December, 1998
Chapter 7

View from the "world's shortest incline," a thirty-second ride that will cost you only a quarter. Hop on this trolley a few blocks from the L.A. Times building, in downtown Los Angeles.

Date: December 5, 1998
Location: Irvine, California
Recent Stops: Ell - Ayy
Next Stop: San Diego
Mileage so far: 15,326
Notes: Dreams Don't Come Cheap - The secret's out, and those of you close to me know by now about the accident I had, so I can finally tell this story. For those of you who have just joined us, you got us at a pretty exciting time. This roving reporter is going through some tough knocks and meeting some challenges which could make or break this event. I don't like to complain here - and I'm not. But you deserve to know what is going on and why you haven't heard from me in a week.

Sure, I can blame the accident on many things; vehicles practically parked in the road, my trailer being too heavy, my slow reaction... but no excuse will change what happened. To avoid hitting something big and ugly, I put my brakes on hard, and my camper/trailer jackknifed to my right, pulling my bike down. I couldn't jump on the side of the bike and ride it out (like you always hope you could do if you have to put your motorcycle down on the highway) because it bounced a little, the rubber caught and it flipped over on its other side before coming to rest.

Being a Harley-Davidson, every part of my bike that touched the road which wasn't designed to touch the road, incurred several hundred dollars in damage. (H-D stands for "Hundred-Dollars") and it bounced around a lot. I got up and started swearing up a hailstorm. Hours later, I came the closest to having a good cry as I ever have on this trip.

The event has made me seriously consider whether this trip is worth the trouble. I managed to stay out of the hospital and "Bob" (Harley) is back on the road - we're both a bit scarred, but we're back - even my insurance company is being very polite. But the prospect that I have thirteen more months of this and thousands of miles to ride is evolving from an exciting opportunity to a frightening and ominous task. I look at the thirty states in front of me and tremble.

Never before have I worked a job where I wake up each morning knowing that I could be dead before the day is done, and this shows you what a sheltered life I have led. I have not gone to war, I have not lived in slums and I've never even been in a fight that would attract more than a few, very bored spectators. I have to consider the many people who risk their lives every day, and be thankful for my relatively easy life. Heck, motorcycle cops ride for a living - and they have to worry about getting shot at!

It's true, I'm not protecting my country from evil forces and I'm not saving lives each day. So why take such chances? I am working on a dream I have had for years; my dream to explore this incredible country of ours, meet the people who make it the greatest society on Earth and to write about them. I want to write about these people because nobody else will, and because - at least I believe - people are truly interested in their stories.

So, this is my dream. It is not a plan to rescue mankind, but it is my dream and it is the only one I have left. I know that it can be realized, if I am just willing to hang in there and pay the price - even if that means sleeping in vacant lots and sleazy hotel rooms, riding through hailstorms, living on "99 cent heart-attacks" and taking extra, extra caution with my hand on the throttle.

This is one of those dreams that is nearly a curse, because you know that if you don't try to fulfill it, your life will be a nightmare. You really have no choice but to give it your absolute best shot, and when you're knocked down, to dust off, toughen up and keep fighting. You must be willing to literally throw everything away for the chance to wrap your knuckles around one of these, because these are the dreams that just don't come cheap.

They tell me that during WWII, U.S. soldiers were exposed to mustard gas. As a consolation, they were offered free land out here in Wonder Valley, near Twentynine Palms, California. All the soldier had to do was "improve the land" in some way. For some reason, few of the men who were given land out here chose to live here, and many just built shacks like this one, to qualify for the land, and they lived elsewhere. So now, when you pass through Wonder Valley, you see a hundred abandoned shacks and wonder where all the people are.

# 51. The Love of Music

He makes beautiful music, using power tools and exotic woods.
Posted December 7, 1998

# 52. Making big Impressions on the big Screen
It's a good thing for movie trailers. They show us what films we want to see next, they pump us up for the movie we are about to see and they give us a break. That is, if we get to the theater late, we haven't missed the show... or have we?
Posted December 11, 1998

The early morning smog crashes upon the Los Angeles shore. Still, not a bad view from my campsight between LAX and the Pacific ocean.

Time for a little R & R - Leaving L.A. I stopped in Irvine to take care of some business. It was Saturday and I had to burn up the weekend, so I went looking for a story. I've wanted to do a piece on a Christmas tree lot and I found a good one for a subject; I met a man named Eric Johnson, who, with his brother has been selling trees around here for 19 years. I asked him if I could stay a couple of days, work the lot a little and be on my way. He loved the idea, but had a hard time letting me work without paying me - the heck with the journalistic conflict.

