Archive for the ‘on the road’ Category

The Legend of Stoney Gilliam, II

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

The dash warning light is real.  Within minutes the truck has lost  power, reducing 70 mph down to 25 mph, so I choose to turn on the warning flasher and ride the shoulder.  Sans a GPS, I can only estimate that the next town, Springerville, AZ, is fifty miles distant.  Although the very large array of radio telescopes passed an hour ago may be able to detect visitations from other galaxies in the universe, I have zero bar cell service.

For more than an hour, rumble strips, a sick engine, and a few passing cars are all that are seen and heard. 35 miles on the clock.

And then, an angel.

A white SUV slows as it passes then pulls aside and awaits the sick driver and sicker truck.  Her name is Karla, a solo road warrior, with an innate trust for a fellow traveler in distress.  I could be Ted Bundy, serial killer, in disguise, armed and dangerous, a felon preying on good samaritans, but Karla didn’t hesitate. No questions asked, she tries her cell phone, to no avail.  However, her car is equipped with On-Star®, a clever satellite service that promptly answers and offers to call a AAA wrecker.  We part with a warm handshake, and within an hour the truck is loaded onto the flatbed tow, headed for the recommended service center, Round Valley Garage, Springerville, Arizona.


Stoney Gilliam is stoic, soft-spoken, a weathered mechanic choosing his words carefully and sparingly.  He has the rugged good looks of NCIS’s Mark Harmon.  A late afternoon gaze at the truck through piercing eyes from under an old baseball cap and the computer scope reveals a very serious NG…failed injectors at 193,000 miles.  This had happened once before, in 2008, a whisper above 100,000 miles, and a shadow past the seven year  extended warranty.  GM, sympathetic, politely punched my tough s#it card, and wished me better fortune in the future.


dateline: Springerville, AZ

nearest big box store, Show Low, AZ, 48 miles away

closest interstate ramp, I-40, 82 miles distant

Stoney’s son drives me to the vintage, 1960s, El-Jo Motel, conveniently located adjacent to a favorite local saloon/eatery, The Safire.  Not a misspelling to be confused with the lovely blue gemstone, The Safire had once been named The Safari, but a Phoenix restaurant of the same name requested the name be changed to avoid confusion.  Fat chance.

The claim to fame for the Safire; the Duke, John Wayne, frequented the place in the 60s.  He had been part owner of a large ranch just west of neighboring Eagar, AZ.  The cheeseburger was delicious, but the seat in the  dining room booth still retained the sculpted shape of the Duke’s rump, like the trusty saddle on an old gelding.


The Duke, after lunch at the Safire

I spend the next morning, on foot, exploring the town.  A walk to the airstrip, a visit with the ladies in the Safeway store, the local museum where everyone important was named Udall, McD’s for an egg mcmuffin, and a brief busman’s holiday at the Western Rexall.  This is a hardscrabble town with little veneer.  You don’t live here to be monetarily rich.  Five interviews with ‘locals’ were consistent.  You’ll find characters, but no drunken Toronto mayor, or a Jersey FatGov; people seem to enjoy the isolation, fresh clear air, no parking woes, no traffic, and very little crime.  Everyone knows who you are, what you drive, and where the herd of elk was last seen crossing SR 180.

Because the repair, a 14 hour task, and parts would take several days to arrive, over a weekend + the vicious storm covering most of the U.S., Stoney offers to drive me to Show Low that afternoon, both to rent a car, continue on to Phoenix, and meet my wife, Lynn, arriving by air.  He promised me, unequivocally, he would have the truck ready in a week, and would not release it until he was certain it was 100%.  Believe me, his word is gold.


L-R, Stoney, Chas, and the mended Silverado background

Strange, this bump in the road, a major inconvenience when I needed it the least, enriched my life, reinforced my faith in the basic goodness of people, and lead to quiet contemplation on the ride on AZ-80 from above the Mogollon Rim down to the Valley of the Sun.

