A Travellerspoint blog

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City Update

August 14th, 84 (I’m 23)

It’s time for a City Update!!

That’s right, readers, I’ve had enough of this tourist business. On with the important part of this trip: Looking for a new place of residence in this big country of ours. And all I can think of is making a list of cities I’ve been to and my thoughts on them. Of course, unless I stay in them awhile, my views will be less than complete.

As far as all the small towns I’ve been thru, while a few may have been pretty or had a mellow atmosphere, I don’t think I could handle living in one. I like to have a lot of people and activities available around me, with stores, gas stations, and fast food joints reasonably close. I think I’m a born city-boy. So on to the bigger cities.

The first big cities I hit were in South Dakota; forget them. The weather would be the same as MN. The same for Billings, Montana, although it was prettier. Not so for Rock Springs, Wyoming. Southern Wyoming is so dry that not a lot grows and the city looked like it was just built a year ago and nothing had grown yet.

Boulder and Denver were pretty nice. I was in Denver for a couple days and it reminded me a lot of Minneapolis, but with mountains instead of lakes. The folks I talked to said that winter wasn’t bad there and that snow was usually gone a few days after falling. Colorado Springs was either touristy or freshly built. I guess it’s a booming town. I stayed a week in Pueblo and got a good feel for it. It’s a fairly large city with a small town feel. A lot of Chicanos, as I also saw in Denver and ’Springs. Pueblo was not a pretty town. A lot of older ‘factories’ or buildings, at least in the Southern fringes. And it mostly looked like desert, though I was informed it was prairie. People go swimming in the reservoir there, but I was much more impressed with the one west of Gunnison. In fact, it’s a National Rec. Area.

Grand Junction, Colorado, looked real nice as I came over the hill on Hwy 50. I guess it’s in a valley of the Colorado River and I heard they use irrigation. But it was quite green, especially after all the “prairie” I’d been thru. I wish I’d spent more time there to get a better feel of it. I don’t know how many people live there, but it looked real livable.

A sign noted that Springville, Utah, was the city of artists, or something, but I couldn’t even find an art store there. Provo had a few and it seemed that Provo and the whole Salt Lake City area all the way up through Ogden was real nice. It’s all settled in a big valley between mountain ranges, with the cities actually crawling up the mountain sides on the east and the western mountains rising up out of both Utah and Salt Lake. I’m now in Idaho and headed West with high hopes. I will keep ya posted.

Full moon over Utah

Full moon over Utah

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The neatest bit of bumper sticker expressionism is going on in Colorado. It seems you can’t go anywhere without seeing a car with a sticker with the same mountain design as is on the CO license plates. I think it all started with the ones that say “NATIVE” signifying a Colorado native. Then I saw “RESTLESS NATIVE,” and a whole lot of other phrases describing the drivers. The one I liked most was “WHO CARES.”

Posted by VANagain 11:31 Comments (0)

Talking With Artists

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August 15th finds me surrounded by curious (and possibly hungry) sunfish, as I sit and write in a little pond off of the Snake River in something called “The Magic Valley” in Idaho. Things must be pretty slow in the pond because my toes have the attention of half the fish here. (They’re literally at my feet, you might say...)

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Anyhow, my story today starts way back when I first met Violet. One of our very first conversations was about a book called Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. She wanted to give me her copy of it, but I scrawled down the title on the first page of this journal and told her I’d look it up. I did finally buy it in Wall Drug (of all places) but never got around to reading it for awhile. Now the other night, I was telling a couple I met in Utah about my trip and he said it sounded like I was doing the same thing as the guy in “Blue Highways” and he asked me if I’d read it. So last night, as I was about to go to sleep on a gravel road off the interstate, I decided I’d better give this book a little look. I’m now only a dozen or so pages into it, but I know that this is gonna be a good book. He’s checking out America by taking all the older highways and being ultra observant of every road and small town he comes to. And he makes a point of talking to the people he sees.

So I decided I’d best make a point to talk to the folks more.