Well, I worked off and on for a couple of days, and I even gave a lecture to a journalism class at Irvine Valley College. I was about to leave when Eric told me about how next weekend is his big weekend and he could sure use the help and would I please stay until Monday? Always one to pitch in when needed, I said sure. Besides, I already have another story researched and this will give me a chance to get it out. This will give me a few days of not worrying about where I'm going to sleep at night, and this will give me an actual home for a little while, with some familiar surroundings, familiar faces and good people to earn some friendships with. So I'm going to spend a few days lugging Christmas trees around, slogging water hoses, building stands and keeping this lot running in tip-top shape. Friends, I'm going to take the next few days off.

Is that Santa delivering a Christmas tree on a big ol' Harley?

Date: December 15, 1998
Location: Escondido, California
Recent Stops: Irvine
Next Stop: Arizona or New Mexico
Mileage so far: 15,427
Notes: - I just want to thank the Johnsons for letting me stay on their lot for 10 days while I cranked out three articles, including one about the lot. Also, they have a great group of people working for them. It's nice to stay in one place for a while. You get to know the surroundings, like where the good restaurants are, and you even bump into new friends around town. And when you leave, people actually let you believe that they'll miss you. I guess I should try and stay in places for more than a day at a time - it sure is good on the soul.

Kids Say the Smartest Things - I had been working on a story on a Christmas tree lot for over a week, staying in my camper on the lot. On Sunday, Michelle, one of the owner's children, kept stopping by my trailer, peeking in and bothering me with nosey questions - like any eight year old does so well. I have grown rather distant from youth, a situation in which I never expected to be, and would rather not stay, so I relaxed and entertained this girl - or she entertained me. After several questions which had no apparent logical answer, she asked; "don't you get bored working all the time? You are in here all day!" You should get out and play.

I sighed one of those adult sighs and realized that she was right. I got out, all right, and I went to see a movie - not everybody's idea of playing, but I sure enjoyed it. At the theater I met a guy who had a role in one of the original Star Trek episodes ("Charlie X" he said, filmed in 1968.) He was "the guy in the red shirt who died."

I'll be leaving California today (Dec 15.) At least, that's the plan. I've been here over two weeks and it's time to move on. Expect to hear from me in New Mexico somewhere.

# 53. Ho, ho, ho. Merry Backache.
It's time to get the Christmas tree! Mark Gilchrist helps southern Californians don their snowshoes (their SUV's) and trek the wilderness in search of that holiday icon, the Christmas tree.
Posted December 14, 1998

Date: December 20, 1998
Location: Bisbee, Arizona
Recent Stops: Tombstone, Arizona
Next Stop: Texas!
Mileage so far: 16,048
Notes: - I have spent two days in Bisbee, Arizona, a place with more characters than the White House. A century ago, when a man named Lavender developed a way to mine the copper here, Bisbee boomed and held more people than any other city in Arizona. Today, you can drive past the "Lavender Pit" where they dug up tons and tons of copper - it would take you an hour to walk around the hole. Standing on its edge, at the tourist "scenic view" you can look down into the largest, ugliest, most incredible, effort of man you have ever seen. You can wonder how many tiny dump trucks full of earth was removed from this cavity and how many years of digging, scraping and dynamiting it took, and you can stand in awe at the thought of the thousands of homes furnished with copper pipe and wire from this land. You can gape at this yawning pit and guess how very small it is as a part of our earth and consider just how insignificant we are.

# 54. The View From Here
He's been wanting to get on top of her for six years. He's tried three times and failed - today Mark Gilchrist conquers Picacho Peak!
Posted December 20, 1998

I Might Have Been - This trip is full of opportunities; some lost, some gained. Every time I pass through a city or town, I feel as though I missed something. Today I walked into a classic, old general store, with beautiful, rustic fixtures and flooring. I was wandering about, talking with the clerk, a straight-haired blonde about my age, and just relaxing - we were the only two people in the store. A song came on the radio; the latest Garth Brooks song, the one from that Hope Floats movie, the one that could calm any bucking bronco, and I nearly asked the lady behind the counter if she'd like to dance. I thought it would be nice to sway a little, right there on the hardwood floor between the newspaper rack and the Moon Pies. But I walked out of there, fearing rejection, and I left that song, and that person, and that building behind, and I left that moment - that opportunity - right where it was, never to be seen again. It might have been sweet, it might have been fun, but all that I took with me is, it might have been.