Becker Butte Lookout


Straight from the pages of Arizona Highways, the breathtaking scenery is as welcome as the thirty minute stop to remove fallen rocks.

Below, a genuine American Indian princess and AzDOT employee shares stories and candy with me while waiting.


My sincere thanks to the support team and I wish them all the best:

  • Karla 
  • The wrecker driver with a clean sense of smell
  • Stoney, Nicole, their son, and staff at the RVGarage
  • The ladies at the El-Jo and the Paint Pony Lodge, in Show Low
  • Show Low, AZ., Hatch Toyota rental rep, Jolene Dailey, for the Rav4, efficiency, and a smile that can melt gloom and lighten the room
  • Princess SummerFallWinterSpring and her avalanche stories

A trip planned to cover 1800 miles in four days had turned into an odyssey of 2400 miles, over 14 days, sleeping in nine different beds, losing seven pounds, five days of food poisoning, and a small dent in the travel budget.

It was worth it.



The Legend of Stoney Gilliam

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

In the rear view mirror, what once was referred to as a cold front, then redefined as an arctic blast, has now morphed into a Polar Vortex.  The weather media have fallen into the exaggeration trap of their newsy colleagues who have given us the fiscal cliff, quantitative easing, the dreaded taper and the nuclear option.

Embarking on a four day, mid-winter, cross country trip over the Great Plains is always an adventure.  I make my first overnight stop, a popular, cheap hostelry that rhymes with No Tell Kix (to avoid being sued).  This in memory of my dearly departed dog, Jack.  This chain allows pets because they place you in a room with linoleum flooring.  The bath towels, roughly the size of a diaper, have the absorbency of a sheet of cellophane.  R.I.P. little Jackster, it’s only for one night.

Miles southwest of Albuquerque, I’ve taken an L-shaped route off Interstate-25, the hard right turn westerly on lonely U.S. Highway 60, which slices through the heart of parched, west-central New Mexico. The loneliness from Socorro, NM to Springerville, AZ, 154 miles, is palpable; should this desolation escape you, do not drive, get breathalyzed.

These San Agustin plains were chosen for a radio astronomy observatory because the isolated location away from large population centers, and the partial shielding effect of the surrounding mountain ranges.  This is peculiar to New Mexico, the state known to issue driver’s licenses to extra-terrestrials.  Locals of every ilk, perhaps on uncontrolled substances, enjoy regular visits from inter-planetary friends. This gives credence to the state motto warning: Land of Enchantment.


I have, however, taken a personal turn for the worse.  A three course tamale dinner at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque has tasered my gut lining from the tonsils south, septum to the rectum.  Urgency rhymes with emergency.  From the glove box of my aging Silverado diesel, a spare roll of TP and bottle of hand sanitizer become my two best friends. With only a single passing car every 1/2 hour, the entire county has become a personal port-a-potty.  Toxicity without vanity, I harbor some shame that this is not a ‘best practice’ health and sanitation policy.  Here, however, only the neighborhood rattlesnake population would issue an APB, a toxic intruder alert.

Next stop, Pie Town, NM, an unincorporated bend in the road, a cult restaurant, the Pie-O-Neer, and a clean restroom.  DSCN1314DSCN1315


Saying grace, PieTown, 1940, before dessert

I pass on America’s favorite dessert.  The combination of red chile, tamales, clostridium difficile, and cherry pie might translate into the first nuclear disaster since the Fukushima tsunami.  I opt for a single bottle of Coca-Cola to ward off dehydration.



30 miles west, in truly, the middle of nowhere, the worst is yet to come.  The dreaded “check engine” light illuminates the dash………..


…to be continued


insightout© 2014





Monday, October 28th, 2013

To some, the capital of Rhode Island, to others, however, upholding the natural order of the universe, an intervention into the lives of extraordinary people.

