"The real voyage of Discovery lies not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes"
Marcel Proust

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book signing in Kansas City

'Tis the season for icy roads. It looks like our first big winter blast will be icing I-70 across Kansas starting tomorrow. Luckily, the worst of it should be over by Wednesday when Ted drives east from Manhattan and I drive south from St. Joseph and we meet in the middle in Kansas City, Kansas for a book signing.

We're having a signing of both Driving Across Kansas: A Guide to I-70 and Driving Across Missouri: A Guide to I-70 at the Books-a-Million (BAM) in the Legends shopping center from 1p.m.-4p.m. Seems like a great spot, just off the Interstate on the border of both states.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Love of Lamps

Wabash Avenue
When I was in Chicago last spring, little did I know that I would start a love affair. It was a love affair of street lamps.  Each street from State, Erie, Wabash, and Michigan Avenue had their own style of illumination. 

Michigan Avenue

So romantic, the candlelight of the city; tapers that stand tall and formal, whose single flames line the walkways, and ornate candelabras that adorn the table of the city where lovers can feast their eyes upon one another under the moonlight. Tall, dark (the post, that is), and handsome for me comes in the lamp posts of downtown Chicago.
Erie Street
Along Erie street the gold accents gave such a royal flair to the coal black coat underneath. Or perhaps it’s just the naturalist in me that loves the golden leaves swirling around the post from the Windy City’s breath. 

The lamp posts along Wabash have the same Y pattern, but without the gold bling. Their simple strength lines the streets like tailored waiters, poised steadily with platters balanced above their shoulders.

 On Michigan Avenue, round globes circled the lamp like pearls.
Michigan Avenue

Chicago just recently spent $25 million to renovate the lamp posts, in the mile stretch between Wacker Drive and Congress Parkway, back to their 1926 style. Architects Anderson, Graham, Probst, and White designed the original lamp posts whose Y frame represented the confluence of the north and south branches of the Chicago River.

Cool Crest Miniature Golf in St. Joseph, MO
Along Wabash in front of Chicago Public Library
In Chicago, my attraction to the lamp posts was like, dare I say it?—a moth to a flame. But it was just the beginning of my infatuation. Smitten by street lamps, I started snapping shots of bulbs on poles as I drove across the country on a family trip, in strangers’ front lawns, and even at the miniature golf establishment where my daughter had her 2nd grade field trip. While other good parents were snapping pictures of their child making memories with their classmates, I had my lens pointed at the interesting gothic lamp post that illuminated the ticket counter near the parking lot. It was a combination of the bulbs of Michigan Avenue and the Gothic background of the Chicago Public Library from Wabash.
Blend of Michigan/Wabash at Cool Crest

Nakuru, Kenya
As my insanity was mounting, my co-author fanned the flames of interest by sending me pictures of lamp posts from around the world. Ted’s travels illuminated my vision with even more interesting street light sculpture. In Kenya he found one of the most artistic street lights I’d ever seen. 

They were flamingo-shaped street light fixtures in Nakuru. Nakuru is famous for the millions of flamingos that congregate on the lake in Nakuru National Park. 

Flamingo in Nakuru

Back in Louisiana and Indiana we found more of the “Y” design street lamps.
Shreveport, LA
Evansville, IN

A book on decorative street lamps would be very interesting to me—and no shortage of models out there. Sitting back here at home, typing away on my keyboard, I look out the window and see my street’s own antique lamps lined up along the lane.  Street lamps make me think in black and white, of big cities and small down towns, of old postcards, of fedora hats and fishnet stockings, of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and of short-stature simplicity and strength. 

