CAT | Travel
While working on some personal writing projects from home I tend to get a little stir-crazy. Yes, yes, now that school has started I have all the peace and quiet I need to work on the mighty literary works I’ve planned.
And sometimes I hate it. I miss deadlines, and I miss getting in my car and going somewhere!
So I made an arrangement with the online publication Red Dirt Report. When the peace and quiet gets to much for me I head out on the road and find something to write about. A decade of rural journalism has shown me the boonies are just full of interesting people doing interesting stuff.
Case in point, a private museum in Warwick, Oklahoma a town of about 250 people on old Route 66. Two guys who like motorcycles bought a brick building getting near a century old now, and made a private museum. I dropped by and interviewed the co-founders and wrote it up here.
I visited on a Thursday morning, somewhat concerned about whether there would be any visitors to interview – and met people from France and China!
I am fascinated by the phenomenon of the local museum in this country. I lived in Europe for 13 years, and I don’t believe there is anything like this there, or at least not on the scale there is in the U.S. Small towns and counties in rural America support museums, and sometimes guys like these with a hobby put one together.
Jerry Ries one of the co-founders told me they get anywhere from 20 to 500 visitors a day. Now consider that’s on a two-lane highway long bypassed by the Interstate system.
Build it and they will come!
Note: The bikes are a 1909 Triumph and two motorcycles used in the movie “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
I’ve been on the road for two weeks, starting from Oklahoma to Colorado, to Wyoming, to North Dakota, Minnesota and back to Oklahoma. I visited with friends each stop of the way, took some training and gave some training in martial arts. All in all a very productive trip.
I’ve always liked road trips and I like camping as well. Campgrounds are a cheap alternative to motels, and if setting up and breaking camp is a hassle KOA has cabins for about half the price of a decent motel. You have to bring your own bedding though. Big deal, it’s like a room with a bathroom down the hall except it’s across the lawn.
It’s like my old dad used to say, “The definition of a good traveling companion is one who doesn’t mind a bathroom down the hall.”
KOA cabins even have wifi, TV and air conditioning. However I found a campground outside Casper, Wyoming with cabins that had neither, but were only $25.
After a lifetime of moving around restlessly, I think I am beginning to master the art of travel.
When I was younger I was intoxicated by the idea of covering ground in a short time. Now I like to turn off the road and investigate whatever catches my fancy. The picture above was taken in Jasper, Minnesota a town of 633 residents located at the intersection of Minnesota State Highways 23 and 269.
There is evidently a windmill business in Jasper. These are the little decorative ones. What I missed about a mile and a half north of town was a 10-acre yard where Terry Rodman has a collection of larger working windmills.
This Sunday morning I got up and went out in search of a plate of eggs benedict and an old Oklahoma landmark. Found them both!
On US 77 about nine miles south of Noble, Oklahoma is the VW bug. A sculpture made of a VW beetle body mounted on steel legs. It’s commonly called the Spider, but I’m going to be pedantic and point out that spiders have eight legs, so this is obviously and appropriately a beetle.
It’s been there every since I remember, but Sunday I determined to go and find out something about it. So I dropped by the Lexington Family Worship Center and asked Pastor Louis Bennett who acquired the property a few years back.
“I was going to cut it up,” Bennett said. “But it’s a landmark and I promised the town I’d leave it there. We get about 50 visitors a month.”
According to Bennett it was the project of one Leroy Wilson who put it up on June 3, 1979.
I hope to find out more about the now-deceased Mr. Bennett and his giant beetle.
I arrived at the airport in Minsk late Sunday the ninth, in a state of some trepidation.
When the mission was first conceived among us, the original thought was that it might be a “witness bodyguard” mission, i.e. to live in the lap of a person in danger of assassination on the assumption the dictatorship wouldn’t want to murder a dissident in front of a foreign witness – or be forced to murder the two of us with all the resulting complications.
Thankfully, before I left it was established that Jaroslav Romanchuk, though under pressure by the Belarussian KGB and threatened by imprisonment, did not appear to be in immediate danger of liquidation. Though of course, that could change.
I tried to contain my disappointment.
The purpose became a fact-finding mission after claims by some factions of the opposition that Jaroslav had caved under pressure and made statements against the interests of the pro-freedom movement.
Nonetheless, I was worried. Did the “organs” (KGB) know I was coming to make contact with a prominent dissident? Would customs get suspicious about my camera, digital note taker, and Flip video camera? Had my emails been intercepted? When I contacted Jaroslav, would his apartment be under observation?
I passed through customs without incident. I must say it’s a weird experience to fearfully approach an intimidating Soviet-style uniform – filled by a beautiful Belarussian blond. No inconvenient questions, no demands to know why I was in the country, no bag search – that I know of. I’m still trying to find an address book.
