Sunday, December 6, 2009

Different But Same

Every Monday morning I pray with a group of men. Most are retired with Vaseline parted hair and plaid cotton shirts. I’ve been praying with these guys for ten years. . .ever sense Jesus Christ got me in a hammer-lock and said, “I AM here.” Few understand that.

We read from a daily devotional, ask for prayers for those who are sick or wayward. A couple of times a year we take on something different; to stimulate our fellowship. Once we were asked to talk about our childhood. Did we get along with our father, our mother, our siblings? These men turned from plastic flowers to earthen bleeding stems, sharp thorns, soft petals and vibrant colors. Many struggled with their parental relationships, with their siblings. But they all—most all— ended up as engineers or process managers with big companies and stayed for big pensions. I didn’t.

I was raised in a happy family. Two brothers. My dad was a doctor, my mother was a well known concert pianist—a child prodigy who studied with Arthur Rubenstein. She was amazingly creative. Dad was quiet and philosophical with a delightful sense of humor. I never heard them argue. One of my brothers became an orthopedic surgeon. The other a carpenter. I drew cartoons and beat on mom’s piano. It was clear that I was infected with the disease creativitus stupidus.

I was guided by a demon that led me down into a valley of clever ideas, word plays, original music, hot dances and lyrical text. This valley smelled of flowers so sweet I embraced every detail of it. I foraged in it, flew over it and watched it from a mountain top. This was heaven to me. . .a dangerous place to reside.

I was the different one early on and the different one in our prayer group. But at 60 we were like a group facing a firing squad. . .equal as can be, all crapping in our pants, all waiting for the word, “fire.”

I am the easiest to shoot. I am the different one.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Strike Indicators

JoAnn and I are at a lake in the mountains west of Loveland, Colorado. Flatiron Reservoir. Large mesas surround the lake, several hundred feet high. They appear as stripes of earthen red, ochre and green. It is Saturday afternoon. The only other people here are Mexicans and a van load of blacks with K-Mart fishing rods. They’re Muslims. The women are wearing full Burkas, their faces covered with black whatchamacallits. The men and boys carry fishing rods and coolers down to the waters edge. A distance away a burly, very Indian man with a crew cut sits in a chair showing a classic profile. . .bent nose, high cheek bones, weak forehead. He holds a fishing rod in one hand and a beer in the other. Sioux, I say as if I know what I am talking about. His wife has a big pot belly and skinny, short legs that hang from her shorts like drawstrings. Her hair is black and unkempt. She sits next to him and shakes her hair hard then sips her beer. She, too, is Indian but reeks of upbringing in malls and staged television reality shows that fill her mind.

JoAnn sets up her painting paraphernalia on a picnic table. She paints oblivious to anyone. . .another silent silhouette. My, how peace attracts man. The Mexicans, the Sioux fisherman, his wife and the Muslims. That’s basically it. Now other cars are showing up, everyone has a fishing rod and collapsible chair. No one is catching fish but there sure are a lot of red, floating strike indicators in the water, wandering as if interested in each other. This planet is called Earth, I think to myself. Humans relaxing while their strike indicators work. We are God. The strike indicators are us.

Here is a related thought:

Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning. A man hunkered near the wall with violin and tin can. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately two thousand (2,000) people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After four minutes the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the tin can and, without stopping, continued to walk.

A few minutes later a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. A three-year-old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. He objected. She insisted. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.

The violinist continued. After 45 minutes only 6 people had stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. After an hour, he finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

Here is what no one knew:

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story.

In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments . . .How many other things are we missing? Do we seek God similarly, ignoring His essence because we focus on the distraction. . . the strike indicators?

Here at Flatiron, only JoAnn Ritter attempts to capture the true reality. It is obvious to her. She does not dwell on details. They are distractions that clutter the beauty of the whole. Impressionists are that way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Check out Carole Brown's interview with me today. Find it at http;//

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Dap

The dap. It’s been around since the 1960’s. Thirty-nine million Americans dap daily. I don’t—daily, anyway. This is an awareness issue. If you still have a shred of racism in your blood and your intolerance of things un-white is set on high (though you would never admit it because “one of your best friends is an African American”), you cringe to believe that something “inherently black” has been embraced by the “inherently white.” The dap.