Downtown Atlanta, IL
Lamp post on the lane
 But looking out my window I remember now that they also remind me of home—the nights I’ve watched a soft snowfall glow orange in the simple lamp light or watched colorful autumn leaves swirl around its base. It is the candle outside my window—the beacon that inspires dreams of traveling and that brings comfort when I come back home.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rolling Down the HIV Highway

I took one last glance over my shoulder at Mount Kilimanjaro. Flat topped, white-capped, it seemed to hang ghost-like above the hazy horizon. We turned onto hwy A 109 and headed west toward Nairobi.  This highway is called by various names. Sometimes it’s called The Mombasa Road, or the Trans-African Highway, or the Great North Road, but most often it is called the HIV Highway.  It is the thin, fragile and clogged artery that feeds and fuels the heart of Africa.  The road brings goods, including a stream of diesel and gasoline from the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to the interior of Kenya, and on to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Its not only freight and fuel that move along the highway, but the road “fuels” the HIV epidemic across all of central Africa.  They tell me that it is possible to move cargo (and disease) all the way across the African continent, even into West Africa as far as Lagos, Nigeria, on this highway.
This is one of the more dangerous and congested highways in Africa. It is not an interstate per se (it is actually inter-nation) but it carries the traffic of our interstates and yet it is only two-lanes. Can you imagine I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis or I-55 between St. Louis and Chicago with all of that truck traffic, if there was only one lane in each direction? Well if you can picture that scenario then you can picture this highway.

Lines of trucks, most holding containers recently taken off ocean-going ships, spew black smoke as they huff and puff their way up the gentle hills.  They carry the goods that will stock store shelves in Kampala, be bartered for in open-air markets of Kigali, or furnish modern office buildings in Nairobi.
Although we had left Amboseli National Park behind, a “giraffe crossing” sign and several “gazelle crossing” signs warned drivers to be on the lookout, just as we have “deer crossing” signs in America. Sure enough, there was a family of giraffes, surprisingly close to the bumper-to-bumper truck traffic. This was no road through Safari Land. Four giraffes walked beside the highway with their graceful gait. (Giraffes appear graceful because, like camels, they walk with two legs on each side moving in unison).  Giraffes are often depicted in carvings and artwork as standing straight up, but as they stride along they appear to be leaning into a strong head wind or maybe they are stretching their necks for the finish line – so they can win by a nose.
Besides gazelle and giraffe crossing signs, many other surprising signs lined the highway. In Africa you never know what signs you will see along the way.  For example, in the grazing and farming areas, dozens of signs announced, “This Land is NOT for sale.”  We all know about For Sale signs, but I had never seen “Not For Sale” signs on land or buildings.  I asked my driver Ken why landowners post “Not for Sale” signs?  Can’t that be assumed unless we see a For Sale sign? Apparently not in Kenya!  There is a widespread problem of deceitful individuals posing as real estate agents selling other people’s land or buildings that are not for sale. The owner, of course, doesn’t know that some unfortunate person just paid for the owner’s property, property the buyer can’t ever own. Land being sold out from under the true landowner has caused all sorts of problems (sometimes with violent consequences) for both the owner and the buyer, while the unscrupulous salesman disappears down the highway.
Other surprising signs along the way included the Serena Williams School (apparently she visited the area and donated a lot of money for the school so they named it after her) and the Michele Obama Grocery Store (President Obama is hugely popular in Kenya because his father was of Kenyan heritage. His face shows up on buses, taxis, and t-shirts). In Kenya, as throughout most of Africa, an exclamation point in a red and white triangle indicated an emphatic, if not specific, warning to be alert. Hand painted signs often lead to confusion. Is it NU DESIGNS? Or NUDE SIGNS? Much like the Mail Pouch or See Rock City barns in North America, in Kenya most of the buildings were covered in advertisements – Orange for the Orange Cell Phone company; Green for its competitor, bright Red buildings covered by Coca-Cola logos.  I wondered if the owners got paid for allowing this, or maybe like some of the early Mail Pouch Barn owners, they just wanted a coat of paint on the barn.
Along the road, little children with their mothers in tow walk hand in hand to school, sometimes a couple of miles away.  The brightly-colored clothes of the mother contrast with the navy blue or burgundy school uniforms of the children. Clusters of older students, also dressed in smart formal uniforms, lollygag to school. Many of the older youths also held hands as they walked. The children would invariably yell and wave when they saw this white person pass by in the car. Other women, many of them quite elderly, walked bent over with large sacks of produce on their backs. They were carrying their goods to market. Some walk as many as 10 or 12 miles on market day with these loads on their backs.  I asked Ken why Kenyans consistently did so well in marathons and Olympic distance running events. He said he thought it was because at a young age they walk – and often run – to school. He said he ran up to 10 miles to school each day when he was a boy.

