This Letter 00b, posted date; Last Letter 00a;
Monday, February 21, 2000, Austin—On The Road Eastbound
Radishes in the window box are growing slowly. The two junipers and
the Christmas Bush have been out for some sun but are both looking a bit
piqued. My aloe is also not doing well. I don't know if it is the change
in water or the near constant jiggling around that is making them unhappy.
Wednesday, March 1, 2000, On The Beach-Off The Beach-On The Beach-Off…
Yesterday I picked up two members of the three man band The Dog's In The House, on their way to the Strawberry Festival in Ocala from Nawlins. They looked pretty down and out, standing by the side of U.S.90 there just east of Pensacola.
--Where's all your instruments, I asked as I hefted two small ratty tied together packs past the computer.
--They gon ahead on the bus. We jus called an' ever'thin' got there ok so we got two days to catch up an' be in time for the gig at the Strawberry Festival.
So down it turns out they didn't have money enough for the three of them to go by bus so they sent the instruments on ahead with one member whilst the other two hitched from Nawlins this far. They've been hanging out at the top of the I-10 on-ramp for the past day and a half, they said, and just decided to walk a mile over to the parallel U.S.90 for a cold drink. That was where I found them. For the next few hours to Tallahassee we chatted about the vicissitudes of hitching as a way of life and whether it was better to hop trains or hitch on the road. Trains are getting dangerous now, one said, and there's not as many of them as there use to be. Some states let you hitch and some don't. Sometimes you get better rides on the interstate sometimes on the backroads. The main thing is to not be in a hurry.
I was not really in a hurry but the further I went with my planning
for this trip the more places and friends I found to visit. Only that morning
I'd spent a few hours taking my little kite for a walk along Navarre Beach.
Kite in one hand, trash bag in the other, cleaning the beach of bottles
and cans--two bags full by the end of my walk. I've been through here before
and every time there is less beach and more development. And always trash.
Friday, March 10, 2000, Boca Raton, Finding Old Friends
One item of note is that travel in this particular leg does not have the allure to which I am accustomed. I am up against a schedule of getting somewhere by somewhen and doing a number of somethings along the way. At the rate the fuel prices are rising it may be a long time before I wander this way again so I am trying to make the best of it--fill up often in order to buy at the lowest prices, drive fast to get along the road before the prices go up again, fit in as many visits as I can find time for and still get to the church on time. No Breakdowns.
And then two days ago I went looking for a leak in the air system. When the engine is off the compressed air used by the brakes and stearing and horn bleeds down quickly from its normal running pressure between 110-130 psi to 90 psi. This initial loss is through the engine brake controller but when the pressure drops to 90 psi a protection valve closes that off. Beyond that any further loss is through leaks. A year or so back it would take several days for the pressure to drop another thirty pounds, now the low air flag, which drops at 60 psi, comes down overnight.
To make a long storey short I'll dispense with the chapter about finding
a nice clean, smoothy paved, car park, that I could get into, and find
a place big enough for The Cat Drag'd Inn to curl up for a nap.
And I'll leave out the chapter about starting at the most obvious place--where
I worked last installing a tee to tap air for external use--and then crawled
and wriggled my way back spraying each fitting with leak detection solution
whilst trying to avoid the resulting puddles on the pavement. The leak
I eventually found was in the worst place. The dry tanks, both of them,
are rusting through and the air is leaking out through the bottom in an
area about the size of a thumb print.
I've rigged a bit of a fix to at least prevent any catastrophic blowout during the next thousand miles--should be able to make it back to Conway.
Maybe the title of this section should have been "Finding Friends of
Old", or of Yore. They're not really old, just old-er. In the late 1960's
Steven was half my age–Scout and Leader. Now his son is that age and the
difference between me and Steven is not all that much nor as important.
Interesting how that happens,eh. What seems to be important now is how
many names can we remember of the other kids of that time. How many can
we find? How many of them are still alive… Is it time for a reunion? And
where was he when the picture was taken?