Hence, a sequel to Baptists and Prisons, the highway breakdown part II,  so why not fashion a rap stanza;

A major setack, a carburetor crack, aint cause for (bleep) dismay,

Rent a car, raise the bar, who give a poop, meet the 190 group,

Outta that funk, got beer in the trunk,

No (delete) delay, gonna be a  great day

Dateline: Punta Gorda, Florida

Event: Mercedes 190SL International Convention

A dire bathroom warning in the Sheraton Four Points reminds me that things could be worse than songwriting hip-hop.


From our individual launch pads, members share only two things in common; (a) title to an orphan status car of erotic design, and (b), the right to trial by jury. From the first example built in 1954 to the last, 1963, now a half century past, this disparate owner group of thirty years standing has created a timeless thread, thriving, beyond the 190SL roadsters. To the core, the individual characters, made this journey memorable.

Yes, the cars are important but they are inorganic (aside from the tanned hides of recently deceased livestock). Blasphemy alert; the cars do not have a gender, a menstrual cycle, headaches, or bi-polar depression requiring serotonin inhibition. Yes, yes, you’ve given them pet names, assigned a sex, and cover them in heated nurseries with a  diaper.  Get over it; they are just cars, with neither memory, feelings, chocolate cravings, nor requiring prophylaxis against chlamydia.  Brace yourself for taser shock, the car doesn’t know you own it.DSCN1079

Red Hot with Swiss Cheese backdrop; @ Muscle Car City

A partial list of the people, real, organic, that authenticated a weeklong odyssey, none of which would have happened without driving misfortune:

Captain Bill on Tamiami Trail who gave me the best haircut in years.

Sharing breakfast and an autograph with acclaimed Cape Cod artist, Karol Wyckoff, before 7 AM.

Having the honor of introducing Kent V., a retired American Airlines captain from TX, to John McC., retired Air Canada captain from BC.  These two looked the part; tall, handsome, distinguished, and either could perform the cameo role of Hudson River hero, Sully Sullenberger, or Leslie Nielsen in the movie, Airplane!  I knew, immediately, that John, like Leslie, was a Canadian when he pronounced ‘about’ as ‘aboot’.

Native New Englander, Henry Magno, a dedicated gearhead, and Marcia Herrara, a Nebraskan companion with encyclopedic knowledge of 3rd world infrastructure, disease, and reproductive health. Unlike most Massachusetts residents, they do not regard Rhode Island as a suburb of Boston.  Which it is.


Scratch ‘ride in a camoflouge swamp buggy’ off my bucket list. Henry….hmmm, not so sure

Dining with legacy member and first timer Mary Anne Westphal and sidekick, Ken Lowman, refugees from Gainesville, home to the FL Gators.  This, a relief, after three dazzling hours of million dollar cars in Miles Collier’s private museum.

Catching a ride to dinner with Mike, Mary Jo, and young Joseph Herrmann, genuine Californians, the latter playing hookey while tap-dancing around middle school truancy.

In a very dark parking lot, I manage to thumb a ride back to the hotel with Hagerty rep, Jen McWhinnie, a SYT barely old enough to be my granddaughter. Without hesitation or equivocation, she offers the shotgun seat, unaware that I may possess outstanding warrants or priors as a serial killer.  Blind trust by one very cute kid.


The Hagerty WOW factor, an unfair competitive advantage

Conference call with gurus, the two Dons and Walt Puryear, to confirm the fine points of carburetor installation with our mechanic Seth, 180 miles distant.

Depart Punta Gorda hotel, Friday, at 3:30 AM, clutching a used Solex PHH, a doughnut, and GPS.

Mark, Jerry, and  Seth, the A-Team of European Car Clinic, Ocala, FL, perform surgery on Baby Jane’s PMS and get us back on the road.


Intensive care unit, intravenous 15W40, and skinned knuckles

Forewarned that the replacement unit might still run lean, sucking air from the resultant warping of both the intake surface and carburetor body, I was guaranteed safe passage to Indiana.  The long hill climbs in the south become a challenge to maintain 70+ mph, however the right hand lane, between semis, becomes your new best friend.