The remains of long-dead and destroyed trucks litter the roadside like the rusting exoskeletons of large insects.  Every few miles a large semi would be broken down on the highway. Lacking flares to give warning, truck drivers place twigs and branches in the road to indicate moving off to the side to avoid a broken down vehicle. Putting branches in the road is a common rule of the road throughout Africa, but I was surprised to see it in the relatively well-developed country of Kenya, particularly on this heavily traveled highway. Many of these broken down trucks had been totally overloaded. Freight would be stacked amazingly high, impressive packing jobs! A pick-up passed with a bed in its bed.  

As we approached Nairobi, cement plants lined the highway. Rhino Cement, Co., Mombasa Cement Co, and many others, producing the cement demanded by the growing population and associated development. Suburban sprawl, business parks, buildings with familiar names like Caterpillar, Coca Cola and FedEx, and even the Belle View Outdoor Drive-In Movie Theatre made this stretch seem much like the approach to any major city.
In Nairobi, this constricted artery became a completely clogged artery.  There is no bypass around Nairobi. This road, carrying all of the freight from the continent’s coast into Africa’s interior, passes right through downtown. Traffic lights and round a-bouts provide resistance, pushing back against forward movement of traffic.  Can you imagine I-70 feeding all of its traffic into a city street in St. Louis? That is the situation in Nairobi which is why Nairobi is notorious for having some of the worst traffic problems in the world.

In the city, Hadada Ibis and enormous five-foot-tall Marabou Storks, with wingspans exceeding 10 feet, replace the pigeons and sparrows that we see in urban environments. Hadadas and Marabous perch on street lights, road signs, and the tops of skyscrapers. Even in cities, Africa wildlife is spectacular.
After inching your way through Nairobi, you soon reach the rim of the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley is one of those places where the earth’s crust is being ripped apart. The Great Rift Valley was originally described as the spectacular geographic trench which stretched almost 4,000 miles from Syria in the Mid-East to Mozambique in southeast Africa. Today, the term Rift Valley usually refers to the valley of the East African Rift which extends from the Red Sea near Ethiopia down to Mozambique. It was into this tear in the earth’s crust that the highway descends. At the rim of the escarpment, red wooden shops, with wood curious and white sheep skins on display, hang over the edge offering a free scenic view to entice tourists to pull over and take a look. Within seconds of aiming your camera down to the expansive valley below, the sales people accost you with their wares in tow. Through the blue-brown haze you can see two large satellite dishes that receive and send global communications, odd in that Maasi youth herd goats around their base as they have done for eons.  The view of the Rift Valley is spectacular and from a distance the scene is placid, if not pastoral. But a closer look reveals blemishes.  Clusters of white tents can be seen.  In January 2008, post-election violence displaced thousands of Kenyans.  Several “Internally Displaced People” camps sprung up in this area on what are not lush pastures but desolate dusty plains. Three thousand people still live there in tents or makeshift homes with no shade, running water, electricity, or protection from the elements.

The road winds its way perilously down the steep escarpment. Overloaded and poorly maintained semis, with long lines of vehicles lined up behind them , struggled to make it up the cliff face.  In fact they would be traveling so slow that boys who had roasted corn over open fires could trot alongside the trucks and sell the corn to the driver while the truck struggled uphill. Impatient drivers would attempt to pass the trucks, chugging their way up the hill and willing to roll the dice on whether an approaching car is flying downhill around the next curve.  Passing on curves is a contact sport on the escarpment. Debris from head-on collisions is a reminder that this form of Automobile Russian Roulette sometimes ends tragically. (See for example: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmEHr60KDYQ)
If you are fortunate enough to survive the trip down the escarpment, you are released into the Rift Valley town of Maai Mahiu. Towns like Maai Mahiu give the highway its name as the AIDS Highway or HIV Highway. The truckers and other transient men, often from other African countries, stream through town along the road. It is too dry to do farming and poverty leaves many children and women hungry and homeless. With no other way of surviving, many of the girls and women turn to prostitution.  In fact the only two sustainable and significant industries in Maai Mahiu are trucking and prostitution. The highway artery brings a steady stream of new customers every night.  The most striking thing about the town is the astounding numbers of bars and hotels for a town this size lining the highway. With thousands of truckers passing through and who knows how many women serving them, HIV/AIDS is rampant. One study estimated that possibly as many as one-third of all truck drivers along this road are HIV positive. Although Maai Mahiu may be the nexus of this problem, towns all along this highway have the same problem to varying degrees, hence the highway’s name of shame. Opportunities for vices seem to gravitate toward highways, even in America. The transient and anonymous nature of travel lends itself to indulging in such behaviors and there are generally individuals willing and waiting to profit from it, particularly when they themselves are desperate and lack other alternatives for income. But on this highway, the temptations, like the trip up and down the escarpment, can be particularly deadly.
It is here at Maai Mahiu that I left the HIV Highway. I headed south to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve where the only congestion would be among the thousands of wildebeests migrating to greener pastures, where the honking of horns was replaced by the snorting of zebras, and the only dangers were from the lions crouching in the grass.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mile 78 Masterpiece in the I-55 Gallery

