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Monday, December 26, 2016

Colorado Odyssey

Entering Colorado Springs, it's easy to see how important the military is to Colorado's economy. They've got air force bases butted up against other air force bases, NORAD, etc.

I had some vacation days to burn before the end of the year, Corinna had some gigs in Colorado Springs and Denver, so we made a road trip of it.

The honeymoon we never got to take when we got married over four years ago.

I didn't relish driving all the way in one shot. I can do those kind of drives but they always feel like a mistake, like when I drove straight through each way to Indianapolis to judge the Indiana Brewer's Cup. So Airbnb to the rescue. I'd never used it before, but now that's going to be my first look instead of Expedia. For $31, I scored a room in Salina, the guest bedroom in a person's home. It was cozy, well appointed with a space heater in case we wanted it warmer than the thermostat was set, mini-fridge (even with a couple of beers either left behind by a previous guest or provided by our host I wasn't sure). Basket of toiletries in case we forgot, flat screen TV if we were into that sort of thing, wifi, etc.

Way, way more hospitable than some generic motel room at three times the price. Anyway, that let us get escape velocity on Wednesday night after work, get a chunk of the drive out of the way, a good night's sleep and hit the road to Colorado quickly on Thursday. Much better than going through all that getting out of the house crap on Thursday morning and then dealing with a ten hour drive.

We visited the Olympic Training Center when we got into Colorado Springs, where Corinna trained before competing in the 1996 Atlanta games. Unfortunately, we got there fifteen minutes before the visitors center closes, and in the two decades since her Olympic performance, considerable security has been added and you can't just wander around the campus like you could in the early 90s. Fucking terrorists, they find a way to wipe their hate-boogers on everything.

We stayed with friends while in Colorado which is of course even better on every level. I got up on Friday morning at the crack of down, or maybe it was a little before that, wanting to get sunrise shots in Garden of the Gods. Which would have been much easier if I'd had a chance to scout the day before. I hadn't been to the park since 1992, so it wasn't real familiar. And in the pitch black, just finding the parking lots and trails is tricky.

The parking lot was bizarrely full at 5:00 a.m. I mean, I found a parking place but there were at least 100 pickups and SUVs in the lot when I got there. Maybe the occasional sedan. Setting up my tripod on a trail in the dark, a woman passed me on her morning constitutional, I asked her what was with all the vehicles. She said the Army comes up to hike on Friday mornings.

They all left quite loudly as the sun was coming up, one soldier per vehicle. I'm thinking, first of all you can't carpool? And second of all, if the Army is putting on a hike, shouldn't they all come in big long green trucks? I'm guessing these are reservists doing the part time soldier thing or maybe the Army looks more like a bunch of independent contractors in fatigues than it used to.

Then, my image of getting the sun peaking out sharply from behind a big red rock, a long exposure with the aperture blades really showing in spines coming off the sun, yeah. It was overcast and hazy as all get out, the sun had a huge diffuser on it. But I still had fun lugging all my gear through the park and experimenting with different lenses and whatnot.

And these are subjects that look different all the time. I could do a few weeks or more of spending several hours in the morning and evening in the Garden of the Gods. I've seen what other photographers have been able to do with these rocks, and maybe some of them just got lucky but I'm betting more of them made a study of the place, a part time job for a while.

But I was on short time. We had to move on to Denver for Corinna's next gig. I can really see the appeal of Colorado as far as all the people who move there. For outdoor recreation, except for an ocean they've got everything. See also a great place for photography and just the beauty of nature. Add to that what appears to be a booming economy and legalized weed, what's not to love about Colorado?

I mean other than the fact that if the climate keeps going the way it's been, there's probably not enough water there to support all those people. I could really see how much less snow cover there was on the mountains, and the last time I was there was October (of 1992), this was mid-December and most of the peaks were naked. Whether it's fossil fuels or not, the climate, it is a-changing.

Denver turned out to be much denser than I anticipated. I'd heard over the years about their robust public transit, including a bunch of rail, and thought it was likely over-subsidized bullshit. Like the White Train, Kansas City's streetcar that cost over $100 million to serve barely over two miles that were already well served by bus. But driving in Denver, I wished I could get on a bus or a train, the car was a real millstone and I didn't have the time to park it and figure out the transit system as I was only there for a few hours.

