patty sitting on the side of the road, with ann administering help to her, having waited more than an hour while we wild-goose-chased around the county.

it seems that patty started to pass out on her bike, then couldn't breathe. she used her inhaler to help that problem, then her blood pressure started tanking out. thank heavens she was with ann, the only medical doctor in the group, who started giving her liquids and other bike-rider concoctions. georgia and i helped patty into the car, and about this time, ann's hip started acting up. so there we were, the wounded helping the infirm. between the three of us, we finally got all the bikes on the car and started toward town.

"do you want to go to the emergency room?" i asked patty.

"no, i think i'm starting to feel better," she said.

after delivering georgia, ann, and patty to the hotel, i still needed to find the last three sheep--linda, barb, and lorrie. going backwards on the cue sheet, i found them seven miles from town.

i went on ahead of them, then waited at the turn that wasn't on the cue sheet. in the meantime, barb had a flat and lorrie gave her the front tire from her bike so she could continue on. i went back to lorrie, who had just completed the tire change and was installing barb's front tire on her bike.

"wanna ride?" i asked.

"no, i think i can make it," said lorrie, just as exhausted as everyone else had been.

"i'm calling it a day, then," i said.

"see you in town," lorrie replied.

about at the end of my rope, i drove to town, gassed up the car, and vowed that this was the end of my short sag driver career. janet bee did an intervention hug with me in the lobby of the hotel and offered to do the dishes after supper. that's the part of driving a sag wagon i will miss the least.

minding my own business

there i was, in loretta's driveway, getting ready to get in my pick-up and head back to new liberty after planting loretta's spring garden for her, when a tall, dark-headed gal dressed in bike clothes walked across the street fron the service station and approached me.

"would you help us?" she asked. "we're a group of women on a bike trip and need some transportation. our support van had to go to the hospital to take one of our riders who has a medical emergency, and some of us can't go on right now because of the wind."

"sure," i said. "where do you want to go?"

"if you take two women to the arrow cafe in the next town, then we can re-group from there," she answered. "by the way, i'm stephany hughes from kansas."

"pleased to meet you. i'm jack grage. i was getting ready to leave. i came over to help my friend, loretta, who lost one of her arms this year. she always has a large garden, but couldn't plant it herself."

"thanks so much," she said. "i'll go over and tell the women you'll take them."

so, not knowing what i was getting myself into, but also not having anything else to do today, i drove over to the gas station to help the women get their bikes loaded into the back of my pick-up. they got in the cab with me, and off we went to the cafe.

"we want to reimburse you for your gas," said judy, one of the bikers, as she handed me $20.00.

i didn't want to take money from them, but i just installed a new transmission in this old pick-up i bought last week. that $20 will come in handy to pay those expenses.

arriving at the cafe, i saw a sea of bicycles parked outside. about six women came out of the cafe and wanted to take my picture, then they wanted their friends to take pictures of them with me in it. on top of that, they wanted my address.

what was all the fuss about? i was just doing what any neighborly iowa guy would do. that's the way we do things around here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

unexpected surprise on a sunday morning

sunday's ride was perfect, only 32 miles, so i had most of the day to mess around. thirteen miles into the ride, we rode into lake city, minnesota, a town located on the shores of lake petin. the lake was somehow formed by the mississippi river, but i couldn't really understand why the lake was sapphire and the river was so brown.

right in the center of the village was moz' coffeehouse. we put on the brakes for it, because it was only 9:30 a.m. and we had all day to get to our short destination.

dave, owner of the shop, was working his fanny off to get all of us served our various latte's, fruit smoothies, green teas, and the other various iterations of things to drink. he and his wife had transformed an old gas station into a multi-level charming area where we could spend some real down time.

as our fellow riders drifted out, i told jenna i would wait for her, as she had been the last person served. "i'm looking for a church today," i said, "and i don't want to go looking for it. i want it to be right on our route."

"i hope you find it," she replied.

she finished her second breakfast and we walked out into the glorious sunshiny morning together. suddenly, i heard refrains of a praise song we sing at the church of the resurrection. i looked across the street and it appeared that a group was conducting church services at the waterfront park in between the coffeehouse and the marina full of gorgeous sailboats.

jenna needed to get on the road, and i walked across the street to join the services. an usher handed me a bulletin and a song-sheet. i was surprised to read i was at the united methodist church of lake city. i sat down on one side of a picnic bench and the service began promptly at 11:00 a.m.

as i sat there, i couldn't imagine a more heavenly place to spend sunday morning than where i was. we sang several songs, the organist gave her personal testimony, they passed the offering plates, we sang several more songs, and it was over. i didn't want it to end. it was just too perfect.

