Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 8

We started the day early, not intentionally, but just because that was when we were up and fed. To start, we headed south out of Reno to visit Alpine County, California, part of a three-county island of unvisited counties in the map of my travels. We got to the state line and stopped to take a picture. My wife, a native Californian, was very happy to be back.

This made me start questioning my decision to never move back. Perhaps I had been too rash. I had made the resolution nine years ago. Maybe California wasn't really that bad, or maybe it was bad but no worse than anywhere else, or maybe it was better, or at least could get better. I began to wonder if, once we return from China, we could live in California.

Once we turned around, we stopped in Carson City to take a picture of the state capitol. While we were there, I needed to use a restroom, and since I'm not an unreasonable child, I decided to find a restroom while we were in a city instead of waiting ten more minutes and then being reminded of my need by the complete absence of all restrooms. So while my wife tried to take a picture of the capitol, I went in a casino to use the restroom.

My wife had a hard time getting a shot. Nevada's capitol is surrounded by dense trees, planted there for the express purpose (it seems) of making photography of the capitol impossible. Because terrorism.

Meanwhile, Crazy Jane was completely freaked out by the prospect I would gamble while heading to or from the restroom. My wife sent me with some nickels, which made Crazy Jane flip her lid even more. But good news, Crazy Jane: the days of gambling a few nickels at a time are over. I walked through acres of slot machines, but I had no idea how much they cost or how I'd put in money. It's all card-based now, I guess. And whatever happened to the good old-fashioned slot machine, with no theme aside from three cherries being a good thing? Now everything has a theme to it. It's not enough to watch wheels go around, the wheels have to be associated with some brand you favor. One of the slot machines was an honest-to-goodness Ferris Bueller's Day Off machine. Presumably, three Rooneys is a bad thing and three Von Steuben Day parade floats is a good thing.

When we returned to Reno, we stopped by the temple, then headed north of town on US-395, where we crossed back into California, this time to stay.

A few miles beyond the border was a California agricultural inspection station. If you've never driven into California you might be unaware that California stops every vehicle and asks if you have any produce or plants. If you do, and you're driving a commercial vehicle, they inspect the vehicle. If you're just a regular citizen, they destroy your produce. This is why my mother's 10-year-old houseplants were abandoned when we moved to California in the 1980s. This is why my wife has memories of her mother making everyone eat all their remaining produce quickly before reentering California from visits to Utah.

I knew I'd be within my rights to crack my window and ask, "Am I being detained?" but I didn't really see a point to that. The way my past experiences at ag inspection stations worked, they ask if I have any fruit and I say I don't and they let me drive on. But today was different, because today was the day I started thinking, "Maybe living in California's not as bad as I'm remembering it."

I stopped and put down my window. The inspector asked if we had fruit. I said no. He said, "I'd like you open the trailer, please." He said it that way because he had no legal basis to ask. I knew I didn't have to comply, but I also knew he could prolong the encounter to make my refusal more unpleasant than compliance would have been. I had to turn off the car to take my keys to the back to unlock the trailer. I did not say anything as I complied. But because I wasn't chatty enough, the inspector could tell I was upset about it.

Bear in mind, I was going to unhappily comply and then leave. The inspector decided that wasn't good enough. So it must not be compliance that is his true objective. It was the thoughts of my heart that mattered to him.

As we walked to the back of the car, he said, "Does this anger you?" I said, "Yes, it does, actually." He asked, "On constitutional grounds?" I said yes. He said, "Driving on the roads of California is a right, not a privilege."

Which is completely irrelevant.

I'm aware that operating a motor vehicle on a state's roads is a revokable privilege. But it cannot be revoked on whatever basis the state wants. Submission to unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be a requirement of keeping the privilege, any more than the state can deny marriage licenses to those who exercise their freedom of speech. The state cannot require you surrender your constitutional rights, and the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

On what grounds did I feel this was unreasonable? He asked me if I had fruit and I said no. What logic-based cause did he have to doubt me? This was not a random search, where the state would just have to show that all searches are reasonable and only some are executed in the interest of time. This search would not normally happen, but in my case it did, and there was no logical reason to assume I was not telling the truth when I answered his initial question.