Avoiding a mirror replay of the trip south, fueled by anxiety and loneliness and robust Starbucks, I’m northbound on overused I-75.  It has the personality of styrofoam, and at each interchange, faceless motels, gas, and food too fast to be taken seriously.  Ringed in asphalt, like the excessive use of eyeliner applied to an aging prostitute.

Tifton, GA, Jericho, TN, and the mandatory stop in Corbin, KY for KFC, home to Colonel Sanders, and birthplace of the secret 11 herbs and spices; original, crispy chicken. Tastes better here, they say.

It isn’t.

A curious irony  at this convention, having attended ten over two decades, was peeling the veneer from so many delightful people.  The norm is to congregate with the familiar, the friends you’ve grown to know well, and become oblivious of newcomers.  Sans my wife, dog, and without a car, this became the best meeting ever, the result of a roadside calamity.  Divine intervention.

A future as a vulgar lyricist, i.e., challenging Kanye, Jay-Z, and Fifty Cent, is not in the wings for this contributor.  I gave up by singing, “What’s it all aboot, Alfie?” and opted for a moment of reflection in rural FL, Sholom Park.  An exquisite stoic beast three feet in length.


Cincinnati, Indy, and home, sweet, ‘back home again in Indiana’, 2630 adventurous miles.  Home to dog, Jack, my darling wife, Lynn, reunited after ten days, we practice our flying butt bump  in the family room, as if we are in the end zone, and just taken the lead in the fourth quarter.  No small task when each of us has a vertical leap of three inches.

And no tattoos.





Baptists & Prisons

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

dateline: Ocala, FL

alert: minor Airstream reference

In Pooler, Georgia, a bi-polar city vehicle, the SquadTaxi

Traveling four days in a 53 year old mercedes roadster, twelve hundred trouble-free miles on the odometer, destination Punta Gorda, southwest Florida, and I’ve hit the wall. Unable to maintain idle, stalling at every intersection, I’m now on a flatbed headed to the European Car Clinic.

Suspicious that the car is running on only 2 cylinders, of the four available, I’ll have to await the diagnosis. Here’s hoping it isn’t open heart surgery.

Having driven vintage cars for>forty years, this is, quite simply, an adventure in motoring. What the hell, write a blog. The most visited national park, the Great Smokies, is nearly suffocated by the tawdry tourism of Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Dollywood, and Gasplingburg. However, breaking through the pea soup fog in early morning sunrise, the view from above the clouds is an ecstatic panorama in resplendent fall colors….nothing ober nor uber, and not a single waterpark to dampen nature’s splendor.

Mountain dew (actual) at pre-dawn on the boot lid

Years since I’ve made this trip, the Blue Ridge Parkway remains a great ride. The stop in Saluda,SC, the most photographed nostalgic main street in the USA, a visual delight. A shaded park bench, a honey crisp apple from the 1890 Thompson grocery, and a half hour of girl watching…makes for a reluctant departure.

Oldest grovery in NC, where you can still buy a bar of BonAmi®

I-95 in Georgia is nightmarish except for sighting a continuous stream of motorcycles en route to Daytona Beach for Bike Week, the southern version of Sturgis, SD. A group of vintage Porsches, all owned and driven by Belgians, is on tour, a pilgrimage of sorts, from NY city to Miami. Le Tour de Automobile. Nice cars, good-lucking guys, French accents, and gorgeous women riding shotgun.

Oooo,la, la

Photoshopped image of my favorite redhead on R. Luhr’s BMX bike

Pastoral setting under the Darien, Georgia bridge, from the deck of Skippers, the best seafood restaurant in a state that worships peaches.