i mounted my bike and continued down the road twenty miles to our motel for the evening, knowing that my peak experience of the day had happened before noon.

wedding at waterfront park

i went to a wedding last saturday, a wedding to which i wasn't invited. i was walking leisurely along the waterfront park in lacrosse, wisconsin, when a flutter of electric blue chiffon caught my eye. investigating further, i saw six bridesmaids standing on a concrete stage, then six tuxedoed groomsmen, and finally, the bride and groom.

what drew my attention the most, tho, was the minister. she was a young woman, dressed in a white gown with a colorful vestment stole. her voice was entrancing. i decided to become a member of the wedding audience, so i found a place on one of the empty concrete benches on the back row.

the minister was totally in charge and capable. she announced that the next number would be a vocal solo by the groom's 12-year-old daughter. this daughter stole the show.

there she stood in her billowy bridesmaid's dress, belting out "at last" by aretha franklin, complete with arm motions. she finished, the audience cheered, and she walked over and hugged her father, whom i am sure felt he had gotten his money's worth out of his daughter's voice lessons.

soon, the wedding formalities were completed. the couple kissed, the audience cheered, and the processional began, complete with the red wagonful of requisite babies of family members dressed in their wedding best.

wailful sounds of bagpipes were heard and the bagpiper, dressed in his finest blue plaid kilts and navy blue cap, preceeded the wedding party to the reception area.

the only thing missing for me was the wedding cake and dancing the macarena on the banks of the mississippi.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

self-imposed adversity

these words kept creeping into my mind yesterday as i rode along. i began to wonder what kind of a person would: wake up at 6 a.m., put on tight cold-weather clothing, eat breakfast standing up in a motel parking lot, start riding with a 15-20-mile-an-hour headwind, ride up hills that force slobber out of my mouth, ride down hills that would kill me if i lost control of my bike, use a cue sheet that has errors on it, not know where those errors are, take the wrong turn, go to a farmhouse asking for directions, get on the right road, play dodge-em with 18-wheelers, eat lunch in a cute cafe, continue in the wind until my mind is shot, stop in a tavern for a coke to get some quick energy for the rest of the trip, ride into the wind for 10 more miles, see a turn-off to the "field of dreams", discover a spoke broke on my left rear tire so i can't see the field, decide to limp on into town, see the sag wagon, pack my bike onto it because it is unrideable, get to the motel, eat pizza for dinner in the parking lot of the motel, get into a van to go see the basilica of dyersville, iowa, enter into the basilica to the refrain of the "lord's prayer", sit in the pew and thank god for life, health, and safety, go back to the motel, walk next door for an after-dinner rhubarb crust a la mode, go to my motel room and find my room-mate asleep, take a shower, and drop exhausted into bed at 9:15 p.m., so i'd be ready to ride sixty more miles today.

now that's self-imposed adversity.

historic district of elsah, illinois

jose' meta stood in his side-yard examining his new table saw. i saw him examining his table saw as i rode leisurely through the village of elsah, illinois. he seemed to be the only living thing in the town. i needed water, so i parked my bike across the street and approached him.

"hi", i said. "you live in paradise. this town is charming."

"thank you," he replied. "what are you doing here? most people who live in this town are associated with the principia college up on the hill."

"i'm on a bike trip from new orleans to northern minnesota. i saw this town from the highway and wanted to turn in and explore it."

i continued, "what are you doing? you have this brand-new table saw and i see another huge box with a picture of a saw on it."

"i've been working on my house for a couple of years without these tools. now i'm going to build a garage and i'm will have the proper tools."

"your home is beautiful. you built it all by yourself?" i asked, noticing the intricate stone work and the old-world look about it. i also noted his european accent and his brown, expressive eyes.

"in this town, all homes must be built in the style of 1837. it's a national historic district and they're very particular about architectural structures here. my wife and i came over here when our daughter enrolled in the local college. we saw this lot and imagined what we could build on it. this house is my dream."

"your dream is fantastic," i concluded. "i don't want to interrupt your work. would you be able to give me some water so i can continue on my way?"

