The passing scenery outside my window preserves the illusion of freedom, even though I am a prisoner in this cell on wheels… prisoner to my commitment to be 400 miles away by sundown.
I loosen my grip on the wheel, fighting off catatonia. The tires, alternately singing in their dull monotone or growling in short guttural bursts, issue warnings.
My purpose is to deliver a filmed program to an audience. But sometimes the primary objective seems to be to move your body from A to B… then to C and D… in a crazy zigzag pattern. The presentation of moving images to an audience, almost seems to become incidental.
The mind plays strange tricks in this state approaching catatonia. Stimulated by the play of light on a plowed field, the temperature, or the barometric pressure, the mind runs through the stacks of my memory… tripping over odd little bits sticking out here and there. What's odd is how insignificant these memories are… not the major events you'd think would stick out.
I fall into imaginary conversations. scintillating conversations! My repartee is brilliant and devastating. My arguments are unassailable. I counter all opposing thoughts with overwhelming logic. Six cups of coffee prolong this exchange through the morning.
Coffee. It's used to wash down donuts and get that sweet taste out of your mouth. It has influenced me to visit every rest stop on every Interstate in America… almost. I may guest them all before I quit. I wonder. Is this a worthy goal in life? Something I share with truck drivers… getting to know America in a superficial way?
With all my travels to other places on the globe, I keep returning to this land I love. It really is a privilege to be skimming over the surface of the land like this… seeing so much of it. Sometimes the sheer beauty, variety and immensity of these landscapes bring tears to my eyes, and I have a powerful, compelling sense that the Earth really is my Mother. I'll be returning, ultimately, to it.
I’ll probably die trying to make a left turn while shifting down to second gear and wiping up the gloop that spilled from my Big Mac at the same time. And where the hell is my map? I forgot where I’m going. Have a nice trip.
Trying to stay on the trail and out of the woods,
Travel Log 2
I’m warm and comfortable now. But there’s a noise. Cars idling. Diesel fumes. Oh! I’m inside a hotel. It’s dark. Let’s see...where’s the bathroom? The toilet? Uh ooh...it’s on THIS side. I’m slightly shocked to realize that I spend more nights in Motels than I do in my own home.
Coffee! The first religious event of the day. I throw everything into the car. An egg McMuffin with coffee. Two doughnuts with coffee. Some popcorn...with coffee. Breakfast lasts three hours. Lunch begins immediately. It may be Krispy Kremes. They’re like manna from Heaven. Angles might switch sides for one. They’re giving me a little doughnut shape of my own.
I listen to two truckers on CB. Scintillating conversation. “I should be the president of the Company”, I heard one say. “I do the hauling, I do the unloading, and I fill out all the paperwork. What’s left for him to do?” The other agrees. I’d better switch to radio.
Wanna hear sports? NO. Country-Western? No. Russian Limberbrain? No. I crave information. NPR is it. But the station fades.
What State am I driving in? Am I supposed to be here? It’s my third State today.
The mind roams. I remember that I used to wonder what it would be like to be a grown man. I wondered about that until I was 50...and then I thought, "well to hell with it. I'll never know."
I’m thinking I’m a propertied man. I have property all over America...from coast to coast. Must be worth a modest fortune by now. Stuff I’ve left in hotel rooms and auditorium stages. I wish it wasn’t such a regular feature of my travels. It’s like when you spit your gum in the parking lot...and then you step in it. Sometimes you feel it only happens to you. Because when someone else spits gum in the parking lot, you’re the one who steps in it too.
A young man pulls up next to me in the parking lot as I sit eating a whopper in my car. (It is a glamerous life after all.) He doesn’t get out of his car and after a few minutes I glance over to see him sitting and staring ahead, slowly stroking his chin. Troubles I guess. I can’t help but wonder how many millions there are who would trade places with him...their problems for his. Like those Egyptian farmers I’ve met, who earn maybe $300 in a year. Men who’ll never even ride in a car, much less own one.
My life collides with trucks, truckers, and the trucking industry (not literally...at least not yet). They interest me. Most of these are honest Joes, trying to earn a living for their families.
But there’s a truck about12 feet from my rear bumper now as I drive at 70 mph. I wonder if the driver hates me for being too slow...for being old...for being alive? An oversight he’s about to correct!
My mind grinds on...like the wheels beneath me, pounding against the pavement, trying to break it down.
“When an18 wheeler passes over any given point on the highway, that exerts pressure on the pavement equal to 33,000 cars passing over it”, I heard a highway engineer in Wisconsin say. I don’t know how that’s measured, but I have no other data to refute the idea. Sometimes I see trucks with 42 wheels! I wonder what they carry.
“The Interstate highways would last for 100 years without repair if the traffic were autos only”, the engineer says. Wow. Eighty percent of freight is carried by trucks...four million of them today. Twenty percent is carried by rail. Switch that around and there’d be a lot less diesel fumes at the Motel. Which is where we started.