So I said, "That has nothing to do with this. You're searching my property without cause." He said, "That's not your property, that belongs to U-Haul." As if U-Haul's owners have no Fourth Amendment rights or as if those rights don't matter when the owner is absent. I said, "The things inside the trailer aren't U-Haul's, and that's what you're actually inspecting." He started telling me about an invasive species he found in a tiny crack of a trailer once. I said, "We understand the need to prohibit invasive species. We grew up in California. But you have no reason to believe I have an invasive species in my trailer." He said, "I have two reasons: you are pulling a trailer, and you're license plate is from back east." I asked, "All trailers from Ohio are carrying fruit?" He said, "Some are." By this time, I was back in the car and had the engine running, so I left.

I was very upset that what looked like an agriculture inspection station had in fact become a thought inspection station. My inspection took longer because I had heterodox thoughts. If I'd been happier to comply, there would have been no problem.

We drove on, stopping for lunch at Jack in the Box in Susanville. When I went to California State Summer School for the Arts, a kid in my group was from Susanville and was quite tortured by the fact. He had this persecuted-genius-artist complex, convinced that everyone else in Susanville was trying to wound his soul or something. I didn't get that feeling in town, though I did have to see a lady use a tennis-ball-flinging-wand to scoop dog poop out of the bed of her truck (which she then flung into some bushes).

Next, we went to Lassen Volcanic National Park, where another low-level bureaucrat decided to use her authority to remind me that she had power and I did not. You see, we visit many national parks, and our children always participate in the junior ranger program. At some parks, the rangers are happy to have kids participate, and at others, the rangers use the opportunity to teach my children that the person with the badge is in charge. We often have problems with rangers who refuse to let Jerome participate because he's too young, and when we tell them the kid can handle anything designed for a boy twice his age, they think, "Of course parents will think that." So we're used to the idea that at some parks, the junior ranger program is a great experience, and at other parks, it's really unpleasant and only something we do because our kids are hoarders.

I went to the counter and asked the ranger if they had a junior ranger program. She said they did. She asked me how long we were going to be in the park. I said, "An hour or two." She said, "The program takes at least four hours."

We've encountered this type of response before. They are often wrong, because they don't know that our kids are faster than the average kid. So we just ignore these statements and complete the program. But this ranger would not give me the books because I wasn't going to be in the park long enough. She had authority over a children's activity book and she was going to maximize the reach of that authority. So she said it takes four hours and I just ignored her and said, "I'd like three books." She said, "I can't give them to you because we only have so many and we can't give them to everyone." So we had told our children all day that the small prize for this segment of the ten-day car trip was a junior ranger badge, but this bureaucrat decided we didn't get them.

Both of these bureaucrat interactions killed my budding "maybe California's not that bad" feeling. Yes, California is that bad. Central authority is to be respected at all costs, and contrary thoughts are persecuted as much as contrary actions. It is completely emasculating and contrary to the western tradition of personal liberty to have to submit to these intrusions. "Why did Dad stop the car?" Because someone else is in charge of when I can drive and when I can't. "Why didn't Dad get junior ranger booklets?" Because someone else is in charge of whether I can have them.

We came down out of the mountains, gaining about 35 degrees of temperature in an hour, and stopped for two days at my wife's sister's house.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 7

Walking to the car in the morning, Screamapilar started to cry.

Another day in the car. We drove across Snake River Valley to Twin Falls, where we stopped to get some lunch. My wife got Cafe Rio for her and me, while I got Dairy Queen hot dogs and chicken strips for the kids. Then we headed south on US-93.

For this trip, we had seen every license plate but Hawaii and Rhode Island. Our trip earlier in the month, we had seen every license plate but Hawaii, Wyoming, and North Dakota. My wife wanted to combine both trips, since they were both in July, but this was the final day of July and we still had not seen a Hawaii plate. But crossing from Idaho to Nevada on US-93, heading the other direction was a Porsche from Hawaii. So in July we saw all 50 states, DC, and seven of 10 Canadian provinces.

I wish the rest of the drive across Nevada was that interesting. But it wasn't. Not at all. But it did feature several pee breaks on the side of the road.

We drove through my final six counties for Nevada, which was my 14th completed state.

