Day 3: Roadside adventures in SD

IMG_4188We planned a day of looking at stuff as we meandered across South Dakota’s Interstate 90 until  we reached the Badlands. Jack and I dragged the unsuspecting Barbara and Oliver into the Porter sculpture park first thing. Greeted by a gopher on arrival, Oliver looked suspicious and annoyed.

But he cheered right up when Wayne remembered us, and traded us t-shirts again–our shop one for two of his–and then comped all four of us into his park. I brought him a long-promised copy of Little Bookstore, and he asked how long it had taken to write. I asked how long it took him to make that huge bull that is the park’s signature nationwide. Turns out, it took us about the same length of time.

IMG_4224If you expand the goldfish picture to look under it, you will meet the gopher who unnerved Oliver. We remembered Wayne feeding the gophers chocolate last time we were there, but he told us they were on peanuts now. “Chocolate is bad for them, turns out. Too much carbs and sugar.” So even gophers are on the Keto diet now…

Next stop: Mitchell, because if you are hauling Brits across the States, you need to see some tacky stuff. Also, they have really good ice cream. Barbara and Oliver were suitably impressed with the idea that someone could cover a brick building with decorative corn murals and revitalize a dying economy. “Heavy price to pay,” they noted, given the traffic and the, well, corniness of it all. Remembering Farmington’s gentle dignity down by the river, plus the empty buildings everywhere, who can judge whose choices?

 

From the ridiculous to the sublime, we sped our little Nissan along 90 to Chamberlain, where the famous “Dignity” statue awaited at the Lewis and Clark interpretation center. The sculptor used three indigenous models to create her: a girl, a mother, and an elder.IMG_4240

Finally, I found out what Lewis and Clark had been doing all that time: looking for a passage to the Pacific. (Who knew?) It’s one of those things Americans feel like we ought to know, but when it comes down to it, you don’t.

And then, the Badlands. Which gobsmacked the Brits as much as we expected it to. *smirk* More on that tomorrow.

 

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Day Two: SQUEEEEEverly

Farmington, Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

highway 2 mapSo there are a couple of things you need to know about our rag-tag band of Brits: Barbara is famous back in the UK, as in, can’t eat out without being approached for an autograph famous. Her husband Oliver is the calmest classic Englishman ever, complete with handlebar mustache, and Jack, well, y’all know Jack.

So when Barbara the “seen it all twice” star loses her cool, it is fun to watch. The words “Everly Brothers” send her into full meltdown fangirl mode. Which is extra funny because the unflappable Oliver is the one who met Phil during a filming–a fact he uses to great aplomb in scoring marriage points when needed.

We missed the Everly birthplace in Kentucky on the way out because it was west of our desired trajectory, but when I took coffee to the porch of the Farmington B&B and opened my laptop to plan our route across Iowa, the musical muses of mischief intervened.

Who knew the Everly brothers had a museum at their childhood home in Shenandoah, Iowa?

barn 1Iowa has three or four ways to cross it, the swiftest being Interstate 80. But across the bottom is a little thing called Highway 2, cleverly populated with unusual barns in a desperate attempt to get people to drive it. You know the tourism board is reaching when they tell you why a particular roof slant is “unique.”

But I wanted to drive it because, as one rather caustic Trip Advisor review pointed out, “The main selling point of Highway 2 is that it isn’t Interstate 80.” So it took about .2 seconds to convince Barbara that we wanted to go the slow route to Sioux Falls and enjoy the scenery, because at the far end of Highway 2 lay Shenandoah-gri-la.

everleyWe called the museum, as it looked like one of those places that closes if the volunteer’s granddaughter needs picked up from ballet lessons. This was fortuitous; when the volunteer heard Barbara’s enthusiasm, she offered “the works,” a tour of the home and an overview of relics collected from this corner of musical America.

We arrived in yet another dying small town’s main street, full of beautiful buildings with nothing in them, but the Depot Deli proved full of artifacts as promised; Barbara could scarcely eat for excitement.

At 2 pm our dignified diva left us in a mad dash, smoke curling behind her feet in Flintstone-esque fashion. Oliver came back from the loo, noted her absence, and said, “Ah, it’s open then?” We nodded. Oliver picked up his hat and followed his wife.

Post-tour and equipped with a guidebook gifted by “her new best friend” the volunteer,  Barbara entertained us with Everly Brothers trivia as we turned sharp north and headed up the side of Iowa, following the Lewis and Clark Trail toward Sioux Falls. The Brits had hoped to bag another state briefly in Nebraska, but we missed it by about five miles–which meant we also missed seeing my friend Kate Belt, who lives in the area. But by now Barbara had the guidebook memorized, so count your blessings, Kate.

Since we had crossed Iowa at an almost-perfect right angle, it took longer to, as Oliver put it, “get out.” The Brits now understand that some parts of America are indeed flat.