I dropped Corinna off at her gig in downtown Denver and needed a couple of items I figured would be easy to find at a Target. My phone told me there was a Target 2.5 miles away. I charted the course, let the bitchy Google maps robot talk me there and back. I was late picking Corinna back up because it took over two hours to make this journey by car, and I started at 2:45 in the afternoon, so it's not like I was in rush hour the whole time.

I'll give Denver this, though, they have the density of a big city (it appears they have roughly 1.2 or 1.4 million more people than Kansas City's metro has in about the same space, so almost double the density I'm used to navigating), they're polite. When Gertrude (our nickname for the bitchy Google voice) told me to cross six lanes to make a left turn in a half a block, I was able to get it done by signaling a lane change and looking over, not once but five times. I wouldn't fancy the odds of pulling that maneuver in Chicago or New York. Or even Kansas City, drivers here are assholes when it comes to letting people merge or change lanes.

Anyway, we were staying with Corinna's cousin who's Dad is from Ethiopia and we went to a charming little Ethiopian restaurant and had a massive tray of assorted delicacies. Corinna and I fed each other per tradition, we had to do at least three times since we're married. And there was mead, though apparently the Ethiopian tradition isn't to ferment it to dryness, it was sweet and still working a little bit, more petulant than sparkling, quite refreshing. As the snow started to fall.

My Scion xB, I love this car, it's nearly perfect. But like all heroes, it has a mortal weakness. Snow is my car's Kryptonite. I'm not joking even a little bit, I can spin the tires on dry pavement because the car is so light, and we discussed going ahead to Wilson, KS where our next Airbnb was on Saturday night even as it was still Friday evening. But they were only calling for one to two inches and Corinna had a poetry slam she wanted to go to. So off she went to slam and I went back to Dave and Mandy's to chill out. Watched a little hockey, which Mandy educated me about (I'm hazy on the rules of the game since the last one I attended was in 1977). We talked football, they're huge Broncos fans of course, so we had lots to talk about on that score. Writing this after Christmas, I guess I'm glad our visit was before the Chiefs beat the Broncos on Christmas night.

It was more than one or two inches. By morning at least eight inches had fallen where we were. Dave took me to Autozone where I purchased chains for my car. I wish I'd taken pictures of this whole process because it was fascinating. It was also zero degrees out and I was futzing around in the snow on my knees. And Corinna was. And Dave was. It took a couple of hours to get them on right, they're tricky as hell. You end up having to roll on them a little, retighten, roll a bit more, retighten etc.

Then what you have is a car that sounds like a B17 bomber is flying through it. But the chains work. They hurt my ears so bad I put in ear plugs, but I'm certain I wouldn't have gotten out of Dave's neighborhood without them.

Then we're on I-70 and it's not without patches of snowpack, but it's mostly clear and cars are flying past me. With the chains, you're not supposed to go over 30 mph. Dave said I might be able to get away with 40, and I did end up testing that theory. After a while, we heard a slapping sound, one of the cables turned out to have broken. We ticked it in to a hole in the bungee and went on until we heard more slapping. At which point we rolled the dice and took the chains off.

There were some scary ice covered bridges as we got closer to Wilson but the front range and Western Kansas hadn't gotten quite as much snow and the plows had done a good job of blading and treating it. So our five hour drive from Denver only took eight on top of a couple of hours in the driveway. When we checked in to the lovely historic Midland Railroad Hotel in Wilson, KS the idea of driving more that day was Not Funny.

And the hotel was gorgeous. Extremely high ceilings, lots of wood, and the bar, after that long cold drive (my toes were cold all damn day, despite wool socks and Red Wing shoes). I wanted a drink. Corinna wanted dessert. It turns out, you don't have to just have one, the bartender suggested hot buttered rums for us. If you've never had one, it's brown sugar and the same spices you'd generally find in eggnog dissolved in boiling water, topped up with a dram of dark rum and a pat of butter. I mean to tell you, after a drive like that, I could probably have downed three or fourteen of these things, though I ended up just having the one and after some quality time with my phone capturing Pokémons and crushing candy to let the cortisol from those icy bridges subside, I fell deeply asleep and woke to a spectacular continental breakfast (most times it seems 'continental' means stale donuts, but this one was great with hard boiled eggs, summer sausage, kolaches and so on).