We spent the night with a childhood friend of my wife, who now lives in Reno. Our homeschooled kids got a healthy dose of socialization from her children, who played video games in silence next to my children, who in turn played video games in silence. And the kids probably all went away thinking, "I got along well with those other kids."

My wife and daughter now have only one county remaining to visit in Nevada.

Westward Migration, Day 6

We woke up in Wyoming and headed out of Casper to the southwest, into the mountains. Our first stop was Independence Rock, which was not as exciting as it was when I played "Oregon Trail" in fifth grade.

Next, we went to Devil's Gate, which is actually just down the road from Independence Rock. You can easily see one from the other.

Then, we went to Martin's Cove, which is just the other side of Devil's Gate.

I'm not sure if my wife and children have ancestors from the Martin or Willey handcart companies, or who helped with the rescue. Maybe they should watch 17 Miracles to find out. (That was a little "Legacy and The Work and the Glory aren't actually church history" joke for my wife, who sort of half-seriously wants to see the Steeds' house in Nauvoo every time we visit.)

As we continued west, we thought we saw antelope, which was very exciting for my wife, but it turns out they were pronghorn sheep which "are not officially recognized as antelope, but locally referred to as such," according to Wikipedia.

We stopped to see South Pass City, which was the type of major disappointment of a destination my father loves to visit. As a child, I would have spent the better part of a day in that town. As an adult with children of my own, we didn't get out of the car.

We drove through open range, with large menacing signs warning of livestock collisions. In my extensive traveling around the empty part of the country, I've seen a variety of open range warning signs. Utah has placid cows standing in profile. Nevada has angry cows hopped up on meth, ready to charge. Wyoming has "YOU WILL DIE AND LEAVE A TERRIBLE-LOOKING CORPSE!!!!eleventy!!!" warning signs. It's hard to say which approach is best, although the Utah sign is easily graffitied to look like the cow is riding a skateboard, which is fun.

After several pee breaks along the side of the road, we eventually crossed into Utah near Bear Lake. Originally we weren't going to go through Utah, but we were very close to Bear Lake and my wife had seen friends' Facebook posts about raspberry milkshakes, which evidently bring all the raspberry-loving boys to the yard. Or at least to Bear Lake. So we stopped for some milkshakes.

Driving up the western shore of Bear Lake, we crossed into Crazy Jane's 1,000th county.

Our kids worked really hard on this trip at perfecting their ill-timed bathroom needs. Jerome was especially good at expressing indignation at the thought he might need a bathroom when one was nearby, and then demanding immediate relief within moments of passing the last bathroom for miles. So he got to poop at a boat ramp west of Soda Springs, Idaho.

We got to Preston, Idaho, where we had a hotel room for the night. After having spent the previous night in a recently-renovated Courtyard, Preston's Plaza Motel looked a little shabby, but the truth is that the place was quite pleasant for what it was (an independent motel in a town of 13,000 people). I've stayed at worse hotels and motels before. The wifi, however, was terrible, but that could have been a result of all the other guests being single men on work assignments from construction and utility companies (if you know what I mean).

We went for a walk around Preston, where we saw Napoleon Dynamite's high school.

We looked for The Cuttin' Corral as we walked around town, but didn't find it. However, we did see the birthplace of Matthew Cowley, and the fact that it is marked as a site of interest tells you something about Preston.

Leaving the grocery store, where we bought some food for dinner, my daughter, who was wearing her Fernando Torres jersey, was given a ribbing by another grocery store patron. "There are better players on Chelsea than Torres," he said by way of introduction. He was wearing a Manchester United jersey, which made my children suspect he was suffering from brain damage. The fact that this conversation happened in Preston, Idaho, tells you everything you need to know about the changing tastes of American sports fans.

Not that many new counties for the day because the counties we visited were gigantic.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 5

We went back to my friend's house to say goodbye (and to report back that we hadn't burned their guesthouse to the ground). Then we headed out for the mountains.

The state of Kansas marks each license plate with the county in which it is registered. When we lived in Kansas, we kept track of which counties we had seen, with the goal of seeing a license plate from each of the state's 105 counties. To motivate the kids to vigilance, we promised them ice cream as our treat for completion.