Tuesday, March 14, 2000, Not Feeling
Welcome--Letter To Florida
I have been travelling in and through your fine state from time to time since 1964 and my love-hate relationship has finally festered to the point where I must write.
You do a great job with your adverts to attract travellers and your developers have gone a long way to provide up-scale accomodations for the high end tourist and snowbird but you make it very difficult for those who wish to travel independent of that expensive infrastructure.
The cities of Naples in Collier county and Boca Raton in Palm Beach county are typical. The ingress and egress of too many car parks are nearly impossible to negotiate with a self-contained motor coach and your proscription of off street overnight parking forces tired drivers onto the road at a time when they could best use a good night's sleep.
It is very nearly impossible to gain access to the beach with all the high-rise condos and hotels forming a barricade against the proletariat along the coast. The few and far between county parks along A1A do not provide for RV parking--at one such park, where I was obliged to jump the kerb and trample a flower bed in order to negotiage the entry way, the gate attendent told me I would be charged three times the single car day rate because I had such a long coach.
It would be nice if there were signs saying as much on the road, before one gets into a no backing out situation. Better yet, would it be too much to ask you to put them at the state line--before one gets to your "welcome" center.
Regards, A.J. Oxton, Traveller, On The Road.
Wednesday, March 15, 2000, A New Twist on Bonita Beach
The charter fishing shop "Master Bait & Tackle" reminded me of the character in Oliver Twist known as The Artful Dodger. "You Can't Beat Our Bait" is the slogan on their bumper sticker and T-shirts. Too bad the shirts were 50-50 and not 100% cotton…
I found another cousin a few days ago. This person, Louise, is
connected to an OXTON in Maine of about 1866. That OXTON is in my line
so we're cousins but not only that, we share two other ancestors at different
times and places and lines so we're cousins of different degree three times
over. Fascinating. She is the first person I've met with that sort of multiple
Thursday, March 16, 2000, Another Reason--The Why of The Way
In the menu of Sharky's Restaurant on the pier at Venice: "We like kids
because they're fun and they never care how much the bill is." I'll drink
to that! Thanks Sharky. The grouper was superb.
Tuesday, March 21, 2000, Must Be Just About Spring…
Blacksburg, on U.S.29 in South Carolina, is one of those fine little towns that you would normally blink right past if you were driving on Interstate 85. Were it not for a leaking heater hose I would have missed this opportunity. Then even with the hose replaced it took a special effort for me to try to avoid this storey and end up getting it anyhow. There's only a few more stop signs and police cars than Arlo noted in Stockbridge Massachusetts but more importantly, the NAPA store right on the corner of main and railroad had the hose I desperately wanted. But he didn't have the shop rags I also wanted--to clean up after with. --I cain't buy 'em for as little as that lady in the rag rug shop across the street sells 'em for. A dollar for a big bag; all you can carry.
And so it was.
Across the intersection, on one corner is the police station, built in 1898, on another corner is the rag rug shop. They have other things too, bales of towels and cotton blankets, but they make the rugs. They are a sort of plaited rug, you know those kind where you cut old blankets and things into long strips and then plait the strips into a thick braid that you lay in a tight spiral and sew together. Except that here the strips are not plaited. The machine that Henry invented rolls the strip of material around a core of other strips and cords and then wraps some string around that to achieve the same sort of end product, a thick braid-like affair that can be spiralled and sewn into a rug or a basket, or even a hat.
If you find yourself meandering south on U.S.29 look for the rag rug shop at the traffic light, on the corner of Cherokee and Shelby. There is no name on the front of the store, only the "OPEN" sign. --It’s the only store in Blacksburg with rags in the winder.
Well worth leaving the interstate for the visit.