Shrimp boats awaiting high tide

The most common vehicle south of Jacksonville is the 400,000 off-road fleet driven by elderly, white retirees. Not the ubiquitous Lincoln Town Car, Mercury Marquis, or Ford Crown Victoria, they’re all made by Cushman and E-Z-Go.

Promised airstream reference, Nintendo character demonstrates vista view windows on an aging retrofit for travel.


In the same Hampton Inn parking lot where the old 121 chassis is being loaded on a flat bed for the trip to the clinic.

Tim H., tow truck driver extraordinaire, tightens the straps

The title line is a tangential reference to Florida’s two most profitable industries. Not citrus agriculture, nor discount coupon travel guide publishing, oxycodone abuse, or even freedom from state income tax; Baptist churches and incarceration facilities rank #1 and #2. If you’re searching for Jesus here in the Sunshine State, they’ve got you covered.

Before or after you’ve sinned.

Tesla : Preamble in tunnel vision

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rosy fingers of a Saturday dawn are welcomed, late September, 2008, after the six mile drive and 2500 foot climb up the winding road of Rancho Carrillo. Named for Leo Carrillo, the Cisco Kid’s mischievious sidekick, Pancho, the ranch is an idyllic mountaintop respite from the urban torture of Orange County.


The event, a popular cars & coffee excuse for the sybaritic motor culture in southern California, attracts a hundred vehicles of every ilk; none of which are routine, pedestrian, nor inexpensive.  The morning feature is a prototype electric sports car, the Tesla, rather sexy looking, attached to a 220 volt charging station that resembles the yacht cable on a marina pier or the type for a monster motorhome.  8007568972_d4077a73cf_cThree members of the Tesla team explain the virtue of electric cars, a century-old concept, now invigorated with advanced technology. Below, antiquated technology.




DSCN1891The infectious enthusiasm of one, Elon Musk, a 37 y/o South African with the clipped accent of Ernie Els, is intoxicating.  Apparently now, my 190SL companions tell me, a billionaire from the sale of his popular credit card scheme, PayPal®, an unlikely visionary sipping on dark roasted Starbucks® morning blend. Referencing a possible IPO for the company in a year or two, he is impressive, yet I see only the failed ghosts of Preston Tucker, John DeLorean, Edsel Ford, and Malcolm Bricklin.



By 9:30 AM, a local horse show commences, a gorgeous array from 4 years old to 40 years old, and the horses aren’t bad looking either.  We begin the invigorating downhill run, top down, on the legendary “zoom-zoom” road made famous in Mazda Miata commercials.  I’m smug, smiling, contemplating how laughable and foolish a stock offering would be for an unproved, limited production, six figure sports car.  Even as a dedicated gearhead, I could not, would not, embrace the fantasy. DSCN1903


On June 29, 2010, the stock, symbol TSLA, opened at $19.00/share.

On Friday, August 16, 2013, it closed at $142.00/ share.

The horses weren’t the only ones with blinders on that California hilltop.






The 190th Day of the Year

Friday, July 12th, 2013



dateline: Charlevoix, Michigan

Re: response to an editorial challenge

A ride through pristine countryside in northern Michigan, a beautiful July day, top down, with hot women as companions……lurid thoughts emerge as to how the day might unfold.  However on this day, 190th of the year, ours turned to, what else, infrastructure systems for clean water, sanitary sewers, and storm water management.


Ever wonder about those circular grates at the base of cityscape trees?

On the shore overlooking the south arm of idyllic Lake Charlevoix, at the renowned foundry of the East Jordan Iron Works, three 190SLs convened to visit the largest manufacturer of manhole covers, anywhere.  What follows is all PG, for any reader whose mind might wallow in the gutter.  Where there is rain, molten iron reigns.

Within the twenty four hour window, the three aging 55 y/o Mercedes-Benz roadsters driven by club elders, logged a combined, astounding 1,236 miles, to meet and tour the EJ museum.  Corporate hostess, Erin Nickle, whose charm and feminine guile elevated fire hydrants, hydraulically operated sewer grates, and company mantra (durable products of high quality supported by unparalleled customer service) to a heartthrob level.  And she has gorgeous blue eyes, not that I noticed.


