Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Escape from NJ — Part II
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 1997 21:05:22 -0700

8:45 Theodore, Alabama :: 19 AUG 95

The countryside of Alberta, East of the Rockies, was shaped by a delicate, gentle, playful hand. The line and slope of hillsides seduce the eye into perceiving a landscape as if it were beach sand viewed by a sunbather prone on their beach blanket. When the trains trailing grain cars by the dozens trundle through the scene they are swallowed whole by the land like some child's train set on the family room floor. Then the viewer comprehends the grandness of scale.

It seems in the Canadian west that a province's predominant land form extends a little into its eastern neighbour. The Rockies barge their way into Alberta. Later, rolling hillsides and badlands linger into Saskatchewan before giving way to a featureless prairie so flat and void it overcomes Manitoba's thick forest of pine.

Before reaching Manitoba's eastern border, however, the forest grows spindly in the increasingly rock-strewn soil. Ontario is coming.

America's Mid-West begins shortly after crossing the Appalachians. In Canada, the East begins at the Manitoba/Ontario border.

Ontario's an odd country. In the west we joke of its citizenry in the capital, Toronto, thusly:

Q: How many Torontonians does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Just one...they hold the light bulb above their head and the whole world revolves around them.
Perhaps this centre-of-the-universe perception underlies their referring to the lake district north of Toronto, no further than an afternoon drive from downtown, as "Northern Ontario". I believe the whole of this region lies below the 49th parallel, the line which demarcates the US/Canadian border for all the western provinces. That is, all of western Canada-and 80 or 90 percent of Ontario to boot-lie north of Northern Ontario.

21:25 Great River Road State Park; Rosedale, Mississippi :: 20 AUG 97

I saw something yesterday which, indirectly, caused me to miss writing the day's entry. I'm driving west on State Road 10 in Louisiana. Coming over the top of a hill in the Northern Louisiana forest, I notice a line of cars and trucks has come to a halt. Further down the hill, about a 1/4 mile down the hill, on the other side of a bridge at the bottom of the hill there is a house...a house, mind you, that is straddling the middle lane of SR 10.

Another quarter mile beyond the house lies an intersection where, I'd realize later, cars and trucks buzz north and south on Highway 61. I wasn't figuring to turn north at that intersection for another few miles. Guess I was making better time than expected.

In any case, there was this house between me and HWY 61, no matter how far down the road HWY 61 actually was. There was a police cruiser with blue lights blazing, down at the bridge. But here, at the front of the line of stopped cars, but in the oncoming lane, there was a big utility truck and a few guys standing around it or off in the shade of the trees who looked sorely in need of shovels to lean on. A couple folks got out of their cars/trucks, walked up to one or another of these idlers, returned to their cars/trucks, pulled a u-ey and accelerated eastward on SR 10. This process occurred in sequence, car-by-car, truck-by-truck until it was my turn to ask what it was these guys seemed to know about that house.

I opened with: "Hi there. How long is this going to take?"

"Well, yes, I'm very well-isn't it a fine day? And how are you?"

Having been thoroughly and rightfully chastised for failing the simplest measure of hospitality, I grinned to myself and tried another tack. "Yes, I'm fine as well. You know, I was just in the Carolinas and it was much hotter there than here!"

"Really?!" Came the reply.

"Umm, hmmm. 96 when I left, and more humid too."

"Well, don't that beat all."

The small pause let me know he had no further rejoinders.

"Say, you wouldn't happen to know anything about that house parked in the middle of the road, would you?" I asked with a subtle mock innocence.

"That house?" He said, gesturing with his head.


"Oh, that's going to take a while."

"Ummm hmmm?"

He pointed at some survey flags in a small clearing at the side of the road. I should note that the forest is rather thick in this section of Louisiana, and along SR 10 it girds the highway quite snugly. Here, however, on the north side of SR 10, was a very small clearing that one might park a long narrow mobile home. I'd just watched a pickup truck towing an equipment trailer use half that grassy space for a semi-circle arc of his u-turn. The survey flags occupied the half of that grassy space the driver didn't need in order to make half a turn.

"See," said my idler and potential saviour, "that house has to go there." He said this without any sense of irony.