"of course. i will even give you some lemonade. would you like that?" he inquired.

he came back out of the house with the drink. i thanked him and went on. i felt like i had taken a short trip to spain, his home country. he was gentle, professionally competent, and endearing....just like all of elsah, illinois.

i turned my bike toward the small downtown area, where i joined my fellow bikers for a piece of home-made pie in a cafe called "just desserts"...another adventure along the meandering mississippi.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

mud spa

out there in missouri, right along the mississippi river, is highway 61north. leaving hannibal, there is a super highway lane-wide shoulder (we are always on the prowl for good shoulders). made of asphalt, the shoulder makes even a bike klutz like me look like a candidate for the tour de france.

there i was, buzzing along, in a zone, feeling pretty cocky. eleven miles later, the shoulder ended, leaving me with a bumpy, weather-beaten shoulder unfit for human use. i slugged along on it for 12 miles, cussing every mile.

soon, i spied a sign that told me about new construction. the only bad thing about the construction was that now four lanes had turned into two--two lanes full of eighteen-wheelers, behemoth campers, huge trucks pulling trailers with equipment, and other assorted vehicles which could prove certain annahilation for me.

what could i do? it was sure death to follow the highway. i didn't want to live there, or i would have quit riding. suddenly, i saw the new highway ahead of me--the missing two lanes i was looking for. it was, for sure, unfinished, but what did i care--there were no vehicles of destruction on it, either.

how to get to it? a clay-looking road that looked a little wet from last evening's shower. "oh, i won't let a little mud stop me," i said to myself, starting trudging through the terra cotta-colored mud.

soon, i discovered the error of my ways. i was bogged down to my ankles in mud. my tires wouldn't turn because they were caked in red mud. my gears were covered in gunk. i was in a mess. then the phone rang.

"stephany, do you see that roadside park about a half-mile down the road on the other side?" ann asked. ann was our sag driver du jour.

"i see it," i replied.

"i'll meet you there. you can't ride on 61 north. it's too dangerous," she warned. "i'll pick you up and take you past the construction."

"i'm IN the construction," i said, "but i'll slug through the mud to the roadside park."

i picked up my bike, which had gone from weighing five pounds to weighing twenty-five pounds. i used my nails to remove about ten pounds of clay from various parts. i walked through red mud puddles, trying to remove some of the mud from my bike shoes.

finally, i made it to the roadside park, which had brown mud puddles. i sloshed around until ann arrived, knowing she wouldn't want me in the car with five pounds of mud on each foot.

three other riders were awaiting ann. we put the bikes on the car-top and ann drove us to the flying j truck stop. i found a water pump on the gas island, borrowed a gallon jug from the car, and proceeded to spend 30 minutes washing both my bike and myself--kind of like taking a public shower.

finally, i finished; the three of us mounted our bikes, with nine more miles to go, NOT on 61 north, as forbidden by the highway patrol. we arrived in keokuk unscathed, although i don't know how.

that evening, i had lots of laundry to do. the water had a red tinge to it. i had experienced a mud spa on route 61 north.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

corn, corn, and more corn

if anyone wonders about what our country is doing about the ethanol crisis, just bike through the states of louisiana, mississippi, tennessee, missouri, illinois, and iowa. you will see corn until you are sick of seeing corn.

one afternoon in tennessee, clark invited me to stop by lucille and peter's farm. they are her cousins. lucille was standing at the end of her road when i pulled up and jumped out of the van.

"where's clark?" she asked. "peter's out in the truck looking for her."

"if we stand here a few minutes, i'm sure they'll be here," i answered.

surely enough, in less than five minutes, up pulled the maroon pick-up with clark and peter in front and clark's bike in back.

they invited us into their ranch-style farmhouse and asked us if we wanted a drink.
"i do," i answered. "that wind today is enough to drive anyone to drink."

we settled into their spacious and well-appointed living room with our merlot. clark proceeded to catch up on the family news with lucille; peter and i started talking farming.

"i was just in my hometown of liberal, kansas, last week, and everyone is growing corn now," i volunteered. "there is even a new ethanol plant on the outskirts of town."

"yes, corn is making millionnaires out of the farmers around here," he replied.

"good. they deserve it," i said.

"we're sticking to our regular crops of cotton, soy beans, and catfish farms," peter said.

"tell me about how you grow and harvest catfish," i inquired.

peter went into a long and detailed description of catfish farming, which was highly interesting.

"are you both ready to go to dinner?" asked lucille.

"let's go," said peter.

we all climbed into the club cab and headed for the nearest town of inverness, where we had an outstanding meal. peter and lucille knew everyone in the place.

after dinner, peter and lucille dropped us off at our motel. they've already become millionaires over other crops. they also are gracious and know how to show southern hospitality. i'm glad to have met them. they enriched my day.

thanks, peter and lucille.