Erin Nickle lectures Donald Freese, prominent steel executive & metallurgical engineer 

Treated as visiting royalty, we are afforded the opportunity to pose, along with a commemorative manhole cover, on the lawn of corporate headquarters.DSCN0505Combine the photo-op with a gourmet luncheon at the Charlevoix bridge, homemade ice cream in Petoskey, and a 56 mile escorted tour, by guides and fellow gearheads, Keith and Marie Ambs in their 1934 Plymouth coupe as the lead dog…well, it doesn’t get any better than this.


L-R, Kathy & Don Drabik, Don & Shirley Freese, Lynn & Charles Spiher 

The moral to the story:  join up with old friends, and drive.


The shadow of the Ambs 1934 Plymouth coupe looms large. Boyne City, MI


L-R: Shirley Freese, Lynn Spiher, Marie Ambs, Kathy Drabik

Responding to the question; here’s some money, would you like to go shopping? Note that smiles had to be photoshopped on all four faces.

The immoral: did I mention that Erin was quite attractive ?



Clutching an Illusion

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

A vintage drive is still the best conveyance for transporting a mood.  Mine, the tempo for today, will be an effort to avoid the soiling of virgins.  A 50 mile drive through scenic high desert country, Patagonia, AZ to Tubac, AZ, in a late model Chevy truck is little consolation to the original plan: driving a 1972 plain jane, Mercedes diesel sedan to visit with Airstream royalty.

Sidelined with a burnt clutch, my Snow White remains at rest, while I suffer the ignominy of public parking, internally portraying myself as the dwarf, Grumpy, at a local Santa Cruz County Car Show.

The sad princess, at home, awaiting a pressure plate, throw-out bearing and clutch slave cylinder

On the cusp of Alumafiesta 2013 in Tucson, I’m privileged to join the event planners; their last gasp of relaxation before the kick-off on Tuesday.  Forget the Super Bowl, where millions of idiots turn on the TV to watch ads, the staff of R&B Productions called an audible….”let’s go to a car show”.

On a country club driving range, a sunny 70F in early February, thousands come to view 500+ wheeled vehicles of every ilk; a ritual about wishes and memories and generations holding hands.  An antidote to future shock, a reminder that the world got along perfectly without microwaves and spray paint and gourmet coffee and cellphones and cruise control.   It is a shining sanctuary from the possible, where every street and neighborhood and architectural element is Hispanic.  The attendees, mostly upper-middle class elderly gringos, silver-haired refugees from cooler climes, are living reminders that not only is winning the only thing, it isn’t even necessary.

The ultimate example of the fin crazed madness of the late 50s, eighteen + feet of 1959 Cadillac El Dorado, precipitated this dialogue.

“When this car was built you were only this big”……..” Nahh, you’re kidding, really ?”

Constant comparison with better old days are illusory and unreliable.  An older German man has driven his ponton, ’roundbody’, 1960 Benz 190 sedan, an anemic performer with the erotic buttocks of a biergarten fraulein.

84 HP, zero-60 mph by sunset


Overheard at every car show, the admonition, ‘ oh look, we ( may sub family, uncle, brother-in-law, grandfather) used to have one of those.’  And yes, I, too, owned a 1958 220S roundbody sedan from 1993-2007.  We called her Daisy.  After Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy), in the memorable movie of an old Buick chauffeured by Morgan Freeman.  Drove it to work every day during the summers, transported my daughter to her wedding, reveled in the Teutonic precision, and lusted over the dated pre-WWII styling.  In another irony, I opted to sell Daisy because of a tempermental vacuum operated clutch that I had grown to dislike.

Daisy, at a local mausoleum, the day before she left for the Orient.