It’s the handshake. That convoluted meandering of hands that ends in an embrace. . .a hand embrace. . . followed, sometimes, by a variety of chest bumps. There is creativity to a dap. It’s an expression of friendship. A white handshake is an expression of acknowledgement. Giving dap is beautiful (actually dap in Vietnamese means beautiful). It’s remarkable. It’s as American as apple pie, hot rods or baseball. However since its inception—the first time two blacks decided to do more than greet each other like whites—it’s been kept “in the closet” . . .something blacks do.

I spoke to an all black school district in Washington D.C. in 1974 about an elementary school curriculum I had authored. Afterward, a very engaging man came up to me and introduced himself. We shook hands. We talked about teaching black children. We talked about our families. We bonded. I flew to Washington a month later. He met me at the airport. I held out my hand and he shook my hand sideways. . .sort of vertically in a hand hold rather than a hand shake. He smiled, showed me a continuation; a finger snap, an “explosion,” a “wipe,” a “knuckle bump.” Cool. He said that this is the way friends shake hands in his neighborhood. I was a friend. He didn’t call it “giving dap” back then. We were just special friends, sharing a symbolic bond. I felt particularly welcomed. Later I learned some people think it stands for dignity and pride. I’m alright with that.

Little did I know that that gesture could become a national symbol of solidarity in this country. That the wife of our president would dap her husband (Can you imagine Eleanor Roosevelt dapping Franklin?). That today white politicians would be falling over themselves to give dap to a constituent. . .maybe even the president.

Our world is changing, it always is. Those that resist it or demean the change help us to more carefully define it, and defining change is a prerequisite to acceptance. My dad hated Rock and Roll. Said it wouldn’t last. He thought the Beatles didn’t know how to sing and they were just a fad. . .that Viet Nam would teach those Commies a lesson. And the dap? Isn’t that the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen? he said. He passed away in 1990 with nary a knuckle bump to his name.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Second Installment - Western Trip

Saturday, July 26. Today it seems we drove from one end of the flat planet earth to the other. It seems. Actually (get out your maps, children) we drove from Munising, Michigan in the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan to just south of Duluth, Minnesota. But it has rained every day. . .everyday day for the past five days, except Thursday afternoon when we visited Mackinaw Island.

Now, back to the back story.

Here’s a picture that made me laugh. I took it near Mackinaw City. Since then, we’ve seen many such signs.

Pasties. I wonder if others giggle. Pasties. I was raised in Indianapolis. My dad was the doctor for the local burlesque theater—the Fox Burlesque. That was back in the days when the “Burlesque Queens”—they were called—never appeared nude – er - naked. The lovely women—dancers they were—always ended up their dance in a G-string and pasties, those silver dollar-sized white adhesives that theaters required they wear on their nipples. Pasties. So here JoAnn and I are in the upper Michigan peninsula seeing many stores advertising “Pasties.” Think of it; an entire peninsula of frustrated burlesque queens, and JoAnn and I are fortunate enough to be driving through. . .yet we never saw Mrs. Muldoon’s.

And on the stage the dancers came.

The way they dressed it was a shame.

It almost spoiled my vision evermore.

The leading lady blushing fat

For all she wore was just her hat

That barely hid her prizes from my stare.

Etc. etc.

I didn’t go to church today. I spent the day frustrated. I got an email from a fellow writer. . .a pastor named John Snyder (he’s reading Emerson The Magnificent). The New Hope Presbyterian Church meets every Sunday at 9:30 A.M. at the Holiday Inn Express in Elk Grove, California. John is the preacher. His daughters Sarah (vocals and guitar) and Stephanie (vocals and drums) and wife Shirin (bass guitar--electric) lead the worship team. They've also led worship for some of John’s conferences. Sarah and Stephanie have just added their band Deer Park Avenue to Myspace. They are really good. Google them. God’s calling. I won’t miss another Sunday. I must learn to work around His schedule, not ask that He work around mine.