Friday, June 1, 2007

murphy's law day

some days you're the bird; some days you're the statue--that day i was the statue. that was the day i was the sag driver, we had 98 miles to ride, we had two ferry crossings, and 25 miles of long hills to conquer. this was a recipe for disaster.

to start out with, by the time we had crossed the illinois river, then the mississippi river on the ferries, six people wanted to sag. i had a carful, so asked three of them to get out and wait for the van, which we could see getting on the ferry.

at mile 30, nine more people wanted a ride. by this time, the 15-passanger van was full and the top of it looked like a riding bike shop. in a few more miles, we found a cute town with a quaint cafe for lunch. after lunch, three more people wanted to sag, so i put all their bikes on top of the subaru and started to get in the car.

somehow, i know not how or why, i slammed my left fore-finger in the car door. i winced and felt queasy as i looked down at the blood. linda, in the front seat with me, yelled, "i'm going to get help!"

soon, three fellow bikers surrounded me, one with ice in a styrofoam cup, one with paper towels and ice, and another with the first-aid kit. luckily, the one medical doctor in the group was with us, so i felt well-cared-for.

after our queasiness subsided, we continued down the road. it was decided i would take my car-load to the motel in hannibal, then come back and see if anyone else wanted a ride. there were only six riders hanging in there.

at the motel, i switched vehicles. i was now driving the van, in case all six wanted a ride. on the way out of town, linda and i heard what sounded like a shot. we soon discovered, however, that it was a rock hitting the windshield and shattering it.

by this time, we were in hysterics, wondering what else could happen. finally, we got all 28 riders into the motel. i was ready to call it a day, when vicki came out the door and said, "we're taking your bike to quincy, illinois."

i climbed into the vehicle to go because i wanted to be there for my bike's surgery. i broke a spoke a few days before, and the day before, i broke another one.
an hour and a half later, i had all new spokes on the right side of my back tire. i felt confident the spoke surgery had been a success.

we were now back in hannibal, and i was looking forward to my motel room. i needed a shower badly. my clothes were a shambles. like a true genius, i had chosen to wear white capris on the day i knew i would be handling lots of greasy bikes. the pants were covered with grease and blood.

i walked out to the van to get my luggage, only to discover it had rained in hannibal while we were in quincy. my luggage was soaked. about this time, i felt like bawling, but i didn't.

at long last, i went to my room, took a shower, happy that my day as a statue was almost finished. a good dinner, complete with homemade chocolate chip cookies, turned me into a bird.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

adventures of a sag driver

every four days, i am the SAG (support and gear) driver. that means i get up early, load 8-10 gallons of water in the back of the subaru, stand in the midst of people getting their bikes ready for the day, look important with my clipboard, check people off when they leave, then hit the road with my carload of water, gatorade, cheez-its, power bars, bananas, oranges, apples, bubble-gum, and pay-day candy bars.

i wait until the last rider leaves, then drive twenty miles down the route, giving a thumbs-up to everyone, and hoping i get a thumbs-up from them. heaven forbid i should have to stop and help someone with mechanical problems. me, the mechanical moron, with my yellow gloves on so i won't get grease under my nails, is supposed to know something. i guess by this time i do know a little bit. i can help change tires, but mostly i am good for moral support.

at the twenty-mile mark, i look for a place to park the car so everyone riding along can see it. i also look for a place where everyone can pee. we're all great at peeing on bushes and anywhere else we can find to squat.

each day, i try to have a theme for my sagging; for example, yesterday was called "farm implements". each time i stopped, it was by a huge carport of farm equipment. that way, everyone can choose which implement on which to pee. it's kind of exciting, in an odd sort of way.

after the farm implement theme du jour, it was time to back the car onto the ferry so we could yet again cross the mississippi. it was a fun and exciting ride. my friend, barbara, was with me in the sag, so she was navigating.

we drove seventeen miles down highway 77 and found an appropriate farm implement area. we sat and sat and no-one came.

"barb, i think they should be here by now. what's wrong?"

"i don't know. look at the cue sheet," she answered.

looking at the sheet, i wisely noted that we had forgotten to make a left turn on highway 210 about twelve miles back. i put the subaru in gear, backed out of the farm arena, and gunned it to the floor for the back-track. speeding along, we finally saw 210, took a right, and i gunned it even more. at long last, about 10 miles down the road, we saw our riders. driving ahead of them a mile or so, we had to skip the themed area, and settled for a tree with shade.

"where have you been?" asked jackie, the owner of the company (and of the subaru).

"let's just say we made a mistake," i answered.

everyone finished their gatorade and snack time, then continued on down the road.
barb and i wanted to get the car gassed up for the next sag driver, then we decided to get a car-wash.

after fumbling with the dollar bill changer for ten minutes, we entered the car-wash. the water started misting our tar-encrusted car. we then heard a "thud" eminating from the roof. i knew immediately what it was. the bike on top of the car was taller than the car-wash door. i slammed on the brakes; barb and i jumped out in the mist and began taking the bike off the roof of the subaru. we were both soaked, but glad to note we hadn't ruined the bike.

