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The WMail Newsletter Essays
Volume VI - Issue #52: May 2005

"Route 66 & T.M.L.P."

        This is not a postcard about my February road trip to Chicago and back, nor an essay on 'What I Did on My Winter Vacation'. Besides having a great time, there are a few observations worth passing on, sort of a partial 'State of the Union' report.
        [Skip to the next section if not interested in the itinerary.]
        I loaded my Chevy Blazer on Sunday with books. I left Los Angeles on Monday, staying that night in Globe AZ. After dropping the books off at my storage unit in New Mexico, I continued to Santa Rosa NM for the night. Wednesday took me to Claremore OK (east of Tulsa), Thursday night was spent in Springfield IL, and I arrived at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago's Loop on time for the Landmark Education Team Management & Leadership Program [T.M.L.P.] National Weekend conference.
        I left Chicago Sunday and stayed in the Kankakee IL area; Monday night was at my brother's farm outside Joplin MO; Tuesday night west of Amarillo TX; Wednesday night in 'B-town' NM (where I am buying a house); Thursday night west of Phoenix AZ, and arrival home in Los Angeles Friday after lunch. Twelve days of real vacation – no phone, no internet, no mail, no L.A Times – for a total of 4788 miles, getting 20 mpg overall.

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        The first thing that I noticed on the trip was the rampant lawlessness. I'm used to bad drivers in L.A. – keep going thru the yellow light or get rear-ended – but the interstate highways are something else. Someday I will find or make a bumper sticker that says "I do not apologize for obeying the speed limit". Whenever I found myself drifting more than 5 mph over the posted speed limit, I would slow down. Gaining speed on a downhill section was corrected by gravity while going up the next hill, or I'd just ease up on the gas pedal.
        But in every state that I crossed, there would be some jerk wanting to pass me, at or above the posted speed limit and very often they would tailgate me, trying to bully me out of their way – speed limit be damned, safety be damned. When the speed limit was 75 mph, I did not like creeping up to 80 mph, and cars of all types were passing me at 90 mph or more. And weaving in and out at 90 mph is so very dangerous, and having the rare jerk truck driver ten feet off my rear bumper was scary every time.

        Off the road, I learned a few more things about lawlessness in America. Oklahoma City is now the crystal meth capitol of America. There are billboards and even a public service radio spot there about classes or meetings to teach citizens how to detect meth labs 'in your neighborhood'. (Besides the danger from the felonious meth crowd, there is the danger of explosions and the danger of permanent chemical contamination.)
        And Tulsa OK has a major counterfeit money problem. How I found this out is that when I paid for a sandwich at an Arby's beside the freeway, the kid behind the counter held my $5 bill up to the light. I asked if Tulsa had a 'funny money' problem, just kidding around, and the kid and a customer waiting for his order were glad to explain the situation. Know that the traditional counterfeiter usually made fake $20 & $50 bills: smaller bills cost too much to make, and larger bills were (and are) subject to tighter scrutiny – very few readers, for example, carry $100 on a regular basis.
        But now the counterfeiting rings are quite confident of success in passing $5 bills and making their criminal profit. The customer at Arby's said that he managed several nightclubs and he took a $50 bill out of his wallet and showed that it had no metal strip on the left nor the watermark on the right (observed against the overhead light) BUT it had passed the pen test: I saw the still-gold test mark.
        Imagine what life is like there if you have to examine every $5 bill and larger all day long, every day, both behind the counter and as a customer – if you accept a bogus bill, then you might as well light it afire. The cost of this waste of time is enormous, and the cost to the local psychology is serious: Who can you trust? When will you get bit (again)? How much will you lose?
        The other point with these two observations is that reading this will be the first that you have heard of any such problems, right?

