Friday, 31 July 2009

Thursday 30th July 2009 – A Disturbing Co-incidence

A man has to have a haircut every so often.  Not often enough that people will think him vain, but often enough to look like he cares.  I was beginning to look like I didn't care.

There aren't many rural barber's shops left.  There isn't one here.  I asked about, and was told the ladies salons did the men as well.  So off I sallied.

I had met the hairdresser later one night a few nights ago.  Her husband was trying to persuade me to run away with him to a tractor factory.  She was trying to persuade him that he would feel differently in the morning.  (Actually, I got a distinct impression he was going to feel differently the second she got him out the door.)

So I now look like I care again.  It's a good haircut.  And it's much pleasanter to have your hair cut by a woman.  Of course no-one will notice.

I decided I was going to show off my new appearance by lunching in town, in the young ladies restaurant.  I don't normally eat lunch, since an American breakfast lasts me all day.  I have to work up (do I mean "down"?) a lot of dutch courage to face an American-sized meal.  They made no remarks about my appearance, but they did comment on my courage.


Later that night, I got a bit of a shock.  The Grown-up Ladies Shuffleboard Team are still after me.  There is a shuffleboard table here in good order, but it's not used very much.  Clearly plans are afoot.

I overheard a young man talking.  As I focused in on his conversation, it became clear he had been at the scene of the Grown-up ladies defeat, up near Fort Peck, Montana.  And he had been there at the very time it happened.

I slipped away into the crowd before he turned round.  He was clearly a resourceful young man: he had come here from Fort Peck by kayak, covering the ground in a mere 56 days.  I checked the website he let slip, and he is equipped with a satellite phone.  I had a lucky escape.

What gave him away was the meticulous cover story they had concocted.  I will pass it on, just to let you see how well-crafted and plausible it sounds.

He claims he is a medical student from Virginia.  His grandfather recently contracted Parkinson's Disease, and is responding very well to modern treatment. 

He claims he is kayaking all the way from Three Forks (the start of the Missouri) to the Gulf (the end of the Mississippi) in order to raise awareness and funds for the National Parkinson Foundation.  He has even set up a web site as a cover.  It's at .  Have a look at it.  See what you think.

Me? I know the Grown-up Ladies are still after me.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Wednesday 29th July 2009 – Something Old, Something New

I felt a draught on my elbow one night last week, and noticed I'd torn my shirt, so when I came back from the laundromat, I put it to one side to mend.  It was a nice cross-shaped tear, so it was quite easy to stitch up.  When I wore it a couple of nights ago, I felt a draught on my elbow, and when I looked, it had pulled apart where I'd stitched it.

Next morning I convened the Repairs and Renewals Committee: they reckoned the shirt was OK, apart from the elbow.  Well, and the collar: apart from the elbow and the collar.  Well, and the cuffs: apart from the elbow, and the collar, and the cuffs. 

The committee could see there was some case for replacement, but they reckoned it would be pretty difficult to find one made from the same, or similar, material. 

I was, I told them, going, in any case, to a nearby town big enough to have a clothes shop.  That was the clincher: I was empowered to find a replacement, if a similar one could be found.


I was actually going down to Columbia, about 40 miles away, to visit the University of Missouri, where the Western Historical Manuscript Collection is kept.  I was going to rummage through it, to see if there was anything interesting about Glasgow.  Actually (and naively, as it turned out) I was hoping they might have the originals of the deeds of sale, and the Act of Incorporation, perhaps even some flyers advertising the creation of the town.

The collection is very well organised, with lots of indexing.  And very helpful staff, ever eager to explain and advise.

It is clear that the Collection has what has been saved and given to it.  One of the things they have been given is the papers of a prominent local lawyer.  And James Glasgow had written a few times to this man.

The letters were nothing to do with the town, but it was really exciting to see, and hold, very old letters, in Glasgow's own hand.  I was allowed to handle them, but not to photograph them.  I could have photocopies if I wanted.

Photocopies are not as good as photographs, particularly digital photographs.  They lose a lot of definition. 

For example, one of the letters was badly blotted, and I think the blots showed that Glasgow was left-handed.  But the evidence had vanished from the photocopy.


My Walmart Atlas showed me where there were likely to be shopping malls, and Dulcie directed me to one on the way out of town. 

There was a clothes shop.  It was considerably bigger than the premises of the Manuscript Collection, with considerably fewer staff.  In fact there were no staff at all, except at the register (which is what they call the till here).

I bought an orange shirt.  The receipt doesn't mention the colour.  I don't expect the Repairs and Renewals Committee will bother to look at the actual shirt.

Oh, and on the way out, I suddenly decide to buy a pair of pants (trousers).  I don't know how I'm going to explain that.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Tuesday 28th July 2009 – Never Accept Hearsay, Especially When it Comes to History

I was quietly having breakfast when this ol' boy says to me: "is that a Scottish Flag on your van?"  I was surprised that anyone could see it, since it's on the inside of a shaded window.  I was not surprised he knew it was mine, since I expect he knew everyone else's.