Thursday, March 23, 2000. Chaple Hill, Here
Is The Sun
The house numbers leave a lot to be desired--they start from the middle of the street and increment in both directions--and the parking situation has a few tricks to teach Boca Raton (make the streets so narrow that parking leaves you stuck out into the travel lane and then add parking meters just for a little encouragment). But eventually I found some folks who would direct me to the nondescript homey building hiding behind the hedge at 107 North Roberson, home of The Sun. "The Sun was recently named the winner of Utne Reader's 1998 Alternative Press Award for Writing Excellence. The awards are designed to honor "bold, innovative, thought-provoking alternatives" to the mass media." One of the bold aspects of The Sun that I especially like is that it has no adverts and no colour photographs.
The opening line of their masthead is "What is to give light must endure
burning. — Viktor Frankl"
Saturday, March 25, 2000, Visiting an Artist
When I last approached Oval Pennsylvania it was from the west, a year and a half ago, racing to close the loop and get on south again before winter nipped my heels. Today I arrive in the Nippenose Valley from the south, on the cusp between winter and spring. My first robins for this year are frolicking in the bower as I park in front of Patterson's Steel The Wind shop and get out the leveling blocks. Mike Patterson is hard at it putting the spots and fins on three leaping trout and an awesome heron gateway is laid out over a rough design pencilled on the concrete patio leading to the back door. Forty heron head garden tools lie in a pile waiting for finishing touches. Sarah is putting the finishing touches on an awesome supper and Pearl, who hasn't quite yet mastered walking down hill, is waving from the kid-locked door.
Later I show Mike A Piece of The Wreck, the results of my foray into steel--not much creativity involved beyond the idea and the presentation I'll admit and he shows me his own creation in the same medium.
The next day a piece of email arrived from the kid across the street with the certain audacity of one long ago young man who came in to the church hall and announced --I want to be a Boy Scout. He was on the leading edge of his generation. When I told him I thought he needed a haircut he boldly asserted that I should let mine grow longer. I have not been accosted so in a long while. It was delightful! Rocky's message said: Your bus is in front of my house right now … I was just curious what the inside looked like. … wondering if you could give me a tour of it. … just think that your bus is really neat.
After such enthusiastic applause how could I say no? Would that more
kids could be so bold.
Wednesday, March 29, 2000, Eating With Fingers
Mrs. Cook is ninety-five. She has lived in this frame house for most
of that time, watching the one horse town grow into a small city, watching
the trolley tracks put down in the main street later get torn up to be
eventually replaced by a double yellow line. Some friends from India live
here as well so I got to practice eating with my right hand whilst sitting
on my left lest it inadvertantly get involved. Then I invited them out
to The Cat Drag'd Inn for a meal they had to eat with my best silver.
Saturday, April 1, 2000, Who's The April Fool
NPR Weekend Edition carried a storey about Changing the Clock ahead... There was a lot said about the advantages. Gaining daylight, fewer accidents, less crime… But I have to comment:
Its not like setting the clock ahead creates out of nothing an extra
hour of day. If that were the case we should be able to set the clock ahead
still further when winter encroches on the land. If people want more daylight
they should just get up earlier.
Monday, April 3, 2000, Happy Birthday To Me (and one of my sisters)
She is the namesake of a 47-foot American sailing sloop captained by Nathaniel B. Palmer, who in 1820 became one of the first to view the Antarctic mainland. This modern Hero was built to serve as a mobile platform for the conduct of research in Antarctic Peninsula waters, augmenting the facilities of the U.S. Palmer Station on Anvers Island. Now she is being refitted and put back to work. That's about where I am as well, looking to retrain and put back to work.
My sister Susan turns fifty tomorrow, and I am the oldest of our tribe. Here is a short piece of one of my letters to friends from before I started posting them in this collection for all to read.
July 29, 1993 Thursday Panama City Florida. Jct U.S. routes 98 and 231.
This was a day of ups and downs. I got up ok in the morning, as I
have been doing most regularly since I left Palmer Station, and managed
to get a reasonable breakfast down before the newspaper ran out of pages.
