Macedonia, Ohio, to Albany, New York

We stopped for an early lunch just inside the Ohio border at a truck stop. But the truck stop only had one of those miserable fast food joints, which cannot even be dignified with the title of restaurant. But we looked across the road from the truck stop, and there perched on the top of a little hill was a sign proclaiming in big red letters FOOD. Another, smaller, sign, read: The Beef and Beer Popular Sandwiches and Famous Beers. The decision was made easily, by consensus, and almost instantaneously: we went to The Beef and Beer. The food was a little greasy, but good. The waitress gave me some sauce to go with my sweet potato waffle fries, saying, “There’s you sauce, it’s nummy.” It was indeed nummy: some kind of cinnamon sugar sauce, but not too sweet, a perfect match for the sweet potato fries.


Soon we were on the New York Thruway, which is not a particularly pleasant road to drive. The goal of the New York Thruway is to get as many vehicles as possible to their destinations without letting them off the highway, and while charging them substantial tolls. We stopped at one of the service areas near Rochester. It wasn’t too terrible. It had the usual crummy fast food, but it also had a player piano that played constantly. This rest area was crowded, presumably with people coming back from or heading off to summer destinations for the week of July 4. It wasn’t too bad a service area, but I was glad to get back in our car and start driving.

There is a point on the New York Thruway where the road has to pass through a gap in the hills between the Adirondack and Catskill mountains. Here the Mohawk River, enlarged to carry the traffic of the Erie Canal, the railroad that used to be the New York Central, the interstate highway, and a smaller state highway all come close together to pass through the tree-clad hills that rise dramatically and steeply up on either side. It’s a dramatic stretch of road, and I’d been looking forward to seeing it again, but as we got closer it started raining, and by the time we got there the rain was heavy enough that traffic had slowed down to 55 miles an hour; the heavy rain obscured the view, and I had keep my eyes on the road in any case.

We arrived in Albany at a quarter to nine. After we checked into our small downtown hotel, we went for a walk down Lark Street. A sign proclaimed something to the effect of “Welcome to Lark Street, a village in the city”; I can’t remember the exact wording. We saw lots of young hipsters walking the streets and sitting outside small bars and restaurants, all of them dressed much alike, urban chic clothing carefully chosen so as not to look too carefully chosen. A flashing electronic traffic sign parked by the side of the road informed motorists and motorcyclists that a city ordinance prohibited excessively loud music coming from vehicles. About five seconds after I saw this sign, a car passed by vibrating and pulsing with excessively loud music. I had wondered how they could enforce such a city ordinance.

We didn’t walk around much. My nerves were jangled with too much driving. I bought a copy of the Sunday edition of the New York Times, and I now propose to read it until the excessively gray prose quiets my nerves and puts me to sleep; this will take about five minutes; or ten minutes, if I start by reading the book review section.

Macedonia, Ohio, to Hudson, Ohio

The only driving we did today was from our motel to to our aunt and uncle’s place in Hudson.

Once we got to Hudson, my uncle took us on a driving tour of Cuyahoga National Park: the old Ohio and Erie canal and towpath; the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, originally the Cuyahoga Valley Line, which uses vintage diesel locomotives and passenger cars; the spectacular Brandywine Falls; and, of most interest to all of us, the heron rookery. The Great Blue Herons were still on their nests, big, ungainly, awkward-looking birds perched on huge next built of sticks high up in trees. I counted nine nests in one tree, and there were at least four trees with nests in them.

At one point, my uncle and aunt and I were sitting in the car waiting for Carol, and listening to a talk given by a professor from Case Western Reserve University. She has been doing research on Internet access and broadband usage among residents of different socioeconomic classes, races, and ethnic groups in the Cleveland area. We all know that Americans have unequal access to broadband Internet service, but this professor’s research shows more precisely who has what kind of Internet access. For example, her research shows that people whose only Internet access is through a smartphone tend to be disproportionately African American or Latino. I’m going to have to track down who this woman is, and read more about her research.

In the late afternoon, Carol and I visited a small independent bookstore in Hudson called The Learned Owl Book Shop. While I was buying a new road atlas for our trip, I got into a conversation with the woman who was staffing the store that day. She said the store was doing quite well, and has a loyal following. We both said how much we hate Amazon, a soul-less corporate entity that cares only about profit, and about crushing all competitors. I told her about a post on Melville House blog (Melville House is a small independent publisher who recently released The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in Culture of Easy Answers, of interest to religious liberals) that is titled “There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon.” She was amused. Carol and I spent an hour at The Learned Owl; amazingly, this is the first visit to a book store we have made on this trip.