Actually, scarier than the ice covered bridges was exit 199. Gertrude informed me that my exist for Wilson coming from Colorado was #206, and this turned out to be true, but #199 said it was the turn for Wilson Lake and I wondered if the hotel was actually on that road—I've been through Wilson a couple of times in the past, not super recently, but the place I thought I'd booked the room was on the same road that goes by Wilson Lake on the way to Lucas. Anyway, I slowed down a lot as I took that #199, and it was a good thing. I was slowing down because those ice covered bridges, I wasn't sure if the off ramp would be bladed and treated as well as the highway, but I was still expecting a straight shot ramp, and it turned out to be an old cloverleaf turn off. If I'd hit that going anything near highway speeds, we'd have vaulted straight into the field, it could have been really, really ugly.

But by the next day in Wilson the roads were already improving, the sun was shining brightly and we headed toward Lucas, which was the target when I pulled this hotel up on Airbnb. When I punched in Lucas on Airbnb, in fact, the old railroad hotel in Wilson was the only option I was offered. At $81, it wasn't as cheap as our Salina Airbnb had been, but it was certainly reasonable given the accommodations (and given that it's the only game in town).

There's more to Wilson than I remembered. And we didn't end up hitting any of the stuff I remember, the old jail and the little lodge with the kolache bakery, I think those might have been off that earlier exit I'd had my little freak out on the night before. That lodge was what I thought I'd booked when I Airbnb'd the Midland Railroad Hotel. I only vaguely recalled it from almost nine years ago when I passed through there on the way to the World's Biggest Ball of Twine in Cawker City.

Checkout wasn't until 11:00 at the Midland but we were eager to get to Lucas. Lucas, Kansas is the chronosynclastic infindibulum of the folk art world. It's impossible that such a tiny town could have so much of the stuff. Or if that's not impossible, it's impossible that such a small town could grow so much of it on their own. There's art in the Grass Roots Folk Art Museum that's not local but Miller Park, the Garden of Eden, the Deeble House, these are all phenomena that occurred spontaneously in a town with one gas station and one diner. I think you can get a mouthful to eat at the bar and grill on Main, too, and there's Brant's meats and a community theater but it's still an awfully small town to spawn so much art.

Imagine my shock when we rolled in to Lucas on a Sunday morning in December and everything was closed. Well, not the gas station or diner, but the Garden of Eden, the Grass Roots Folk Art Museum, that stuff wasn't going to be open until 1:00 p.m.

It's not shocking, I know, but it is a bitter thing to realize that you could have stayed in that nice warm hotel bed until 10:45 when you're standing in 9ºF with the wind sweeping off the plains sufficient create subzero wind chill.

So then on top of it, Corinna wasn't that impressed. She's not as into folk art as I am, and with us being limited to what's on the outside, well. I don't know. She finally got hooked on Miller Park, the collection of rock sculptures that had at one point been moved to Hays but has since moved back to sit next to the Garden of Eden. Miller Park is easily my least favorite art in Lucas but Corinna was really getting into it.

I guess there's no accounting for what resonates with someone. That's the way it is with all art, you either respond or you don't, and nothing is universal. It's how I can really like Megadeth and really not like Metallica—and given the fact that Dave Mustaine was a founding member of both, you'd think the similarities would carry over to where a fan of one is a fan of both.

I think if we'd gotten inside the Deeble house, the Grass Roots center and the Garden of Eden house, there would have been more Corinna dug. Also, if the snow hadn't been covering a lot of the details on the Deeble house's backyard dioramas.

Which I guess just gives me an excuse to go back. Visit the world's biggest toilet and all the rest. Maybe on my way to or from another crack at shooting Garden of the Gods.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dad's 80th

So we had a little get together at my Dad's church for his 80th birthday.

I feel really lucky to still have both my parents (and a step parent as a bonus) still alive, active and close by. I mean, Dad just turned 80 this is far from guaranteed.

My brother suggested we might mic up and say toasts and make speeches and stuff, and that never quite happened. But lots of friends and family came through. I think if I was going to toast, what I'd probably end up telling is stories I remember about my Dad from growing up. Partly because in preparation for the party I found myself scanning old photos from my childhood.

They were mainly vacation shots, we didn't take pictures of every meal and kitten pose to share with our Facebook friends back then. The camera came out for vacations, parties, holidays. I remember these vacations, but it's hard for me to believe they were possible.

