Archive for the ‘the prairie’ Category

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




Bridge over Troubled Squatters

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

The languid, and often liquid, sticky days of summer are closing down, in a rinse cycle of friendship and the gibbous moon.  Relocation to Rochester, two months +, and gaining momentum, we have encountered a full measure of “minnesota nice” ***, in spite of our classification as (pick a number);

  1. transients
  2. interlopers
  3. vagrants
  4. runaways
  5. squatters

A serious health issue for Lynn, my silver girl, prompted the move to MN.

Sail on silver girl

A visit from the welcome wagon, Kathy Johnson, the Rochester greeter, encouraged us to embrace the community.  And so we have.

Sail on by

Inhabiting an aluminum womb, in a lovely RV park with a rural setting, provides contentment but little intellectual stimulation, so we did what most elderly couples would do; went directly to the Pure Pleasure Adult store on US63 to view their inventory of “devices” and request the location of the nearest tattoo parlor.  Of course that’s not true.  O.k., so what if it is, the point being that overcoming the urge to get inked up is a serious challenge to fans of reality shows, like the NBA or Project Runway, where entire bodies emerge indigo blue with enough body piercings to set off the TSA siren.  Not desirous of impure pleasure, I’m forced to shift into reverse.  Lynn moves forward by meeting with women who enjoy sewing.

Your time has come to shine, All your dreams are on their way

Lynn suggested I explore an old passion, playing competitive bridge, having retired during the first Nixon administration.  The easy explanation, like golf, where I was also not proficient; the stolen hours away from a young family and a busy career.  The real reason: the players were often repugnant, ill-mannered, unkempt, and the majority smoked non-stop.  That was on their off days; when they arrived to play it became a logarithm on the Richter Scale of rudeness.  Although guilty of most offenses, I did not smoke.

Home to bridge “athletes”

Fast forward 40 years to the Rochester Duplicate Bridge and a welcome as a visiting royal, first by a person, who, for reasons of personal privacy and security, will only be referred to, anonymously, by the fictitious nom de plume, Sue Greenberg.  Curiously, that corresponds to the photo and name on her driver’s license, arrest record, financial statement and passport.

She provides a sheet describing Zero Tolerance for Unacceptable Behavior which defines gloating, poor personal hygiene, badgering, intimidation, profanity, and threats of violence as not commendable.  They even have a law, 74A1, that allows you to state, “this player is interfering with my enjoyment of the game”.  Already I’m feeling a bit uneasy, and unwelcome.  I mean (alert: dirty word tweet) WTF ?  I had played duplicate bridge in a private setting for years with a close circle of friends, mostly old physicians, where restrained war whoops,  borderline tribal behavior, and impugning the character of the opposition was not only acceptable, but laudatory.

But lo, she then invites us to her farm for dinner with her husband Rich, a charming self-described nerd from NY, dog Max, and, to a picnic two weeks hence for an annual get-together of family, friends, and a celebration to honor a vegetable (they harvest the sweetest corn in Olmsted County, MN as a hobby).

Back seat driver Max directs Rich, hayride driver of the vintage John Deere

Vulnerable bridge players contemplate corn-on-the-cob, doubled


In the month that followed, I joined the ACBL , played 2 to 3 times weekly, and met really wonderful people who have been genuinely warm and compassionate to both of us in our time of need.  Too many to mention, they know who they are, and saying thank you, in bridge lexicon, is an insufficient bid.

See how they shine, When you need a friend

If you neither play nor understand bridge, welcome, I don’t either.  The lure of the game is not complex; (a) you can never be perfect and (b) you can never learn enough.  Like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, warfare, battle strategy, heroic endeavor, and reason….the game, a ladylike mirror into our souls.  At the table we might quietly revel, for the moment, disemboweling an opponent, yet walk away friends.  No different than children in a sandbox.  Not everyone has a bucket and a shovel, but we all go home with sand between our toes.