His father had worked in Glasgow, Scotland, just before the first war.  He emigrated here in 1923.  He wanted to know a bit about Glasgow, Scotland.

Not one to let an audience slip away unenlightened, I launched into my 'Glasgow' spiel.  They wanted to know where I'd been, and where I was going.  I told them Iowa was next.

Then it would be Glasgow Illinois:  and a man at the counter wheeled round and said "I'm from Glasgow Illinois".  He'd been in Glasgow MO for a couple of years.

What do you think the odds of that are?


Then it was off to Howard County Courthouse in Fayette, about twelve miles away, hoping to find the original plat map, and the original deeds of transfer.

The courthouse is a very grand building in the middle of the main square.  It appears to be symmetrical across both diagonals.  I noticed this at the end of the day, when I couldn't find my car.  Of course my first thought was that I'd missed a sign and been towed.  Then I calmed down and realised that, if I'd been towed, they had replanted the whole garden to fool me.  But I had to walk round all four sides to find it.


They did have court copies of the plat, and the deeds.  These are, as you would expect from 1835, hand-written copies.  They even had little squiggly circles to represent seals.  And they didn't quite tell the story that is the accepted truth in Glasgow.

The deed which transferred the original town land from Earickson and Turner to the group, including them, who bought it (for $2758, by the way, on the 19th September 1835), listed the group, and there were sixteen, if you include the two sellers.  And they didn't have equal shares.  It was divided into twenty-seconds, and Glasgow, who was listed first, got three shares, as did Nicols and Moore "jointly".  Johnson and Swinney got two each, and Earickson and Turner reserved three "to ourselves".  All the rest got one.

2758 doesn't give a sensible result when divided by 22 (or by 19, if you take out the sellers' three shares), so there must have been some lump sum for expenses.

Anyway, what is even more interesting is that the deed was signed and sealed by no less than thirty (yes, THIRTY) people: the sixteen above, and fourteen of their wives.  So, although the law, in those days, didn't write the wives out, history certainly did.  Glasgow's wife did not sign.

They started selling lots nine days later, the deeds initially being denoted "Glasgow et al".  In them, although all the names are listed, they describe themselves as "proprietors of the Glasgow Township", so they intended for it to be "Glasgow" from the word go.


My speculation is that Glasgow came to Chariton nearly twenty years before, and seeing the failure of Chariton and Monticello to expand and succeed, looked around and decided this was the place.  And as he persuaded the movers and shakers of this, it became known as the "Glasgow Plan", "Glasgow Town", something like that.  And he only had to assemble enough merchants, like himself, with money, and marry them up to the landowners, who had the land, but wanted money, and it could happen: it was called "Glasgow" because it was his idea, and he made it happen.  But I'm just guessing.  Sorry, did I say "guessing"?   I mean "that's my thesis".

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Monday 27th July 2009 – A Day in the Library

Today I made my little presentation to the mayor. We had to do it in the dark, in case either of us was compromised


No, actually I asked the newspaper photographer to take a picture on my camera, and somehow gave it to her on 'manual', so the exposure wrong. I do not seem fated to get any of these pictures.

At breakfast, the mayor – I have breakfast with the mayor – says "you must meet this guy's wife. She know a lot about the history of Glasgow." And, as good as his word, he picks up the phone and phones her. We make a date.

Of course, like all ladies (I don't think she quite met my definition of 'grown-up') in this wonderful country, she wanted to take me upstairs.

In the Lewis Memorial Library, upstairs looks like this:


There was an almost complete set of the local newspaper, not on microfilm, but the actual newspapers themselves, which is much more satisfying. And any number of books giving details on early Glasgow: one that particularly caught my eye had a picture of what I think is the grandest house in Glasgow


I photographed it the day I arrived, just looking for the best sights. It turns out that it lacks that ultimate cachet for an American house, it is not 'antebellum'. It dates from 1875, having been built by one James S Thompson, who was on the first city council in 1845, the year Glasgow was incorporated as a city.

My upstairs guide also lives in a very grand house, which is antebellum, but I won't show you a picture of that – one has to be discrete, doesn't one?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Sunday 26th July 2009 – Sins Come in Sets

It being a Sunday, and hot, I settled down in air-conditioned comfort to watch the Grand Prix.  It's Hungary this week.  They run the highlights about 12 hours late here, but there is no danger of anyone even knowing the result, let alone talking about it.

There was NASCAR on before it, with Juan-Pablo Montoya on the front row.  They made much of his having already won the great indy car race, the Indianapolis 500, and they mentioned that he had also won the Grand Prix of Monaco, but they made that sound like he had been awarded some tawdry medal by some minor teutonic prince. 

He was sharing the front row with a fifty-year-old, so it's clear America makes its sportsmen to last.