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Day One: Frankfort to Farmington

MaryAfter ensuring Charles and Mary-the-Storyteller had enough AirBorne to save them from our creeping crud, we set off, a-tired and lighthearted to take to the open road. (Sorry, Walt)

Today held a “get some miles behind us” plan because I had to teach an online writing class that required pulling in at our Farmington B&B no later than 5:30 to set up. No sweat. With Barbara and Jack tucked into the back seat making “stay on your own side” noises, Oliver and I would defy speed limits and sound medical advice (this was his worst of the three-day misery plague this bug seems to give most people; I was on the mend and Barbara was almost back to normal) to play “who’s got enough funding to staff the highways” with assorted state patrols.

We blitzed Kentucky and made our way across Indiana and Illinois into Iowa, a happy chain of I-states that left Barbara and Oliver exclaiming over landscapes  and roadside attractions. We hit on the scheme of looking up “10 Interesting facts about [state name]” which was fun, but we had to work quickly in Illinois, given how fast Oliver was driving.

Did you know that gas pumps were invented in Indiana? And that the world’s largest ball of paint is there? Now you do.

We also invented a car game. Since all four of us have musical careers of some variety, any comment touched on song lyrics meant someone would start singing them. The person who could get the most lyrics out without getting shouted down by the others wins–or perhaps loses. No one is sure yet. Since we are all but Jack sick with a virus affecting the throat at this point, keys were declared optional. My rendition of “Downtown” was a personal low note.

We reached Farmington in good time and said hello to Elizabeth and David, owners of Porch Time Bed and Breakfast. It may tell you something of Farmington’s charms to know that drinks at the American Legion Bar are $3, and the bartender is the mayor. She has a list on the front door of people who have been barred, some for a month, some for life. Be warned, Farmington Visitors: do not mess with Mary.David and Elizabeth

We were there because Elizabeth and David had walked into our bookstore a year or so before, out of the blue, and told us how much they enjoyed Little Bookstore. “It’s so like our town, how people reinvent themselves and make things stick when others say it won’t work,” Elizabeth enthused. “If you come visit us, I’ll show you around. You’ll see. You kind of wrote our story, or at least what we’ve been trying to say with our lives, too.”

Elizabeth had escaped a cult life after 38 years, losing a family member in the process but gaining a real life for which she shows more appreciation than most people. She and her husband married later in life and moved to Iowa to start together in a neutral place. As a graphic artist, he was portable, and she soon found steady demand as a substitute English teacher. They became integral parts of Farmington, this quirky little town holding its own by the side of the Des Moines river, offering artistic refuge and tourism options for equestrians, canoeists, and hikers. There is an artists’ co-op there, and an art festival, and about eight painters, several songwriters, a writing group that feeds out from Iowa’s Famous Writers Workshop, and a general feeling that everyone in Farmington is walking around with some level of masterpiece working its way out of them with less angst than enjoyment. These are nice people.Porch Time

The 1860s carriage house renovated into an upstairs flat and downstairs studio, which David and Elizabeth’s friend Anne created, is but one example. Never let anyone tell you what you want to do can’t be done; they did all the work themselves without a mortgage and that building is magnificent. (No photos because dusk was falling as Elizabeth toured me around.)

swimholeThe river offered a local swimming hole away from the tourism end which Oliver and I availed ourselves of the next morning – there is nothing like swimming in live water. Already at 9 am the shallow river was bath-water-warm, portent of the heat to come as we headed across Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And made an interesting discovery we will tell you about tomorrow.

 

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The Day Before The First Day

A bit of background: Jack and Wendy are hosting Oliver and Barbara, dear friends from Scotland. Jack and Barbara are old singing pals, and Oliver is a TV Producer. They’ve always wanted to see some of America’s West, so we are on a road trip until July 25, headed out through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and possibly a bit of Kansas. We’ve been planning this trip for a year now, starting July 9. Read along from an armchair where the sunburn and skinned knees won’t hurt quite so much as our plucky band of woefully unfit Brits and their bemused, disorganized token American take this road trip.

Spirits are high, and so are temperatures. Our Barbara got off the plane carrying more than her enormous red suitcase; she’d picked up a fellow traveler that stole her voice and brought the hacking, coughing, ear-clogging, cotton-wool head of “that thing going around.”sick-on-vacation-1

We all still love Barbara, but she was better on Friday, and I was down with it. Whatever it is, it strikes fast. As I was stewing in my bed of misery (Okay, upstairs on the chaise lounge in the classic room, covered in foster kittens) OIiver came by and said, “Have you got anything for a sore throat?”

Third victim claimed.

Jack, of course, never gets these things, because he smokes, drinks, and doesn’t eat vegetables. He’s a genetic anomaly, and he is cheerfully watching the rest of us hack up small pieces of lung and down Sudafed, emitting sympathetic noises and downing doctored cokes. Maybe I should drink more whisky.

Still and all, we were so excited to begin this road trip that we piled one recovering, two hacking, and one pickled passenger into the little Nissan van—we gave my parents the Prius in return for the loan of this larger vehicle—and headed off to Frankfort, KY right after Barbara’s last concert Sunday. Old friends Charles and Mary had agreed to bed and breakfast us overnight, being sweet people. I was very much looking forward to catching up with them as well. As storytellers on the early road, Mary and I were used to artists asking for a crash pass.