There was a wonderful book written in the late 90s called Blue Highways by William Least Heatmoon. He traveled around the United States on back roads, called blue highways. Red roads are major highways. JoAnn and I often travel the blue highways because we see more and meet more interesting people.

The upper peninsula of Michigan, in many parts, looks just like Cape Cod. . . dunes, eel grass and scrub pines. Otherwise it is green and deciduous like Massachusetts, but no mountains or big hills. Minnesota, too, is green and deciduous but with many lakes whose shores are lined with tents, pop-up trailers and rvs. Sailboats, jet skis and kayaks. Just like Massachusetts. So rv-ing–as it is called—is not so much about enjoying the sights as it is about the journey. . .the struggle. It is a part of life; perhaps not as sedentary as many of our friends’ lives, but we don’t do it 24/7. Momentary high levels of decision making, strenuous exercise and planning. . .all while sitting two feet from your spouse. Now that is insanity.

We found a campsite outside of Duluth, MN. Tomorrow we will head diagonally across the state on a blue highway (MN rte 23).

Tuesday. Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We have discovered one of the trailer tires has worn excessively (not sure what caused it). I’m not sure we will make it to the Badlands on the western end of the state. I still haven’t resolved the dilemma of our hot water heater. I need a new right rear stabilizing strut. I think I’ll buy a tire this morning, have the dealer mount it and balance it and I will jack up the trailer and replace it, or face a minimum service fee of $105. JoAnn will fret and remind me that I am nearing seventy. She forgets: Insanity has no age limits nor retrospect.

We both look forward to the Badlands. Sounds like someplace I belong. No scrub pines, dunes or jet skis. Four hundred miles away.

Got on the road a little after 10:00 A.M. Bought two tires and the mounting fee was just eight dollars.

Interstate 90, sun on my back. It was good to see the early morning brightness casting long shadows across the Dakota plains where rolls of hay dot the prairie like forgotten toys. It’s as flat out here as a worn door mat. Occasional spurts of cottonwood trees grow for no apparent reason and random herds of angus gather to spice up the monotony of the landscape. JoAnn sleeps. I wish I could join her. My mind drifts as the sameness of the scenery passes. When 20 angus gather in an informal circle, noses to the center, do they communicate? I have read that many species of plains’ grasses (Buffalo Grass) grow as high as a horserider’s head. The young warriors of the Lakota Sioux used to sit high on the backs of their ponies racing through fields playing a kind of tag. Think of that visual; all you could see was the chest and head of two Indians racing across the tops of the grasses.

Pierre, South Dakota. Exit 78. I awake momentarily.

I recall an article I read about the 100th Meridian; the isohedryl line of demarcation which delineates the western boundary of the normal reach of moist air in the Gulf of Mexico from the eastern boundary of mostly arid, difficult-to-grow-crops. . .a line true westerners claim as the psychological and environmental entrance to their land—the land of the cowboys. In South Dakota the line is just west of Pierre, the state’s capital. It heads south through Cozad, Nebraska where JoAnn and I stopped on an hysterical impromptu visit three years ago, because it is also the birthplace of the founder of the Ash Can School of Art—Robert Henri. I wrote about that on our first trip west, no sense bothering many of you again. However, there is a sign across U.S. Highway 30 in Cozad, Nebraska that prominently marks the precise place where the meridian intersects the routes of the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express Trail, the transcontinental railroad, and the Lincoln Highway. The 100th meridian continues straight south, dividing Oklahoma and Texas at the panhandle, through San Antonio and to Mexico—ahh, Mexico (Siempre te recuerden mis ojos, pais de mis días marinos). I bored you, right?

We stopped for lunch just past Pierre at a good cowboy diner, Hutches Café—not Hutch’s Café. Knotty pine walls with many black and white photos of cowboys and cowgirls (should I have said cowpersons? Oh me), tables of good ole boys in stiff-fronted baseball hats emblazoned with Hybrid Corn, Rodeo Nationals, 4-H, NRA, etc. Now wait a minute: one table away is an old boy with stained red suspenders talking to a most interesting woman. She is beautiful. No-make-up beautiful. Early fifties, sun-browned skin like a well-worn baseball glove. She has a deep voice, not female sounding. It is a bold voice. She speaks to a cowboy who walks in and sits at the counter.