When we left Kansas, we had seen plates from 104 counties. The only county we were missing was Cheyenne County, in the extreme northwest corner of the state. Well, when we woke up this morning at my friend's place, our first destination was Cheyenne County, which was also the final county I needed to visit in Kansas. However, we learned several years before that visiting a county doesn't always mean you see a license plate registered in that county; we drove across the middle of Greeley County, Kansas, in 2009 and saw no other cars at all. So we detoured from the highway through downtown Benkelman, Nebraska, hoping that, since it was the closest "big town" (pop.: 953) to Cheyenne County, perhaps someone drove to town for an early Tuesday morning of shopping. My wife and kids were greatly pleased when we saw exactly that. They had finally earned their ice cream.

A few miles south of Benkelman, we crossed the state line and I visited the final county of Kansas, completing my twelfth state. Then we took a round-about path through northeast Colorado, completing my thirteenth state.

We stopped to see Colorado Highway 52, because the number 52 was an inside joke with my high school friends.

Then we headed farther west, and eventually we could see mountains. We stopped by the construction site of Fort Collins Colorado Temple, then turned north.

Our oldest son, Articulate Joe, has been in love with Wyoming for some time. It seems that his affection is entirely based on the state's name beginning with the same letter as his own name. But Wyoming isn't the only state that starts with a W. He's been to Wisconsin, and he's been to every county of West Virginia. Oh well. Wyoming is where it's at, apparently.

As we approached Wyoming, the sky darkened as if we were approaching the gates of Hell itself. (Which, one could argue, we were.) Eventually, the word's of Louis XV came true: "After Colorado, the deluge." We detoured through Cheyenne to see the state capitol, then headed north to Casper, where we had reserved a hotel room. The downpour was occasionally so severe as to stop most traffic on the road's shoulder. At a gas station in Glendo, Wyoming, I went to the counter with two bottles of Pepsi to purchase, and the owner told me a story about how he refused to sell Pepsi in 1964 because he thinks Pepsi tastes terrible. The implication was that my purchase constituted a personal attack. (I've got a relative who thinks every disagreement is a personal attack. She would probably get along famously with this guy. Except that she doesn't get along with anyone, because she thinks every disagreement is a personal attack.)

We got to our hotel and ordered a pizza. I went to the lobby to await the delivery man, but then my wife texted me that he had come to the room.

Twelve new counties and two more completed states. Our kids have become very adept at sleeping in hotel rooms, just since March, when Screamapilar had to be removed from the hotel in Chicago.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 4

We woke left the next morning after taking a picture of (most of) the cousins (my brother's oldest son had already left for work by the time the rest of us got out of bed).

We went through Kansas City, Kansas, to see Sporting Park. We were sort of hoping they had a Sporting Kansas City team store or something, because Jerome is feeling left out that everyone else has a jersey from his favorite team.

Before you say this is evidence of my bad parenting, be aware that everyone else has a favorite team that doesn't change mid-sentence. Crazy Jane likes Chelsea, Articulate Joe likes Arsenal, but Jerome and I once had the following conversation:

A RANDOM STRANGER: Who's your favorite player now?


ARS: Really? I thought it was Joe Hart.

JJTM: Oh, yeah. Joe Hart.

ARS: Really this time?

JJTM: I don't know.

It has just been recently that he's fairly-consistently supported Sporting Kansas City (that's where he was born), so we thought we should try to get him a jersey before we left the country. But we drove a lap of the park and didn't see a store anywhere.

We ate lunch at a place in Junction City, Kansas, called Freddy's, which looks to be a new burger-and-hot-dog chain that is rapidly expanding across America. My mother-in-law loves hot dog restaurants, but she raised her children to call farts "freddies." We'll have to wait and see if she ever eats there.

We had left a little later than we wanted, and we weren't quite sure where we were going, so we decided to bypass the visit to Dwight Eisenhower's grave in Abilene. We got off freeways and started getting counties.

A few hours later, we were on a dirt road north of Downs, Kansas (boyhood home of John Ise), and Crazy Jane announced she had to pee. So we stopped for a bathroom break.

