Welcome to the Cowboy State

Here we are, sprawled out in a motel on the outskirts of the city I’m adopting for the next year — and I’m already in love with it. 

The last leg of the drive, Omaha to Cheyenne, bisected Nebraska, another state I’d never laid eyes on before. We made pretty decent time, but elected to stop a couple of times — and how could you not, with signs like “Buffalo Bill’s Ranch,” “Pioneer Trail” and “Pony Express Stop” cropping up every few exits? We drove all the way into Gothensburg, NE to see the latter, and it was worth it both for the opportunity to stretch our legs and for the building itself, which was small and packed with maps, saddles and bags, and souvenirs.  Picking up a map, we realized that we were pretty much driving the Oregon Trail, although it passed north of Cheyenne itself. But for all of you  MECC enthusiasts: I drove through Kearney and by Ft. Kearney and I live just a half hour south of Ft. Laramie. 

Anyway, the drive itself was a lot of fun, and not just because of the Petro Stop with the large, handwritten “JAMES WOODS STOPPED HERE” sign, accompanied by an 8.5 x 11 computer printout James Woods headshot and a scrap of paper with what I assume is James Woods’s autograph. I really got to see the transition into big sky — just gorgeous — and by the time we had gotten used to that (and the occasional appearance of stock lots and oil derricks), we started to get into buttes and hills. The landscape changed again almost immediately at the Wyoming border, getting a little more rugged and stands of pine trees cropping up. 

From there it wasn’t far to Cheyenne — and it didn’t take long for me to realize that Cheyenne is the cowboy-iest place I’ve ever been….there’s a giant Western wear store called “THE WRANGLER,” (with a bucking cowboy on the front), a big depot, VERY cool buildings, motel signs that haven’t been updated since the ’50s which are tremendously cool, and daily gunfight reenactments within walking distance of my apartment. 

I’ll say that again. Daily. Gunfights. Mere blocks from where I sleep. And not in the Baltimore sense.

Oh, and free horsecart rides around town.

In short: I’m enamored, and I love the look of this place — especially that I can see the mountains from here. Can’t wait until Frontier Days starts.

Actually, I can’t wait to get settled for real. To that end, I’m going to sign off for the moment, since I’m pretty beat from the last few days (and, mom points out, the altitude — we’re over 6000 feet up, higher than Denver and nearly as high as my tent was in Karatu, Tanzania). 

From a brand new time zone in the wild, wild west — goodnight.

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And by “70 all the way to Omaha,” I mean…

…that we drove through scenic downtown Zionsville, Indiana for about ten minutes before we remembered we were heading in the general direction of 74, and not 70. And so we turned around and appreciated the (lovely, picturesque!) downtown all over again.

I should say here again — Former Roommate’s house was lovely, and her stepfather was a terrific host. He got up at 6 AM with us and made superb coffee before we went on our way. It was by his instruction that we checked out the Zville downtown (we told him we were heading back to 70…oops) — definitely a nice way to start the morning, if we had to improvise a route briefly thereafter. After this minor mishap, it was pretty straightforward: drive straight across Indiana (which was peppered with series of signs for a website against gun control…or maybe just pro gun in general? In any case, my favorite set, spaced out over about 70 feet, was “THAT RABBIT FOOT”….”WON’T SAVE YOU”…”GUNS SAVE LIVES”). And then we drove through Illinois. And then Iowa. And then some more Iowa. And after STILL more Iowa, we rolled across the Missouri River into Omaha, Nebraska, where we are currently stationed for tonight.

Oh, did I forget to mention that we drove across the Mississippi? That’s a big deal, right? …Not if you’re driving Rt. 80 from Illinois into Iowa. I was starting to burn out on driving and about to turn over the wheel, but wanted to wait until I had done The Momentous Thing and Driven Over The Great River for the First Time. And then there wasn’t even a sign…you would think it was the Pocomoke. Actually the Pocomoke has a sign. Delmarva is proud.

Anyway, today was long and flat, and though we did have a short stop in Covington, IN (“On The Banks Of The Wabash!”) and drove by DeSoto, IA (the birthplace of John Wayne), it was pretty much a straight shot, with some nice rolling country (corn, soy, wind turbines) in Iowa. But still,  a very different part of the USA, and a view of places I hadn’t really seen before — with the exception of Ames, IA, all of today’s destinations were new.  Eventually, a monotony did sort of set in after we had covered every possible topic relevant to US foreign policy (mostly Mexico, China, and our relationship to western Europe, with a little bit of the Middle East thrown in) during the Indiana hours. 