“Hey, Danny, you can sit with us. I don’t bite. . .not on days that end in “Y.”

He laughs and joins them at the table. She stands and heads for the women’s room. “Be right back. My teeth are floatin’”

Man, is she striking. Dirty blue jeans, boots and a t-shirt. She has long blonde hair tied in a braided pig-tail, dusty from the outdoors. Blue eyes. Tall and thin but very powerful. A gait like a thoroughbred.

JoAnn agrees. . . with one eyebrow raised.

Hutches is owned by two women in their late sixties. I think they’re twins. I name them Patsy and Fatsy. JoAnn spits water from her nose, trying not to laugh. Fatsy takes our order. She has a light blue, tight perm and double arms like an over and under shotgun. She won’t smile. All business this woman. We order two BLTs. JoAnn says no fries, so I try and turn it into a joke. Fatsy doesn’t get it. Only her pen (and the bottom of her arm) moves.

We love places like this. JoAnn wishes she could paint these people. I’m luckier, I have a laptop.

Back on the road. JoAnn says she will drive. Conditions are right. Interstate 90 to the Bad Lands. Four lane major interstate highway with one lane shoulders, straight as a rifle barrel, light traffic. Perfect. I’ll enjoy the scenery.

She adjusts the seat, the mirrors, gives the steering wheel a stern shake (to show it who’s boss) then slowly pulls out of the parking lot and onto U.S. 90, merging, focusing, frowning.

This is what I observe: She sits in the driver’s seat squeezing the steering wheel like a major life line, a hose through which no blood may pass, leaning so far forward her chest (breasts) are in contact with the steering wheel, then leaning her head almost over the top. Soon she notices a double Wal*Mart semi, 24-wheel, merging onto the highway

“Oh my God, he’s going to pull onto the road!”

“He’s allowed to,” I say.

“What will I do?”

“Let him.”

CONSTRUCTION ZONE AHEAD, the sign says. The road changes from four lanes with one-lane shoulders to two lanes and no shoulders. . .two narrow lanes. Orange pipes in the center of the road. A sign that says no passing. “Are you kidding?” The other side of the highway has been scraped down to dirt. Workers hover near the edge of the highway with shovels.

“There’s not enough room for us to fit,” she says.

I’m worried but don’t want her to know I’m worried. So I just sit there. In the distance we see a dust storm coming. No. It’s a huge truck carrying dirt to another location. It is traveling on the dirt side of the highway. . . real fast.

“I’m not going to be able to see! What will I do? Can I pull over?”

“Are you crazy. Just stay in line. Relax.”

“Relax? I thought I was going to drive on a nice straight four lane interstate, not this.”

A large grader comes at us, pushing smoke in a billowing storm.

And for the next hour JoAnn becomes the iron maiden of the highway, teeth clenched, giant hands like war clubs squeezing the life out of the steering wheel the way we mortals squeeze toothpaste from a tube.

Finally, “My hands!”

“What about your hands?

“They’re numb.

“Try loosening your grip on the steering wheel.”

The scenery has changed dramatically.

The Badlands, called that by some pioneers in the early 1800’s—“Bad lands to travel across” they said. The Teton Sioux in the early 1700s called it “Land Bad.” I never realized what the Badlands were . . . just a name for an area of South Dakota. But it is 244,000 acres of the most shocking, dramatic change of scenery I have seen. From flat grasslands (the Land of the Burning Thigh) to this. Totally unexpected. The Badlands is an archeologist’s paradise. . . the land where much of our geological history has been uncovered. Giant pinnacles and saw-tooth ridges of sea sediments and volcanic ash reveal minarets like ancient temples all uniquely carved from millions of years of water, wind and frost. Many different people have tried to live here but, frustrated by the weather and landscape, have given up, heading anywhere but here. Now tourists crawl over the landscape; the hardiest of inhabitors appearing in sporty cars, suvs, rvs and a variety of mobile homes. Not long ago I Google Earthed Nag Hammadi and Qumran where biblical artifacts were discovered. That land along the Nile and in the Holy Lands looks very much like the Badlands. No one lives there, either.