What's the difference between art and graffiti along the highway? There is a beautiful painting under a concrete overpass at mile 78 (best seen southbound) along Interstate 55 in Illinois that I enjoy every time I drive by. It looks like a spinning propeller or rectangular shards of glass spinning and blending in various shades of dark and light blue. It took time and care to create this professional-looking image hung in the I-55 gallery. It's no haphazardly sprayed peace sign or "So-and-so loves So-and-so" message. It hangs nicely under the bridge, protected from the sun’s bleaching rays and the scrapes of hailstones and tornado debris. I want to know who the artist was, why it was painted here, and why the highway department has allowed it to remain.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

1960s Road Trip

In 1967, my grandparents took a road trip from Springfield, Illinois south to New Orleans and then west through San Antonio, Mexico City, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and back through Kansas City and St. Louis.  At 7:15a.m. on 10-7-67 they pulled out of their driveway, carrying with them $1,000.87. They’d return at approximately 4:30p.m. on 10-27-67, coming home with $249.91. Only $2.45 was unaccounted for. During their 20-day trip they spent a total of $230.03 on motels, $123.74 on gas, $192.31 on food, $9.50 on tips, and $220.86 on gifts and miscellaneous items. They recorded 4 movies and 7 slides. They traveled 4,599 miles, and at 12:20 p.m., on 10-26, on a rainy Topeka bridge 109, on the Kansas Turnpike, their odometer turned 40,000 miles. How do I know all this? My late grandmother was meticulous in recording all of the details of their travels in her Stenographer’s Notebooks, and I had the pleasure of reading them. On her trips to Chicago, New York, Florida, California, and more she recorded every expense from a cup of coffee to a museum fee. Precision and care was taken with each day’s entry.  
I attempted to keep an expedition expenditure list when my family drove to Virginia one year. It worked for a while, but then I forgot to add the extra Twix bar at the gas station or the groceries we bought for dinner. Details of the outgoing journey were written with honest and excited dedication to the task, but my hand and head failed to keep up to those initial standards on the return trip home. I wonder how many people still keep detailed records of trips. Is it a lost art? Now, our cars can record some of those details in trip odometers and GPS units, but I’m sure there are still folks out there who enjoy making columns in notebooks and filling in little squares by hand—the joy of flipping back pages and comparing the gas prices in Tennessee and Florida, checking for a fair price of a hotel by their past days’ travels, and tallying up how much they’d spent at the end.

On their first day out they spent $26.48. Today that is practically absorbed by my family on our first stop for 4 hefty lunches at Hardee’s. Here’s a list of their expenses on that first day:
Coffee—Litchfield, IL                                        .31
Gas—Standard—Fairview, IL                            2.70
Lunch—Cape Girardeau, MO                             .72
Motel—Travel Lodge, Memphis, TN             10.40
Gas—Phillips—Howardville, TN                     4.60
Dinner—“The Flame”—Memphis, TN            7.50
Dinner Tip                                                           .25

I’m a detail person. I’m shocked at myself that I’ve only completed one of these detailed trip logs before. Rereading my grandmother’s methodical travel log stirs a new desire to try it again.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Memorial Drive, Joplin MO

It was a sad road that I traveled yesterday. One of destruction, of loss, death, depression, and heartbreak in Joplin, Missouri. From Schifferdecker Avenue to 32nd Street to 20th Street, across Main Street and Range Line Road and Interstate 44, each street felt like a funeral procession. The May 22 tornado had traveled these same roads—an unlicensed, reckless and deadly driver that left miles of emptiness and pain behind.