We joined my aunt and uncle, and my cousin and her husband, for a pleasant dinner. We talked a little about education and autism, which my cousin’s work deals with, and a little about multiple sclerosis research, which relates to her husband’s work; but mostly we talked about family.

And when Carol and I got back to the motel, we watched the episode about Cleveland cuisine from Anthony Bourdain’s TV series “No Reservations.” Head cheese, chili, sausage, and postmodern midwestern cuisine — we decided we have to come back to the Cleveland area soon.

Auburn, Indiana, to Macedonia, Ohio

Because we were going to have a short drive today, less than four hours, we did a few errands in Auburn before we started driving: Carol went to the Salvation Army store to look for a hat, and I went to get the oil changed in the car. The workers in the oil change place were perhaps the nicest, friendliest, most courteous workers you could imagine. They finished the oil change so quickly it surprised me, and I drove over to wait for Carol. While I waited for her in the parking lot, enjoying the cool, dry air that followed the cold front, I heard a child’s voice ask, “Can we get pizza, ma?” and a man’s voice replied without emotion, “Shut up.” I watched the family walk past our car to another parking place: a man, a woman, and three children between the ages of five and eight, none of them saying a word or looking at each other. I decided not to make generalizations about the people of Auburn, Indiana, based either on the nicest workers imaginable, or on the father who told his child to shut up. People are about the same everywhere: some are very nice, some are the opposite, and most of us are a mixture of both.

We stopped at a rest area outside Toledo to eat lunch. I bought the Toledo Blade, which bragged on its masthead that it is one of American’s great newspapers. But the Toledo Blade left no impression on me whatsoever.

As we ate, dark clouds moved in and a wind whipped up. Soon after we got back on the road, it began raining so hard that traffic slowed down to thirty miles an hour, and once there was enough water on the roadway to engage the antilock braking system (ABS); our old car had not had ABS, so it was a new experience for me to feel the brakes pulsing while I kept a steady pressure on the brake pedal. At about this time, the odometer clicked over to 100,000 miles; I had meant to watch for this singular event, but the visibility was so poor, and the driving required so much attention, I missed when it happened. I hope this car lasts another 100,000 miles; we like it, and it has delivered up to forty miles per gallon for us.

We arrived in Macedonia, Ohio — a few minutes before another thunderstorm passed through — checked in to our motel, and went to have dinner with my aunt and uncle and cousin, at the retirement community my aunt and uncle live in. The day was relatively uneventful, but the evening was filled with family conversation.

Altoona, Iowa, to Auburn, Indiana

Carol had to do some business last night after I went to bed, so I got up before her and went to the truck stop restaurant next to our motel to buy a protein-filled and fat-filled breakfast of bacon and eggs. While I ate, I read The Des Moines Register. The 90 point headline proclaimed: “A BANNER DAY FOR GAY RIGHTS”. Three quarters of the front page was devoted to articles on Monday’s Supreme Court rulings. Four of the inside pages, and half the editorial page, were devoted to gay marriage. The Des Moines Register made sure to point out the important role Iowa has played in the recognition of equal marriage rights:

“In 2009, Iowa became the third state to legalize same-sex marriage, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal rights embedded in the state constitution.

“The Iowa case, Varnum v. Brien, helped pave the way for Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions, said Randall Wilson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

“It was only after (Varnum) that we saw that opinion was starting to change around much of the country,” Wilson said. “And it’s the Iowa tradition of being on the forefront of civil rights.”

It was so green in Iowa! I couldn’t get over how green the gently rolling hills looked as we drove through the Iowa landscape. The trees were astonishingly green; the grass by the side of the road, although it showed just a little bit of summer gold, was green; the corn, not quite knee-high, filled the cultivated fields with deep green; the soybeans were green; everything looked green except for the occasional white farm house, silver silo, gray-brown weatherbeaten and collapsing barn, and the white cement roadway stretching in front of us. The great drought of the past few years is over; and the open water standing in the bare, low corners of the fields showed that an excess of rain, while making everything green, has given the farmers the opposite problem: wet and flooded fields.

