Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Twenty, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. And the Little Smiths.

Find me now in a warm soft bed, guest of the good Smith family. I enjoyed a fine dinner of meat and potatoes and a big piece of cake for dessert. With strawberries. Outside it is meant to dip well into the thirties. I couldn't have picked a nicer night to have friends in Iowa.

It is late, though. We stayed up talking. Tomorrow we go to church. I don't know when I've looked scruffier. I will shock the congregation. Though not by my manner; I am always polite. And it should be interesting. I ain't real religious myself. And that's understating things.

I was on the road by eight-thirty. That's not too awfully bad. I could have started walking hours before. I'd had an awful dream. Too awful, perhaps, to recount here. It sat me up in my bed. Only the warmth of my new fleece pants convinced me to go back to sleep.

Gosh, they're nice. They're just a bit bulky. They're kind of a trick to pack. But worth the effort; I'm certain of it. They let me laugh at the cold. From the waist down, at any rate. I'm warm up top as well. And wear a warm stocking cap that covers my ears and fastens under my chin. Only my face remains exposed, though less so than you might imagine. With some wriggling I can zip my good bag right up over my head.

It gets a little hard to breath in there, but that just helps me sleep. And it does get moist but that's a small price to pay to retain my most vital warmth. And when my dreams are light it is easy to imagine that I am zippered up inside my pack. Like a papoose or a very old woman on her way to Ubasuteyama.

I woke again at seven-thirty. That means a soggy tent. I can no longer leave my vents open. I had better get used to it. And my tentpoles were unspeakably cold. I should invest in some mittens. Or gloves, at least. I've been hesitant. I know they won't last long. I have a fine habit of losing the things. I've never owned a pair for more than a week.

I do find gloves from time to time, along the edge of the road. But I never think to pick them up for fear they contain a hand. I've seen trunks, too, treasure chests. You'd think they were full of gold coins. But I do not try to open them. I am sure there is death within.

A good ten or more miles took me to town, Holstein, Iowa. And another mile on top of that. It is some distance off the road. I had my burger in the local cafe. My waitress was brusque and grumpy. Not just to me, to everyone. It was noon and the place was crowded. I took a place in the corner and watched the folk, Iowans at play.

Football was the topic at hand. They seem to revere the game. "Them politicians need to play more football." It is a noble game. And, it was agreed, a likely cure for the ills in Washington.

Competion. Victory. Paying whatsoever it costs. Bending the rules. Conspiring to humiliate your opponent. Taking No Prisoners. Pre-game boasting. Post-game excuses. Trysts with cheerleaders. Locker room talk. Rabid fans. Fistfights among the spectators. Drug use. Prison time. Trick plays. Egos. Retiring to become an announcer. Equating it somehow with patriotism. Selling your autograph. Whoring what at one time may have been pure to so many corporate sponsors.

"Them boys needs to play more football." That'll man 'em up. Meanwhile print up some bumper stickers, I'M STUPID AND I VOTE.

As I was leaving a small boy pointed at me and looked me dead in the eye. "Hobo!" he said and I laughed aloud. But that doesn't excuse his bad manners.

It was too an interesting choice of words. It is what I've been calling myself. But then I chose the word carefully. It has an antique charm. One wonders where a boy of five would get the vocabulary. Or the courage.

Perhaps from his doting grandfather. Idiot. Football fan.

Quite uninfluenced by this commentary, I set out to find a barber. I was scheduled to go and stay with the Smiths. It seemed the right thing to do. They're such a clean and attractive family. They're used to me, of course. But what of their neighbors and family friends. What of their reputation. I would keep my long hair; I like it that way. I've earned my shaggy beard. I thought I'd just clean it all up a little. Every little bit helps.

There is no barber in Holstein, Iowa. There was a beauty salon. I would have gone there. What do they care. Give the ladies something to gossip about. But they were closed. I hiked back to the road, looking like a diminutive Sasquatch.

Not far up the road I met four little kids. They ran to the road to greet me. They demanded to know just what I was doing. I explained as well as I could. They were small but unafraid. They gave me their frank opinion. "You walk too much."

I could not agree more. It was, they informed me, their mother's birthday. Join me in wishing her well. She's got great kids and that's worth something. I expect she's a pretty good mom.

I was then pleased to meet Anna and Wyatt. Anna had made me a sandwich. There's no better way to win my affection. They brought a banana too. And some cucumber slices and a can of cold Coke. They're taking good care of me. I stuffed everything into my pockets and trusted them with my tent.

That is five punds out of my pack but it is more than that. It was a symbol of my dedication. I had to make it that last dozen miles or I would be homeless indeed. But I had all the fuel I needed and the promise of dinner as well. I am awfully fond of the family Smith. I bet I'm the most irredeemable friend they've got.

I was in good spirits but my feet were sore. It's some pretty hard walking here. It's a busy road and where there is a shoulder it is heaped with sharp gravel. I'm sure it will settle in by spring but I'll be gone by then. For the time being it is like running on sand. It robs my forward motion.

But the day was nice and not too too windy. It is pretty country, this. That is if you like cornfields. I didn't think I would. But I do. They're a sign of prosperity. We need all of that we can get. And the wind blowing through the drying stalks makes a pleasing sound like rain. The rolling hills keep things interesting. It never gets too steep. And the clouds were unnaturally beautiful, each fluffy and distinct.

And there is a vast wind farm up and running, the first I have seen close up. Great towers, fifty of them, one-hundred-fifty feet high. White, with three great blades, each about ninety feet long. They turn at about fifteen RPM. I don't think they're a danger to birds. Any bird dumb enough to get hit by one was probably destined to die.

There is some debate locally about how practical or efficient these things are. I'd have to see all the data. But instinctually I quite like them. Alternative energy thrills me. And they'll get better as they build more. These engineers are nobody's chimp. I just like the idea of pulling power directly from the air. And they're pretty, though they do make you dizzy if you stare at them too long.

Dawn is fast approaching. It will not do to sleep in church. I hope the preacher is dynamic enough to be interesting, but not so dynamic that he wants to Save me, specifically, then and there.

I MET TOO four high school men. They were cheerful and polite. It may be too soon to give up altogether on the future of this nation.

(DUDES! Send me a picture.)

AND I WAS HONORED to meet my very first roller derby team, gassing up in Holstein. They are DC/DC, the Dakota City Destruction Crew, and I wish them a successful season. They were, too, pretty and kind. That's what politics needs.

(LADIES! Send me a picture.)
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  1. Hey James- here's the picture you took with us on 20 just outside of Holstein! (I'm the kid right next to you)
    Good luck and God bless!

  2. Thank you, friend Jamie. Decent of you. My warm regards to your friends.