The purchaser, an Asian mall developer, shipped our jewel to Hong Kong, where she now resides, suspended on a rotating platform in the atrium of a large shopping center.  A shameful fate, I still harbor guilt that she is no longer allowed to drive.  Like having a tubal ligation before a fertility rite.

On my way home now, imagining the 2001 Silverado I’m driving is a vintage ride, I enter a U.S. border patrol checkpoint, am racially profiled, and summarily allowed to pass through quickly.  Being an anglo geezer has its perks.


Prompting a Yogi Berra-like thought;

nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

Yappy Hour, Reigning Dogs

Friday, June 1st, 2012

dateline: Jackson Center, Ohio

Alumapalooza III

A new feature in the cascade of events for this unique rally; an hour for dogs to share their owners with other owners.  The owners, far more discreet than their beloved pets, are content to ‘talk’ without resorting to the mandatory sniffing of each other’s private parts.  Maybe next year.


Dozens of high-end breeds; dachshund, weimaraner, beagles, greyhounds, Scotties…..and a crowd favorite, the bulldog on the skateboard.  Boogeying down Bambi Lane.


Some fast, aloof, intelligent, powerful, miniscule, or alert, and others, rescue dogs like our Jack, the result of hasty, unplanned dog sex.  A dog’s eye view of the party.


Jack is considering accepting donations for his favorite cause, a national system to counter the dreaded wave of kanine kidnappings (think amber alert).  Seen below maintaining a vigil by his box trailer, to discuss strategy with other potential victims.


Among the dogs, few disappointments other than the absence of the corgi, favorite of writers, Graham Mackintosh (Pili) and A/S Life’s own Bill Doyle (Tasha).  However an unconfirmed rumor, started by a Welsh Terrier of ill repute, speculated that the lady below was planning to attend Alumapalooza IV in 2013.


Also, missing, not a single Lassie, as seen in this low-res file photo from 1955.


Lynn and I plan to adopt a collie puppy this year, a female, and we’ll name her Melon.  Like the movies of her forbearers, she will become melon collie and that will be sad.



Maria Stein and Redhead Lust

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

A journey through rural western Ohio, en route to the epochal trailer rally, Alumapalooza III, loses traction when my Lynn, the navigator misses the turn.  Ford may make the ‘Lincoln Navigator’, but we’re driving a ‘Silverado Who Don’t Know’, the pre-GPS version.

The detour in Mercer County leads us to Maria Stein, OH, which every inquisitive traveler might ask, ‘who was she?’  Who gets a town named after them ?  I imagine her to be an attractive redheaded Jewish girl, virtuous to a fault, the incarnate likeness of Iris Ephron, the cute, raven-haired beauty that I lusted over in high school, 1957, petite, sassy, and sexy.  Ok, ok, maybe a redheaded Jew was a genetic anomaly, but she had the “is” and the “it” factor.  Leave it to Bill Clinton to define ‘it’ and ‘is’; my lips are sealed.

Prepare for deflation as there is no Maria Stein, the person, but a town named after a community in Switzerland; Mariastein.  In Ohio, it is home to the shrine of the holy relics (they store desiccated body parts of deceased saints) and the St. John’s Catholic Church in this land of cross-tipped cathedrals.


The church felt odd.  I cannot explain why I walked in, but the doors were big, and open, and the day, a day celebrating memorials.  No one else was there….not even a woman in black on her knees.  Columns with fading paint stood alongside like old comrades.  Most of the place was plain, and worn, and well scrubbed.  The gilt carvings on the walls kept a safe distance.  The smell was not melting wax, not incense, not dust, not humid afternoon sunshine, not anything else I could recognize, but it recognized me.  Call it the odor of a hundred years of prayer.  The aroma of leatherette binding from weathered hymnals, the DNA of a thousand sinners.


A gusty wind from the south stirs the hair on the nape of your neck.  What passes are only what the wind blown clouds have chosen to reveal.  Shafts of sun spotlight tumble-down farms, pastures of livestock, and a lonely farmer tending to endless acres of newly planted grain.


