Posts made in June, 2005

Eat More Carrots Please

Posted by on Jun 7, 2005 in Just for laughs | 0 comments


I don’t want to offend anyone from Kansas, Nebraska, or eastern Colorado, so I will ask as diplomatically as I can, given the delicate nature of the question. Do you eventually get used to the smell of cow manure, like the noise of jet planes near the airport? My husband has totally lost his sense of smell, so he thinks driving across the cow poop belt of America is wonderful. No traffic, no curves, no trees, and he even swears he even likes the scenery, which is akin to enjoying running on a treadmill. The smell is the real issue though, sort of like being trapped behind one of those cow transport trucks for a thousand miles. It never goes away, it just varies in intensity.

In many areas cows are roaming freely on what passes for grazing land in this almost desert like landscape. They munch on sparse grass and tumbleweeds, sharing the shade of the occasional tree they find situated near infrequent water holes. Since they don’t gain much under these conditions, they are rounded up into feed lots, metal pens connected together holding about 20 cows each, with enough room for them to mill about in their own crap for about four cow lengths in each direction. We passed one that went on for about a mile and seemed to be as deep as it was long. In a backdrop broken only by silos and church steeples, I imagine the cows are not the only ones experiencing misery in this inhospitable countryside. I admit an inability to see the point of view of those who yearn for the open prairie and feel claustrophobia in our lush, green, forested east.

As we approached our destination of Boulder, Colorado, the tops of mountains are visible from 100 miles away. I begin to understand the magnetism that the early residents must have experienced as they traveled for days over the barren landscape, watching the tips of the peaks emerge and grow. Arriving at last, I am charmed by this college town. I have not seen it’s winter face, but the summer is as clear and bright as a picture post card. The view becomes a direction for the lost in the strange curved intersections of Boulder, while the thin air adds to my mental uncertainty.

Gasping for breath on the first floor landing of my hotel room, I gulp bottled water by the quart. I consider moving to this crunchy granola land, ironically surrounded by hamburger on the hoof, where vegan lasagna, made from tofu, was offered for our first evening’s meal. Glancing at the real estate section in the free newspaper placed outside my hotel room, I soon find that the million dollar view I could purchase in the area would be my neighbor’s house. For those with the money the area has become an intellectual Mecca amidst the desolation of the plains. In the building where I worked for the week, judging amazingly creative children gathered from all corners of the globe, the walls backstage were plastered with previous performances ranging from Joan Baez to Australian Ballet.

Our three days flew by all too fast and we had to leave the rarified air of Boulder behind and head back to Virginia. Fifty miles outside of town, the landscape reverted to malodorous badlands that continued through Nebraska and much of Kansas. In Missouri we are once again in rolling green fields where cows stand or sit in high grass, chewing their cud, blissfully unaware of their unfortunate cousins out west. This bucolic setting conceals a shocking truth. The final battle between good and evil is being fought, and the state of Missouri is the front line. I know this because at least half of all billboards in America seem to be located in the “show me” state and dominate the roadways with their obvious messages. Evil, more immediately appealing, boasts, “Passions Intimate Apparel and Sex Toys”, “Live Nudes”, or the simple “Girls, Girls, Girls” illustrated by pouting blonds and scantily clad brunettes. Only 100 feet later, good provides a competing female, the Virgin Mary, who proclaims, “It’s a Child, not a Choice”. In case you missed their point, these two fight it out ad infinitum along the roadway interspersed with the odd, “Vasectomy Reversals”, and the frequent, “Enjoy the high life at the Mark Twain Casino”. I try to sleep through this conflict, but my husband is unhappy at sharing the roadway again and becomes vocal with his less than intellectual assessment of Missourian’s driving abilities. I again offer to drive, but in his charming, passive-aggressive way, the control freak I married says the job of driving in a state whose motto is “road work ahead” requires someone who is alert and awake. I’ve been married too long to attempt an explanation of my lassitude.

Crossing the Mississippi, we cruise the back roads of Illinois. Small town and farms sit placidly on rich, flat land, far from the remote “big shoulders” of Chicago. Without the Walbash River, we might not have realized we had arrived in Indiana, except for a certain change of viewpoint. I know the state is no more or less moral than Missouri, but it does have a restraint, subtlety, and sense of irony that intrigues me, not to mention mouth watering cantaloupes. We pause briefly to replenish our fireworks closet with the illegal variety that can be purchased in Indiana, but only if you promise to take them out of the state. The simple country farm boy who waits on us, and explains the details of the various explosive devices, turns out to be a senior at Ball State University, majoring in business administration. He and his two brothers started the company to finance their college education, and it developed into a livelihood for the whole family. The metal barn we are browsing through is set on the edge of a fertile river bottom farm, a world away from the production facility. His oldest brother lives in the cheap labor country of Thailand, where he supervises the manufacture of the fireworks. The amount of money we have spent, $110, is one fourth of the average yearly salary for a Ti worker. Our support of the American entrepreneurial spirit complete, we hop in our Japanese car, and in less than an hour, we are over the border into Kentucky with a trunk full of contraband.

Resting for a day in my birthplace, I find I have no way to objectively evaluate the haunts of my childhood. Kentucky shocks me, like running into an old boyfriend in Wal-Mart, him with a comb-over, dressed in polyester, and me with no makeup, 50 pounds heavier than when we parted. We either pretend we don’t know each other, or speak with embarrassed joviality of days gone by. My sister is as close to the reality I remember as I can find, serving up biscuits, fresh country vegetables and the death report, just like my Mother used to do. My brother in law tells me that some of the coal mines are reopening, hopeful that money again will flow into the area, but dreading the specter of the strip mines tearing up the beautiful countryside. My Dad cries through our visit, betrayed by his body, he is a husk of the vital man I once knew. He talks of driving to distant places in his new motor home, even though his car insurance has been cancelled and he admits he can’t see to read the headlines in the newspaper. With aching nostalgia I yearn for the home that never existed and earnestly seek solace for a while in the familiar faces around me.

Dawn finds us facing the morning sun, retracing the tracks of my ancestors back to Virginia. We fill the car with gas in eastern Kentucky so my husband doesn’t have to stop in his old nemesis, West Virginia. I’ve always found it a bit depressing, but also amusing, and don’t really mind stopping there to use the toilet. Perhaps if they could flatten it out a bit and add a few more cows he would find it more to his liking. We both breathe a sigh of relief when we pass over the line into Virginia. We are happy when we can pick up our local public radio station and amazed at last to see how much the grass has grown in our yard. We read through ten days mail and spend quite a lot of time reassuring our cats that we still love them. I am forced to admit in this moment that my soul is more homebody than explorer, and the excitement of distant places is eclipsed by the cozy security of my own chair. Gradually the cats and I are reassured that there is a place where we are safe, and my mind begins to entertain the possibility of new trips. I make a mental note to check the human to bovine ratio before I finalize my plans.

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