Later that night, I had to go gambling.  If you want to drink beer on a Sunday socially in Missouri, you have to go to a casino.  There is, fortunately, a casino just round the corner (that's about twenty miles away, here).  And there was one of America's plentiful supply of grown-up ladies to escort me and ensure my safety.

There were signs up all over the casino saying you weren't allowed to gamble if you were intoxicated.  Which was rather paradoxical, since you weren't allowed to get intoxicated unless you gambled.  I have long held the view that when you have uncovered a paradox, you have uncovered the truth, even if you don't understand it.  The truth in this case being that it was OK to drink, as long as I didn't gamble.

Which suited me just fine: I could rove around and watch the others at it.   Which is what I did.  It wasn't quite on the Las Vegas scale, but it was close.

There were ladies in black tights plying drinks to ladies who would (mostly) not have looked their best in black tights.  Actually, come to think of it, they didn't seem to be concentrating on looking their best (I hope).

The room was a cacophony of fruit machines.  Some of the players seemed to be chained to their machine.  It seemed they might be condemned to some thirteenth labour of Hercules, to lose all their money before they die.  Just as they got close to broke, the machine would taunt them with little dribbles of money back, forcing them to carry on and on.  It must have been awful.  And at the end of the chain was an Identity card, perhaps to help the casino with the funeral arrangements.

In the bathroom (which is the word they also use here) everything worked automatically (except me, of course).  The urinals flushed themselves, the taps turned on and off, the soap dispensed itself. 

And as you looked up to admire yourself in the mirror, an advert appeared where your face should be.  Now I don't know about you, but replacing my handsome features with an advert just when I was getting into admiring overdrive did not give me positive feelings about the product.


There was what seemed to be the usual machine in the gents, but on closer inspection, it turned out to be dispensing Tylenol and Advil, which I think are pain-killers.  I mean, if she says she's got a headache, producing an asprin isn't going to get you there, is it?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Friday 24th July 2009 – Boys will be Boys

I was invited to play golf.  On the way there (in a nice new Cadillac), I told them my golf story.  It's amazing how the quest for a good story can not only overtake the truth, it can unceremoniously run it off the road.

I told them I'd only ever played golf once before.  I played with two friends, one of whom was left-handed, and the other right-handed.  I couldn't make up my mind which I was, so I played half the holes with the left-handed clubs, and half with the right-handed ones.  And, of course, I WON!


The observation that golf is a good walk ruined is usually ascribed to Mark Twain.  Being American, he wouldn't be able to observe that now, since nobody walks anywhere.  Now it would be a good drive ruined. 

The car park adjoins a large set of lock-up garages.  It's out of the car and onto the cart, with hardly a step in between.  Actually, the carts are quite good fun (I got to drive one).  Sometimes the balls vanish over a hill from the tee.  So there is a lot of whizzing about the fairway checking whose ball is whose.  You just have to watch out for the drain covers and sprinklers.

I told them I was in no condition to do any (golf) driving, so they were kind enough to play a set of rules which allowed me to do a bit of putting: just enough stress and embarrassment to be going on with.  Apart from the risk of injury, driving would have been agonisingly embarrassing, since they all smacked the ball off the tee like Tiger Woods.

It was only a nine-hole course, but we went round three times.  I guess that was only possible with the carts.  A walk like that would probably have put us all in hospital.  The carts are also, of course, much quicker than walking; and they allow you to carry much more beer.

We had hotdogs for lunch, and a brown-paper bag of beer on the way home: a real boys' day out.


Later that night, we were invited to dinner at a house which must have one of the finest views I've ever seen.  I got sunset over the longest bend on the Missouri, and a beautiful night sky, with the only light pollution coming from a wailing freight train crossing the bridge at the downstream end of the bend.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Thursday 23rd July 2009 – Seeing the Sights

There used to be a feeling that Japanese tourists weren't really on vacation, they were busy taking photos of the vacation they were planning, so they could go home and use the photos to imagine they'd been there.

Pretty early on, I gave up the idea of videoing my entire trip.  It would have been a full time job, and even then would have been done badly.

I now seem to be starting to take the same view about the stills camera.  If I'm out somewhere on my own and I see something worth recording, it's about an even chance I've forgotten to put the camera in the car.

If someone offers to show me round somewhere, it seems positively rude to drape a camera round my neck.  So I generally don't have pictures of the things I see.  This must make me more attentive, and improve my memory.

Of course, this may partly be because I have a camera which looks like an old-fashioned 'proper' camera.  Perhaps I should get one of these new pocket cameras, and carry it with me all the time.  That would produce more useful images than the cellphone.


Today, I was taken on a tour to see the grand 'antebellum' houses of the city's founders, and their grand cemetery plots.  (As I'm sure you know, the 'bellum' referred to is the Civil one).