And so it was that I saw a sign on a house saying “Calico Art Studio.” I had gotten off the interstate to go through Twin Falls, Idaho. It was just past ‘Twin’ and after a smaller town of Buhl that I saw the sign. As usual I was already past the place when I decided I should go back and check it out. I did and met an older lady named Norma Romero. She wasn’t too interested in me but loved the chance to tell me about her studio and most of the rest of her life. All I told her was that I was a traveling artist and hoped to get motivated by seeing how her studio was set up.

And off she went. She said she was a Christian and her and her friend prayed for a place to teach out of. In a couple of weeks, her friend called and said she found a garage, and that’s where she is set up now. After we got the sales pitch out of the way (for her art supplies), I asked to see some of her work. She told me how she loved to teach her students how to paint (average age: 11 to 75) but couldn’t make herself do a workshop.

“What’s a workshop,” I asked.

“A workshop is the biggest moneymaker,” she said. “All you have to do is come up with a method. A gimmick is all it is. You come up with a quick and easy way to paint a pretty picture and you got it made. You get some people to show up and pay about $65, or so, each. You give them a canvas and some paint, or have the art store you’re teaching at sell them supplies, and then stand up and paint your picture and they are set up behind you. They just copy everything you do. And at the end of the day they have a pretty picture that they painted. They haven’t learned anything and they probably won’t be able to do it again. But they come out in herds every time. You can make a lot of money and travel while you do it. I’ve been offered a couple times to do a workshop but I won’t do it.”

I must admit that this workshop thing did get my mind going but I told her that I didn’t know if I could do it either. Then, after mentioning how she used to live in California, (and would go back if she had the $) I asked her, where? And off she went again.

“If you’re going to travel down the coast, you have to go through Santa Barbara and Ventura, both beautiful beach towns. We lived in Santo Paulo. Take the drive around from Ventura to Santa Paulo. It’s beautiful. And go to the College Heights Church and tell Pastor Garrell that I sent you. They give a wonderful Sunday session.”

I told her I might just do that. She talked about a million other things and never once asked a thing about me. But that’s all right. I need to meet the talkers to learn anything. When I left, she said goodbye and muttered, “God Bless.”

Oh, and about this little part of the Snake River, I was looking for a place to go swimming (it’d been 2 days since my last shower and gas station restrooms only do so much!). I saw a couple of places advertising hot springs, but their hot springs were indoors, somehow. They had outdoor swimming pools also, but you had to pay for those, too. I went farther into “Magic Valley” and found a sign next to a deserted little house saying, “Thousand Waters Home Sites.” I drove down to find a lot of fine gravel roads going round and round the ponds and river’s edge. By the little pond I’m sitting in, there’s a little fire pit with one sandal, a bra and a pair of nylons, along with the usual smattering of empty beer cans. The place may not be Thousand Waters Homes, but it’s a perfect party spot.

It turns out that the Thousand Waters Homes was to be a housing project across from the river from the Thousand Springs Outlet. They discovered that it would be impractical to hook up the sewage systems for all the houses. But it seems they figured this out after they had built a lot of nice roads around the ponds and lots there.

I just passed a bar in Bliss, Idaho, called the Don’t Ask Bar. I would’ve went in, but I would’ve had to ask.

I’m now hearing the song “Ghostbusters” for what must be the 200th time, since I started my trip. Other “favorite hits” have been “Stuck On You”, “Sexy Girl”, “I Ain’t Missing You”, “I Can Dream About You”, “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again”.
(Ctrl-click on these links and the song will play in another tab or window.)

Later that day, I was in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, where I’d found—after a lot of checking—a guy who would set the ignition timing on the van. His name was John. He really knew his shit when it came to cars, something I realized while watching him check out a noisy car. When he got to my van, he said that the motor was worn out, maybe not the original, but that it was not about to fall apart—this after listening to it run for about 15 seconds. John was an easy going, mellow kind of guy in his 30’s. I asked him what he thought of Glenns Ferry.

“It’s both quiet and pretty wild, at the same time,” he said.

I told him that I was a traveling artist from Minnesota.

“We’ve got two artists in town here,” he said. “One’s real good and the other’s not quite as good, or a little newer at it, anyways.”

“Yeah, I’ve talked to a couple of artists on my trip so far,” I said, hoping to get him to tell me more about them.