"i'll meet you at the dairy queen," barb said.

i continued through the car-wash, bicycle-less, another lesson learned by the sag driver du jour.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

two white wooden swings

they looked attractive, the two white wooden swings, hanging in front of a white building i thought was a closed grocery store. petunias in hanging baskets added to the intrigue of the place.

i stopped, hopped off my bike, sat down on one of the swings, was starting to listen to my phone messages, and dusty appeared on her recumbent bike. soon, pat and jan (sisters) joined us, followed by jenna and kathryn. we all chatted, then barbara and linda stopped. jenna and kathryn had stopped by a strawberry patch. jenna pulled a baggie-ful of strawberries out of her shirt back-pocket and offered them to us.

we sat, ate strawberries, spit out the tops on the grass, and continued our swinging. soon, everyone drifted on down the road, leaving barbara, linda, and i to swing.

all of a sudden, out of the house next door came a tall man in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms.

"let me open the store and let you in. i have some lemonade for you."

"that's nice," we said. "thank you."

terry ford opened the door to what we thought was going to be a grocery store and we all gasped! all we could see were rows and rows of bookshelves filled with rows and rows of books.

"i have 17,000 cookbooks, the second largest collection in the united states," terry explained.

in front of us was a 25-foot table set with colorful pottery dishes, glasses, silver, and napkins.

"i had a group here yesterday from new orleans, and tomorrow i'm having a home demonstration unit for lunch," he said. "i'm a professional chef. i go all over the u.s. and the world giving cooking classes."

"wow!", we exclaimed. "we wish you could cook for us."

"i'd love to," he replied.

at that moment, a man entered the store with two papers in his hand.

"he brings me the daily paper," terry said. "i'm recovering from a heart transplant, and i'm executive editor of the ripley enterprise."

he showed us his masthead and barbara tore it out so we could remember his name (as if we could forget).

"before we go, i wonder if you would show us your scars," i said. "i've never known a heart transplant patient before."

terry lifted up his t-shirt to reveal a 24" scar from his navel to his chest, plus various other round-looking incisions here and there.

"i have to take it easy for two more months, then i'm good to go back to traveling," he added. "my surgery was december 12."

"you're amazing," i said.

"i'd do anything for anybody. i realize every day is a gift. i should have been dead seven years ago. that's how long i waited for a new heart."

"thanks for the lemonade and for showing us your cookbooks," we all said. we had especially enjoyed looking at the one called "death warmed over", one which told the proper cuisine for serving at funerals.

mounting our bikes and taking off down the road from ripley, tennessee, we were all happy to have been sitting on the two white wooden swings at the right moment to have met terry.

wrinkled roosters club

gathered on the wooden deck of the old-fashioned corner store, they called themselves the wrinkled roosters. the store rooster strutted around on the deck, allowing all of us to occupy her space for a few minutes.

the wrinkled roosters club members, however, arrive at the deck early each morning to kibbitz, to gossip, to solve world problems, and in our case, to entertain the tourists. six of them, each funnier than the other, cracked jokes in rhythm.

"yow, we come here every mornin', then leave when our wives call us," the one they call catfish said.

"fortunately, none of us have our phones turned on," chimed in crawfish.

another fell in love with edith, our rider with a german accent. he was interested in taking her home, but she wouldn't go when she found out he smoked. that was a deal-breaker for her.

all six retired from manufacturing plants which have since closed. they named general electric, firestone, and others. one guy in overalls said the day he retired was the happiest day of his life.

after fifteen minutes of front-porch entertainment, it was time for us to get on our bikes and mosey on down the tennessee road.

"you got any money?" catfish asked.

"no, but i have lots of time," i answered. "you got the money, honey, i got the time."

"that's a song," the quiet one said.

"you guys need to start a band. you'd be hilarious," i suggested.

"silver fox here has a cd out. you can buy one in the store," volunteered crawfish.

"anyone famous live around here?" i asked.

"justin timberlake grew up at that last subdivision you saw. tom cruise was staying here when he was working on "the firm", and oh, yeah, carmen diaz stopped by here one day," catfish said.

sit on the deck long enough with the wrinkled roosters and the world passes by.