The twig-like trees stood out among the expanse of twisted metal and splintered wood that covered miles of land. They were stripped of their leaves, with trunks pock-marked where flying objects had pummeled them on their way by. But little green leaves sprouted in irregular clusters as they fought to regain their composure—a small sign of renewal in a ravaged land. Many trees had trapped the twisted metal of someone’s home. They had captured someone’s quilts and blankets and held their shredded fibers like massive spiderwebs among their branches.

The neighborhoods were eerily quiet. There were no children squealing playfully in their backyards. No one was cutting their grass or trimming flowers to take into the house. No joggers. No walkers. No postal carrier walking from home to home. I wondered where they had all gone. Where they were now. What road had they taken?  Would they come back or could they never return?
As I passed each forgotten toy or recognizable household item, I kept thinking, “This is someone’s shoe, someone’s jacket, someone’s toy.”

While walking the sidewalks of a torn apartment complex, I saw a penny on the sidewalk—heads up. I left it- another small piece of hope for someone. On our journey weaving back through the devastated route, I saw other signs of hope on their road to recovery— on the sign of Joplin High School, where the “J” and “lin” were missing, they had fashioned an “H” and “O” out of duct tape to create “Hope High School.” Spray-painted messages of “We’re ok” and “God Bless Joplin,” with the ever-cheerful Smiley Face accompanying them, brought a brief smile. Work crews who graciously allowed us to drive carefully through, and the smell of fresh lumber and the sound of hammers birthing new homes for someone were hopeful sights and sounds.

For me, these sights from the road were new yesterday morning and I was overcome with that initial shock and heartbreak that comes with being handed a letter of loss. But for others who had lived through it and were beginning to rebuild, the road may appear to them as one of Hope and reconstruction. Where my wheels turned solemnly and slowly, theirs are starting to turn with purpose and strength.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

G-70 China or I-70 Missouri?

Posted by Ted:

It was not I-70, but rather G-70 that carried me south into Fujian State.  I had entered this Inter-state highway after landing in Nanchang in Jiangxi State.  I would be traveling on G-70 for 4 hours – the same time it takes to drive across Missouri on I-70. I immediately was struck be the similarity between G-70 in China and I-70 in Missouri.  I imagined what it would be like to do a book like Driving across Missouri for this stretch of highway.  If we did do such a book, an amazing number of the stories would be the same for both books. With this thought in mind, I made a list of how many stories would be the same as the ones in the Missouri book.  That list of identical topics included:

1) transition areas between urban and rural land use,
2) powerlines,
3) rest stops,
4) wetlands,
5) forests,
6) soil conservation,
7) terraces, 
8) grain crops (in this case rice instead of corn),
9) cemeteries,
10) power plants/cooling towers,
11) railroads,
12) quarries,
13) major rivers and associated stories (shipping, irrigation, etc.)
14) Interstate Ponds,
15) cellphone towers,
16) rock cuts
17) tree farms
18) wind farms
19) a mysterious brick chimney
20)  Billboards!

More than anything else the most prominent and common link to I-70 in Missouri were the plethora of billboards.  In China, as in Missouri, it is a challenge to look beyond the billboards.  China may even exceed Missouri with their record number of billboards per mile. Apparently China, like Missouri, doesn’t tightly regulate billboards. Even the first glimpses of the Great Wall as you approach on the highway are blocked by billboards! 
Billboards blocking view of the Great Wall of China

I expected to see Missouri-style fireworks stores since all of the Missouri fireworks are made in China. But I didn’t expect to see a lonely brick chimney like the one described in the Missouri book. It seemed the only story lacking was the RV dealers story!  Of course, Winnebagos are larger than most Chinese homes and are hard for the rickshaw drivers to pull. 
Power lines and Interstate ponds