But it was shortly after that I noticed my magic feather was still missing.
It was missing and presumed lost the day before but I thought to ignore
that and maybe it would come out of hiding before I got too many days down
the road. I made up another one but as the day wore down it became abundantly
apparent I did not imbue it with anywhere near enough magic to make up
for the loss. At least there were no more thunder storms...
There's not really much other choice of road but I.10 for a distance between Pascagoula and Pensacola so that's the way I started out and it was just beyond Crestview, I think, that I passed under a bridge named "Boy Scout Road" that I woke up and had something to think about. Nice name for a road... I wonder where it comes and goes... then there was the exit for De Funiak Springs and a little sign that said Chautauqua Winery. Well it was about that time...
Chautauqua Winery is the newest, and largest, winery in the state of Florida. I was somehow surprised to learn that grapes would even grow in the same climate as alligators and coconuts but that only shows how ignorant, after all these miles, I remain. I'll taste another variety please... These people must have learned something from the Liquor Commission of New Hampster about where to place your concession for best exposure to the traveling touristos. Right there in sight of the exit ramp, left right right left and the air conditioning was not set so low I needed to put on my sweater to go inside.
I was a tour group of one so I had the hostess all to my self and its just as well that she measures the samples by the self rather than the group. They make seven different wines from Dry Carlos through Sweet Blueberry. Their Dry Carlos was my favourite and I took one for later when the sampling was through.
The winery took its name from the nearby Victorian community which in 1885 was the winter home for the New York Chautauqua. In 1905 the properties changed hands and the Presbyterian Church set up Palmer College. Usually in such communities one has a pretty good chance of finding an old eatery, dating from at least 19-- BFF. I went down town to look up a cafe... and found a book store.
Perhaps if the nice grandmotherly type in the cool air conditioned bookstore had been a little less helpful looking up a copy of "The Notebooks of Lazuras Long" by Heinlien, the rest of this day would have taken a different turn. For better or worse, who can say. Nothing By Chance as my friend Mr. Bach said once. After a half an hour of hunting around through old paperbacks the only things I came up with were: 1, a sort of antique, only 10 cents, postcard (you can tell its an old one even though its in glossy colour cos it lacks the tacky border and outrageous script around the obverse side of the newer style cards that takes up a third of the picture space) and, 2, a hasty member of the local constabulary exclaiming that --Your bike has tipped over!!
--Oh Tihs!! I exclaimed in response, dropping my helmet in a bin of old nickel paperbacks and following him out into the tar melting afternoon. One of these days I am going to learn, never trust a hot blacktop road surface when you park in the shade. Shade has a way of moving. Tar moves too. Usually out from under any weighted pointy thing like a motorcycle kickstand. And wouldn't you know... there would be a car in the way to cushion the fall... Too bad it was not just a little closer, the bike may have leaned up to it without dropping enough to break the wind screen so arduously installed back in Denver. Oh well...
If all that hadn't happened I would have zipped right on past this place.
A block west (actually someone here can't count all that well...) of the junction of U.S. routes 231 and 98 is the Best Western Bay Motel. I tend to stay at Best Western when I'm not hanging about in my L.L.Bean hammock through some perverse relationship that either choice is the Best I can make. And 231 of course is the World's Record Wind on Mount Washington where I spent many of my formative years. When I checked in Edna asked me if I'd had a good day. Wrong question this time Edna. Then she asked if I would get upset if she asked if I was over fifty.
During the past year and a half at Palmer I have come to terms with the aging of my house and the maturing of my mind. It use to be that when ever anyone in this youth oriented society had the audacity to inquire as to my age my ready answer was --I'll never tell! And if pressed on the issue I had an arsenal of soapboxery to expound. But now I have found I am an elder of the tribe. I have been paying my dues for more than fifty years now and I have begun to notice, especially on I.10 coming in to Florida from Mobile Alabama, the bold print on the billboards advertising motels, meals, mackinaws and mobil phones, where it says "Senior Discount" and "AARP Discount" What's an Aarp??