Monday, May 21, 2007

rock 'n' soul

beale street in downtown memphis is a happenin' place. as we drove through on sunday evening, i vowed to come back to it, and today, i did.

on the way, however, i stopped to see the ducks; you know, the ducks at the peabody hotel who come down from their penthouse palace at 11 a.m. each day to entertain the tourists in the lobby fountain, then return to their palace at 5 p.m., weary of adulation and flash cameras. as the ducks entertained the masses of tourists in the lobby, i slipped into the elevator, pushed the "s" button, and swished up to their rooftop palace.

it was a beautiful palace, fit for the cute ducks who inhabit it. from the skyway, i also could see a view of the mississippi, barges pushing who-knows-what down the waterway. in addition, on the top floor was a huge ballroom, reminiscent of times gone by. i almost could hear glenn miller tunes wafting out the door--or was that elvis singing "blue hawaii"?

moving on toward beale street, i spied the fed-ex center. i feel like i paid for at least a small part of it. right next to it was the rock 'n' soul museum, originally funded by the smithsonian, but now solely supported by people like me who wander in, put on mp-3 player earphones, and transport ourselves back to the beginning of blues and country music in this neck of the woods. on the mp-3, i could press a three digit number and hear any piece of music i wanted in its entirety. i listened to "just a closer walk with thee" by the blackwood brothers, in honor of my dad, who loved those guys.

i saw elvis' gem-encrusted performance outfit and punched in the number for "blue suede shoes"; i heard minnie pearl yelling "how-dee", followed by a funny one-liner she was noted for; i saw and remembered many of the vintage juke boxes on display, bringing back memories of feeding quarters to the one at the snack shack in liberal.

the whole experience was mesmerizing, ending with the asassination of martin luther king and a hope for a better tomorrow race-wise.

riding through a relatively unfamiliar part of the country has been educational. i have viewed nearly every stalk of corn in louisiana and mississippi, not to speak of every catfish farm. i have a better grasp on the ol' south, though i still don't know why they talk funny. their history is bedded in acrimony. their present is riddled with hurricane damage.

no matter where we go, everyone is kind to us and curious about what we are doing. they probably don't get the "why" part, tho. neither do i. it's just another adventure.

like the well-dressed, glamorous woman in vicksburg exclaimed when she heard about our journey, "oh, my gawd. i can't even ride around the block. if i did what you are doing, i'd have to have surgery to remove that bike seat from my big fat butt."

some days i feel the same way.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

took my breath away!

robert dafford's work ( takes my breath away. along the levee in vicksburg, mississippi, instead of seeing a huge concrete levee, robert dafford has turned the concrete into huge, detailed murals of the civil war, plus historical depictions of the vicksburg area.

today, i walked down from washington street to the levee below. i had read and heard about the murals since arriving in town last evening from my 85-mile bike ride starting in natchez. they were the only things i wanted to see here. now i know why.

upon reaching the bottom of the stairs leading down to the huge 15 x 20 foot murals, i noticed scaffolding in front of one of them. gallon paint cans on wooden planks sat on the scaffolding. to the side of the scaffolding sat robert dafford and his assistant, working on a mural featuring louis armstrong playing jazz in a bar.

"you have alot of paint," i wisely noted.

"we do murals all over the country. we have a seven-month project to do up north after we finish this one," he replied.

"are there very many muralists who do what you do?" i asked.

"there are five different mural companies who do this type of work. we are the only ones who do historical research, photograph the topic, sketch the exact mural, then paint it," he said.

about this time, i realize i'm dealing with a genius, perhaps the leonardo of murals. now i'm really appreciating them and him. his assistant is working on one section, too.

"how do you decide who gets to paint the big spaces of blue or brown?" i inquired.

"we work as a team. we all have our job," he said. "i'm the detail man."

"are you ever," i exclaim.

thinking i'm wearing out my welcome, plus interfering with the creative process, i said thank you and walked on.

leonardo of the mississippi, robert dafford. little did i realize i would not be able to stop thinking of the murals all day long....well, i guess i didn't think about them while i ate fried green tomatoes and fried pickles at rusty's grill down the street, but then i got right back to them.

black man from jackson, mississippi?

glenn sanford greeted me at the door of the h.c. porter gallery in vicksburg, mississippi. i recognized the name of the gallery because just that morning i had perused the vicksburg tourist magazine. i was drawn to the gallery because the magazine said h.c. porter worked in three medias: photography, printmaking, and painting. i wondered how an artist could do that.

looking at the work, i noticed the subjects were all black. glenn explained to me how h.c. first takes a photo, then silk-screens it, and finally paints it. it sounded very complicated and i imagined h.c. must be some kind of technological genius, all that serigraphy and all.

"here's h.c. now if you want to meet her," glenn said.

walking towards me was the antithesis of how i had pictured h.c. porter. h.c. was a tall, caucasian blonde, who when she heard i was on a long bike ride, started telling me about a friend of hers who does cross-country bike tours.

"excuse me a minute; i'll be right back," she said.

while awaiting her, i noticed her dossier on the wall and read it.

upon returning, h.c. talked about the plaza art fair in kansas city after i told her i was from kansas.