Wednesday. Packed up and headed seventy miles west. This time it will be the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. . . and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Where did the Black Hills get its name? From a distance the mountains in this area appear black because they are covered with a dark, dense coniferous forest under which the sun doesn’t shine. The stronger the sunlight, the darker the forest floor. “The hills of darkness” the Indians called it. Lush and mystical. Indian holy men hear voices in the deep of the forest. Supplementing the heavily wooded area are immense natural meadows with wildflowers dotting the vistas and herds of bison roaming through the undulating hills.

We drove through the Custer National Park, winding and twisting our way through switchbacks hauling the Larvae, its wheels tracing the edges of the road and the cliff edges. We heard there was a herd of over 1000 buffalo on a gravel road off the main drag. The only way to cross it was to leave the Larvae on the side of the road on a pull-out, unhook, put blocks and chucks under its wheels and leave. The pull out was on a downgrade. JoAnn was nervous, leaving the trailer on a downgrade. “What if we get back and the trailer has slid down the road?” I didn’t have a good answer, but we both wanted to be in the middle of a large herd of wild buffalo to hear them grunt and breathe, watch their surly eyes follow you then through ennui forget you exist. We sit in the safety of my pickup truck like tourists in the Serengeti.

The center of Custer, North Dakota is pretty hectic today. I am sitting with a cop in front of Cabs Cowboy and Hunting Supplies. His name is Derrick. Doesn’t sound like a cop’s name from Custer, South Dakota. Derrick sounds like a vegetarian from P-Town. Today bikers are everywhere in black leather and chrome, oozing that special I-don’t-give-shit attitude that supposedly defines their culture. It’s all show. . .maybe not all show. Many have been a part of it for so long, they become what they thought they stood for. But now they’re old and can’t remember what that was. Kinda like me. Their bikes have been allowed refuge in a special center lane through the town, all kickstanded and leaning. High handle bars and cantilevered front tires, old World War II issues with side cars, 1947 Indian Chiefs with front skirts, basic Harleys, Hondas, BMWs, a few Indians, customs and Triumphs. Their bikes give them their identity which they can store in the garage when they go to work on Monday. . .totally change who they are, wear a new costume, speak a different language. The noise of a bike is a growl. . .different growls for different bikes. Unfettered at 3000 R.P.M. They sit gleaming in the afternoon sun. Oiled leather saddlebags with fringe and chrome bullets. In two days there will be over 450,000 bikes in southwest South Dakota, mostly converging in Sturgis the largest motorcycle rally in the world.

Six hundred thousand people in silk head rags of American flags, skull and crossbones, black t-shirts with Greatful Dead, Riders For Jesus, Old Riders of America. A lot of big, swollen bellies with sweaty black hair hanging from beneath too short t-shirts. And tattoos galore, the best are faded from WW II. . .good ole U.S. Marine tattoos, an era of quiet pride before we lost our sense of decorum in blatant hyperbole.

JoAnn walked through the streets taking many photographs for paintings. I talked to bikers about their bikes and learned a lot. Ninety percent of these people are the salt of the earth, kind, considerate, eager to share their lives with you. There is a 10% rowdy group that stays up all night and gets blasted, driving the local law enforcement community nuts. Poor Derrick. I hope he changes his name.

JoAnn bought a head rag and a t-shirt. I already look the part. . .have these past 68 years.

JoAnn and I felt a certain closeness to the Black Hills, a feeling of comfort and home. There are a million paintings here that JoAnn hasn’t painted. We stopped for a couple of hours while she did a study. Instinctively we looked for churches. In this area are most are Lutheran. But there are still Evangelicals and Baptists—I call them the Expressives. . .versus The Frozen Chosen. Yeah we really liked the Black Hills. I’m certain we will return here.