I remember going to Houston and Padre Island in Texas, then cutting over through the Painted Desert and whatnot to Mesa, Arizona to visit relatives. In a 1968 Bel Air with no air conditioning. In July and August. Me and my brother eight and six or something like that at the time. Picking fights with each other in the back seat of a hot and windy car for hours and days.

We visited my Uncle in Houston, swam and caught clams (that ended up giving everyone the runs) at Padre. Then, after a hot, gusty all day drive across the Southwest, I remember coming to a little town with a Motel and my parents decided this was the overnight stop. My Dad went over to the little taco stand across from the motel, the only place to get a mouthful to eat. He stressed to them not to make the burritos too spicy. Then when we got them open in the motel room they were loaded with green chilis and Dad just lost it. I think the restaurant had already closed by this point and he didn't even have someone he could yell at. We must have picked the chilis out and eaten it, or else Mom had something in the cooler that would get us by, I don't remember. But I remember the pattern of invective, it sounds just like me when I realize I've gotten the shaft and I'm powerless to do anything about it.

I remember fishing, I remember going in the evening after dinner to Douglas State Fishing Lake in Baldwin where we lived until right before I turned five. So we must have done it more than once because that's near the barrier as far as my childhood memories.

Back there in the Baldwin memories, our house was next door to a rental house some college kids shared. I remember Dad getting on his trench coat in his pajamas to go holler at the kids to turn down their stereo because it was rattling our windows and people are trying to sleep.

He hassled the kids next door enough that at one point they turned their speakers around to face the other way. That lasted all of one night because the neighbor to the other side also didn't appreciate his windows being rattled, but on top of that he was on the city council and could get stuff done.

When an insurance company built a glass and steel monstrosity on the edge of our neighborhood on what had been just woods, Dad was pissed. When he learned there were plans to develop more of the woods he organized a homeowners association and managed to block at least one developer's efforts. Some of those woods were eventually developed after Dad had moved away from that neighborhood, but most of us settle for bitching about stuff, most people won't go full on activist and change the things they cannot accept.

After my parents divorced, after renting a house for a while, he put down earnest money and made an offer on a house. When he took me and my brother to see it, I recognized the neighborhood. I was like, across the street is where so and so lives. And that's so and so's house, and basically four or five of the worst assholes at my grade school who had bullied me unmercifully for years, to the extent I was allowed to transfer to a different junior high, would be our new neighbors there. I don't know if he lost his $1000 deposit, they're generally not refundable in my experience, but he backed out of that house rather than situate me like that.

There was the fort built in the back yard on a sturdy deck, also a similar platform that went up maybe 20 feet up a tree that might not have been solid enough to hold it. Homemade rubber band guns with rubber bands made from strips of a tractor innertube.

I'm also struck looking at some of these old pictures by what a big kid I was. One of Dad's nicknames for me growing up was Sasquatch. There were some real assholes at South Park Elementary in the 1970s, but that was exacerbated by me looking two or three years older than I actually was. My size and precocious vocabulary led people to think me, say, an immature twelve instead of an overgrown nine year old. The six foot tall lad in the mirrored shades at the Continental Divide, he's twelve. Plus, I was the big kid and if you could pick on the biggest kid around, you're the big man, right?

As far as those early childhood memories, I remember this sledding adventure, there wasn't much of a slope to the back yard, but when you're three or four years old, it seems it. But most of all I remember this dog who wanted to sniff and lick my face in the cold. It was a neighbor's pup, we never had a dog.

Yeah, I was a behemoth as a lad. This harmonica concert, I'm four. We moved away from that house before I turned five. It slowed down once I got to seventh grade, by which time I'd decided fitting in was bullshit anyway. Which is actually probably something I got from Dad as well.

I remember near the end of his second marriage, a short one, his second wife, wanting to go shopping for some clothes she had seen advertised in the Sunday paper. Dad didn't think it looked like such a deal, and she said, 'Cal, you just think fashion is one big rip off.'

His response was probably not a great one for the marriage, but I remember having a rare moment as an adolescent (I was fourteen) admiration for Dad when he said, 'You got it, baby.'

Some of these vacation shots are from more recently, the trip I took my daughters on to Hutchinson, Lucas and Cawker City. Anyway, like I say I'm lucky to still have my parents around and healthy.