"i'm glad to clear up something i was wondering about. i looked at the children's art down on the riverfront and thought they had a great teacher. now i've learned that you are that teacher," i explained.

"oh, yes, i love working with children," she replied.

"i really must get upstairs to my painting," she continued. "i'd love talking with you, but i have 40 paintings to get done."

after she left, glenn explained to me that h.c. had gone to view the devastation of hurricane katrina right after it happened. she took 9000 photos, then selected 40 to make into paintings. he showed me some of the photos. they, like her other paintings, each showed one person in black-and-white photography, standing where their house had once been. they were in the eye of the hurricane.

in march 2008, the 40 paintings will start being on exhibit around the country. the project is called "backyards and beyond: mississippians and their stories.

h.c.'s motto for the project is: there is healing in the telling...and the being heard.

she is the perfect healer.

shake it out, baby!

pulling into a gas station/convenience store in downtown vidalia, mississippi, i notice things are a bit in disarray. the place to insert my credit card was quite unusual, enclosed with duct tape on all four sides. dubiously, i inserted the card, only to be told to see the attendant.

after walking in, using the restroom (which hadn't been cleaned since 1984), i approached the attendant's counter.

"shake it out! shake it on out, in the name of jesus!", the attractive xxxl-sized woman was saying to someone on the phone. hanging up from her auntie, she gave me her full attention.

"what does that mean and did jesus say it?" i asked.

"it means shake out your illness. get the best of it," she replied.

"good advice," i said.

after completing our financial transaction, she leaned over the counter to give me the receipt.

"what is that down there?" i asked, glancing down at the bodice of her mu-mu. i could see some writing on her bosom and wanted to know what it said.

"it says 'pookie', with a rose right down the center of you-know-where," she answered.

"what does that mean?" i asked again, leaving jesus out of it this time.

"it means that's where pookie belongs and if pookie ain't there, i'm goin' after him," she said.

"i'll tell you one thing. i wouldn't want to be pookie if you were coming after me," i joked.

"you got that one right, honey."

"bye-bye, and shake it on out," i said, slipping out the door.

sometimes you get more than gas at the gas station.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

life on the shoulder

meanderin' up the mississippi is a bit more difficult than i thought it might be. for starters, i came to the ride cold--meaning, without training. well, that is, if you don't count the 30-mile ride on the prairie spirit trail i did a week before departing for new orleans.

the first day looked fairly easy: take a ferry ride upstream seven miles to the zoo, get on a 22-mile levee trail, jump off, get on a highway following the levee, then ride 16 miles to our first motel. that was easier read than done. i went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and slept until 6:30 p.m. guess i should have trained.

then there was the second day. that also looked fairly simple--seven more miles than the day before--45 miles in all. that was definitely easier than the first day. perhaps i am getting in shape.

the third day was the killer, both in thought and in deed--85 miles. at the 50-mile mark, i simply packed it in, thinking i don't have to be a hero. it was also mother's day, and i knew my children wouldn't want their mother to be uncomfortable on her special day.

that day, i was lying under the shade of a huge oak tree, flat on my back in shivasana position with my eyes closed. "do you need any help?" a nearby voice asked. "my husband wants to know if we should call 911."

"no, thank you," i replied. "i'm just resting."

"do you need some ice?"

"yes, that would be great."

she returned in a few minutes with a baggie-full. i filled my water bottle, thanked her, mounted my bike, and was off after a pleasant 10-minute rest.

sometimes that's all it takes to make it to the end.

today, we are in natchez, mississippi, on a rest day. i need rest after driving the SAG wagon on an 83-mile day. that is another blog, however.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

he wants my commandments

he wants me to write ten commandments for our relationship. i was supposed to do it before we went to costa rica. he did it. his were nice. unfortunately, we couldn't follow many of them:

1. Do not go to sleep angry at one another.

2. Do not criticize the other person.

3. Keep your promises.

4. No vulgar language toward the other person.

5. Be on time.

6. Be considerate of one another's feelings.

7. Respect the other person's opinions.

8. Do not tell each other what to do.

9. Respect each other's property.


i guess i was good at the one about respecting his property and i didn't really use any vulgar language towards him. other than that, i'm an 80% failure on commandments. of course, i know these were written with me in mind, so it's really a laundry list of my faults in disguise.

it's not like when moses came down from the mountain with the ten generic commandments for all of mankind to follow down through the ages. those are fairly easy to keep, not like this particular list, which grinds out my iniquities down to the last syllable.

so, today i sat down and wrote out my commandments, which are a list of his iniquities, not in any way disguised.