An accomplished partner, at a team event, described my play as follows; your bidding is weak, play of the hand suspect, and defense poor, but you make a great dummy.  And I was flattered……batting average .250.  I have earned points, and a ranking (junior master) which is similar to a Boy Scout merit badge.  The points, however, have no cash value and are not redeemable for senior discounts at Coldstone Creamery®, an upgrade from business to 1st class on Virgin Air®, or a gift card at the Pure Pleasure Adult.  Ice cream, sex, and airborne abstinence are incompatible with bridge, so help me God.

Our time here may soon come to an end.  The prognosis, the clinical outcome, are a metaphorical walk on a razor’s edge of an abyss.  Often, the only courage I can muster is irreverence, and looking deep into the eyes of the woman I love.

When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes

The certainty is that my playing days in Rochester dwindle down, to a precious few.  The bittersweet paradox, the concomitant embrace of sadness and happiness, compelled me to share these random thoughts.  A kind gesture, no matter how small or insignificant, is never lost in meaning, and for that we are truly grateful.

It is nice to be in Minnesota.

Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind





*Garrison Keillor discusses “Wobegonics”; the  language of Minnesotans which includes “no confrontational verbs or statements of strong personal preference”

**the academic study by Peter Rentfrow, Samuel Gosling, and Jeff Potter in 2008 found that Minnesota was the second most agreeable and fifth most extroverted state in the nation, traits associated with “nice”.

lyrics, Simon, P., 1969

Hidden in Plain View

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Dateline: Plainview, MN , pop. 3408,

The Heart of the Greenwood Prairie

Saturday, June 25, 2011
Country Breakfast on the Farm
Location: Little Valley Dairy
Donny & Holly Thompson, owners

Rochester is in the rear view mirror as we drift eastward through bucolic Olmsted County, a county without a lake, not a single one, in a state with the motto: Land of 10,000 Lakes.   Planning to neither fish nor swim today, as investigative journalists our objective is a 5 dollar pancake, cheese, sausage breakfast, on a “reported” dairy farm, with “supposedly” 182 Holsteins☀, 1 crossbred, and 1 Brown Swiss who are “speculated” to produce 27,000 pounds of milk a year.

This is an obvious undercover scam, because we all know milk comes from a refrigerated wall at Trader Joe’s®, produced in plastic milk cartons, free of rBST, @ $1.99/half gallon, between the 2% Greek yogurt to the left and the organic brown eggs on the right.

However, we arrive at the Little Valley Dairy on CR 10 NE, nearly 4 miles south of Plainview, along with 100’s of families who have been duped by this sign:

Time: 6:30 am – 11:30 a.m.
Details:  Enjoy a pancake breakfast.
Sponsor: Rochester Ag Committee, Olmsted County Farm Bureau Federation

Do these people look like someone you might trust ?

Tents, tables, vintage tractors, modern combines, milk parlor, barns, hay, more hay, cows, more cows, and celebrities;

“Victor”, the suspicious official mascot of the Minnesota Vikings attempting a ‘field goal’.  Behind the facade of this uniform, the now retired Brett Favre, who, has at last found a real job.  He still knows how to make a “pass”.

L- Mutant corn on the cob; R-Undercover agent

Donny Thompson in profile, Hollywood material for “Survivor-Dairy Farm”, a series coming to you soon

In spite of all the misconception, the people watching and the breakfast were both delicious.  Armed with a full tummy we learned that:

and except for a Dairy Queen, no one can consume 7 gallons of ice cream in a single day.

The sights, sounds, and the aroma combine to make this the most memorable Saturday morning ever.

Thank heavens for holsteins, John Deere, and little girls

¤Holstein- a black and white milk producing hybrid between a buffalo and a dalmatian, with four, very large, ice cream dispensers.

We came away, convinced, that the photo below is true, that milk subsidies are essential, calcium builds strong bones, and running a 970 acre dairy farm is fun, demanding, and at times, very dangerous, and the debt we owe Donny and Holly Thompson defies translation into words.


p.s. These two “tired” imps tried to convince this investigator that hamburger comes from feeder cattle and NOT McDonald’s, so I am off on a new assignment:

ooo❍❍❍OOO are you really Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC ???