All this I explained driving up the road. At the end, Oliver commented, “Yes, I’m sure your old friends will be delighted with our in-chorus coughing.” Well, yes. I still wasn’t ready to admit we were sick, despite the fact our voices were so low, we were covering Statler brothers tunes in the car.

C’est la vie, and we did try to avoid touching anything much at Mary’s, and put our laundry in the washer. The most magnificent breakfast was laid out on their glorious screened-in back porch, including “Eggs a la Charles,” a mixture of all that is good in the kitchen world.

Thoughtfully, Charles and Mary had arranged a racoon visitor from their nearby woodland. He’d clearly been out all night partying and was working his way home when he passed by. Jack offered him a whisky.

And so we start out on Day One with spirits high, fevers somewhat abated, and more Sudafed. Hi ho for a life on the open road.

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The Spoken Blog

Those of you keeping up with the Madcap Adventures of Jack and Wendy will know that we are leaving for a long-overdue holiday this Sunday, after a short series of concerts by longtime friend Barbara Dickson. She and her husband Oliver Cookson will be joining us for a Way Out West extravaganza that loops through Wyoming to Montana and back down through Wisconsin, just to bag as many states as possible.flying_away_by_cinnamon_sim-d45l4fp

Getting ready to go has been wild, with the usual bookstore, college, healthcare, and foster cat duties going on. So in lieu of getting a blog written, I offer a really pleasant interview I did for my latest book, Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of foster care and adoption in Appalachia.

Enjoy! And I look forward to blogging from new and strange mountain peaks over the next two weeks.

Wendy’s interview on Fall or Fly

 

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All is Forgiven – –

Jack’s guest post is early this week – that’s something new –

One of the things I remember from my MBA studies was how companies convert casual customers into loyal ones. There were a range of strategies but the most effective one was how they deal with problems. If a business accepted there was a problem and went out of their way to deal with it that customer would not only stick with them but pull in all their friends and acquaintances.

Last Friday I flew back from Scotland and my route was Edinburgh to Chicago and then Chicago to Knoxville. The final flight was due out of Chicago at 6.50pm and to arrive in TYS around 8.30pm.

The first problem was that the scheduled flight attendant’s incoming flight was from Canada and was not only late but coming into a different terminal, so she added a 30 minute delay (not her fault). We pushed out from the gate and sat in the ‘alley’ for another 30 minutes in a very hot plane until the pilot announced that we were going back to the gate because the A/C had broken (not his fault). Another 30 minutes later it was fixed, we got back on board and pushed out again.

This time we again sat for 30 minutes in the alley before we eventually trundled to the area where all the other planes were taking their turn to take off. We sat for another hour watching plane after plane pass us and take off. Finally we started to move only to perambulate around the airport and back to where we’d started. The Pilot came on and said there was a warning light flashing so we were going back to the gate again (not his fault).

We got to the gate and were again sent in to the terminal. After some time we were told that it wasn’t fixable but they were bringing a replacement plane out of the hangar for us. We finally took off four hours late and arrived at last in Knoxville at 12.45am. Normally this would have driven me crazy, but the pilot and flight attendant were absolutely on the ball. They didn’t keep us on an overheated plane, provided us with water, organized free snacks, kept us informed all the way as to what was happening and apologized for things they had no control over. Next morning I got an email from the airline apologizing again and giving me 2500 airmiles in compensation.

I was enormously impressed with the way that the employees of this enormous company who were actually in direct contact with their customers went out of their way to make us comfortable and cared for.

United Airlines has obviously turned a corner from last year when they dragged that man off the plane and have some amazing employees.

To the crew of UA 4013 – very well done and I will continue to fly United.

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The Monday TV show, which falls in a Tuesday this week…

800 wordsI’m sorry everyone; Jack is away and things are in transition here and getting the blog out has gotten weird. Sorry!

But I would like to recommend to you a Monday TV show about writing. We watch it on ACORN, so I’m not sure if it’s available on any other services. It’s called 800 WORDS and is about a columnist who moves his family from urban Sydney to rural Weld, New Zealand. The rural-urban split is fun, and the characters are wonderful: zany, sweet, and just this side of predictable.

My favorite part of the show is how George, the columnist whose wife died in a traffic accident, tops and tails the show with the column he’s writing. Remembering the days when I turned my life into fodder for newspaper columnizing (although I got 1,000 words, thank you) makes me laugh as he struggles to create metaphors for when life gets too silly: sex for fireworks, dolphins swimming away at sunset for loss. It’s hysterical.

And heartfelt. About the time you think, nah, it turns you to tears. The characters each struggle for something, want more than they have, are the stars of their own lives, and the ensemble casting makes a jumble of weirdos who mirror small towns everywhere.

I don’t know if it’s available outside of ACORN, but I highly recommend 800 Words for general viewing, and for writers. You’ll learn from it. And have fun in the process.

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