        On my return pass thru Tucson, I read the local newspaper. Among the local issues is their nearness to the U.S.-Mexico border – this was at the time the border vigilantes were setting up their protest across 20-some miles of frontier. The news reports included a term not in use in California: instead of 'illegal immigrants', the folks in Tucson refer to anyone crossing the border illegally as 'illegal entrants'. The term speaks to the local attitude, something like 'they get in, but the mistake is easily corrected'. In California, the attitude of many (but not all) is to welcome illegals as 'immigrants' who deserve all the rights of citizens, until that pesky paperwork can be straightened out. In Arizona, an 'illegal entrant' is clearly a criminal (with which I agree).

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        There was a shift that occurred at the beginning of my return trip. Driving to New Mexico (outbound), I intended taking a different route – I do like to explore – but because of flash flood warnings, I ended up going thru Lordsburg to Deming to Hatch, as on my previous (first) trip to New Mexico. I pulled off of I-40 or I-44 a few times to see the towns on old Route 66, which has great appeal for me. [See http://www.genordell.com/rickwalkerPI/route66.htm and http://www.genordell.com/stores/spirit/route66.htm – the second Rick Walker mystery novel takes place along California's portion of Route 66.]
        Each town or gas stop along the former Route 66 is more or less successful in surviving replacement by the interstate highway system and is variably successful at benefiting from the resurgence of interest in historic designation of sections of the 'Mother Road', the 'Main Street of America'.
        That was to be expected. As was the natural speed limit of 60 mph (sometimes posted as a maximum of 55 mph) on the two-lane or even four-lane sections. The Route 66 road itself causes you to amble along at 60 mph or less: those times were slower, the pressure to speed much less than in modern times. (The design of the interstate actually pulls you faster and faster.)

        Then, after Chicago, once my return route re-connected with I-44 in Missouri and Oklahoma, I began to get a sense of belonging, or perhaps ownership. I've lived almost my entire life in California (minus 5 years in Las Vegas NV), but on that journey to Chicago I found a real sense that I have BEEN to America, that all of America is part of me – and not just the six states that I visited on this vacation-jaunt.
        Impressions include the variations in the landscape. While most of my route was flat this trip, the terrain covered different colors of soil, many types of rock, unknown trees & bushes, and especially the roads. The interstate thru Oklahoma is tough to navigate, the turnpikes have no personality, and too bad if you're hungry or low on gas/petrol when you get on one, no food or gas may be visible for hours. Roads in Missouri, in contrast, have great signs, while towns in Illinois and Oklahoma have only one sign per intersection.

        Almost all the people that I met were quite friendly, even if I might have been displaying tired and-or grumpy. The only unfriendly innkeepers were at the Days Inn at Buckeye AZ (which cost too much and had terrible tap water).
        Several things about money became noticeable: One was that I saw not one 50-cent piece on the entire 12-day trip.
        When I paid cash for a meal or lodgings or gas, there was often a literal sigh of relief. Not sure why in every case, but the most obvious guess is the absence of the 3% or higher fee charged by the credit card companies, and the weeks of delay before the business receives the actual funds.
        And thirdly, there was often another noticeable relief when I said that I had exact change. At home, I unburden my wallet of excessive coins, but on the road I did not, so the coin pocket often got real full unless I actually paid out coin. Holding out a paper bill was a relief to many, and the statement that I had exact change was a further pleasure to the employee or proprietor, now and then even producing a smile.
        Grist for anyone needing an unusual topic for a sociology or economics thesis, perhaps.

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        It was almost impossible to engage in political discussion directly, having to cover so much ground each day, although I invited quite a few innkeepers or wait-people to join The Revolution.
        Radio itself is a different experience out on the road. The accents and the formats are ever-changing – can't say 'ever-changing choice', because in some places the choice is meager talent and bad reception. I even listened to the all-day farm report from a Kansas station, which needs doing only once.
        I listened to Rush Limbaugh call in from Afghanistan, he having a great time telling the troops that liberals do not support them – a typical outright lie. I listened to Bill O'Reilly and then to Al Franken report on O'Reilly's most recent lies – Bill was never 'in combat', he was not an astronaut, but his listeners have no skepticism, they are believing sheep without critical faculties. And I listened to some guy for half an hour who never identified himself and had soon-tiring applause & boo-moan soundbites – I was glad when the signal faded out. Ann Coulter is almost pretty, but her soul is a black-hole of deceit.
        I was confused about the status of Air America – http://www.AirAmericaRadio.com – especially based on remarks from right-wing radio. The Al Franken segment that I heard on the trip was from December, I think, but the Randi Rhodes segment was same-day. Since the trip, I have found that Air America has a new outlet in Los Angeles – http://www.progressivetalk1150.com [AM 1150] – and that the network is growing rapidly all over the country.