Antidote for Alumapalooza

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011


For those of you suffering an overdose of fun, friends, and adventure in Jackson Center, the following may offer temporary relief from indefatigable hilarity, and, like Beano® or Lactaid®, excess gas.

The Storm Team disaster, severe weather, catastrophic, tornado alert staff has turned on the stereophonic sirens and the three of us have descended to the safety basement shelter of our 1855 farmhouse.  I stare blankly at the ceiling, 2″ x 8″ joists of hand hewn oak beams, and wonder could this be the day ?  Really, the old house has stood for 156 years (56,989 days counting leap years) and this may be the big one.  I’m not making light of anyone’s misfortune and for the moment can empathize with the people of Joplin, MO.

Laundry table tornado emergency kit: wife, oxygen canister, Jack, candle, flashlight, cell phone, lighter, two beers, and a favorite photo of late mother-in-law

The warning subsided, so we left town, destination Rochester, MN.

Currently overlooking the Wisconsin River in picturesque, Guttenburg, Iowa, where barges float quietly toward the Mississippi.  Yes, that Guttenburg, honoring the famed printer of the 13th century, the same guy known for selling 21 copies of a well known, ostensibly non-fiction religious work.  He did not, however, ever reach #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.

Jack, driven to the levee in a Silverado Chevy, recalling his days with Rin Tin Sawyer aboard an old river houseboat

The ride north on US 52 is a memorable slice of the Iowan midwest; Garanvillo (“Gem of the Prairie”), Monona (“Garden City of Iowa”), Postville (“Hometown to the World”).  Vibrant small towns, farms, picturesque homes, farms, manicured lawns, more farms, active small businesses with neighbors sidewalk chatting, none of the buildings yet emaciated and now vacated by the “big box” phenomenon.  The largest sign entering the towns is either the list of community churches, or the line-up of service clubs; Lions, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters, FFA.

Sun up on on the WI and IA border, at a scenic turnout overlooking the Wisconsin River

We’ve reached Rochester and already Jack is making friends with a neighbor, who, sadly, is made of molded water-extended polystyrene.

Yo, white boy.  Don’t you want a whiff of me ??  Hello.

Oh, to be at the Alumapalooza.

Folk Art & Pornography

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

share an adage, ” The definition eludes me, but I know it when I see it”. Today will be devoted to folk art.  

US 54 is an uncommon road, in contrast to the widely acknowledged US 66, the Lincoln Highway, the Sante Fe Trail, or the Natchez Trace.  Commencing a few miles north of Kingdom City, MO (think heaven) it meanders in a southwesterly path toward El Paso, TX and terminates 1120 miles later at the bridge to Juarez, MX (think hell).

We enjoy it most from Jefferson City, MO, the only US state capital not serviced by an interstate highway, to Tucumcari, NM.  Allowing a bypass of Kansas City, and an easy circumvention of Wichita, it is smooth sailing through dozens of towns, some small, others even smaller.  “Big” towns, county seat examples Pratt, KS (pop. 9437) and Meade, KS (pop. 4662) have a wal-mart, and often little else for the inquisitive, but I love the sidestreets.


In Pratt, KS, the Lesh Automotive promotes two auto marquees that no longer exist 

Greensburg, home to the country’s largest hand-dug well, has become a vibrant community, rebuilding after a disastrous EF5 tornado on May 4, 2007.  Take a moment to click on this photo, taken 12 days after the tornado, with highway 54 east-to-west in the foreground.

Most of the small towns on the highway are in a state of atrophy, shrinking gradually, in both population and economic prowess.  A haunting overture that they are becoming ghost towns in waiting. Boarded businesses, for sale, abandoned houses and shabby trailers, sprinkled among soon to fail ‘hispanic’ carnicerias and c-stores.