Thursday. Time to go see the children in Berthoud, Colorado. We’ll go west on a blue highway into Wyoming and then south on U.S. 25 into Colorado. We stop for lunch in Lusk, Wyoming. Our waitress is from Utica, New York. She has lived in L.A., Santa Fe, Florida, Denver, Sioux Falls and now Paradise Point, Wyoming—population 8. She’s early 50s with an engaging smile and a friendliness that is spiritual. I asked her why she lived in so many places. She said, “Just followin’ men. Fallin’ in love, goin’ where they want to go until they took up with someone else. I’m smarter now. I only follow my heart.”

We drove alongside the Laramie mountain range, past Fort Laramie where my great grandfather and his two best friends (Lou Bertsell and Joe Lane) spent a week in 1860 before crossing the mountains and heading west on the Overland Trail. At the fort, some soldiers told them of a rarely used pass through the mountains that would cut a week off their trip. Grandfather’s diary records how their horses were stolen on the third night deep into the mountains by mountain men and they had to walk across the entire state of Wyoming, mostly at night to avoid Indians, through snow storms and drought, finally loosing Joe Lane to a ruptured appendix in a cave near Rock Springs.

It was so good to turn right on County Road 42 and see Aguilla Ranch off in the distance, backed by the Rocky Mountains. There our kids live. . .Serena (Heidi), Scott and Sami. Time to be grandparents and to thank the Lord for our many blessings.

Here Scott and I will do necessarily farming and maintenance stuff, practice casting into their pond and work on my 1940 Ford pick up which resides in Scott’s barm on the far side of their property.

I’ll write later when we head north to Jackson Hole then Bozman.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On The Road Again

Once again I stare out my office window at the scourge of our neighborhood. . . Thirty-feet long, hump-backed, four skinny legs and several large zits across its back. Three years ago I named this hideous creature “The Larvae” because it looks like a large grub. In fact it is our fifth wheel trailer. The manufacturer calls it a Wildcat which it bears no resemblance to. Every year just before JoAnn and I leave for parts unknown I park it in my driveway. My driveway is 30 feet long. So is the Larvae. It is 11 feet tall. The electrical wires along our street are just under 12 feet.

It is Wednesday. We leave on Friday. JoAnn and I are not speaking to each other. Something about if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all. We’re renting our house while we’re gone. . .something about money. The task of getting our house ready for tenants has become a test of our marital sanity­if there is such a thing.

“All we gotta do is get in the trailer and leave,” I have said, repeatedly.

“What?!?!” she screeches. “The windows need to be washed, the house needs to be vacuumed, paintings put away, our good silver hidden along with good dishes, the trim on the house needs painting, we need a new mattress pad in our bedroom, we’ll lock up my studio with our valuables. . .”

“What about toilet paper?” I ask facetiously.

“We must go to Cosco. Let’s see, bulk toilet paper, paper towels. We have to have the septic tank pumped. Oh my God, we need an umbrella on the porch.”

“But we’ve never had an umbrella on the porch.”

“Exactly. We’ve never rented our house either.”

“Umbrella on the porch,” I mumble, certain I won’t come up with anymore ideas.

Now we’re not talking to each other. The house looks beautiful.

“The piano needs tuning.”

Today is Wednesday. We’re loading the trailer. I can’t get the air conditioner to work. The RV tech installed a new condenser and everything works. Looks like we’re ready for an early Friday morning take off. We’ll have dinner with friends tonight at the Sesuit Café.

Thursday. Can’t get the @#%$&!@#$ air conditioner to work. Thought it was fixed. Called the RV tech. His name is Jim Bearse. One of the nicer gentlemen on this planet. He suggested I take the trailer over to Sweetwater Campground and hook it up to a 30 amp service. That might kick it over. So JoAnn and I hook up the truck, bring in the stairs, the living room slider and the front and rear struts and drive to Sweetwater.

!#@$#%$& again. The condenser kicks in but the fan doesn’t. Called Jim and he said he would come right over.

!#@$#%$@#$% again. Jim’s on the roof of the Larvae working on the largest zit (also referred to as the air conditioner). It looks like we need a new air conditioner. $800. Jim says we can get one at Camping World in Amsterdam, NY just a couple of hours east of Syracuse. JoAnn begins to pray. I begin to !#$@$#%$@# and @$#%!@#.