We decided to stop in Iowa City to buy lunch at the coop. We didn’t know where the coop was, nor if there even was one any more; when we made this trip in the opposite direction ten years ago, we thought that there would be a coop in a college town, and we navigated to it by instinct; but now Carol just consulted her phone, which gave the address and phone number of the coop. We decided to call the coop for directions, and a nice young man asked if we were coming from the east or the west, and then told Carol to take exit 249. Exit 249 was a good five miles east of the main Iowa City exit, but we took it anyway, thinking that a polite young man who worked at the coop would have local knowledge that we should take advantage of. The directions he gave us had us drive in on Rochester Avenue and turn left on Jefferson, but we discovered that Jefferson paralleled Rochester. We gave up on the directions. By instinct, we found the Unitarian Universalist church, and parked beside it. New Pioneer Food Coop was just behind the church parking lot; this was not unexpected, since fifty years ago there were many Unitarian Universalists were involved in helping to start food coops.

We stocked up on lunch food at the coop, and then drove to the next Iowa rest stop, where we ate at a shaded picnic table, while watching clouds building up to the north. The clouds kept building as we drove through Illinois and then entered Chicagoland, the vast sprawling mix of suburbia, industry, and occasional fields of corn and soybeans that extends nearly halfway across Illinois from Chicago itself. It was nearly rush hour. Traffic started getting heavy, and the drivers started getting more aggressive and ruder. We thought of pulling off the highway and eating dinner somewhere. We took the exit to Minooka, Illinois. There was nothing in Minooka; nothing, that is, except for sprawling housing developments with big stone gates inscribed with the name of the housing development. One development was called Indian Ridge; the name was a blatant lie, for the Indians had all been killed off in the Blackhawk War of the 1830s, and this particular housing development stood on a particularly flat stretch of ground.

We gave up finding food in Minooka, and braved Chicagoland rush hour. Chicagoland was so soul-suckingly dreary that we drove clear through to Chesterton, Indiana, where we stopped to have dinner at a Round the Clock restaurant, where our waitress called us “sweetie,” and where we had free wifi and apple pie.

By now it was dark, and we drove through intermittent rain and darkness until at last we reached Auburn, Indiana. We had hoped my sister could drive up an meet us here for breakfast, but she came down with Clostridium difficile, one of those very unpleasant illnesses which makes you want to stay close to home, and which makes your friends and relatives choose not to visit you just in case you forget the sterilization protocols. We decided to wave to her from here: Hi, Jean!

Sidney, Nebraska, to Altoona, Illinois

We left Sidney, Nebraska, at about ten in the morning. Our first stop was the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park out side North Platte, Nebraska. Buffalo Bill’s house was set up the way I remember historical houses being set up when I was a child, with no influence from the cadre of trained museum professionals. No trained museum professional would have a life-sized mannequin dressed as Buffalo Bill greeting you from the parlor on the right as you entered the door of the house; no trained museum professional would have a slightly moth-eaten buffalo head hanging in one of the horse stalls in the barn; no trained museum professional would let you wander around in the hay loft without any signs explaining exactly what you were seeing. We ate lunch at some picnic tables in the shade of tall trees, within sight of four young buffalo the state arranges to have living in a pen a hundred yards from Buffalo Bill’s house. The entire state historical park was utterly delightful, and I got the sense that Buffalo Bill’s ghost (if he has one) must like the whole arrangement very much.

We tried to stop for dinner in Lincoln, Nebraska, but got lost, and finally just grabbed a cup of coffee and a sandwich to go at a bookstore that seemed to sell more tchotchkes and coffee and snacks than books.

As we drove further, everything began looking so very green. It is not green this time of year in California, it is brown. And the air began to feel humid. We were approaching the midwest.

We stopped again at the Pottawattamie rest area in Iowa. From a display on the wall, I learned about the 200 foot high loess hills of Iowa, amongst which the rest area was sited, and which are a geographical marvel. I found a mulberry tree which, by the evidence of the stains on the sidewalk, had dropped all its ripe fruit. Carol found something that looked like blueberries, though the plant was a definite tree, and the leaves didn’t quite look like blueberry leaves:


But the rest area attendant assured her that he and the local FedEx delivery man ate lots of the fruit, so Carol did, too. What a great rest area — a geology lesson, fruit for the picking, a clean and pleasant rest area, with free wifi to boot — and it made me think that Iowa must be an enlightened state, to treat passing strangers as honored guests. Somehow this reminded me that Iowa is one of the states that ratified same-sex marriage. Then Carol got email from one of the people with whom she sells solar panel leases: the Supreme Court struck down Prop 8, and same sex marriage is now legal in California.*

Then we drove and drove until we reached Altoona. And here we are, late at night, in another Motel 6.


*Though the BBC Web site reports that “the San Francisco appeals court has said it will wait at least 25 days before allowing same-sex marriages to resume in California.” But that delay means I will be back in California in time to perform weddings — Amy, the senior minister at the Palo Alto church, and I have talked about doing free weddings for anyone of any gender who wants one, probably on the first day that they are allowed. More on this as the situation develops….