1. stay. don't leave, even if you are hopping mad and can't see straight--DON'T LEAVE.

2. moderate your drinking; don't get drunk, then pass out.

3. name-calling is not permissible, even if what you are thinking about the other might be true.

4. ask not what your mate can do for you, but what you can do for your mate.

5. tell the truth.

6. respect your mate's interests, whether it be hunting, fishing, basketball, golf--whatever.

7. take your mate on a date at least weekly.

8. go to bed happily and peacefully each night.

9. get involved in something outside yourself.

10. have fun and laugh together.

11. time-outs from one another are healthy...pursue personal interests.

12. say "i love you" frequently. hug, too. kiss, also. make love, for sure.

13. share your earthly means with one another.

14. be careful with one another's precious feelings.

15. share couple goals; always strive towards something together.

16. be healthy; get exercise and eat properly.

17. if all else fails, kill your mate and destroy the evidence.

now, when i look at both lists--okay, so i'm an overachiever and had to do seventeen--it seems we agree on the going to bed happy part, the feelings part, and the no name-calling. i guess that's a start.

will someone please tell me why having a relationship is such a slugging, slopping, difficult task? or, do we just make it that way? or, perhaps, we should just invoke rule 17 and get on with the singular life that is left.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

what happened to my purse

i said i would tell why my purse was in montana while i am in kansas. it's simple--before chuck and i left for costa rica, i took most of the essentials out of my purse and transferred them to my backpack. i then put my purse in chuck's truck.

a month later, upon arriving at the holiday inn express at the spokane airport where the truck was parked, chuck drove to his home in paradise and i spent the night at the hotel in order to catch a plane back to kansas city the next day. i guess he found the purse when he cleaned out the truck the next day.

my purse missed out on alot of fun by staying in the truck instead of making the trip to costa rica. here is a list of a few things we did in tamarindo: entertained friends for dinner and a swim at our condo in playa longosta, spent the night at their new home in liberia, woke up early to go check out the leatherback turtle tracks on the beach, attended a silent auction/cocktail party at a bed and breakfast across the street from our condo, played in a charity golf tournament at hacienda pinella, ate dinner at a beachside hotel (capitan suizo), watched kansas university basketball at pasa tiempo hotel, practiced yoga at an open-air studio overlooking playa tamarindo, and walked miles and miles on the beach.

next, we took a van to playa hermosa, just south of jaco. that van trip is worth a blog in itself, which i will write about later. six hours after leaving tamarindo, we pulled up to the recepcion of hermosa bungalows. again, this bungalow is worth a blog by itself; again, to be told later. it was at the bungalow, with its huge covered veranda, i began my holiday cards. it's the latest i've ever written them--starting on february 16, i had 135 to do. i vowed to do twenty each day and i did.

the first morning we were there, we set off on an early-morning walk to explore our environs. it was a rural area. our 28 bungalows were about the only places we could see where humans inhabited. next to our bungalow was a huge pasture with ponds where a hundred or more cattle grazed; that is, until the third day, when we spotted a huge crocodile sunning itself by one of the ponds. after that day, the cattle farmer.

one thing very unusual was a paved road in front of our bungalow community. paved roads are unusual in costa rica. even more unusual was the fact that this paved road was not a highway. we learned later why it was paved: future development; i.e. high-rise condos were on the way. after all, the deserted beach was virtually in our front yard. it was a very desirable location.

tomorrow i'm going to tell you about watching the birth of a calf, then what happened to it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

debut of hippo speaks

okay, what am i doing here? i like the word "blog". it sounds like a diagnosis; i.e., "sorry, honey, but you have the blog." i wonder if i need to take any antiobiotics for it.

okay, so i have the blog. what do i do with it? i guess i'll think of something clever to say, but true to my procrastinating nature, i think i'll save that cleverness for another day.

it's like they tell you when you start writing: just write anything; keep on writing until you think of something to say. i repeat myself. that cleverness will have to wait. for now, i'll just keep writing like bridgett jones, as in "bridgett jones goes blogging"....that never-ending stream-of-consciousness writing that lets you write things you never knew were in your own head.

i warn you. this blog is not entertaining. it's a start. entertainment comes later. it's getting a post posted. it's overcoming inertia. oh, and then i need to figure out how to get a photo posted--ohmygosh, i'd better do something to my hair....and what about something to wear....and what if i look fat in the photo and noone wants to read what i have to say.

wow--now i've started something. i hope it's good---or intriguing---or funny---or at least doesn't make someone throw up.

anyway, this will have to do for today. i need to go to the real post office. my purse is there, having been mailed a week ago from montana. i'll tell you later how my purse ended up in the united states postal service and i am here.