So I call Camping World. The service tech tells me I will need to remove the cover on the unit and get the model number then call him back. !#@$#%#@. I crawl up the ladder to the roof with screwdrivers and bits. All the wrong size. !#@$#%$#. I crawl down the ladder and get more bits, then crawl back up and remove the air conditioner cover. Uhmm, I wonder looking at the unit. What’s this? I give the fan a spin. The unit starts. It really starts. “Oh my God, the air conditioner is working!” But don’t get excited, I caution. The fan might work but not the air conditioner itself.

I crawl down the ladder (Keep in mind, I’m a 68 year old gentleman who swears a lot. This is my fifth or sixth time up and down this !#@$#@ ladder.). Inside the Larvae I turn off the air conditioner and wait for a minute, then turn it on. Voila! It works again. I turn it off then turn it on. It works again. I leave it on. JoAnn is thrilled. She thanks God for answering her prayers. I’m dumfounded. . .not at answered prayer, but that God would get involved with an air conditioner on a travel trailer. On second thought I’m not dumfounded­just dumb.

We launched this morning (Friday). All systems were go. The trip was smooth. We arrived in Syracuse at 6:10 P.M. JoAnn will spend quality time with her mother. We will leave here on Tuesday and stop in on the return trip sometime late August. I tried the air conditioner. It responded.

Sunday. Attended the Eastern Hills Bible Church in Manlius. Started in 1996 with six families, it now has just over 1000 members and is housed in a beautiful and terribly functional building that feels like a church but with all the trappings of fellowship and contemporary comfort. . .coffee, pastries, buffet lunch following the 10:30 service and a one million two hundred thousand dollar mortgage. Guests are given a guest packet and are briefly welcomed by one of the five pastors prior to the service. Prayer partners are the pastors. Wonderful music, entertaining children’s segment (The congregation simulates rain by tapping their knees with their hands­two hundred people tapping their knees sounds exactly like rain.). Big time video but not as tastefully done­or user friendly­as Kevin is able to do. I left a copy of Emerson The Magnificent with Doug Bullock, the senior pastor, feeling a lot like one of those infomercial pitchmen. A blonde Billy Mays. “Endorse this book tomorrow and we’ll send you redemption at no extra cost! Endorse it now and your sins will be doubly forgiven!”

JoAnn struggles in this town. There is something about an aging and ailing parent that nags one’s inner being, especially when they are 400 miles away. . .especially when that relationship has been painfully volatile. JoAnn’s mother sits in her bed, a far away look on her face, hair that needs attention, a faint image of her former self. . .vulnerable, perplexing­passing on her anger, pain and confusion to her children.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theatre?

How did human’s survive without GPS? It is so important yet only three letters. Like God, except GPS is three capitalized letters. God’s Pointing System. We have a woman’s voice. Her name is Evelyn. Those of you who read our logs from other trips know her well. Only JoAnn can make her cry.

Today is Wednesday. . .I think. I say “I think” because age is catching up to my brain like a long tracking wolf wears down his prey. JoAnn is stalked by the same wolf. If I anthropomorphize this wolf perhaps I can trick him into leaving me alone. I’ll give him a name. Franklin. . .as in Delano. JoAnn and I now have lists and notes, yet we can’t remember where we put them. Franklin giggles. They appear like magic in unlikely places. . .under the dog’s seat in the car, stuck to the handle of my power screwdriver, on the wall in the toilet of the trailer (not at eye level­ankle level. I forgot I put it there so I wouldn’t forget). Also we have assigned places for things like keys, purses, wallets and tools. Yesterday we stopped at a Subway restaurant for lunch. After we left and were two miles down the highway, JoAnn said, “Honey, where did you put my purse?” So here we are 42 feet long­from rear bumper of the trailer to the front bumper of the truck­roaring North on a major highway. JoAnn is crawling into the back seat looking for her purse. Our dog, Blue, is perplexed. Is this a game mother is playing? “I think I left it at the restaurant,” She says. “Turn around!”