Finding a new direction

Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union (my union!), published an edited conversation she had with Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. Horovitz is one of the more interesting people out there trying to make the world more humane for workers, so it’s an interesting, albeit short, conversation. Here’s one interesting comment by Alperovitz from this conversation:

“I come out of liberalism. That whole movement is largely over — and that needs to be said. I say that with one caution: they’re holding the line in certain areas, importantly, against a lot of pain. But it’s not the way of the future. It’s a decaying and dying system of politics. It needs to be said.”

This is an important critique for religious liberals to think about, because (for better or worse) religious liberalism has tied its wagon to the horse of political liberalism. Like political liberals, religious liberals favor social tolerance (not a bad thing) coupled with a highly regulated form of consumer capitalism. But liberalism, whether religious or political, seems unable to move forward in the face of global climate change and an increasingly exploitative economic system. This is not to diminish the efforts of political liberalism or religious liberalism, for both forms of liberalism are striving mightily to keep us from moving backwards into worse exploitation, and moving backwards into global climate disaster. But we’re in a place in history where just holding steady is not going to be good enough.

Speaking of political liberalism, Alperovitz says, “A whole new direction needs to grow” — a new direction that is not conservatism, nor that offshoot of conservatism, libertarianism. But neither Alperovitz nor Horowitz can yet say what that new direction will be. I think this is true for religious liberalism as well — what we’re doing now isn’t moving us forward, we don’t want to go back to dogmatic religion, nor do we want that offshoot of dogmatic religion, individualistic religion. But what our new direction will be is not clear to me.

Salt Lake City to Sidney, Nebraska

We left the anonymous motel near the Salt Lake City airport without bothering to try to complimentary breakfast buffet, under the assumption that the food would be about as undistinguished as the motel.

An hour later, after a dramatic drive up over the mountains to the east of Salt Lake City, we arrived at Bear River State Park near Evanston, Wyoming. We walked along the paved path next to Bear River, a fast-flowing turbulent stream about fifty feet across that looked like a good place to fish. We walked for most of an hour, pausing to look at the showy Yellow-headed Blackbirds, with heads so stunningly yellow that their Latin name — Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus — tells you twice that they have yellow heads. We also stopped to look at the captive bison and elk, looking majestic even though they were stuck in fenced-in pens of only a few acres, lying on their bellies calmly chewing their cuds. We saw a young man fishing from the bank of the river. “Any luck?” I said. “Nothing today,” he said, “even though I been here for two hours.” “Looks like a good river for fishing, though,” I said. “Oh, it is,” he said enthusiastically.

We stopped in Green River to find a place to eat lunch. Walking along the sidewalk, Carol stopped to admire a handmade barbeque, with purple legs and a burnished stainless steel lid. The man who made it came out of his store to chat with us. The sign on the store window read “Mr. Cleo’z Exotik Oilz and Inscenze,” while the sign above the window read “Cleopatra’s Way Yummy Incense.” He showed us how he had over three thousand signatures on his wall, and I signed the wall as high as I could reach while he took a call for his other business, running the town’s taxi service. We bought some incense from him at the ridiculously low price of six dollars for thirty sticks. He recommended we eat at The Krazy Moose Restaurant across the street, so we did.

Late in the afternoon, Carol wanted a cup of coffee, so we stopped at Wamsutter. We drove to a combined supermarket and pizzeria. The parking lot could fit fifty cars, but there were only two other vehicles when we pulled in. Inside, the supermarket consisted of mostly empty shelves. Carol walked to the end of the store that was the pizzeria and bought a cup of coffee for seventy cents. The smiling woman who took our money told us that Wamsutter was an oil town. It was a bleak place, and we left without regret.

By the time we got to Laramie, we were ready for dinner. We found the Big Hollow Food Coop and stocked up on food for the next couple of days. The young woman at the check stand was singing along to Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain”; she had quite a nice voice. When she checked us out, she told us that she was from the midwest, had moved to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming, went to school for just a semester but decided that she would stay in Laramie. We told her that it looked like a nice place to live. She asked us about the Bay Area, and we told her that it was nice, but expensive. She said it must be densely populated, and we said it was. She had lived in a big midwestern city for a while, but because she grew on a gentleman’s farm, she found the big city was too much for her; yet she also seemed interested in hearing about the Bay Area. Maybe she was a little adrift.

