Escape from NJ —
18 Aug 1997 04:51:39 -0700
Virginia :: 11 AUG 97
Mom. Thank-you thank-you thank-you - and Dad, God rest your
soul - for getting me out of Lakewood, New Jersey *before* I was able
to realize how awful it is there.
Central New Jersey, where I spent those 'formative years' between
the ages of 4 and 12, is a black hole of commercial strip-ways. Mile after
mile of 2 to 4 lane highway banked on both sides by enterprise: fast food,
strip malls, gas stations, gizmo supplies, bars...rarely a pretty, or
even tasteful building in the lot. Traffic signals seem placed specifically
so a truck pulling a '35 fifth wheel must stop for every light, and there
are scads of traffic lights. It is a soulless, marvel-less place, one
of those rare spots in my Rand McNally road atlas where the thick blue
interstates are preferred over the thinner red through roads that had
up to this point almost exclusively indicated country roads meandering
through the occasional quaint village or pretty little town. I'm not sure
where the country began turning ugly but by the time we reached Princeton
the happy college town seemed an oasis. After another couple hours of
stop-n-going in the ugly terrain, Louise and I gave up and took the freeway
to Howell Township, where we had lived from the mid 60s through 1972.
A few of you need to know that Louise, a year younger than myself,
is the eldest of my three sisters. She is partly responsible for motivating
the current voyage around North America. Rather, moving her loot from
the soon-to-be-sold family home in Gilford, New Hampshire was the motivator.
She asked if I might not be willing to take the truck cross-country to
move a few items of furniture from the old house down to Columbia, South
Carolina where she's now an Assistant Professor in Education. (Yes, there's
a Doctor in the family.) Vancouver to Gilford is a bit of a trek just
to move some furniture, but I've had in my head this project of documenting
Route 66 for quite a while and Louise provided the excuse for doing it
sooner rather than later.
So now Rolling Thunder is packing a lifetime of memories and
a few newer, useful things. The fifth-wheel is stocked to the gills with
boxes containing I'm not sure what; the studio at the back can only be
reached by giant-stepping over boxes and furniture. On the truck's roof
rack we've stacked the rattan couch and loveseat, mummified in 100 feet
of plastic sheeting and seven rolls of duct tape. A big blue tarp had
to suffice for a sarcophagus. The truck's profile is now slightly taller
than the trailer. My bicycle, the roof rack's usual occupant, gets stowed
in the trailer's entranceway while underway.
22:56 Louise's house; Columbia, South Carolina :: 14
So far, I can characterise this trip as a scoot from point A
to point B. Not a week's gone by without stacking up the kilometers on
the truck's odometer. But there's also been something of a nostalgia flavour
too. Part of the Vancouver to New Hampshire route retraced the westward
journey that originally brought me to Whistler way back in, oh god, 1981.
But that was minor nostalgia.
11:00 Louise's house; Columbia, South Carolina :: 16
Leaving the Rockies is a much less profound experience than
approaching that massive wall from the direction of Calgary. Pop. You're
out and into the rolling terrain in which badlands sometimes lie hidden.
Fifteen years ago, I left Calgary in a late September Blizzard. This time,
mid-July, the weather could only muster up a brief hail storm.
It was Stampede time in Calgary and so there was a necessary
trip to the Stampede grounds. The Calgary Stampede is really not so different
an experience from any of the world's dozens of agricultural fairs held
in urban settings. Fried food, a variety of musical stages, the arcades
and joy-rides and hawkers: we have these at Vancouver's annual Pacific
National Exhibition, or Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition. But what
Vancouver and Toronto don't have is the rodeo. I only managed to spend
a single evening at the stampede, but I did catch several heats of the
chuck wagon races.
Chuck Wagon Races? Four wooden wagons, more like souped-up,
man-size toy versions of the wagons used to settle the west. Each wagon
pulled by four horse power. Each wagon team accompanied by four outriders
astride their own horses. From a standing start, each team loads an object
into the wagon (a barrel or stove or something) and they're off, once
around the track. I could spend more time trying to portray the excitement
of watching these chuck wagons bomb around the track, manoeuvring for
position, sometimes busting through the tinniest of gaps to overtake the
leaders...most of the races were close and coming off the last corner
in first place was by no means a guarantee of a win. 32 horses closing
on the finish line, 16 of them hitched to wagons. It was much more fun
than I'd expected.
But the real rush came the morning I left. Rolling Thunder was
tethered in a parking lot at Canada Olympic Park (when it wasn't in the
shop having all its tires replaced). It being Stampede, the KOA and other
RV parks were full up and so the site for the luge, bobsled, nordic jumping
and freestyle skiing events, Canada Olympic Park, served the overflow.
For $15/night there was no water, electric or sewer available but they
did give out 2for1 coupons to ride the last 400 meters of Olympic luge
run. So, after getting everything ready for departure, I walked over to
the luge and gave up $13 and one of my two coupons in exchange for two
Everyone's familiar with bobsled, right? Well, luge uses the
same track. Rather than sitting up inside a little fuselage, however,
you lie flat on your back on a little sliver of sled with two long runners
that curl up like elf shoes at the front of the sled. You cradle the elf-shoe
tips between your legs just above the ankle and use them to steer-pressure
on the right tip with your right leg turns you left. When the track's
clear of the previous rider, you're launched feet-first down the track.
Top speed's something like 35 or 40 miles an hour when you start
this low (the pros, starting from the top of something like 1800m of track,
reach nearly double that), but that's plenty fast on a narrow track with
your helmet-clad noggin just inches from the ice. On the first run I bombed
down the track, bouncing off a couple walls pretty hard, but still managed
a respectable time. No wall bounces on the second run and the timer at
the bottom asked "where are you from?" Er, Vancouver. Apparently they
keep a running tally of the best three times for the day, and I was now
holding the gold medal...for *Canada*! (Visiting Americans tend to fill
up the winners board most days. The track workers were glad to have a
Canadian up there, for a change.)
I still had another coupon...two rides later I had swept the
medals. My times lasted out the remainder of the morning while I chatted
with the timer, Cathy, on a beautiful Calgary day. During the winter,
Cathy's an official for bobsleigh and luge. (Never asked her if she travels
with the sport.) Through the summer she spends a couple days a week volunteering
on the track (all the other workers are paid). We made pleasant conversation
between lugers from Canada, the US, France and Germany.
By the time I could rouse myself to leave, it was 1:30 in the
afternoon, and my times were still standing. Through the day, the track
frosts with the heat and slows down. By this time, I figured the times
would stand, but as I left I dropped my toll-free phone number on Cathy
and asked if she'd let me know how it turned out. The next day, my messages
included one from Cathy: shortly after I left someone took the gold but
I still had bronze and silver.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
War, he sung, is toil and trouble;
Honour but an empty bubble.
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying.
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, oh think, it worth enjoying.
|| John Dryden
Alexander's Feast (1697)
Sure, winning isn't everything.
It's the only thing.
||Henry 'Red' Sanders
In Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1959
(Often attributed to Vince Lombardi)