 The town has a significant Civil War history.  The Confederates won the Battle of Glasgow.  Glasgow was a well-organised port on the Missouri, so there were stocks of supplies worth fighting for. 

There seem to have been about four sides in the Civil War in Missouri.  As well as the regulars from each side, there were the irregulars (essentially pro-slave and abolitionist Missourians).  Missouri stayed in the Union, and was occupied by Union troops, but the insurgent pro-slave Missourians wrought a fair amount of havoc.

Quantrill, allegedly was here.  The local bankers, direct ancestors of my guides, had to sneak off at night, down the river, with the gold.  But raiders still got off with a fair amount of money.

Since Quantrill, and "Bloody Bill" Anderson were here, I'm entitled to speculate, romantically, that Jesse James was actually here.  I don't suppose it was very romantic at the time.


We stopped for a soda, at the Soda fountain in the drug store.  Glasgow's drug store, where the pharmacists have been father and son for five generations, maintains a genuine soda fountain.  I had a lemonade, made with freshly-squeezed lemons.  The young lady serving reminded me that I had been fishing with her husband on Sunday.


In the afternoon, we went to see what had once been the family farm, but is now a wetland nature reserve.  The river had broken down a levee, and formed a new, subsidiary channel across the middle of the farm.  'The Corps' (the Army Corps of Engineers) simply had no intention of rebuilding the levee, so the farm effectively ceased to be.  The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) bought it and turned it into a nature reserve.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Wednesday 22nd July 2009 – It’s a Small World, Especially in a Small Town

It seems I am very fortunate to have chosen this time of year to visit central Missouri.  Apparently, Spring and Fall are both hot and humid, and very uncomfortable.  July, it would appear, is just the right time.

So I am willing to risk going out-of-doors in the middle of the day.  Which is when the Community Museum is open.


The museum possesses a delightful little book about the history of Glasgow, "The Dream of Thirteen Men".  In it I discover that the last named of the thirteen men who set out to sell of lots in the town in 1836 was one James Glasgow.  It is said the town acquired its name precisely because he was listed last.  The nearby Library should have the original documents, which might show how plausible that is.  In any case, nobody is in any doubt that it is named for him.

So it might now be interesting to see how he or his family acquired the name.  He was born in 1784 in Delaware.  Curiously, there is another Glasgow in Delaware. 

He also did some housing development in St Louis, calling it "Glasgow Row", and there is still a "Glasgow Village" in St Louis, so I will need to look and see if that is connected.

But what is truly delightful about the little book is that, being a museum, rather than a library, this is actually somebody's copy of the book.  And the author, in the preface, actually thanks this person for her help and guidance.  She was, among other things, a local  historian, and his English teacher.

And she has annotated her copy with her comments and corrections, some of them quite waspish.  She has even, in places, corrected his spelling and grammar.  It is, of its kind, quite a little treasure.  Of course, I have no way of knowing whether the author is right, or the commentator, but the juxtaposition was very entertaining.

As well as being the local English (and Spanish, and Latin) teacher, the commentator was a descendant of the founders of the local bank, the first in Missouri.  The author, who was young, went to Canada at the time of the Vietnam War (nudge, nudge; wink, wink).  At least one of the comments was clearly made after the Vietnam War.


Later that night, I bumped into the nephew and niece of the commentator.  They painted a splendid  picture of her, which rounded off the day nicely.

Tuesday 21st July 2009 – Beerpong

I suddenly noticed the local bar has a shuffleboard table.  There is a crack team of grown-up ladies only two thousand miles up this great river, faces blacked, airboats revving, just waiting for the hint of a challenge.

But there is another table in this bar, a table beyond the ladies.  There is a boys' game in this bar.  It involves, and this will surprise you, drinking beer.

I have never seen anything quite like this before.  They call it 'Beerpong'.  It is, technically, a variant of 'quarters', to which I was introduced on graduation night in Newport, RI, not so long ago.

Essentially, the table allows the setting-up, in a triangular pattern, of (I think) about ten beers: at each end.  The players have to bounce a quarter into a beer in the other player's set.  If the quarter goes into a beer, the defending (ha, ha) player has to drink that beer.  Quarter-cleaning is an umpirorial duty, although the game is often played among friends who have no need of an umpire, or, indeed, quarter-cleaning.  Quarters, it would appear, are regularly consumed. 

The more regular Beerpong game uses pingpong balls, but that is not nearly as violent as this local variant.  Tables here wear out quite quickly, and the pits formed by the more popular pitches give the table the appearance of a well-worn cricket pitch.  The better players can take advantage of these pits, like Shane Warne  in the fourth innings.

There is an unexpected bonus: the looser has to drink the surviving beers of the winner.  So losing heavily can turn into a cheap night out

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Monday 20th July 2009 – The Games People Play

When you don't know your way around, and you need to do some shopping, supermarkets make life easy.  They may not provide the best, but they can usually be relied on to stock something like what you want, or allow your eyes to fall on some acceptable substitute.