The rest of the day, we drove in the increasing darkness, and arrived in Sidney, Nebraska, at ten o’clock.


Above: Medecine Bow Peak in Wyoming, as seen from Interstate 80.

Virginia City to Salt Lake City

Paul, our host at Cobb Mansion B & B, prepared baked eggs with herbs and cheese in individual egg cups, bacon, fresh fruit, and rolls. He said he was disappointed in the rolls because he can’t get the second rise to happen in Virginia City, which is 6,200 feet above sea level. This led to a discussion about high altitude baking. Anna, one of the other guests, and a native of Germany, said that when she moved to Utah where she now lives, she had to give up baking some cakes and other traditional baked goods because they all came out flat. Paul said that, contrary to what you might think, high altitude baking requires less leavening, not more. It was all very interesting to hear, but I decided I was glad we live near sea level.

The drive across Nevada was notable because it rained off and on all day long. The sagebrush was greener and brighter-looking than I had ever seen it before. We stopped at one rest stop — nothing more than a gravel lot with two pit toilets — that was surrounded with yellow flowers. In places, the flanks of the mountains, seven or eight thousand feet high, were covered with light green. I have never seen this stretch of Nevada look so alive. And looking out across the wide open spaces between the mountain ranges we could see rain showers moving across the landscape:


We didn’t see the sun for nearly the entire day. We stopped for lunch in Winnemucca, and the cloudy sky seemd to make the garishly colored signs for motels and casinos look even brighter:


The sun came out briefly and brilliantly for us when we stopped in Wendover, where it made the town look less tawdry and depressing for the short time it shone. The long drive across the salt flats of Utah was made more tolerable by the audiobook we’re listening to, A Thief of Time by Terry Pratchet. We finally arrived at our cheap motel near the Salt Lake airport at a quarter to ten, feeling just a little bit road-weary.

San Mateo to Virginia City

We left San Mateo at ten in the morning, and drove to Berkeley where we had a dim sum brunch with my cousin Nancy and her husband and daughter. From there we started driving west on Interstate 80. I had hoped to stop to visit a member of the Palo Alto church who now lives in the Central Valley, but the timing didn’t work out. We stopped at the rest area on Donner Summit, and I walked a little half mile loop trail through the heavily glaciated alpine environment. The little loop trail intersects the Pacific Crest Trail, and sure enough I passed two hikers with full packs on. We exchanged cheerful hellos, and I couldn’t help smiling at the similarities of, and contrasts between, driving on the interstate highway and backpacking on a long-distance trail.

We got to Virginia City, Nevada, at about five o’clock. We were too late for the tour of the Cobb Mansion, the bed and breakfast where we’re staying — and the house was interesting enough that we were sorry to have missed it — but we were in time for happy hour: a glass of wine, and time to chat with our hosts, Paul and Jeff, and the other guests. Paul made us a reservation at Core, a new restaurant in town. It was a little out of our price range, but this is our splurge day for this trip. The most memorable part of the meal was the appetizer: mussels in a light sauce with a touch of fresh mint; the delicate mint was a nice contrast to the rich seaside flavor of the mussels.

We stayed in Virginia City because we had both read Mark Twain’s Roughing It; this was the city where he got his first job writing for a newspaper, the beginning of his career as an author. Unfortunately, there was a big fire in Virginia City in 1875,after Twain had left the city, so there aren’t any buildings left from his time there. Nevertheless, you can see many of the things he describes: the little city perched on the side of Mount Davidson, the sage-brush covered slope of the mountain going up to the distant peak high above the city, the houses built into the side of the slope so that the main entrance to a house might be in the second floor, and so that the first floor of one house looks down onto the roof of the house below. And in honor of Mark Twain, I bought copies of the two little local newspapers, the Virginia City News, and the Comstock Chronicle.

Tomorrow we start driving to Salt Lake City.

Conclusion of youth service trip

Here’s the rest of the story about the youth service trip….

We finished up with Habitat for Humanity on Thursday, June 20. From there, we drove to the Big Oak Canyon site of Earthroots Field School, in Silverado Canyon east of Los Angeles. We worked there on Friday, June 21, helping prune and rehabilitate an abandoned orchard, and doing some trail maintenance. We camped at Big Oak Canyon — half of us slept outside under the stars. (Since June 21 was Pee on Earth Day, several of us celebrated the day by avoiding the portapotty when possible.) Then on Saturday, June 22, we drove back up to Palo Alto.

Starting tomorrow — Sunday, June 23 — Carol and I start driving across the country to visit family.

(Posted on July 1, and backdated.)