“Well you should talk to Don Black. He’s real good. He does a little bit of everything. He bought an old school and lives in that with his wife and kids. It’s like living in a 50 room house. He only paid ten-thousand for it a few years back. I think he’s probably paid more to keep it heated, since then. It’s down in Hammett and you could go over there and see him, if you’re into socializing.”

I told him I was and he told me how to get there. I headed west toward Hammett into a beautiful sunset and saw a double rainbow.

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I had to ask directions again in Hammett from a woman in a little hotel and a girl at a gas station, for it was now dark. It seemed everyone knew of Don and his school. I had forgotten how small these towns were. In the dark, the school looked pretty eerie with a lot of old trees out front and big spiders around the door. But I found Don to be real friendly and his school real livable inside. Not real fancy, more like a typical “party house.”

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I introduced myself to Don, a man in his early 40’s (?) with a thick beard, a balding head with long hair. I found it easy to talk with him. He took me upstairs into his main studio in the gymnasium of the old school. And like John said, I saw a variety of paintings, from a sign, to Western art, to surrealist works.

I was totally impressed with Don’s set up and his artwork. He worked mostly in oils, but had done some airbrushing with oils back in ‘81. We talked about a lot of art related stuff: galleries, East and West Coast differences, attitudes, fine art vs. abstract art, San Francisco. He said I had to go to San Francisco and spend some time there. He explained how colorful and neat it was to have so many crazy people there. (Gotta look at that positively.) A laid-back art community of artists doing what they want at their own speed. Lots of good museums and galleries. He said to go there and talk to as many artists as possible.

Both Don and his wife said I had to meet James Redo. He’s really into his art, but I shouldn’t let that scare me away. James knows everyone in the art scene, and can introduce me to them and tell me about places to live (very important). Don said I probably won’t get past San Francisco, but also said you can’t camp there. He also reinforced a lot of my views on art. And I have to send him a card from SF.

I think I could have talked with Don all night, but I could tell that I was keeping him from his work. He said a gallery in SF wanted 3 more paintings by the next week. He just paints them and sends them off and some gallery sells them. Such a deal.

Don said “People ask how I come up with all these weird things. That’s not the problem. The tough part is how to pick which of the things I see to put on paper.”

Posted by VANagain 13:53 Comments (1)

Talking With Leroy

I saw a van from Colorado, with a few folks about my age in it, with a bumper sticker that said, “It used to be Wine, Women, and Song. Now it’s Beer, the Old Lady, and the TV.

Hwy 55 goes north out of Boise through some very pretty mountains in central Idaho. After leaving the last set of hills, and before I hit Grangeville and the Indian Reservation beyond, I spotted a picnic/camp area in the woods left of the road, with one truck with a trailer attached parked there by a fire. There was an old guy sitting by the fire as I drove by. It was still light out, before sunset even, and I usually didn’t get around to stopping this early for the night. But I turned around and went to talk to the man at least. Besides, I didn’t really feel like camping in any of the towns in the reservation ahead, so maybe this would be a good spot to stay. It was sure pretty enough.

It took me quite awhile to decide that this old guy was harmless. He cussed and swore quite frequently, with the word “fuck” fitting into every sentence at least once. After a lot of talking by the scroungy fire he had going, he introduced himself as Leroy. Now, Leroy was a bit of a complainer and a pessimist, and his trim around the license plate on his ’57 Ford pickup fully described his political attitude; “Reagonomics: God Help Us All.” And Leroy seemed to blame everything on President Reagan. I finally decided to stay and threw my Hamburger Helper on the fire to cook! It took awhile but I kinda got used to how Leroy talked and I started to make an effort to steer our conversation away from politics whenever possible. He’d get sort of violent when he mentioned Reagan.

“Now they oughta kill that guy that tried to assassinate Reagan,” he said. “Yup, they oughta shoot him for not finishing that cocksucker off!”

So, in my attempts to change the subject, we somehow got around to religion, another one of my “favorite” subjects. He seemed to feel pretty strongly about that too, though not as violent. His advice to me was to “get to know your Maker.” He said it was like walking around blind or dead until I do. I told him I was sort of planning to go to a church in California and he said, “Yeah, you do that. That’d be real nice. You go to that church and maybe the roof’ll fall in on ya,” meaning that I’d see the light, I imagine. But he said California was all “Niggers and Mexicans.”