Since Walmart has occasionally hosted my on-the-road overnight stops, and since I actually have a Walmart Atlas to help with that, I looked up the nearest one.  It was only twenty-odd miles away. That isn't far to go shopping these days in rural America.

So there I was in Boonville, with Dulcie egging me on to the very, very end of Main Street.  And there it was.  Except it wasn't.  It didn't seem to stock hardly anything I wanted.  What could be wrong?  I asked a bright young man in the uniform.  "Oh", he said, "that'll be in the new store".  And where would that be?  "Oh, it doesn't open till next month". 

But he was kind enough to point me at the competition, which I wouldn't have found otherwise.  So I got what I needed.


Later that night, there seemed to be some sort of party on somewhere (or so the barman claimed) because there was only one other person there.  But he turned out to be an ex-slow-pitch-softball player and umpire.

He had also worked for most of his life in the local grain elevator, so I got to ask a question which had been bubbling inside me as saw them dotted all over the landscape:  how do they work?  What goes on inside?  And he explained in great detail.  But don't panic, I won't go into it here. It involves lots of diagrams and hand-movements, so I will save it for more personal moments.  I'm sure the world is just full of grown-up ladies dying to know how a grain elevator works.


Slow-pitch Softball, something I had never heard of, seems to be very popular.  In Softball, which, at least on TV seems to be the exclusive preserve of girls, the pitching has to be underarm.  But these girls, at least on TV, can pitch underarm at astonishing speed.

The point of slow-pitch appears to be to ensure that the batter can hit the ball.  I once, myself, attempted to introduce some ladies to an exercise program called "co-operative badminton", where you lost points if your opponent missed the ball through your fault.  Slow-pitch softball sounded a bit like that.

It also appeared to be played by grown-up men, who indulged in all the machinations and skulduggery you might expect from grown-up men playing games.

My companion had been on the point of leaving when I arrived, but he stayed much longer.  He may not have been much the wiser when he left, but I certainly was.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Sunday 19th July 2009 – Gone Fishin’

Glasgow MO, or perhaps it's the whole MO, requires Sunday beer drinking to be done at home in secret. I complained to the young lady in the beer shop: "We're a Christian town", she said defensively. "So is mine", I said, belligerently. Of course, the Walter Mitty version has me saying "But what marks Christians apart from YOU-KNOW-WHO is drinking beer on a Sunday".

It is more likely that there is not enough business for the bars on a Sunday.

I went fishing in the morning. I had met two young men the previous night who had been out setting their lines. Today they were going to pull them in. They thought I would enjoy it. So did I.

The Missouri, at least around Glasgow, at least on a Sunday morning, is exquisitely peaceful.


So we dropped the boat in the river


and whizzed off to find the lines


They just tie them to a rock


then collect the fish




and back to the Sunday peace of Glasgow



I just got an email with photos in it and tried to look at them.   Now I've just been told that that may trigger sending on the email to my whole contact list.  If you opened it AND tried to look at the photos, you may have done the same. 

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Saturday 18th July – A Quiet Day

I've just discovered another mistake.  I don't know where I got this idea that I knew what I was doing.  It's just one of those delusions which help me through the fraught processes of life.  The scales are falling (or rather, being ripped, unceremoniously) from my eyes.

I've been uploading all my photos to a google web site for backup.  It also has the useful side-effect of making them easier to email, because I only have to send a pointer, rather than the photo.  But it was really to keep them safe.  Now I discover that many of them are only fit for emailing, since they are stored at low definition.

It's because I didn't read the instructions.  No, that's not true: given what's gone wrong, even if I'd read the instructions, I wouldn't have quite understood.  So, at least, I did save a bit of time.

But I now have a huge backup problem.  I shall copy them to my memory stick pro-tem, just to reduce the risk.  (I can't help wondering if two copies halves the risk, or quarters it, or even some other value)

The world is full of drawing boards, back to which I am being dragged.


Slater is a small, quiet railway town, laid out in a grid, like most American towns are.  It's to do with the way they were originally surveyed and platted.

Trains go through from time-to-time.  The one I stopped to watch had nine locomotives in front, and took four minutes to pass.


Slater also has a small, quiet bar, in which sit a group of grown-up ladies, listening to country and western songs on the juke box.  If only I'd worn my Stetson.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Friday 17th July 2009 – Steve McQueen and the Covered Bridges

Glasgow MO has it's own newspaper, the Glasgow Missourian. It is delightfully old-fashioned, and tells us who has been visiting with whom last week. It looks like it might actually be printed on a press in the back office. I find the office and decide to visit with the editor, but he is not at home.

Likewise, the Library and the Museum are not open till the onset of the noonday sun. I shall have to find a cold day, or be brave.

There has been a mix up with my motel booking, but a nice grown-up lady wafts me off to a place where I can look at covered bridges. First I'm the High Plains Drifter, now I'm looking at covered bridges. They'll be calling me "Clint" soon.