Now, we don't have one of those sweet Jep Robertson trailer post toilet seats (like this one, but fancier), though I still thought everything would be fine. The boys went across the road to pee freely in the sunshine the way that, well, if God didn't intend it, He should have. We left a semi-private bathroom between the car and the trailer, complete with seat. The girls were supposed to sit on the trailer tongue, hang their cheeks into the ether, and let fly. This did not live up to their fancy-schmancy standards. (News flash, girls: we were weeks away from moving to China, where squat toilets are de rigueur.) Anyway, once we were all back in the car, it seemed appropriate to share with the kids the urban legend about the couple on the first date who gets frozen to the car bumper, which for some reason every missionary from Idaho insists happened to his cousin's freshman roommate at Ricks.

A little farther up the road, trying to return to the highway, we found a farmer who decided to plant in the right-of-way. Our road dead-ended into corn, though the map showed it continuing through.

Then we wanted to take a road where the county felt ordering "BRIDGE OUT" signs was cheaper than bridge repair.

None of this was making my wife a bigger fan of county collecting.

Finally, we ended up back on the highway, heading to that great metropolis, Nicodemus, Kansas. We arrived at Nicodemus National Historic Site at 4:05, just as the park ranger was locking the door. She tried to tell us to leave. "The website says you're open until 4:30," I said. She gave me a disapproving look and said, "You're cutting it pretty close." But since we had national park passports visible in my hand, she said she'd let us in to stamp the books quickly. She noticed our Ohio plates and we mentioned we were driving to California before moving to China. Then she shooed us out and told us, "Stop by the next time you're in the area."

Is anyone ever "in the area"?

An hour later, we stopped for dinner in Oberlin, Kansas. We had two options: Subway, or a gas station, and since we also needed gas, I picked the gas station. My wife would oversee the refueling and I would run in and get us some food, and it would be faster than waiting for the "sandwich artists" at Subway (I was still smarting from the experience in Au Gres, Michigan).

This was what I thought before I met Autumn, the slowest fast-food worker in the history of food. We ordered two quesadillas and a burrito, and Autumn took (NO EXAGGERATION HERE, PEOPLE!!!) at least 40 minutes to fill the order. The first time I checked my watch was at 6:05, and I was walking back to our car with our food at 6:30. Every step was painfully deliberate. Many of her actions were counterproductive. She left my burrito tortilla in the toaster so long it became brittle and wouldn't fold. She was going to fold it anyway. When I asked for her to just dump everything onto a new tortilla, it took her several minutes to get her head around how to do that. I changed my order (twice) to help speed things along. Had I waited for her to replenish the pork, we'd be residents of Oberlin today. (Perhaps she was acting on orders of city elders trying to capture unsuspecting travelers. Well played, Autumn. Well played.)

Since I had a burrito to eat, and my wife treats speed limits as personal effronteries, she drove while I ate. Soon, we were rolling into the big city destination of the evening: Max, Nebraska (population: 57), where we were going to stay with my first-grade friend, whose name I can't share because I'm about to tell you a story I promised her I'd never share with anyone.

In first grade one day we were leaving school, my friend and I. She said she had to use the bathroom. She said, "You can come in if you want." So I went in. She went in the stall, and I looked around, wondering where the urinals were. (Before you think, "A Random Stranger didn't know about female anatomy," let me just say you don't know my father. I knew so much about female anatomy that I personally set the entire first grade straight on a couple of key points. Before I moved in, everyone thought that, if you were walking in line and the person in front of you stopped short and you ran into the back of him, you'd just "humped" him and he was going to have your baby, irrespective of the sex of the collision victims. I ended that nonsense with a quickness.) Anyway, there I was, taking in the ladies' room for the first time, when my friend called out, "[A Random Stranger]!" I turned to see what she wanted. She had thrown open the stall door and was standing with her pants at her ankles and her shirt pulled up to her armpits. She yelled, "I don't have a wiener!" The stall door slammed into the stall wall and rebounded, closing itself. The whole thing took less than two seconds. But, like I said, I already knew all about female anatomy, so I just said, "I know." She finished up and we left, and I thought nothing more about it until high school, when all of a sudden we were in the same German class and I thought, "I've seen that girl naked." I asked her once if she remembered this story and she adamantly denied it, but she did so while blushing, and eventually she told me I couldn't tell anyone. So now you know why I can't use her name, or the picture we took of the two of us together during this visit.

