Wednesday, July 16

Home from the Red States Tour

If you ever want to understand the differences between say Iowa City and elsewhere, a road trip will clue you in to the fact that there are deep divides in this wonderful country of ours, but there are also a lot of people who hover in the middle and swing right or left depending on their own experiences.

Days Four to Six: Mossy Grove, TN

I got back to Mossy Grove (actually they live on Whippoorwill Hill) in the evening of day four and ate pizza and watched the Tour De France with Charlie who is a mountain biking nut. We had a good time commenting on the commentators who we saw much more of than the actual leg of the race. It made me think of how TV news spends much more time with pundits who opine about a news story than with the actual news story.

As Charlie is a dedicated public servant, I spent day five with Gertie, a young rooster just learning to crow, and his eight soon-to-be-laying hens at the log cabin home of our friends. I sat out on their porch reading former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris' autobiography "Does People Do It"--which I heartily recommend. Fred Harris, a Populist from Walters, OK never caught fire as a national candidate for the presidency, but definitely was a powerhouse in his own right. Coming from a state which is much more red than when he was involved with politics, Harris nevertheless was willing to stick his neck out when corrupt politicians were not doing the people's business.

That afternoon, Betsy and Phyllis returned from Chattanooga (which Phyllis calls, Chatta-Vegas--don't ask me why). They did their best to stimulate the economy by visiting folk artist Howard Finster's Paradise Garden, shopping at Hammer's-- where Betsy got me a wonderful shirt with a kayak motif, and many other little places that Phyllis knows about. They also spent time with Phyllis's delightful daughter, Avalon, and her English husband, Clynton.

The afternoon is a blur, but when Charlie got home, we ate a fine dinner with the natives at El Cantarito -- the food was muy delicioso! But even there was a woman with a Blue Tooth ear piece jutting out of her head. Seriously, it is okay to disconnect from the rest of the world, once in a while!

Day six started at Lynda's for a high cholesterol, heart-stopping breakfast that was nonetheless great! One of the waitresses there has been known to wear a t-shirt that depicts Jesus Christ beating the tar out of George W. Bush--she picked it up at the local flea market. An interesting thing about eating there was that the owners also sell shoes right next door to the cafe. So, in between the smell of eggs and bacon is also the redolent odor of shoe leather.

We packed a picnic and went for a short hike, where Charlie plucked a red mushroom that Betsy insisted on taking home with us and then took a swim. The swimming hole had a slew of people in and around it. There was a girl's softball team, a Harley club, and assorted families and people in the dating mode. The water was great, but I just couldn't get over the putrid smell of decaying nature which reminded me of the floods in Iowa.

Day Seven - Mossy Grove to Vandalia, Ohio

Regrettably, we departed Tennessee after an early morning thunderstorm decorated the landscape in watery goodness. We stopped in Cincinnati to visit friends. While there, we found out there was a "Extreme Home Makeover" home being built in the neighborhood, so we went to gawk.

To say that EHM is a spectacle would be an extreme understatement. There were security fences and security guards. Buses brought in spectators and hundreds of people stood in the hot sun watching the house being constructed by volunteers and the designers. The family it is being built for has children with severe spinal deformities.

There were EHM t-shirts to be had and the sponsoring companies had a lot of product placements all over the street. Apparently the production company buys a blanket insurance policy to cover the damages to people's lawns and sends the neighbors on vacation (or pays them a fee) so they can build day and night.

It makes me think what could be done to alleviate the plight of the poor, if we put our collective capitalistic minds to it.

We arrived in Vandalia later that night and hung out with my family until the kiddos had to go to bed. My niece, Aly, had a high fever, so she was relatively reserved compared to her normally bubbly self. My nephew, Rien, was in his room building something mechanical. My brother-in-law is a rabid Reagan Republican (and a fan of all things Fox News)and is going to vote for John McCain, very reluctantly. Interestingly, he and my sister are both socially conscious people, but see the government as getting in the way of people helping themselves. As you can imagine, we have limited conversations about politics, but we do agree that George Bush has made a mess of things.

Day Eight - Vandalia, OH to Peoria, IL

We started the day with breakfast with Mom and Rien at the Waffle House--my arteries are still thanking me for that. After tugging weeds from Mom's garden and other small things, we bid adieu to the good folks in Ohio and started back to Iowa. Somewhere around Indianapolis, I thought it would be nice to stop for the night somewhere that Betsy and I could enjoy by ourselves.

We ended up in Peoria, and lucked our way into a hotel by the Illinois River (Thanks to an accommodating concierge at the Embassy Suites) that had a jacuzzi. As Betsy pointed out later, it had a similar motif as the cabin in Tennessee without the charm of authenticity. Still, after days of long drives, it was nice to have a break before getting back in the car--particularly since it had the iffy A/C since early in the trip.

Day Nine - Peoria to Home

We began with the "extended continental breakfast" at the hotel where Fox News was blasting from the TV and some beauty product conventioners were discussing the great workshop they attended the day before. There were also the usual boisterous children who liked to thump into us every chance they got.

We drove the unimpressive two and a half hours and arrived home to the silence of our dogs who had been napping in the shade of their pen. Their vocal abilities returned quickly when they realized it was good old mom and dad. Our cat has been less forgiving--imagine a cat with attitude...

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