I started to get drowsy and babbly sometime after Peoria, and by Iowa City I was telling my mom about the bizarre dream I had last night in which I was dating a video blogger and we danced around his apartment to an old De La Soul album while wearing large flannel shirts. After that, I got a little more self aware and I finally surrendered and put on a book on tape to save our collective state of consciousness, and possibly my sanity (/dignity?). It’s River of Doubt by Catherine Millard, and it’s actually pretty good for travel listening — all about Teddy Roosevelt’s South American expedition in 1912 down the “river of doubt,” an unmapped and extremely perilous tributary to the Amazon (or so we’re led to believe at this point in the book….I’ll correct myself tomorrow if that turns out to be false).  If I absorb nothing else, I now know that anacondas can weigh up to 500 lbs. 

After quite a long haul, we’ve just had a nice, cheap Mexican dinner (aweeeesome sopapilla) and are settling in for the night. Only five to six more hours to go — my next post will be from Cheyenne!

8D4 — I loved your bed! Enjoy your Bananagram….

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The Indianapolis 630

(As in that’s how many miles we drove today, all across Maryland into West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.)

Highlights include: my mother learning how high up my clutch release is when she revved the engine up to 5000 rpms accidentally; winning a $20 bet about Nick Markakis; crossing the Apps (AKA the only steeps involved in this entire drive); realizing that the signs for Denver and Cove Fort, UT on route 70 near Ellicott City are relevant for the first time in my life; and best of all —

staying in the home of Former Roommate and appreciating her stepdad’s tremendous hospitality in her absence! 

We’ll hit the road at 6:30 AM tomorrow and drive 70 all the way to Omaha. 

Farewell, Baltimore — your lights are on the other side of the mountains now. Forward to the next time zone —

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“It’s not about races / Just places, faces.”

Wow.

 

Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and now MJ? So many icons gone in one week. I had a short conversation with a friend about famous deaths (via text message, actually – shades of postmodernism…?), and we talked about how odd it is to really mourn someone you’ve never met, someone you identify as important based on connections to an era, or experiences that aren’t shared. Anyway, I mourned both Georges (Harrison and Carlin) pretty hard, feeling it personally, but also because the sense of loss is greater when a person of genius dies. However publicly tragic and troubled Michael Jackson’s life might have been, there is no denying that he was a person of genius.

Hat tip to you, sir. And that’s coming from a Prince fan.

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Speaking of travel: Argentina?!

Here’s a question — to what extent can you be off-your-rocker in the public sphere and still run for the presidency? Kucinich caught crap about the UFO thing, but I feel like that’s small change compared to actually going AWOL to South America.  Oh, and the affair. So long, glory dreams of Sanford. 

As Olbermann pointed out last night…this weekend was National Hike Naked Day, so they should have known they were going to run into trouble with the Appalachian Trail excuse. 

A few months ago, I was commenting to a professor about the preponderance of strange stories – an “unusual couple days of news,” I said – occurring in the NFL offseason…it was somewhere around when London was (apparently?) angling for a Super Bowl, and two Saints players got charged with indecent exposure, and the whole thing with the Dallas training facility and the tornado…and his response was along the lines of “Dude, it’s always an unusual couple of days of news in the NFL.” Implicitly, the same goes for politics. It must be at least a little bit frustrating to cover the important stories (Iran, healthcare) and not have enough time to do justice to the confluence of GOP asshat-ery that is Sanford/Ensign/half of the NY State Senate (well, MSNBC was all over it tonight…obviously). The NY story is ridiculous on both sides of the aisle. One would think it was the Old West come to the Northeast. What the hell is going on up there?

Tanzania shout out — although Berega is closer to Dar than Karatu, I’ve been to my share of Tanzanian orphanages, and it’s great to see approaches like this that work to create community links.

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Packing up my game; heading out West.

(This is, I believe, the only thing that I have in common with Kid “Cowboy” Rock.)

Yes indeed, in about three days I’ll be leaving the east coast FOREVER. Well, for a year. And also, I’ll be back in October. And for Christmas. And so forth.

Nevertheless, it is a big change: from Baltimore, Maryland — home of “The Wire,” fiendishly delicious crabcakes, the best free safety in the NFL, and late-90s pop sensation Dru Hill — to Cheyenne, Wyoming, the “Gateway to the West” and home of Cheyenne Frontier Days, the largest (and oldest? I’ve heard conflicting reports) outdoor rodeo on earth.  

While I make no promises that this blog will be confined explicitly to the transition, and subsequent Wyoming adventures — let’s be honest, I just don’t function between the lines (hence one reason for the title of the site) — it should, generally, chart the absurdities, perplexities, vagaries, felicities, and frenzies of this new chapter. 

Come Saturday — bright and early, and after one so-long O’s game — I’ll be leaving the launchpad, mama in tow, for Indiana and the home of my old roommate from the Northlands; while Said Roommate is currently safari-ing in Namibia with her mom (jealous!), her family was kind enough to offer beds and coffee pots to us travelers. From there, I think the plan is all the way out to Omaha, Nebraska, and then to Wyoming.  So stay tuned!

In a word: hi!

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