She showed us around her property and talked about ranching and farming. Our kids got to ride in the backseat of an extended cab pickup truck without seat belts, which they loved almost as much as they loved waiving at cows around the farm.

My friend let us stay at their "hunting cabin" about 30 miles down the road from their place. It was very nice and came with a complementary copy of The Stockdog Journal, which featured an article about a prized bitch. I swear, I read it for the articles.

Thirteen new counties for me, coming within one county of completing Kansas.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 3

Our kids wanted to go to church in our old Lawrence congregation, so we woke up Sunday morning and left for Lawrence, which is about an hour from my brother's house.

We've been back to visit old wards a lot, so I've learned a little something about how it goes.

  1. Many of your friends have moved. Remember, there was something that made you leave, and that same thing probably affected them, too.
  2. Many of your remaining friends are out of town. If you have time to visit, it's probably summer vacation or a holiday, so they are visiting people, too.
  3. Who you like is not always the same group of people as who likes you. So the people you're excited to see will disappoint you with their cool reception, and the people who are excited to see you will be disappointed with your cool reception.
  4. Most of the ward is new. All these new people have new common interests and inside jokes that you won't get.
  5. If you were really such great friends, you would have seen these people some other time or place. If you're in town but not getting invited to their house, you're not really friends. You're former wardmembers.
If I had more free time, I'd write a book entitled You Can't Go Home Again. Patent pending.

But my kids don't know any of that. So, like a good parent, I facilitated their disillusionment by taking them to church in their old ward.

One positive came from this: a ward member who is a professor of design (I think that's a real thing; maybe he's been living an elaborate lie all these years) and so always has neat sleek gadgets had a cellphone case that doubled as a wallet. This was attractive to me because I often have three things to place in my two front pockets: keys, wallet, and cellphone. I don't like carrying my wallet in my back pocket for two reasons. Firstly, because it makes my ass look huge (and my ass doesn't need any encouragement on that front). Secondly, because it is harder for someone to pick your pocket if your wallet is in front. But carrying a phone and a wallet in the same pocket often doesn't fit. If I had a wallet-phone-case combination, I would only have to lose one thing to completely ruin my life, whereas previously I'd have to lose two.

My wife loves cream cheese doughnuts from a place called Munchers Bakery. (One of life's unfairnesses is how much my wife eats dessert while remaining totally hot. And I'm like the amateur drinker trying to hang with Hemingway but waking up under the table every morning. She buys the desserts, we both eat them, and I get fat. There is no God.) My wife called in an order to Munchers, so after church we had to go pick them up. One of the ward members who knew we were coming had bought some as a surprise present for my wife. So we ended up with a giant pile of cream cheese doughnuts.

This picture was taken by my wife in 2009 before we moved so she could be sure she'd always have the bakery's contact information. Seriously.

We found out that the new library was having its grand opening, so we went to check it out. (No pun intended because the pun is actually so terrible it's not really a pun.) The library was very nice and my children quickly declared that, upon our return from China, they want to live in Lawrence again.

We stopped by our old apartment and snuck the kids into the front yard to take their picture next to the tree like we used to do.

Notice how, in each of these pictures, Crazy Jane is keeping a different brother from running away. In 2005 it was Articulate Joe, in 2009 it was Jerome Jerome the Metronome, and in 2014 it was Screamapilar.

Finally, on our way out of town to return to my brother's house, we stopped by the garage door factory where I worked for two months in the fall of 2005, when my life was at its absolute worst. You'd think that, nine years later, I'd be cool with it now. I'm not.

Back at my brother's house, the kids played with their cousins (including jumping on the arm-breaker tramampoline) and checked out the farm animals.

Even though my brother has a son very close in age to Screamapilar, my brother's kids think Screamapilar is adorable and their brother is just okay, and my kids think the same thing about their cousin.

A few new counties for Screamapilar, and Jerome Jerome the Metronome returned to his county of birth. On our way to Lawrence, we rode past a bicycle race. Two black women were riding together. My wife said, "It's nice to be back where we see some racial diversity." I said, "I think you are the first person to ever say that about Kansas in a non-ironic way." It is true that Lawrence is fairly diverse, but I didn't feel like our cities in Virginia or Ohio were especially Caucasian. But there you have it: my wife thinks Kansas is a hot-bed of racial diversity.