Trying to stay on the trail and out of the woods,
Letter from Ireland
Although English is used in Ireland, it can sometimes come across as a quite foreign language to me. They speak rapidly, and the accent is distinct, pronounced, and different. Even to my unpracticed ear I can hear distinct differences in accent from region to region.
In Northern Ireland, for example, the English monetary system is still used. When I got my first cash from the ATM there, I asked a lady the value of a particular coin. “It’s a poont” , I heard her say. When she repeated the word for me I understood it as ‘poond’ and then I finally figured out that she was saying ‘pound!
Inquiring for the ATM was also enlightening. It’s called a “hole in the wall” in Northern Ireland. I could understand the cashier in the restaurant very well as he explained this to us. He in turn, was puzzled by the term ‘ATM’.
I had not really realized that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are two separate countries. I’ve been aware of “the troubles” (as it’s called here) in Ireland since the 1950’s, but only in a vague way. In simple terms it’s a struggle between Irish people who want to be a separate Nation, and those who wish to maintain strong links to England.
Historically the English treated the Irish people quite harshly, and the resentment about that still simmers...somewhat like Civil War sentiments in our own Country. Of course, here it often breaks down along religious lines, with Catholics wanting separation from Protestant England and Protestants favoring strong ties.
We have found many Irish people to be quite politically aware. Many of them seem to know all about politics in American and can even name some of our politicians. (Can you name the president of the Republic of Ireland? Or any president of any Country, other than the U.S.?) Bill Clinton is greatly admired over here, while Donald Trump is not. We’ve encountered quite a few people who are ready and willing to speak out on this subject.
Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve found the Irish people to be most friendly and extremely polite. I’ve wondered if extreme politeness may not be necessary in a land which has experienced so much internal strife. Politeness has become a way to circumvent trouble before it starts, perhaps.
In many of the smaller towns and villages there may not be a restaurant. Food is usually served in bars and pubs in these locations and can range from mediocre to very good on occasion. With our American view of bars, I was surprised however (almost amazed), to see a small collection box in some pubs and bars for missions collections, i.e. collections for missionary activities sponsored by the local church. To my Protestant eye this seemed quite incongruous, but illustrates the different way in which bars are used here. They are very much a social gathering place for the community and entire families may be found there on some evenings.
It rains in Ireland. During the time we’ve been here we had only partial days of sunshine...about 4 half-days for the month we’ve been here. If praying for sunshine will do any good, we have plenty of help. All of Ireland is sick of rain.
Ireland was an unexpectedly beautiful Country. I guess because of the constancy of the rain, even in drier years, it truly is an ‘Emerald Isle’. The fields marked by hedgerows or divided by stone fences present bucolic views every minute of every journey. (Except that the hedgerows often prevent any distant view for a few miles at times.) Trees are often allowed to grow right over the narrow roads and trimmed from below. This forms a charming ‘tunnel’ through the trees that can be most enchanting to drive through.
Driving is done on the left here. The left lane is the ‘slow’ lane when there are 4 lane ‘carriageways’. The car on the right always has the right-of-way.
The attitude about driving is a striking contrast to our sensibilities in the U.S., where the slightest infraction of any driving convention seems to produce a lot of anger and resentment. Here, people seem most patient about someone who has stopped on a two lane road which has no shoulder. He will be parked right out on the roadway. Other drivers just wait for opposing traffic to pass then they go around the stopped vehicle without any emotional reaction.
When two cars approach each other on a street which is just wide enough for two cars to pass, but where one side of the street is filled with parked cars, one driver will pull into an empty space to let the other driver pass, or maybe pull up onto the sidewalk so both cars can get through. It’s all done as a cooperative venture rather than drivers vying for oneupmanship.
The Euro is the unit of exchange used now (only since Jan. of 2002). It is roughly equivalent to the value of a U.S. dollar so calculating prices is easy. Food is generally somewhat more expensive than in the U.S., although milk cost $1.05 for two liter bottle (approximately 1/2 gallon). Food has been better than I thought
Shopping for food isn’t too different from the U.S. There are somewhat fewer products, but the experience is very much like being in an American supermarket. However, people bring their own shopping bags, or the plastic bags they used from the last trip to the store. If you have to have one of the plastic bags furnished by the market it will cost you .15 cents for each one. This sure cuts down on the waste of those damnable plastic bags and I wish we would adopt this policy here in the U.S.
Watching the Irish at restaurants was amusing to my American eye...in this respect: Most Irish people use their fork in their left hand and use the knife in their right to push and scrape vegetables onto the fork. Furthermore the fork is held in an upside-down position! Looks like a real balancing feat to me, but it really distinguishes an American from a European.
We finally had two weeks of sunshine before returning to the States. Everyone knows it rains in Ireland...but not ALL the time!
It really is the 'Emerald Isle'.