Leroy was 70 years old, and after first telling me he had a place in Lewiston, ID, he later admitted that he lived in the little trailer he was pulling behind his truck. He didn’t seem real proud of that. He said he used to have a real big trailer and a newer truck but they both tipped over once on his way down to “winter” in Arizona, which he does every winter.

Meeting Leroy really made me realize how different the people were that I was meeting on this trip. And we both agreed that even though it’s only one country, between New York and California, there exists a lot of different worlds between those shores. Leroy lived in a pretty negative, nasty world, full of niggers, cocksuckers, and fuckers. He seemed happy enough, though, but it made me glad I didn’t see the world the way he does.

I asked him my standard question of advice for me and my future.

“Do you really wanna know?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I said.

“Well, I don’t get into this with everybody, but since you asked...The way I see it, we only got about 16 years left to worry about it. You see, the good book tells the future, ya know. And it says the good Lord gave us 2000 years and it don’t take much to figure out that that’s coming up.”

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And he told me of the signs that have happened, as predicted in the Bible. He said that the UPC symbols on everything is the number of the beast, the sign of the antichrist.

I shared some of my Hamburger Helper with Leroy.

Leroy and his dog, Bill, “the only dog that’ll wear a hat.”

Leroy and his dog, Bill, “the only dog that’ll wear a hat.”

Posted by VANagain 11:36 Comments (3)

Cousin Marcia in Walla Walla

On Aug. 17th, I pulled into Walla Walla, found a phone booth, and tried to decide what to say to my cousin, Marcia. I hadn’t seen her in almost 15 years, and really didn’t know her at all. She had spent about 6 weeks at our house one summer, back when I was about 8 or 9 years old. So, I told myself, that’s my “in.” I could justify calling her and saying I was in town because she had once stayed with me. Of course, I was making too big of a deal out of all this.

When I did call and explain that I was her cousin, she remembered me. And when I found her house, I spent the rest of the day meeting and talking with her mother-in-law, her husband, Rick, and a man named Ed Shelton, Marcia's father, who turned out to be my uncle! Or, like Marcia put it, he’s been my uncle longer than he hasn’t been. For, he used to be married to my aunt Betty, my dad’s sister, but now he’s remarried. Marcia and Rick were a neat couple and I felt very at ease in their house.

We all went out to eat at a restaurant/tavern owned by Ed’s brother, and for a little tour of Walla Walla, and then for a walk through one of the beautiful parks in town. They said there were 25,000 people in Walla Walla, the same amount as a hundred years ago. It had a relaxed feel to it, and I decided that a small town like that would be rather nice if I had something going, like a wife, and maybe a family or a studio. (You’d need something to do, ya know.)

I ended up watching a couple movies on TV at Marcia and Rick’s, and sleeping on their couch/bed that night. In the morning, Rick and I made breakfast (the only meal he can make), and after some talking, I decided to take their advice and go through Mt. Rainier National Park—the scenic route to Seattle. They had offered to have me stay another night, but I felt I should be moving on.

Posted by VANagain 12:59 Comments (0)

Mt. Rainier

I spent that night, Saturday, the 18th, in Mt. Rainier Park. As I drove into the park that evening, I was very impressed with both the mountain and the surrounding area. My only mistakes were being out of film, almost, and coming into the place on a weekend. I lucked out on hearing about an overflow camping area (with no charge) from a couple from England. The three of us ate together, saw the slide show in the real campgrounds, and talked later. Once again, I found it interesting to get an objective opinion of the US. I ended up driving down to the end of the gravel road we were on and spent the night by a very beautiful river.

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The next day, I fought the crowds towards a town called Paradise that my cousin’s husband said I should see. I walked through a grove of trees that were nearly 1000 years old. Impressive. But when I finally got to Paradise, along the slopes of Mt. Rainier, there were too many people there to park. (With a name like Paradise, I should’ve known.) So I drove on out of the park towards Seattle.

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Posted by VANagain 11:38 Comments (0)

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