Actually, I'm being wafted off to Slater, about twenty miles away, and it turns out to have nurtured Steve McQueen. "He didn't claim us", says the lady in the tobacco shop, "we claimed him". The reason I'm in the tobacconist's is that smoking is permitted in bars here, and I can't keep bumming cigarettes just to show rebel solidarity.

Later that night I am much more socially productive. I manage to arrange a fishing trip on the great Missouri, and a promise to cook and serve some catfish fillets ("do you mean 'fil-ay'?", they say)

So no Mediterranean lifestyle this Sunday.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Thursday 16th July 2009 – Bad Day, Good Evening

Most American motels don't run to a radio.  But the TV usually has a country station which serves much the same purpose.  Today, I was introduced to a new song by (I think) John Rich, called "They're Shutting Detroit Down".  It is a criticism of bank presidents on Wall Street using his money to remodel their offices.  It seems to come from the heart.  Kris Kristopherson (if that's how you spell it) appears in the video.  It could catch fire, and provide a focus for the very strong feelings presently abroad about these, em, what's the technical term, 'bastards'.  Let's hope so.

I started the day not feeling so well.  I went out for breakfast, and then was overcome with the need for a post-prandial snooze.  I think maybe my days of trans-continental rushes are over.

I went to Fayette, the county seat, to try to find some proper food (I'm presently equipped with a microwave), but failed to find a supermarket.  I should have checked on Google beforehand.  I must balance my new temptation to just rush into things with a modicum of good sense.

Anyway, I indulged the Mediterranean lifestyle, and felt considerably better (it's the sun-dried tomatoes and ciabatta what does it, you know).

I found a place in town which looked like it would serve salads, so I ventured in.  I forewent the char-grilled hamburgers flaming before my eyes, and chomped my way through the chef's salad, feeling more-and-more bovine.  But I did feel better (that came off my fingers as "batter", obviously a Freudian slip).


Later that night, I found out a little of the town's trade.

The Coast Guard were in port.  "The Coast Guard?" I hear you cry, "In the middle of Missouri?"  Yes, I'm afraid so: the Coast Guard are charged with maintaining the navigation of all the western rivers.  They were coming past fixing the buoys (they say something between boo-eeze and boo-ays).  I had been down at the river at dusk trying to do nothing for a little while, and noticed two things: there was a lot of river going by; and there was a regular light flashing upriver on the fulcrum of the bend.  And up pops a group who know the answers!

There is currently 74,000 cubic feet of water per second passing by.  That sounds so startling I will have to check for units and decimal points, but that's what they quoted.  It was certainly a lot of water.

And the flashing light is actually called the "Glasgow Light" (two 1-second red flashes every 5 seconds, on the nun's side,if you're ever looking out for it).


And they're painting the water tower.  I thought this chap had cut himself shaving: cut himself quite a lot actually.  But it wasn't toilet paper on his face, it was paint.  He was an ex-marine.  There was a lot of joshing with the Coast Guard, but it was laced with mutual respect.  He knew the exact height (41 feet, he said) above which 100% of falls were fatal.  The worst part of his job seems to be when they go inside the tank, dressed like spacemen, to sand blast it: not nice in this weather.


And the railway was not, as I expected, the Union Pacific, or the Burlington Northern: it was the Kansas City Southern.  It is the smallest of the 'class I' railways. 

I had assumed the grain elevators were now dead, but they're not.  The reason there are no trucks bringing in the grain is that it's not that time of year.  The railroadman, although polite, was more interested in a bit of banter with the girls than briefing a visitor.  And in his shoes, so would I have been.

By the way, the Kansas City and Southern is incorporated, not as a 'Railroad', but as a 'Railway'.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Wednesday 15th July – First Sight of Glasgow Missouri

Having got to Kansas City in double-quick time, I hope that's the end of Interstate highways for a while. But Dulcie frowns on this: "Look, we can go the shortest way, or the quickest. Which is it to be?" She fails to understand that I just want to tootle along the banks of the Missouri. So I make my own plans.

She goes into one of her sulks, and won't tell me anything. I have to watch out for speed limit signs myself, and do sums to work out how far.

But my route takes me past a bank I know doesn't charge an ATM fee, so I get to stock up on cash. That might be a bit of a saving out in the country.

I stopped in Independence for breakfast, at Hazel's Country Café. If the pictures on the wall were anything to go by, the 'Country' referred to the music, and not the cooking. I plucked up the courage to ask for orange juice. I've been afraid to ever since the Waitress in Oakley, CO, brought me a pint of the stuff, and then kept coming back to see if I wanted some more. This waitress is grown-up, so it turns our all right.

Some twenty-odd miles from my destination (according to my dead-reckoning) I see a first mention of its name.