Westward Migration, Day 2

We woke up and broke camp. Or rather, I broke camp while our kids sat on the side of the world's oldest U-Haul trailer. Part of what excited the kids about the trip was that the trailer was identical to the one in the opening scene of Granite Flats, a television show set in 1962.

We went to my final two counties of Kentucky. One of the side-effects of trying to visit every American county is that I always have a list of things to see, no matter how remote a part of the country we're in. But since we were trying to visit my brother's family in Saint Louis and they wanted a precise estimate of our arrival time, we bypassed a number of sites in far-western Kentucky, such as Monkey's Eyebrow and Kentucky Bend, and I did not try to swim across the Mississippi River (because there's no bridge crossing on the Kentucky/Missouri border and I am trying to make every possible state-pair border crossing in the U.S.). We went through Cairo, Illinois, which was interesting to our kids because of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and because it features prominently in Across Five Aprils, a book we read last year.

As we travel around the country, we notice license plates. We like to keep track on a trip and see how many license plates we can see. When I was commuting back and forth from northern Virginia to Richmond, I could usually see 40 different states' plates each day. Our last trip through New York got us 46 states (all but North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii) and seven provinces. We started counting again on this trip, but my wife thought we should combine the two trips, since they were so close together, and we didn't have a good chance seeing New England states again. As we drove through Kentucky, though, we did see something that we don't usually see on license plates: boobs.

Do you see the boobs? Here, let me enhance them for you. I know not everyone likes enhanced boobs, but sometimes they're required to make a point. Like, "I don't have a lot of self-confidence."

Now do you see the boobs? I said to my wife, "It's the least-offensive* depictions of breasts I've ever seen, but it's still a drawing of breasts on a license plate." I like license plates a lot, but I've never before seen one that made me horny.

We got to Saint Louis, where my wife's inability to take adequate downtown pictures really shone through. We went to my brother's house and visited for an hour or two.

We left town past Saint Louis Missouri Temple. It began to rain, and rained pretty much the entire way across Missouri.

When we lived in Lawrence, Kansas, and would drive to see my parents in Chesterfield, Missouri, we never made the drive straight through. Sometimes that was because we were getting counties in rural Missouri (which was how we saw the Laura Ingalls Wilder farm in Mansfield, Missouri), and sometimes it was because we were making the drive with kids and had to stop for a bathroom break (which was how my daughter ended up using a urinal in Columbia, Missouri). This time, with older kids and all the counties of Missouri already visited, we made the four-hour drive in four hours. It was amazing just how close Saint Louis actually is to Kansas City when you don't screw around driving between them.

We stopped in Independence, Missouri, to see President Truman's grave. I'd been there before with my wife and some of our children, but I'm not sure if we took a picture of his grave like we've been doing of other presidents' graves lately. (How's that for the world's latest adverb? No time for revision; move on!) It was fortunate for us that we knew how to get to the Truman Library, because many of us had to go to the bathroom. (This is what happens when you don't stop in Columbia.) However, comma, when we got to the library, it was closed. Bad news on the bathroom front, but okay news on the picture-taking front, because I remembered his grave being outside. Except it turns out it is outside in a courtyard in the middle of the locked building. The bastard.

After a quick stop at a nearby McDonald's, we went to see Kansas City Missouri Temple, which was built after we left Kansas.

We stopped at a gas station in Overland Park, Kansas. When we lived in Kansas, we stopped at this gas station many times, but since we left, it had been redone. Now it had a mammoth car wash across the back where for outrageous prices you can watch your car move down a car wash conveyor belt. At least 20 people were watching their cars get washed. Screamapilar had a massive poop that had to be changed in the parking lot. Later, we arrived at my other brother's house.

I visited three new counties on the day, completing all 120 counties of Kentucky. Screamapilar got two new states (Missouri and Kansas), and the rest of my family got a few new counties at the southern tip of Illinois.

* = Settle down, people. I'm not saying breasts are offensive to me. Personally, I love them. I wish we were freer with breasts because they're beautiful and every day is made nicer when you see even just one boob. This doesn't make me a terrible person any more than enjoying beautiful faces does. Beauty is beauty, suckers.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Westward Migration, Day 1

I woke up at six and took the car to the dealership. There I sat in the waiting area and watched some show where teams of people buy stuff at flea markets and then try to arbitrage the crap out of it. And I tweeted.

