Thursday, February 12, 2009

Americana, Part II

Welcome to a very special Lincoln's Birthday edition of Views. "Happy birthday Abey baby. Happy birthday to you-oo-oo-oo-oo...." 25 browny points to anyone who can tell me where that quote came from. It's "a bright, bright sunshiny day..." (Only 5 browny points for that one. Way too easy.) on the 14th floor and 36 degrees at the Mini.

I had to take the Mini to the mechanic for a 50,000 mile inspection/tuneup this morning. I dropped it off at 8 AM and was told that it would be ready about 4 or 5 this afternoon. Had to take the El home and it was rush hour. The Brown Line wasn't too bad. I managed to score a seat on that train, but the Red Line was stuffed to capacity, reminding me of those stories about the Tokyo Subways and people on the platforms whose sole jobs are to stuff more people in the door of the train. Anyway, I didn't get a seat, but did manage to get a spot to stand where I could at least hang on to something.

Rush hour on the El is interesting. There are all these people jam-packed into the train car, elbow to elbow and no one acknowledges anyone else, except fleetingly when they actually bump or jostle the other. In the seats, people read books, highlight stuff for work or school, and the standers in the aisles appear to be reading newspapers. With the effort of standing while the train moves, I suspect the ability of most to concentrate on reading anything diligently. I did notice that a great many were reading Red Eye, where all the articles are no longer than a paragraph or two. Maybe that they can read. I don't even try to read a paper or book while standing. Holding on and trying to stand, while holding the paper or book in a place where I can read it without elbowing the person standing next to me is just too much. I find myself reading the ads above the windows and perusing the map of the El line, which I've perused a thousand times before and know by heart. People watching is great, but you have to master the art of watching people without actually staring at them, so they don't think you're some creep.

When I got off the train with a herd of other people, all busily going there way to meet their busy, busy days, I got caught up in the hustle and bustle. When most got on the escalator up to street level, I took the stairs and amazed the youngsters by bounding up the stairs faster than they could escalate on the escalator. Old dudes rock! The good thing was, I wasn't going to work like most of them. I was going home on a sunny day, to coffee, a granola bar, and my computer. That's not what I intended to talk about, though.

When last I was here, Babs, Marie the Belgian teenager, and I were happily ensconced in the old Subaru Legacy that I once owned, and cruising down Route 66. Babs and I were in the front. Marie was in the back with her camera out and taking pictures of the scenery as it slid by. We arrived in New Mexico pretty quickly after leaving Amarillo and the Cadillac Ranch. The license plates say, "Land of Enchantment," but from what I've seen of New Mexico, it's more like "Land of sand and rocks and cacti and scrubby little trees." Oh at the higher altitudes in the mountains there are bigger trees, but a lot of New Mexico is what we call desert.

We arrived in Santa Fe and did the appropriately touristy stuff. We went into artsy little shops specializing in Native American Crafts (Marie had to have a Dream Catcher.). We went to the Native American art museum. We ate in restaurants specializing in Southwestern cuisine. Lo and behold, there were real live Indians wandering around downtown. We drove up to Taos and did more touristy stuff. We stopped at a pueblo north of Santa Fe, aka Indian Reservation. We went to see Anasazi ruins at a National Park and climbed up the side of the cliff to see into the rooms up the cliff a ways. Well Babs didn't. She has a thing about heights. We'll go into the story about driving to Yosemite another time, or maybe not.

Before heading back to Chicago, we decided to drive up to Durango, Colorado to spend a night and to go to the big Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde, very near there. We drove over a lot of 14,000 foot tall mountains and finally got to Durango on a 65 degree sunny afternoon. We ate dinner that night at a restaurant and bar that was made to look like an old time Western Saloon, just like in the movies. Real live American kitsch, that was.