The drive stimulated more roadwriting questions than answers. Are Interstate highways by their nature universally similar? In China’s strong central (and only recently capitalistic) government are there laws governing billboards? In one of the most exotic countries in the world who would have thought that their interstate would look basically the same as it does here in the Midwest, and that over just a few hours of driving there would be at least 20 stories that occurred in the Missouri book that could be lifted for use in a China highway book.  The stories that would differ, of course, are those dealing with history and place names - although this genre of stories is in the Missouri book too. Is there anything new along highways on the other side of the planet?
Roadside cemetery

Would a book “Driving across Jiangxi” be significantly different from “Driving across Missouri”? Apparently not…

Then it occurred to me that a “Driving across Jiangxi” book is exactly what I needed to see the beauty of China beyond the billboards. I needed to know why things were the same, and if indeed they really were the same. So LuAnn doesn’t know this yet, but she better start studying up on rice production and how Jiangxi got its name!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Run for the Wall

This week I set out with my family on a two-day drive to Virginia. We traveled Missouri’s I-29 down to meet my old friend, I-70, in KC. Not long after we merged onto I-70, we noticed some people standing on the overpass ahead. One woman, with a happy anxious smile, was waving an American flag-- using the full length of her arms and twisting her torso slowly back and forth to keep the flag in motion. Cool morning air and moisture from pregnant rain clouds had brightened her big ruddy cheeks.

Within the next 5 miles we saw a lighted sign supporting veterans. At the next overpass we encountered more military supporters sporting rain gear and waving flags. We began to anticipate each overpass, wondering how many people, 6 or 12 or 20, would be there waving flags, smiling, and laughing. Caught up in their joy, we began to honk and wave at each bridge of supporters, inviting ourselves into their circle of camaraderie.  We wondered how far behind us the heroes followed. Who were they? They must be close. Assuming they were flying into KCI from the Middle East, when did their plane land? Who was on the overpass—their sister or brother or parents or spouse?

While most “welcome home” messengers were atop bridges, one couple had parked on a frontage road. The white-haired man paced in the grass away from his pick-up truck, his hands crammed into his blue-jean overall pockets and his baseball cap bowed towards the earth, while the woman stood near the front headlights rigidly facing the oncoming traffic.

Just before the Concordia exit, we enjoyed our last celebration with strangers above us. This time they held a huge flag that draped over ¼ of the length of the bridge. At the Concordia exit, a policeman stood next to his motorcycle and two rows of flags lined the exit road like runway lights leading these soldiers home. The flags continued down the street to the downtown.

We were sad to see the welcome parade end, but it seemed a fitting spot. Just over the other side of the exit is the St. Paul Lutheran cemetery of which Ted and I had written about in our I-70 book. Here in this cemetery 25 men were laid to rest after they were killed defending their home, their families, and their town. Fifteen Civil War soldiers are also buried here. On October 10, 1864, Bushwhackers (southern sympathizers) led by William Quantrill neared the German town of Concordia intending to kill those who were opposed to slavery. A group of brave townspeople rode to meet them. Of that group, 25 would give their lives for the freedom of others.
The smiling flag-wavers were also awaiting a group of people that were willing to give their lives so that others could be free. They were there to welcome a group of over one hundred motorcyclists who were veterans of wars and friends of veterans. Their tour, “Run for the Wall,” was stopping in Concordia to fuel up on gas and food on their journey from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Their 2-week journey would culminate at the Vietnam Wall in D.C. on Memorial Day weekend. Concordia means “harmony.” What a beautiful place to be welcomed—where the soil claimed brave men who defended freedom and where that pride and honor to freedom still lives on. 
Learn more about "Run for the Wall" at http://www.rftw.org