We reach Jackson Center, Ohio, where for decades, no obtrusive progress has been made except for satellite dish installations.  The town has been preserved by middle class poverty, aluminum siding, a few tourist dollars, and an uncommon trailer manufacturer.  The main street is wide enough for a motorcycle to pass a model 9300 John Deere tractor pulling a 15 row nutrient applicator, if you enjoy becoming up close and personal with anhydrous ammonia.


Our destination, a small community of trailers filled with volunteers wearing ghastly orange tie-dyed tees, is gearing up for a week of frolic.  The temporary village flickered silver, the residents in folding chairs, and a nightingale practices her chords under a shimmering canopy of cottonwoods.  The rugs of grass so velvety that one’s mind could roll on them, and beyond them, the sun set and vanished with the warm steady breeze.

(Alert: the following material may be deemed offensive.  If your computer has a parental control option, now is the appropriate time to activate)


The morning erupted in thunderstorms, much needed rain, and the emergence of two very attractive, damp redheads piloting a 4X4 Gator in search of a lost hydraulic winch.  This, as you probably concur, would make a good plot line for a grade-B movie.  Upon confronting the two unnamed individuals, I approached them, camera in hand, and asked if they would like to appear on my internet pornsite. 

After the coy amusement

Then, an unrehearsed audition

Life provides few (tweet translation delete) OMG moments; this required an investigation. Informed, unnamed, anonymous sources of questionable repute IDed the pair as one Eleanor O. and one Lisa F. Although probably an error, those names matched both their passport photos and actor’s guild union cards.

This is going to be a very good week, so help me Iris.








Milktoast and a toast to milk

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

In lieu of  life’s more challenging events, today’s subject will span a world war and the evolution of tasteless milk.  But first, an observation from Fountain, MN, home to the geology of sinkholes, I have uncovered what might be the only church on earth, or the universe for that matter, which has an adjacent above ground swimming pool.

Nice touch, if  John the Baptist and the Jordan River are unavailable

Fifteen miles away on the outskirts of Chatfield, MN, a sign from the 1950′s, but still available today.

The sign is real.
If you are a baby boomer or newer, i.e., born after 1946, this may be an illusion.  However, for the more mature, we can recall when milk came in a glass bottle, delivered by the ‘milkman’, and it was not homogenized, the process which rendered milk a uniform emulsion.  No, the bottle was sealed with a paper cap, the cream separated to the top, and it was a treat to be able to lick the cap when opened.  The cream could be used in coffee, cooking, whipped for a dessert topping, or beat down to butter and whey.  Pasteurization, the flash heating of the milk to render bacteria harmless, was unnecessary if consumed shortly after delivery.  Milk had a taste, it tasted like milk.

So what is this leading to ?  An article in the USA Today stated that each day welcomes 10,000 new baby boomers reaching age 65, and everyday we lose 700 more veterans from World War II.  Over a three week span, I had an opportunity to interview three veterans:

Neal N., 92 y/o, retired U.Notre Dame physics department

Melvin G., retired farmer, Byron, MN, age 93

Bob O., Lanesboro, MN, 94 y/o drove milk tanker truck and still has a way with the ladies

Here are a few recollections they agreed upon:

    None considered themselves a hero; they were all drafted and felt a duty to their country.
    The real heroes never made it home.
    They all fathered children and were, in part, responsible for the baby boomer generation.
    You never forget four consecutive days on a troop train.
    Religion was an easy sell in a foxhole; no baptism necessary.
    Milk tasted much better then.


About the Author

Retired 1997.
Frequent travel. Loyal companions: wife, Lynn; dog, Jack.
Avocation: writing social and political satire.
Past life: three decade clinical pharmacy owner. Now in recovery.
Location: Northern Indiana, Eastern U.P. of Michigan, Southern Arizona

No telephone;