Now Franklin is loping along next to the trailer, laughing. He loves this. This is what it’s all about.

“Turn around?” I question.

“Yes. Hurry.”

An exit ramp appears and I slow down to exit.

“Left. No, right,” she says.

I do a jack-knife u-turn in the middle of a country road, look for a sign for south bound traffic and get back on the highway heading for the Subway. (Our GPS is totally whacked, screaming, “Re calculating. Re calculating.) As we pull up to the restaurant (mind you, our rig is taller and longer than the restaurant) we see a man exiting the establishment, carrying a purse. My mind moves slowly. Man carrying purse. Okay by me. JoAnn’s moves quicker. “That son-of-a-bitch has my purse!” she shrieks. “Get him, Dwight.”

Franklin is now lying on his back laughing. He can hardly catch his breath.

“It’s your purse,” I say bravely.

“Hey you!” she screams, standing on the running board, door open, truck rolling toward a very surprised man. (I have decided to run him down, rather than have a fist fight.) JoAnn races toward him. “That’s my purse.”

“I thought it was her’s,” he said pointing to a woman getting in her car.

“No. It’s mine.” JoAnn says, grabbing the purse. “I left it in there.”

“No problem,” the man says, graciously. He wears a Subway shirt with “Manager” written on it. Glad I didn’t run him down.

Back on the road. Have to pick up a prescription for JoAnn’s eyes then to the campsite. 397 miles my speedometer says. Tomorrow we go to Mackinac Island for the day. We will take a boat, no motorized vehicles on the island. Should be fun. Perhaps Franklin will stay on shore also.

Thursday. Mackinac Island. Near Mackinaw City. Somehow and Indian version was spelled Millickinaw. But it is always pronounced Mack-e-naw, no matter how it’s spelled. Lake Michigan on one side. Like Huron on the other. We went over on the ferry and took a delightful 2-hour horse-drawn tour. No motorized vehicles on the island. This place closes down in the winter. Often there is an ice bridge to the mainline by January. Two kids in the graduating high school class last year. One a boy and the other a girl. It was good. None of that competitive stuff about who would be the prom king and who would be the prom queen. No one cuts in during the graduation dance. No cars so no one got drunk and hit a tree at eighty.

The horses are fascinating here; the ones that provide the motor for everything to heavy to carry from place to place. Horse taxis, carriages, and delivery wagons. . .one horse, two horse and three horse teams. You never hear a motor or a beep, just clops from hard rubber shoes. For the most part they are large draft horses. Here the horses are special. They are pampered and spoken to with respect. They work hard here, carrying 30 people in a carriage on an island tour up and down hills, hauling large wagons of supplies to the restaurants and stores. Their schedule is four hours of work followed by 24 hours of rest. Veterinarians are important and plentiful, serving the islands main power supply. I found it interesting watching two horses pull a wagon load of propane tanks (probably 50 or so). I never thought about a truck pulling fifty horses before. In the winter they are taken to the mainland to rest.

All the horses have names and they are introduced to the passengers before each trip. Some are impatient, some are wise (you can see it in their eyes. . .large ginger colored thinking eyes with long lashes), some are humorous. Just as we passed a Congregational Church and our driver called it a congressional church, one of our horses released a deep fart. I only wish my farts could be as respected.

The horses are loved here. Really.

And there’s lot’s of history here. First there were Indians who trapped and fished, then sold the island to the white man, who figured out how to steal his money back from the murderous red-skins and keep them off his island. A familiar story. Wars prompted forts. Peace prompted tourism. All pretty much the same as anywhere. It’s the horses that make this island special. I been around the block a few times and specialness rings a bell in these old bones.

Today is Friday. It is JoAnn’s birthday. I look at her sitting on a crowded ferry and marvel at her beauty. In every bouquet of roses there seems to be one that is special. That rose is my wife. She is the glue that holds this fragile family together.

We will cross the Mackinaw bridge and head across the northern Michigan peninsula, camping somewhere along the way.

I think I’ll blog this as Week 1.