Soon I get a glimpse of the famous railroad bridge (it was the first all-steel bridge in the world, although that has since been replaced)


Then it's on to the ferry,


(The crane is part of the road bridge rebuilding)

across the city limits


They have clearly gone to considerable trouble to help me with my researches



Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Tuesday 14th July – Bastille Day on the Oregon Trail

It was the All-Stars baseball game tonight.  It was talking place in St Louis (they pronounce the last 's'), in Missouri, the state I'm presently in.  The American League beat the National League, but then they always do. 

What was really interesting was that they all wore their own uniforms, so just about every team in America (and the Toronto BlueJays) had there names out there.  Had I paid more attention, I would finally have discovered which teams play in which league.

President Obama pitched the first (ceremonial) ball.  He managed to pitch it all the way to the catcher, which is some sort of achievement.  He also wore his own uniform, a White Sox (Chicago) jacket.  It's not usual for politicians to do that sort of thing.  (Although, come to think of it, I do recall a British Cabinet Minister declaring his affections for, among other things, Chelsea Football Club).

What was even more surprising was that he sat and commented for some time in the Fox TV commentary box.  I suppose he can't choose his friends anymore, but he wanted to show he could still choose his clothes.


I was staying in Westport, which was where the migrants heading out on the four trails west in the middle of the nineteenth century got to choose their clothes.  I've now been to the other end of the Lewis and Clarke Trail, at Glasgow in Montana (OK, I went on to Seattle), and the Oregon Trail, at Glasgow Oregon (OK, North Bend). 

Can I claim to have been at the end of the California Trail in the Mohave?  After all, it was the Mormon settlers back then who named those funny trees "Joshua" trees.

Given the date, perhaps we ought, grudgingly, to mention the French, who developed all these trails.

Westport is now a part of Kansas City.  I chose it fairly arbitrarily on the Internet.  But it is now one of the nightspots, perhaps the nightspot of KC.  Needless to say, all these historic outfitters stores are now bars.  One of them is a bar and a brewery.  And all within crawling distance of bed.  Even a cowboy in a Stetson and riding heels could manage that.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

11th,12th and 13th July 2009 – The Canyons, the Rockies, and the High Plains

East to Denver

I15 out of Las Vegas cuts across the North-West corner of Arizona, from Mesquite in Nevada to St. George in Utah. For most of this journey, it runs through the Virgin River Gorge (not 'canyon', as I would have expected), which is awe-inspiring, not to say hair-raising. I suddenly noticed/felt the hairs on my arms standing on end. I don't think it was the air-conditioning, I think I was a bit frightened.

This is the most expensive bit of road in America. It crosses and re-crosses the river a number of times. And you drive at high speed just beside the rocks

It's not the Grand Canyon, but it will do for me. If you want to better the experience of driving through the Virgin Gorge, I think you'd have to fly through the Grand Canyon.

I stopped at Cedar City (in Utah) for brunch, at the "All-American Classic Diner". It was good and clean with a very talkative young waitress, but it wasn't railcar-shaped with seats at a counter, so it didn't literally live up to its name.

Cedar City was holding its "July Jamboree", without telling Dulcie. The main street was shut to traffic. So I parked up to have a look. They had all the usual stuff, but they also had a vintage car 'concours d'elegance', which was really terrific. There were all the usual 'muscle' cars, and 50's saloons, but there were also a few Model-T's, and some Model-A's: very entertaining.

Sixty miles north of Cedar City, I finally turned east onto I70. Through canyon after canyon, with mountains towering above.

It was quite dark by the time I reached my chosen Rest Area, so I really had no idea where I was.

The Interstate highways are all marked with mile-posts. The exits are not numbered consecutively, but by the mile they are in, so I only have to remember which mile I'm after, and watch the mile-posts to find my destination.

I try to avoid night-time driving, mainly because I want to see where I'm going. Three two-hour stints are quite enough for me nowadays. This, however, is a long slog across to Kansas City, which is going to take at least three days, so I try to press it a bit.

The rest Area has its usual complement of 'semi's' (they say sem-eye) with their compressors running, so I am up fairly early. The restroom has loo-paper and hot water, which quite impressed me.

Then I had a chance to look around. It really is quite unusual scenery:


When I look at the maps, I find I've been parked right next to Moab. Moab is next to the Arches National Park. It also claims to be the mountain-bike capital of the world, although I'm not sure what that means, or how you get to be it.

I'm torn: a bit like Las Vegas, I ought to have a look. But I can't waste time on mere scenery, I have a mission to fulfil.

So I compromise. I will look, but I won't touch. I can drive the thirty miles down to Moab, and drive up-and-down the main street. It's not as daft as it sounds, because I can then take county road 128 back west to rejoin I70, and it won't be too much of a detour.