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hidden Logos

Posted by Ted:
I recently attended a session by Shea Lewis from Arkansas State Parks about graphic design. It changed my life… and not for the better. I am cursed with seeing the arrow in the FedEX logo. Have you seen it? Now I am obsessed with seeing the arrow when a FedEx truck drives past. And, to make things worse, I am spreading the disease.  All the way to Chicago on our recent I-55 trip I kept asking LuAnn, “Look! Do you see the arrow?” Other strains of the disease include seeing the 31 in Baskin Robbins signs and noticing nothing but O and U’s (for University of Oklahoma) in the Conoco signs. LuAnn and I will use the websites below to spread the “do you see it?” disease to our readers.    Actually we think it will be a fun diversion for road readers to spot and discern the deeper meanings of these amazingly creative symbols. You might want to check out the websites yourself to see how clever graphic designers make their logos contagious.   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From Wind Farms to the Windy City

Posted by Ted:
If there was one constant on our trip through Illinois it was wind.  As the prairie zephyr buffeted our vehicle mile after mile, I was struck by how this invisible force has influenced people both past and present. Pioneers sailed across the sea of grass on prairie schooners – the wind filling the sails attached to their wagons. This same force turned windmills that pumped life giving water from the ground for people and livestock. Without these windmills, settlers would never have been able to settle away from lakes and rivers.  The same breezes that cooled, carried, and quenched prairie dwellers, also brought destruction in the form of tornados and wind-swept wildfires. Today wind is still both friend and foe.  Sometimes we want it to blow and other times we go to great effort and expense to stop it from blowing.  The most obvious interaction with wind along I-55 is the wind farms that harvest energy from the atmosphere and convert it to electrical energy.   These modern day windmills come with controversy LuAnn is working on that story for the book.  I recently did a story on how farmers block the wind with rows of trees called shelterbelts or windbreaks. These are planted to hold soil in place and to keep homes and farmsteads warmer in winter and cooler in summer, as well as to reduce the wear and tear of the wind on farm buildings.  Much of life in this part of Illinois is still devoted to capturing or blocking something many of us take for granted - the wind.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's in a Name?

Today is my daughter’s 12th birthday. Her name is Rose. The choice of her name didn’t originate from the delicate, yet thorny shrub in the garden; although it was sealed after a rose banner was unfurled in our church a few weeks before her birth. The choice of her name sprang from her mother’s literary desires. I named her after Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who became a successful journalist in San Francisco and then helped her mother write the memoirs of her childhood. Was it my hope that if I didn’t become a writer my daughter would become one, or would even help me find my way there?

Ted and I drove I-55, from Springfield to Chicago, this week. We rolled through towns named Shirley, Joliet, Elkhart, Bloomington, Coal City, Lincoln, Odell, Funk’s Grove, Towanda…each of them with their own story of how they were named. Many towns were born along the lines of the railroad, the steel Caesarean section that sliced across the belly of the prairie and opened up communications from town to town. Some towns were simply named for the person who ground his boots into the soil first: like the railroad engineer, William H. Odell, or the settler Isaac Funk. Funk’s Grove may be my favorite town along this stretch—a beautiful area of sugar maple trees still tapped for their sirup (not “syrup”), an oak savanna dotted with prairie wildflowers, an old family cemetery, and a peaceful chapel under the cathedral-like canopy of the woods. Lincoln—well, that one is obvious in this state with the slogan of “Land of Lincoln.” 

Other towns were named for their landscapes; surveyed with a nostalgic eye that searched for a comforting piece of their former home in the strange new land they were settling. Jesse Fell brought the name Towanda from his birthplace in Pennsylvania. Atlanta was named for Atlanta, Georgia.

My literary side delighted that Mrs. Corydon Weed named the town of Shirley after the heroine of a novel. The same was for Divernon (south of Springfield), the heroine, Di Vernon, of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy. While Joliet would naturally be named for the French colleague of Marquette, there is another story that it was once Juliet, to complement the town of Romeo (now Romeoville) nearby. Aw, the romance! Elkhart was also recorded in the name of love. According to one story, the daughter of an Indian chief had to choose between two suitors. When an elk wandered by, she said she would choose the one who shot the arrow closest to the elk’s heart—and she did.

The fact that my alma mater, Illinois State University, sits near an area once called Keg Grove, seems too ironic. Like any name, we see the connections of that name to its place even hundreds of years later. It seems we always name well—we find the right connection to see its significance.

Rose is twelve today and her tenderly mature heart balances with the thorns she wields when she must. And speaking of Romeo(ville) and Juliet (Joliet), “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”