Things are Looking Up - I did have a great time in Bisbee, though, thanks to the wonderful people there, including Jeannene Babcock and the crew at the Inn at Castle Rock.

I rolled into Bisbee about an hour before sundown on Friday and realized that, even though I was only a few tortilla shells from the Mexican border, I was over 3,000 feet up and it was going to be a very cold night. The place is lousy with nice B&Bs and I decided to hatch a plan I'd been concocting for some time.

Having worked in marketing small hotels in the Caribbean for several years (where I learned to never refer to a place as "lousy with nice B&Bs") I realize the value of the internet to these people, and I figured that with my digital camera and marketing experience, I might have something I could offer them - at least something worth a room for the night.

So I went to a few of these beautiful inns (this really is a nice place to visit) with little luck, except for the High Desert Inn, which had a full house, but Darrell Lee Dixon shook my hand and gave me the encouragement I needed. I then stopped at the fun-spirited Inn at Castle Rock, where the owner, Jeannene Babcock let me stay the night in one of her finest rooms. "I would have given you the room even without the photographs" she told me later.

I stayed two nights here and gave her some nice photos. Apparently, they are just what she needed at this time in her marketing campaign, and I am wondering if other B&Bs will have this need. So, I am developing a little program where I can hopefully make at least one of these deals each week, and get in an occasional shower, a warm room and a comfortable bed. Staying at a B&B is also a great way to meet people in the community.

Date: December 24, 1998
Location: El Paso, Texas
Recent Stops: Las Cruces, New Mexico
Next Stop: SOUTHERN Texas!
Mileage so far: 16,786
Notes: - I have holed up in an El Paso hostel for the night, with this major cold front, and I'm ready to head south to Big Bend and maybe even Brownsville. I'd sure like to thank Al and Betty Walford, of Las Cruces, for their wonderful hospitality.

# 55. Into the Night
"U.S. Border Patrol Agents roll out of the station like fishermen leaving the harbor. They steal into the night, trolling the American border for a catch of human cargo..."
Posted December 29, 1998

Damage Report - The latest in a series of dings and dents to my person came as I was digging through my camper - looking for who knows what - when the wooden lid of my cargo compartment slipped down on the bridge of my nose. It didn't hurt much, and I didn't think much of it. But for the next week, I'm walking around with this scar on my face - like a Rocky Balboa wannabe - and feeling kind of silly. It's odd how nobody dares point it out. Though I've often heard; "Man, what happened to your arm!" I've not heard; "Great nose job!" At least nobody wants to pick a fight with me...

# 56. Bag full of Smiles

What better way to spend the week before Christmas than to make a young child smile?
Posted December 24, 1998

Paul Gavan owns the Dryden Merchantile, in Dryden, Texas, northeast of the big bend, where I stopped in for a while to warm my hands. "In the summer, we get a lot of bicycles through here - I let them camp behind the store."

Date: December 31, 1998
Location: Corpus Christi
Recent Stops: Big Bend National Park, Laredo, Texas, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
Next Stop: Louisiana
Mileage so far: 18,009
Notes: - It is like summertime here right now. I am waiting out a cold front up in the southeast before I make my way to Florida. Heck, maybe I'll just stay here for the winter.

Kindness Pays (and unkindness don't) - I was a good forty miles out of Laredo when I felt the sharp sting of my own selfishness. About an hour before, I was in a burger joint, finishing up my lunch, when a woman came by and dumped some key chains on my table. As she continued across the restaurant, I read the note attached; "I am deaf and am selling this product to make a living..." She wanted two dollars for each item. Well, I have no use for more key chains, but I actually considered just giving her a buck - she was working hard, not just begging for money. I left the restaurant without helping her at all, and it wasn't until I nearly reached Bruni, almost an hour away, when I felt the sting. Had I given the woman a dollar, I would have looked inside my empty wallet and realized that, when I gave the cashier a twenty for a 99 cent burger, she did not give me any change.

# 57. Two Hours in Mexico, or "Ignorance Abroad"
Alert the federales! Mark Gilchrist is across the border and he's on the loose!
Posted January 3, 1999

True America Tip

PHOTO ALBUM: Buildings
The collection of True America CD photo albums is available from the main page. Here is one:

Click on the gas station to view the
True America Buildings photo album,

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