I hate how reality TV comes back from ad w/ 30 sec. of material we've already seen. "Sex Sent Me to the E.R." is the worst at this (I hear).

14 min. past est. wait time. Today, that's an eternity. 2.25 hrs. behind schedule now. Phone battery down to 16%.

Shakira's teeth are so white.

Finally, the work was finished. I went to the trailer location and STILL could not hook up the trailer. I had to go inside the store and buy an adapter. Finally, I drove home and loaded our items into the trailer and got everyone ready to go.

Since both of my parents were out of town (my father for work, my mother to help my sister with a new child), we had our kids dress up as my parents and waive from the porch. It was easy to find some iconic clothing for my mother (she wears the same coat and hat for most of the winter), but all of my father's iconic clothing is from my childhood. I don't know that my kids have ever seen him in it. So we used one of his hats and had the kid hold a football.

We left home at 11:30. I had plans to tweet pictures of each large city we visited along the way, but the difficulty for my wife of taking pictures as we drove made it do I tweeted a series of pictures of freeway sound walls. South of Cincinnati, we stopped for some lunch at a Jimmy John's in Crescent Springs, Kentucky. We were heading south for me to get my final six counties in Kentucky. On the way, we stopped at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Site. Some of you might remember that I stopped there with Articulate Joe last summer. Well, it's still no longer Lincoln's actual birthplace.

We were trying to hurry because of the delay caused by the trailer issues. We were going to duck into the shrine, see the replica log cabin that historians now say has no real significance, and leave.

But that was before the world's slowest-talking park ranger decided he had a little something to say about it. On our way out the door, he gathered up our three oldest and some other group of kids. He said if they answered a question about Abraham Lincoln, they'd get a Civil War trading card. (The National Park Service has made a baseball-card-style series of cards featuring Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and about 48 people no kid has ever heard of. Sit back down, I don't have any to give to you right now.) He began with the youngest and asked a softball question, something like, "Who is this site about?" Another kid, another easy question. When he got to Articulate Joe, though, he increased the difficulty substantially. Joe gave an incorrect answer.

"Oh, too bad, no lame trading card today, I guess." Right? No. We had to stay until all the other kids had answered their questions, then Joe would be given a chance to redeem himself. What if he didn't want a chance to redeem himself? That's crazy talk. Everybody wants a chance to win an Ambrose Burnside trading card.

Finally, we escaped. We cut Mammoth Cave out of the itinerary and moved on.

Prior to this trip, Joe had been to 999 counties, so when we got to Allen County, Kentucky, he got out of the car to celebrate his 1,000th county. He was the third family member to reach 1,000 counties (he took my picture when I reached my 1,000th county in 2008; my wife had visited her 1,000th county on our New York trip earlier in the month, but we had forgotten to take her picture).

More driving ensued. We noticed that the thing to do in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee is to drive to the highway with a bunch of your old clothes in the trunk of your car. You set up a clothing rack and hang your wares and spend the afternoon running a mobile yard sale. I cannot begin to impress upon you how many of these mobile yard sales we saw. It is about to displace NASCAR watching as the South's favorite pastime.

My wife becomes excited when she sees road signs warning of horse-drawn carriages. I was very proud when Articulate Joe said the sign meant "Mennonite extremists" were ahead.

We got to our campsite, Piney Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, after dark. We set up the tent and tried to go to sleep. I had only slept three hours the night before and my wife hadn't slept at all that night, with a few hours dozing in the car during the drive. Our fellow campers, however, had other plans. Someone in the campground blasted classic hits of the 70s and yelled profanity late into the night. I tweeted, "Remember when camping was for people too poor for proper travel, then it got respectable? Well it never took that last step in Tennessee."

I visited 11 new counties (Allen KY, Sumner TN, Macon TN, Trousdale TN, Robertson TN, Simpson KY, Logan KY, Todd KY, Montgomery TN, Houston TN, Stewart TN). No new states for anyone in the family. Joe got his 1,000th county and I got within two counties of completing Kentucky, my 11th completed state.