Enough gloom; not every lining has a silver cloud until you round the bend, cross the railroad bridge and approach Mullinville, KS ( est. pop. 28).  Here, for two hundred yards, stand several dozen metal windmills and whirligigs capturing the same currents that power the giant wind turbines in this stark, daunting landscape. Who and why they are here is a mystery;

  • no sign in advance to alert the upcoming traveler
  • no indication or recognition of the metal ‘artist’
  • no warning signs to stay away or keep out
  • no donation box

Jack and I walk to the steady hum of one mans’ passion, a sturdy, functional, patinated, and groaning passion.  Without a video, you must imagine the action as the winds whip them wildly. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if this display fails to enrich the soul, check your pulse.  Much like the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo or the VW Beetles buried nose down in NM, here is a sampling:

dscn6053.JPG The Conductor



American comic book superhero of the 1940s oversees the home of the US 7th Fleet in southern Japan


Jack’s attention turns to a pocket gopherdscn6059.JPG 

Fluent in seven languages, he failed reading in English

From here, we head west to Meade, KS, another blip on our radar.  If they don’t have a gentlemen’s club, we’ll stop and visit the Hideout of the Dalton Gang.

Pratt, “Gateway to the High Plains”

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

is the slogan from the chamber of commerce, which sounds much better than the “crossroads to nowhere” or worse, “home of the only Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pratt County.”  

It’s 6:45 AM and I emerge from a familiar penumbra; midway between a hallucinatory dream, bare consciousness, and the realization that involuntary drool is wetting my beard and a rental pillowslip.  

The Days Inn clerk, having sensed my impaired hearing, was kind enough to assign us the handicap accessible room # 113, high ceilinged, ten foot drapes, a garage size door opening to the loo and stainless steel safety bars, everywhere, within easy grasp.  

“Get a grip”, I tell Jack, “we’re skipping town”.

The high plains are a haunting landscape.  Imagine the earth surface as an aged cantaloupe covered by an inch of stale snow; brownish, gently rolling, no rare sliver of green. Treeless to a horizon with no corners, and an occasional pockmark on a rolling low hill, resembling an adolescent acne scar, no doubt the result of a teenage meteor some 100,000 years before.  In the distance, utility lines of tall erector set children, motionless, tethered by guy wire, as if on a kindergarten field trip. 


Less than a hundred miles out, the icy road has reared its ugly head….a head-on collision resulting in a fatality, and the KHP reroute is a detour over miles of gravel ranch roads. We are in a line, following a semi with a mirrored-finish, quilt-patterned rear door.  The complementary mud flaps depict a chrome pin-up girl in a seductive seated pose.  The near blinding reflection from the early morning eastern sun is a distorted, grimy Chevy Silverado with an old man at the helm and a little black dog posing as a dashboard GPS.  Not pretty, reminiscent of an Edvard Munch painting, without the scream. *


Our objective is to cross over two panhandles (OK and TX), without once sliding off the road into a ditch, and reach Albuquerque by nightfall. 


A panhandle cowpoke taking aim at another trainload of Chinese crap 


Forget the Cadillac ranch, hello Beetle lovers


I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.

Oat La Homa

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

We’ve been through Oklahoma before, but never stopped except to refuel… this, the birthplace of gasoline. Pointed southwest toward Tulsa, my dog, Jack, is dreaming of girls, squirrels, and something to eat. Stop one is the visitor center on the turnpike.

I’m welcomed warmly by the docent; a lovely, petite, silver-haired lady in her 80s, which also happens to be the temperature at nine AM. Offered free coffee, a map, any of hundreds of brochures, and a clean restroom, I turn down the coffee offer, the very reason I had to stop for the mensroom. After exiting the building, I hesitated, briefly, then returned.

“Ma’am, you wouldn’t happen to have any dog biscuits, would you ?”, I asked politely.

Jack was outside just craving a munchie.

“No sir, all we can offer is free coffee”.

He doesn’t swear, drink coffee, or even smoke, the perfect tourist, I thought to myself.

“Wasn’t Will Rogers the native son of Oklahoma ?”, I inquired.

“Yessuh he is, right up the road, from Claremore, only about thirty miles, we have a wonderful home and museum, named the turnpike afta’ him, would you like a brochure ?” she replied without taking a single breath.

“No, no I would not. But in 1931 Will Rogers was asked to define a friend. With the familiar stroke of his chin, he drawled, ‘a friend is a man, who, before he invites you, asks your dog if he’d like to stay over….that’s a friend’. So maybe you should have some little dog treats”, I reminded her dryly.