        There were several non-political news-talk stations here and there, on health or investments. But the show that I was most impressed with was Ed Schultz, based in Fargo ND. My own experience as a disk jockey (in Las Vegas NV) compels me to want him to hire a voice or speech coach, but the content was entirely palatable. The right-wing talk-show hosts are irrational at best, and what I've heard of Air America often comes across as shrill and reactive, but Schultz talks issues and not sides. Probably can't call him a centrist American, the views I heard qualify as very left of Dubya; but the impression that I got was of a reasoned approach, and an inclusive attitude, where the term 'all-American' is apt. Schultz speaks less from 'for or against' and more from 'we all have problems that need work', and it makes sense that his solutions are leftish (since so much of America's problems are caused by the neo-cons giving their allegiance to the Oligarchy and not to the people of America).

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        On the return to New Mexico, I arrived about 2 p.m. from Amarillo TX, and stopped at a realtor that I had found earlier on the internet. Spent an hour there, got printout of five houses for sale, went to the best-looking choice, and decided to make an offer. Bank repo, so 'as is' condition and tough to finance (but do-able). That house got snapped up in a week, so I took another trip and looked all over B-town and neighboring L-town, put in a bid and the escrow is to close at the end of May.
        The primary selling point is (per the old rule) location. The house I am buying is four miles from B-town's Main Street, across the Rio Grande River, atop a windswept mesa, on a quarter acre in a sparsely-populated subdivision. Facing north I can see a two-lane highway; west is the river and a mountain 40 miles away; eastward is the hump of the mesa and the forested Manzanos Mountains, which are part of the Isleta Indian Reservation. Sky in all directions, fresh air, coyotes and rabbits and deer. My only nighttime visit there was cloudy, but I expect to see stars from my back yard, and am looking forward to the annual Perseides meteor showers as well. Add a couple trees and it will be perfect.

        What is reportable is the ease with which this got done. Possibly to do with the space created by the T.M.L.P. Chicago Weekend (and a similar road trip to the T.M.L.P. Denver Weekend in May), but more likely based on my many years of Landmark Education training. On the day of the actual offer, I met my real estate guy at Noon and we drove around and I made my choice and we faxed the offer at four o'clock.
        On my last visit, I actually laughed when I parked in 'my driveway'. The seller had already posted a 'Sold' sign.
        Some paperwork still to be processed, but my 'ownership' of the house is already true in the Landmark sense, as in my 'ownership' of B-town as my intended destination and towing a loaded U-Haul trailer to a state that I had never been to. How ownership has showed up since then is in thinking about small changes, like yard plants and alarms and stepping-stone paths. Then at breakfast on the last day of my Chicago trip, halfway between Phoenix and the California border, I was noting the decor at Tonopah Joe's Truckstop & Cafe, seeing that the mini-blinds there are exactly what I want to handle the window/sun situation for the house, AND also that aesthetics require getting curtains like they had, which I believe are called 'cafe curtains'.
        No dithering. No mulling. Cut to the chase. Within 24 hours of stepping inside the realtor's office and meeting my agent Stoney, I was making a list of tasks to accomplish after which I will be living on a mesa overlooking the Rio Grande Valley with coyotes to howl lullabies for me.

        Good trip. Work to do. People to meet. Books to sell. The future includes the practice of enrollment and of capitalism and of revolution.

[copyright 2005 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved]

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