"Ummm hmmm," responded I.

See, a quarter mile down the road and straddling the centre line, was a house. Not a sliver-thin mobile home, though it was now on wheels and being towed by a semi. It was not even one of those prefab wide-loads that sometimes comes flying around a corner right behind the little Japanese pickup with the sign. You know, the ones that have you ducking for the soft shoulder when, in fact, you had plenty of room to get by? No, this was an uprooted house and I could just as easily have said it straddled SR 10, because what looked like the kitchen spread 6 or 8 feet over the highway's south shoulder and the family room would've been the same distance over the north shoulder. Apparently, that hadn't posed a problem until they reached this bridge.

"See, they're jacking the thing up," the idler needlessly stated. Somebody forgot about the *guard rails* on the bridge, which seemed to from my vantage point about a quarter mile away to be about 5 or so feet high. Which would've been OK if the trailer used to tow the house raised the behemoth 5 or so feet from the road bed. But it didn't. They had a good three feet of jacking to do.

So I'm thinking an hour to get the house past the bridge, if I'm lucky. And then another hour-no, two hours-to clear enough forest to get the whole house off the road. And it's nearly 5:30 already. While I'm figuring all this out, the idler's reading my thoughts.

"Which way ya goin'?"

"Huh? Oh. North."

"Oh, you'll wanna turn 'round, go back 'round."

I'm nodding my head, already contemplating the little space where the other truck had turned around.

"Ya could turn there," he says, pointing right where my eyes were already resting. "Maybe not the best place for a big trailer, like yours. No one says ya has to, but ya could turn around there."

"Ummm, hmmm," rubbing my chin. To say the shoulder drops off precipitously would be an exaggeration, unless you've ever driven a 35' fifth-wheel that's already had it's contents shaken like a 007 martini once or twice. The shoulder drops off more than I'm comfortable with. Fine for some guy in a 1/2 ton truck pulling a dinky equipment trailer...

I thank the fellow for his time and turn back up the highway to scope out whether there're any better places to turn around behind me. Right about now, as more folks drive up and turn around, and those who don't turn around ask me what's going on, as if I work there, and then ask directions for how to get around the blockage, as if I live there, right now I'm wondering why there isn't a detour sign set up. I'm wondering why the police car, and its occupant, aren't back up the highway diverting traffic, particularly big traffic-like my rig, and the two semis that have just pulled up-around this mess. And as I'm beginning to think I'll have some time to study the road atlas, a driveway appears just a couple hundred meters back up the road.

After convincing all the cars behind to turn around, and the semis to pull off the side of the road, I back the rig 200 yards and into the driveway. (I'd like to say the manoeuvre was pulled off with faultless aplomb that had even the semi drivers awed, but in fact I only mildly embarrassed myself with a couple false starts, and had one set of trailer wheels firmly on the gravel driveway. The grass will recover.)

Of course, the detour had me on byways not appearing in the Rand McNally road atlas. It was a little unnerving for the bumpy, bouncing, bucking ride and the low branches that occasionally broke off when struck by a 10'+ tall RV. Still, I wasn't too worried since by now I've battened down all the hatches.


So, the reason I couldn't write last night's entry; the reason I'm even bothering to tell you all this, is that somewhere on that roller-coaster redirection I developed another reason to get out the tool box. For those of you who haven't seen the inside of my mobile studio, the speakers are suspended from overhead cabinets in the back. One of them is quite securely suspended with all kinds of discretely hidden hardware. Well, now they're both quite securely suspended with all kinds of discretely hidden hardware, but when I first got in the trailer last night, the bottom of the cabinet on one side had become somewhat unhinged.

So, rather than writing in my journal last night, and finishing "Escape from NJ", I spent two hours to rehinge the cabinet work and securely suspend one speaker from the rehinged cabinet.

Now you'll have to wait for the completion of "Escape from NJ" in Part III.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
Whenever I read travel books, I am so grateful that other people go to far-flung places, climb mountains, join expeditions and then write about their experiences. I feel grateful because I can vicariously travel with them - without having to get out of bed.
  graphical element Sark
Author & a woman who has travelled extensively.