It turns out, and I didn't know this, that 128 runs along the Colorado River, along the side of the Arches. Here are three thousand words to describe three little bits of it:




I70 then took me into Colorado and to Fruita for lunch. The detour left me with the tank-meter registering 389 miles. I had had the empty light on for forty miles, and the needle really was on empty. I'm getting around 22 mpg (US gallons, that is), and the book says it holds 19.8 (US) gallons. But the light and the needle make me nervous. The gas station in Fruita is shut down, with a sign pointing me at one another six miles on. In the event, it only takes 17+ gallons, so I probably still had 40 miles in the tank. The obvious solution is to buy an emergency can then deliberately run out: then I'll know.

I70 follows the Colorado River through canyon after canyon. It looks terrific. The scenery, that is, not I70. (As it happens, I find well-designed roads quite beautiful. It's the economy exercised in engineering them: they always follow the smoothest curves, cut the least earth, and so on.) But I70 is very expensively engineered here, as you can imagine. The river looks good from the road, but I'm not sure a sodding great Interstate pinned to the canyon walls will look too good from the river.

We come charging round one bend to find a repair van parked on the verge, all lit up. There is a worker in Hi-Vi clothes kind-of on the road, pointing furiously at the middle. Just in time, I see a great hole has appeared on the edge of my lane. I manage to swerve and track over either side of it. Round the next bend are a number of cars on the verge. I see, as we charge by, that they all have flat tyres.

I70 then follows the Eagle River up through Vail, to over 11,000 feet, and through the Eisenhower tunnel across the Continental Divide.

Then it's forty miles of traffic jam into Denver. This gives me time to notice that the rivers are now flowing my way. There are lots of signs indicating "ski" things, but there is very little snow.


Denver is still over 5000 feet up. They call it the "Mile-High City". Downtown, all the parking signs say (along with their regular message) "No Parking 2am – 6am". So it's one of those 'clean' cities. No overnight on-street parking. It doesn't look like there's much to do in the spots I visit, anyway, so it's out with the "Rvers' Guide" and the Walmart atlas. I finally settle on a Walmart close to where I left I70. It has a lot of big hotels around it, so there will be something to do of an evening. And Walmart presents the opportunity to park a long way from the Semi's.

As I stroll off towards the hotels for my evening constitutional, I spot a small bar sitting out among the interstate junctions. It does draft ales. The barman insists on introducing me to everyone (it was obviously wise to keep my Scottish accent all these years).

In fact, I think the barman falls in love with me: "It's dusk", he says, "come outside and watch the sun set". I mumble something about not having been properly introduced, but he drags me out anyway.

Denver, it turns out, is about the mountains at dusk. They're to the West, you see. It's a bit like the Western Isles in Scotland.

If he hadn't been a big, strong tattooed lad, I'd have asked him about his mother

All the Way Across Kansas in One

I have another early start, compliments of the car park cleaners. I think to myself that, starting this early, I could make Kansas City by nightfall. In three hours, I'm in Oakley, in the middle of Western Kansas. Public Radio becomes the "High Plains Public Radio": so I become a 'High Plains Drifter'.

I stop at a motel which advertises its restaurant. A rather strange German tells me that "we don't have breakfast here. You should have had it at your own motel before you left". He is obviously offended by something he imagines I've done. I punish him by leaving him with his imaginings, and find a truck stop on the other side of town.

Then it's off to see if I can manage another three-hour stint. Kansas seemed to consist, so far, of cornfields and grain elevators: and the odd tree. Like Montana, some of the fields were circular. Now, just like western North Dakota, it's 'nodding donkeys'. They even have, at Victoria, a Cathedral.

Then, suddenly, the whole landscape is full of those awful, alien wind turbines: mile after mile of them. The economic downturn reconstruction money is making Kansas the wind turbine capital of the world.

When the three hours is up, I find myself in Abeline. Couldn't miss a name like that, could I? The nice lady at the visitors centre tells me where to find WiFi at the Public Library, which allows me to book a hotel in Kansas City.

In fact, I book two hotels: night one in the suburbs, night two in town. By the way, Kansas City is not just in Missouri, it's also in Kansas. The state line goes north-south through the middle of it. So I am going to spend a night in Kansas.

Later That Night, in Kansas City

I ask Google what the local night life is like. I get offered the "Fox and Hound" (sic), which claims to be an "English Pub", and "Hooters", which doesn't. So Hooters it is, then.

The local High School football team is in. American football teams have about fifty players. Fortunately, not being twenty-one, they are all on sodas.

They're here because it's "Hooters": although their trademark is an owl, this a pun, because, in American (vulgar) "hooters" are ladies bits. Think vintage car horns and you'll see the derivation. The lady staff are clearly hired for their visible talents. They sell several draft ales, and cook chicken wings and onion rings by the ton.

There is a fun baseballfest on the television, called the "Home Run Derby". Tomorrow is the big All-stars game, where an American League Select plays a National League Select, and tonight is a fun session where they have old players, and softball pitchers and movie stars in some kind of home-run competition. It looked like everyone was having a really good time. I must try to watch the game tomorrow.