The next morning we awoke, prepared to drive out to Mesa Verde and the charmed portion of our little excursion across America had suddenly come to an end. It was cold and it was snowing....hard. We toyed with the idea of going out to Mesa Verde anyway, before leaving, but when we got on the highway we soon realized that it was snowing so hard that we'd better get the hell out or we would be stuck in Durango for a while. A few days? A week? Who knew?

There were several options for leaving Durango, all of them over 14,000 foot high mountain passes. The one we chose, in order to be headed in the right direction, was Wolf Creek Pass. At the base of the mountain was a big sign that was flashing "Chains only!" We pulled off to the side of the highway for discussion. We opted to turn around and go back to the last town we went through to buy some chains. When we got to said town I pulled into the lot at a convenience store and went in to ask where we could buy some chains. The woman inside took a look at the Subaru (All Wheel Drive) in the lot and listened to my accent and said, "Where are you from?" I replied, "Chicago," and she grinned, shook her head, and told me "Oh go on honey. Those signs are for all of the tourists from Texas. They can't drive for shit in the snow. You're from Chicago and you have a Subaru with All Wheel Drive. You know what you're doing. You'll be fine. Heck I drive my little front wheel drive Nissan over that pass all the time."

A couple of minutes later, I was back in the Subaru and on the road. At the base of the mountain I fell in behind a snow plow that was going up the mountain. Pretty soon there was a whole line of 15-20 assorted cars and trucks following that snow plow up the mountain at about 15-20 miles per hour. It wasn't long before we started seeing cars and trucks that hadn't made it up the mountain and were off the side of the road in the ditch, in little ravines, jackknifed semis, etc. Marie was a whiter shade of pale. She was creating semi-permanent finger prints where she gripped the seat. The snow kept coming down.

At the top of the pass the snow plow slowed down...and turned around. Oh crap! No more snow plow leading the way. I was at the head of the line and everyone was following me. Marie's finger indents were getting deeper. Babs was creating her own. I was doing my best to create my own indents in the steering wheel while "Leader of the Pack" ran through my head, interspersed with thoughts of "Oh shit! Oh shit!" It was snowing so hard I couldn't see 5 car lengths ahead of me. I must have driven not one mph faster than 10 all the way down that mountain, but I made it. I stopped at a convenience store at the bottom of the mountain. It was sunny and 65 degrees there. The caked on ice and snow was dripping from the Subaru. The lady in the store took a look at the car, and said somewhat incredulously "Did you just come over the pass?" I just nodded "Yup," at her. Then she said, "I just heard on the radio that they closed the pass. It's impossible to get over it." Well not impossible, but highly unlikely. I did it and led a pack of 15-20 cars with me. The "Not the Donner Party, Party."

That night in a hotel somewhere in Western Kansas (Slogan: We've got cows. Lots and lots of cows.) I turned on the news and the weather was on. The weatherman was saying, "The main East-West highway has been closed at Wolf Creek Pass. Snow fall at Wolf Creek Pass has been measured at 3 feet currently. I honestly don't remember the actual amount of snow he said, but it was something ridiculously large. When we got home to Chicago, I was watching the news and the weather guy in Chicago was saying, "Apparently a place in Colorado called Wolf Creek Pass has received 4 feet of snow over the last couple of days." Again, I don't remember the exact amount, but it was ridiculous.

Marie got to see a lot of America. She saw kitsch. She saw stretches of Oklahoma so remote that she wondered aloud, "What do people here do?" She saw Indians. She saw an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma so large that they had their own license plates (Not in Oklahoma anymore. Now entering the Shawnee Nation or some other tribal group. Can't remember which) Oh, and she saw a snowstorm that will stick in her memory for life. I believe the indentations from her fingers were still in the seat when I sold that Subaru.

Happy Lincoln's Birthday. He's 200 today, and I hear he doesn't look a day over 180. This post has been brought to you by Cursory Cleaning Services, "For your busy lifestyles when you don't have time clean your very best." Formerly, Close Enough For Government Work Cleaning.

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