“Well I’m sorry suh, we only have free coffee”.

Class dismissed.

You know you are in Tulsa when you realize the people on the frontage roads are driving faster than you are on the interstate. We settle into your average redneck trailer park, complete with speed bumps, barely a deterrent to the rugrats on skate boards. The residents are friendly, have most of their original teeth, an abundance of tattoos, and an infatuation with monster trucks and country music.

The next-door neighbor, armed with Coors Lite, admires our old Excella rig and asks me, ‘whatcha you call it’ ? I reply Suite Home Alabama, in an attempt to remain both adaptable and flexible south of the 37th parallel. He chuckles, offers me a cold one, and reminds me that the weather, as promised, is the world’s largest outdoor sauna. If they were to hold a “dry tee shirt” contest here, there would be no winner. Everything measurable is in the 90s, even some waistlines.

We’ll be back, weather permitting, in a few days, to taunt Tulsa.

Conservative drive from Liberal, Kansas

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

7 F., 7 ” of snow and 7 minutes south of 7 A.M., I’m feeling lucky. In the predawn darkness, the sign indicates Dalhart, Tx., Ten Miles. At this hour the sign is hardly necessary. The distant horizon is bisected by the corona of Dalhart.Across the expanse, lights create an eerily straight line separating heaven and earth. Some flicker red or amber or yellow or the halogen warning strobe from the cell towers and the grain elevators. Lights bounce from a monster Ford diesel truck, a Southern Pacific engine entourage followed by a hundred Chinese shipping containers on flatbeds, and on the left, an airstrip welcomes a wealthy cattleman in his flickering Cessna 182. The west Texas panhandle….where have all the cowboys gone ?On long drives down lonely highways do you ever wonder how you became the person you are ? Why do you prefer freedom to money ?  Why are you happiest in old flannel clothes ?  Why do you wonder the names of birds, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, and weeds ?  Why would you choose to live in a place where you can see a million stars on clear nights, but can’t buy a frozen pizza without driving 40 miles ?    From the window, an Oklahoma byway An endless panorama of prairie, bordered by stoic stick-figured telephone lines, sentinels in the wind, the search for zest, authenticity and simplicity comes naturally.  Being alone is not lonely.  Even the red tailed hawks took the day off. Boise City, Oklahoma The Artic (sic) RV Park, Boise City, Ok.  Closed, but cool.    

Dress for Distress

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Frosting on the flea market dumpster

On a cross country trip, against the westerly teeth of winter on the great plains, Jack wears a new argyle sweater. Like boy scouts, we are prepared to slide off any two lane highway…and you should be also.

Staring through the windshield, that soft edge trapezoid that resembles wide screen HDTV, the majority of billboards on I-70 are advertising casinos and strip clubs and mega-churches. Not for us, as it is a sure bet we won’t remove our sweaters in Sunday School, so we opt for Missouri 36, the high road. Now the outdoor ads are soliciting our interest in the sterile, homogenous housing tracts starting at $ 219,000, or as my daughter described them, the scrubdivisions.

Glamorous names like Hunter’s Run or Prairie Walk at Riverstone threaten credulity. Really now, can you imagine gun-toting, camo-dressed, pheasant bashers trotting around your cul-de-sac ? With flourescent orange Stormy Kromer hunting hats ? Yes, yes, we are in Missouri, where, unlike Tennessee, the trailers have tires and anything is possible.

Traveling east to west, I’ve often wondered where the fulcrum is located that divides our grand country into a teeter-totter, the west coast from the left coast. Perhaps Greensburg, Ks. (pop.1500), until it was destroyed by a tornado in May 2007, eight lives lost and a community leveled. Maybe it is now Hutchinson, Ks., covered in rime (hoarfrost), a result of thick fog and 24F this morning, the landscape is surreal.

For years I observe an early morning tradition: to always notate the first out-of-state license plate I see. This A.M. it was a New Hampshire, Disabled Veteran plate. What are the odds ?

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;