Mike Bland

GART Update from Boise, ID

Highlights of my Great American Road Trip from Memphis to Boise

- Boise, ID
Tags: GART, personal

This “blog about every detail of my experiences and thoughts” thing is a little hard to keep up with, particularly when spending so much time driving. Think I’ll have time and distance to compile something more coherent and readable from all the bits I’m collecting after I return to New York. So, here’s the highlights up to this point, since landing in Memphis:

Day 4, Feb 2: Memphis, TN: Spent the morning and early afternoon blogging my heart out. Happened to stumble down Beale Street during the International Blues Challenge. The crowd was unusual: Well-behaved and into the music, not drunk, horny and/or belligerent. Some say that I caught Beale Street at a good time, but I can’t complain. The music was intimidatingly, inspirationally awesome. Also examined half of the Memphis Rock ’N Soul Museum; they kicked me out at closing and invited me to return the next day.

Day 5, Feb 3: Memphis, TN: Visited Sun Studio; lent the tour guide one of the guitar picks I always keep in my pocket to demonstrate the “percussion trick” Johnny Cash used in “Walk the Line” to avoid using the drums, running a piece of paper through the strings to produce muted strums, overcoming the Grand Ol’ Opry’s objection to an instrument emblematic of “race music”. The guide also asserts there are two types of people in the world: Elvis fans, and people who haven’t heard enough Elvis yet. Finished the Rock ’N Soul museum tour, and took the Gibson factory tour right across the street. All the hollowbody and semi-hollowbody Gibsons are built there. Now I know why they’re so beautiful—and so expensive. (Still a Strat man, though.) Hung out with Ruby, David, and Ruby’s boyfriend Mike. Turns out he’s from Norfolk. Small world.

Day 6, Feb 4: Memphis, TN to Chesterfield, MO: Missed the Civil Rights Museum (now a reason to come back), but visited Graceland on the way out of town. Graceland was totally worth it; felt like I was visiting a slightly bigger, fancier version of my grandmother’s house with more gold records. Surprised that Elvis had backyard neighbors.

Felt compelled to leave Memphis rather than stay another day. As much as I’d’ve loved to stay to see the Civil Rights Museum, and as much as I want to come back, my real goal is to make it to Portland, OR. I’ve got an itinerary mapped out, and while it isn’t absolute, veering from it too much feels like an excuse not to follow through. So I left.

Made it to St. Louis in the early evening; the Gateway Arch looked hauntingly beautiful, with its top obscured by a high, thick fog. (Took pics; will have to post later.) However, Laclede’s Landing was the emptiest I ever remember seeing it. Weird. Couldn’t meet my friend Shawn, unfortunately, but we’re in touch. I decided to take I-64 West out to Chesterfield to stay for the night.

Watched Newt Gingrich’s press conference after losing in Nevada, I think it was, on CNN. A shell-shocked David Gergen says (something like): “I’ve never seen someone with such ambition for the office so driven by personal hatred.” Gergen has a gift for expressing perfect points perfectly.

Day 7, Feb 5: Chesterfield, MO to Kansas City, MO: Perfect weather. Easy drive. Found a funny, but small bulge in my front driver’s side tire before I left. Finished my life’s goal to drive the full length of I-64, from Hampton Roads to Wentzville, MO.

Troubled by a jacket I see a man wearing while inside a QuikTrip shop that has a picture of a bald eagle apparently about to smite someone and “SPEAK ENGLISH OR GO HOME” embroidered across it. I’m thinking, Then what’re you doing off your porch, bubba? Doubt what comes out of your mouth is the King’s English. The fear harbored by otherwise good people without enough exposure to other cultures makes for such an ugly shadow.

Flabbergasted that the Republicans try to rebut the trend of slow-but-steadily-improving jobs reports as though it’s evidence of a failure of the Obama administration. Starting to sound like Doublethink. Rational, respectful debate of the issues based on data and reason be damned.

Made my way to the Westport subdivision of Kansas City, and found a nice coffeeshop around the corner from the Holiday Inn Express, the Broadway Cafe. Too tired to do much but watch most of Titanic (which I’d never seen before) and the last quarter of the Super Bowl. Had dinner and a of couple beers at the Beer Kitchen; ended up chatting with a couple of locals. Opened up a BBQ controversy inadvertently; got a tip to try Oklahoma Joes. Also got a tip to check out a couple bands at the recordBar the next night.

Day 8, Feb 6: Kansas City, MO: Gorgeous weather again. Found Half-Price Books during a fruitless walk to find a laundromat; bought a blues guitar book my eyes happened to land on. Found out the American Jazz Museum is closed on Mondays, but BBQ at Oklahoma Joe’s makes up for it. Tried to write more blog entries; got frustrated after spending too much time inside writing. Uploaded a new post, but couldn’t upload the pics, so I pulled it down.

Got worried about the bulge in the tire. Decided to take it to a tire shop in the morning.

Went to recordBar at 8:40pm for a 9pm show. Most of the audience was playing an interesting trivia game; they knew a ridiculous amount about bands and music I’d never heard. Do they just have amazing DJs in KC? Everyone else knew an Aerosmith song I’d never heard that I swore was Soundgarden. After a pasta dish, two beers, and nobody to talk to at the bar, left at 10:38pm before even the opening act. Got a refund of my cover.

Day 9, Feb 7: Kansas City, MO to Colby, KS: Got up early to go to DLS near the hotel to look at the tire. Looks like I (or someone before me) hit a pothole that caused the rim to pinch the tire and rupture the internal belt, which was liable to eventually blow out. DLS didn’t have the brand I needed; directed me to National Tire and Battery in Lenexa, KS.