So when Edna asked me if I'd get upset I said no I wouldn't get upset.
--So... are you over fifty?
--Yes, as a matter of fact I'm fifty-two.
--Well! In that case I can give you the Senior Discount for your room.
But was it worth the broken wind screen?
Later that evening at dinner the menu gave me food for further thought on this matter. It is divided into three sections: The Main Menu takes up the most space. Then there are two smaller sections, one for kids and one for seniors. Like the Coming of Age(s) for other rites of passage--marriage, "drinking", driving, "consent"--one becomes a senior with the same clarity as the interstate speed limits.
When my waitress came round to take my order I asked her if I could have a moment of her time to discuss an important matter that was troubling me. She looked around at her other tables and then, satisfied that nobody was trying to catch her eye, she hitched one cheek over the edge of my table and gave me her full attention.
--You see on your menu how it is divided into sections and there is a note here almost warning folks they may be carded when ordering alcohol; well I was wondering if they "card" folks who claim to be old enough for the Senior Discount like kids are carded who claim to be old enough to buy beer.
--No, she said, We don't need to.
Saturday, April 8, 2000, Spring Cleaning ,
Wedding Bells and Family Photos
My penultimate sister-son was married today. It has been a busy week of birthdays, spring cleaning, income tax, closed out with a wedding.
It snowed here in Nashua earlier. A belated April Fool's joke.Temperature dropped thirty f degrees as the cold front oozed through town leaving the first wave of spring midges crashing to the ground as their wings stalled in the cold. Squirrels raced about frantically scouring the ground for any forgotton last year's nuts against the possibility that this relapse into winter was not just a mistake. I'm so far ahead of the season now that the campgrounds have yet to open and I have to dump my holding tank.
This year my tax refund includes Earned Income Credit. I don't know what that is but it doubles my refund so I went out and bought a scanner. The prices have come down by half it seems from the last time I looked at them just a few months ago. Mostly that means that newer models have come out so now I am even further obsolete with what I have. Oh well. I'm working on very old family photos anyhow so there is no sense shocking them with the very latest technology.
In the course of cleaning behind the couch and under the seats I found
three more leaks in the glycol loop but these were only loose clamps. I've
tried diligently to lighten the load I'm carrying but in the end I think
I've added to the number of books and plants while only getting rid of
a couple of old shirts and one pair of socks
Sunday, April 16, 2000, Who'll Stop The Snow?
I'm back in the north country. Where are you these days?
The first night here it snowed three inches; I just barely made it. Your "Stop Snow" photo worked as a talisman of sorts to keep the storm at bay--I had it taped to the windscreen during my drive north from Concord. Next morning my bike seat was mounded over with this horrid white stuff so Oso and me sat around for most of the day watching it all melt while the temperature struggled up towards fifty.
For the next fortnight or so The Cat Drag'd Inn will be docked at Profile Truck Garage near the top of the hill on 302 going easterly into Center Conway. We have to replace both the dry air tanks and fix a leak in the spare fuel tank. Maybe I'll find time to start scraping and painting, if not the bus then maybe the garage.
I'll be out and about in the tender from time to time so if you would deign to visit it would be best to make a date early on by email.
Well, that's it. It has been a long odyssey, this drive around america. Now I think I am ready to do something else, but just what that something else is remains to be determined. Perhaps there will be another tour, it depends upon whomever, whenever, wherever. Perhaps it will be some schooling of a more formal sense if I can find a scholarship.
I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen, Of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been; Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, With morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair. I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be When winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see. For still there are so many things that I have never seen: In every wood in every spring there is a different green. I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago, And people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times there were before, I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.--Bilbo
Gardyloo… Love, ajo
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Copyright © 2003, A.J.Oxton, The Cat Drag'd Inn