I checked into my $20-per-night room, located in the heart of downtown Minsk, and made contact with Jaroslav the next day. I had arranged with a friend to call him and give a phrase with an allusion he’d recognize so he would know who was coming.
Jaroslav appeared shaken, but not broken. He had a touch of something flu-like, which hardly seemed to slow him down. He’s free but has been interrogated by the KGB three times (as of now.) However many of his comrades are still incarcerated, threatened with long prison terms on charges of attempting a coup d’etat. A charge that could get them fifteen years hard.
It also appears the KGB hinted broadly they could be killed if he didn’t cooperate.
Jaroslav is walking a tightrope, keeping the lines of communication with western countries open through interviews and negotiations, while bearing the awful responsibility for the lives of his friends and countrymen.
I conducted three interviews on wide-ranging topics with Jaroslav, over the course of three days. I am currently transcribing and editing the audio and video.
On my last night in the country I attended a small party in his apartment where I met a couple I knew from the our Liberty English Camps, and a few new friends. I also met Jaroslav’s fiancée, a beautiful young lady and fellow-economist, who stuck with him through the stress of the presidential campaign and the aftermath.
When the transcript is ready, we will be looking for a venue that will give it the widest possible distribution.
And my sincerest thanks to all the donors who made this trip possible.
“The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage.” – Thucydides
Note: I emailed this in last Thursday for the paper’s weekend edition. Orgeon, Washington, and the northern coast of California are the states to be for those who have a taste for mountains, seacoasts and deserts. You can live on the slope of a mountain with forrest all around, and high desert at your back across the peaks.
I reminded myself of why the late Charles Kuralt had the best job ever.
On the road across America
By Steve Browne
Today I’m on the sixth day of a road trip across the north western states with my son, and preparing to return home tomorrow with the greatest reluctance.
We left Valley City on Saturday and headed west down I-94 to Billings, Montana and from there to Yellowstone National Park.
I last saw Yellowstone when I was about my son’s age, so this was a real treat. He’d read about Old Faithful, so he had to see it. We were not disappointed.
Well, perhaps about one thing. We saw elk and buffalo close up, but no bears. When I was a boy bears were begging everywhere along the roads, fed by idiot tourists from their cars in spite of all the signs telling them not to. I was told that doesn’t happen anymore. After a few tourists were killed, they really started enforcing regulations.
From there we took old U.S. 20 across the high desert country of Idaho to Boise, where we picked up I-84 to Portland, Oregon.
We’ve crossed the same territory it took the Lewis and Clark expedition a couple of years and tremendous effort. We’ve gone through different ecological zones, sometimes in a matter of minutes, and reset our clocks three times.
We’ve seen the truly breathtaking beauty of the high western mountains, the rugged volcanic landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument, high plains, deserts, the mighty Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.
When I think about it, I am astounded that we’ve done this in a matter of days. What a time to live in when such things are possible!
I find myself possessed of a longing for contradictory things. I want to keep on the road for… a lot longer. Maybe forever.
On the other hand, I’ve seen intriguing little communities I’d like to settle down for a while and get to know better.
There’s a little town called Arco way out in the Idaho desert, population about 900. Yet it manages to have a thriving Main Street, and a nuclear submarine museum. Why does this little place seem to thrive when small towns are dying across the country? Could it have something to do with the top secret-looking energy laboratory in the desert.
Arco boasts it was the first town in America powered by nuclear energy.
Then there’s Baker City, Oregon, population 9,000. A town of well-preserved historical buildings set between a steep mountain gorge and a fertile valley. We stayed in a motel there one night, because our tent needed fixing.
In the motel office the manager lady had turtles, a ferret, an iguana, and a bearded dragon lizard, literally running around loose.
“Are you a collector?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” she replied. “I got the iguana from an animal rescue group. Then when word got around I had him, people started giving me other abandoned animals.”
We saw people coping with the recession by starting small coffee and food kiosks. We encountered waitresses in diners who passed a word of encouragement to my son when I had him doing his homework on the table. We met Americans, a people of diverse origins scattered across an immense land, but all still recognizably my countrymen.
Travel writing is a thing of extremes. On the one hand you have John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels with Charlie,’ and William Least Heat Moon’s ‘Blue Highways.” But most is filler for tourist brochures.
It’s difficult to describe what you see driving across America and the people you meet. But when you start to travel, it’s difficult to stop. It’s like a hunger, you want to eat the life of this country.
And that’s when you have to remind yourself to slow down, stop and savor the place you’re in before you move on.
Well, maybe next trip. We’ve got a lot to see yet.