NTB was all ready to set me up, but instructed me to call Enterprise to get an authorization. Enterprise said I could get reimbursed, but strongly encouraged me to go to Firestone, since their systems are integrated somehow. Took it to Firestone, who replaced both front tires, then rotated the rear tires to the front. None of the shops were busy, thankfully.

Got one last latte and tried a croissant at the Broadway Cafe, checked out of the hotel, and went to the American Jazz Museum, by way of the National Negro League Baseball Museum in the same building. Then hit the road.

Got pulled over by a state trooper about 30 minutes west of Topeka. Wasn’t speeding; had cruise control set at 75mph. I was cruising in the left lane, which, by law, is reserved only for passing in Kansas. Let me off with a written warning. Asked me about my trip; I started telling him about going to Portland and Seattle and back, visiting Memphis and checking out music museums. He explained that he was asking because they have a big problem with people from New York running drugs to the West Coast via Kansas, and asked if I minded if he searched the car. I said sure. He found nothing, thanked me for my cooperation, and I was on my way.

A few minutes later, a Sheriff pulled onto the interstate, pulled up next to me for a minute, then went on.

Light snow for a while. Nothing stuck. Hardly any Rock ’N Roll stations that I could find. NPR was playing classical music. Thankfully, it wasn’t that late yet.

Dinner at an Applebee’s in Hays. Stayed at a HI Express in Colby. Most expensive room so far. Who knew?

Day 10, Feb 8: Colby, KS to Boulder, CO: Kansas has no radio stations. What people say about the flatness of the landscape is true. Reminds me of central Spain. Lots of snow left over from the big storm that blew threw a few days before. Switched to central time shortly after leaving Colby.

Very cloudy in Kansas, but as I approached Colorado, the sun began burning through until, by the time I stopped for lunch at the Wendy’s next to I-70 in Limon, it was completely sunny. Very easy drive until I approached Denver, where suddenly there was big-city traffic reminiscent of Washington, DC except that it was actually moving.

On my way to the lodge in Boulder, I was struck by how many shopping centers there were all around. Very upscale-looking on the whole. No apparent public transportation, no residential buildings that I could tell, but still looks relatively walkable.

Met Jim and Sukie for dinner in their home just a few miles from the lodge, but far from within walking distance of the shopping centers. Jim was laid up after hip surgery, but recovering very, very well; just today he was off some of his movement restrictions, and he could (slowly) move around in a walker. Made close friends with Thor, their golden retriever. Sukie made spaghetti with bison meat sauce and German chocolate cake. I could not control myself enough to refuse seconds of the spaghetti, and I made room for the cake that I was certain would not fit. They were also gracious enough to let me use their washer and dryer, of which I was in desperate need. We talked until pretty late, then I returned to the lodge.

Day 11, Feb 9: Boulder, CO to Ogden, UT: Lots of really nice shopping centers up through the north of Colorado along I-25. Is that a good or bad thing? It’s reassuring to the traveler, and to those who relocate perhaps, but is flavor lost? Do small businesses and local economies suffer?

Snow storm between Cheyenne and Laramie. Scary; almost seemed like a white-out. But it was all powder—nothing sticking to the road, nor creating a slush on the windshield. After passing a sign that noted an elevation of around 8,200 feet, started descending rapidly, the snow stopped, and in Laramie, there wasn’t a single flake of snow.

Gorgeous drive through the rest of southern Wyoming. Really good Jazz station, Jazz Wyoming (KUWL), and good rock stations, too. Very nice looking little towns, spaced very far apart. Went from wide open plains on the north of I-80 to snow-covered Rockies on the south, to Arizona-like mesas and fields of patchy grass.

At the Utah border, just outside Evanston, WY, I-80 became a mountain pass. Gorgeous mountains. Listen to an NPR interview with George Clooney, who notes some concern that the widespread proliferation of digital cameras, etc., people frequently risk recording things at the expense of experiencing them in the present. (Or something like that.) Stopped for the night at the Sleep Inn in Ogden.

Day 12, Feb 10: Ogden, UT to Boise, ID: Spent the morning researching and reserving hotels in Boise, Portland, and Seattle. Very cloudy throughout Utah up I-84. Listen to an NPR interview with William Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry, which deals with modern society’s technological saturation. He makes a few interesting points in favor of what he more or less characterizes as a “balanced” approach to perceiving and using social networking technology, pointing out that for each of the nuances lost on advances in communication technology (written language, books, radio, etc.), there were compensating benefits that moved society forward, and it seems we’re just now struggling to balance the positive and negative experiences the latest wave of technologies provides. Another book to add to the list, I suppose.

By the time I hit Idaho, the sun starts to come out. At first it appeared as desolate as parts of Wyoming, perhaps more so. Stopped at a gas station with “Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere” painted on the window of the shop, which had a pair Alpacas sitting out front. (Pics coming.) Had the most expensive gas prices I’ve ever seen in the US: $3.99/gallon. When I stopped for lunch later, the gas station nearby advertised $3.12/gallon.

Eventually, signs of human inhabitation became much more frequent. Idaho, like Wyoming, has a diverse and beautiful landscape, but it looks and feels like autumn. The hotel I checked into in downtown Boise offered me a cruiser bike to ride around and check out the town. Been a while since I rode one; almost cratered when I first hopped on.

Boise isn’t big, but it’s really quite charming, with a good number of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, shops, etc. There’s a park and trails down by the river, as well as an Anne Frank memorial. (Huh? In Boise?) The biggest Basque population in the US lives in Boise; there are several Basque shops and restaurants and a musuem here. Nearby I wonder why there are so many women, and only women, lining up outside the China Blue club around 6pm; the 103.3 FM web site explains that tonight is the “Men of Playgirl Male Revue”.

Playgirl shows aside, I almost lament not scheduling an extra night here. As it stands, I’m committed to making it to Portland tomorrow.