October, 1998
Chapter 5

Anyone want to buy a church?
This one, in Shadeland, Indiana, is for sale.
Get it quickly, before someone turns it into a disco...

Date: October 6, 1998
Location: South Bend, Indiana
Recent Stops: Dana, Indiana
Next Stop: Chicago
Mileage so far: 10,636
Notes: From Cyberspace to Offset Press! I am thrilled to announce the recent signing of a contract between this roving reporter and Sojourn Publishing, to produce a compilation of the True America dispatches. The book, most likely to be titled "True America, a Portrait of America at the Turn of the Millennium" will be published in the spring of 2000. I suggest you get your order in post-haste - don't miss out and get a rotten start on the next thousand years!

FLASH! Mark Gilchrist confesses! See the whole story!
I recently visited the Ernie Pyle museum, in Dana, Indiana, and am ready to reveal the true inspiration for This Crazy Trip. It may take a while to put all my thoughts together (I wouldn't want to lie under oath) but you should be seeing something on this in the near future.

# 38. Wanderlust Documented
It's Confession Time. Ever wonder why someone would sell everything he owns, clear his savings account, cut all ties and set off on a nineteen-month long journey?

Great News! Ernest Hemingway is Reborn!

I Saw this banner on a light pole in one of the Chicago suburbs (Oak Park, I believe) and wondered exactly where Papa's second birthplace was?
Date: October 8, 1998
Location: Litchfield, Illinois
Recent Stops: Chicago
Next Stop:
Mileage so far: 11,150
Notes: This has to be the noisiest rural farmland in the country. I am spending the night on Marty's farm (I didn't get his last name) near Litchfield, Illinois, and let me tell you, I bet the corn can't even sleep around here. I am a mile or so from an interstate highway weigh station and busy railroad tracks. I hear trucks and their Jake Brakes, trains and their horns, barking dogs, a combine in the next field that I am quite sure is harvesting marbles and Marty's got some kind of squeaky wheel on something in his barn that will surely run all night. But I just stepped outside, and the moon is nearly full and is just coming up - you know how big and golden they get just above the horizon - and the sky is clear as an angel's tear and I can see every star up there. Marty put me in his favorite spot; under a weeping willow tree beside a small pond, and as I gazed up at another shooting star, I thought - like I have so many times on this trip - "if I can only get a place like this every night!"

Tables Turned
For years, I have been interviewing people. I remember my first interview with someone of any notoriety and how it actually made me feel. We were in a restaurant and I remember wondering how people saw me, sitting there with this famous (or infamous) person. I thought pretty highly of myself; the big reporter, rubbing elbows with yet another celebrity.

But boy, let me tell you. It's a lot more fun being the one answering the questions.

# 39. Delivering the News
Wednesday, October 7, 1998, Chicago, Illinois
There is a great, little newstand at the corner of Halsted and 76th, in Chicago. You don't even have to get out of your car, because William Hunt will gladly deliver.
Posted October 12, 1998

Kevin Kuethe knows how to spend a Saturday night.

Date: October 10, 1998
Location: Staunton, Illinois
Next Stop: Missouri
Mileage so far: 11,302
Notes: It's 11:38 p.m. I'm riding on the tailgate of a late-model pickup truck as we roll through the back streets of Staunton, Illinois. In one hand I'm clutching a can of orange spray paint, and I'm ready to use it. In the other hand, I hold onto anything which might arrest my flight from this vehicle as we sail over bumps, potholes and through turns. Bill stops the truck and I jump off the gate, I make my mark before any traffic arrives and I jump back on. "Hit it!" I yell, and we speed off.

Don't bother calling the cops. I've got one sitting right next to me, and he's hanging the signs.

Sound crazy? It gets better. I stumbled across the second annual Midnight Bike Ride to benefit the Staunton Area Ambulance Service and I asked if I could help out, so they assigned me to arrow-painting duty, with Kevin Kuethe and Randy Williams. Get this, last year, 120 people showed up at the ambulance garage on a Saturday night at midnight and rode bicycles ten miles through town - and there wasn't even beer involved.

Evidently, this is a popular activity in the midwest (where people really do enjoy watching grass grow.) Bill Adler, Director of the ambulance service says that over a thousand people attend midnight rides in St. Louis.

We don't have as much luck tonight. Only 49 riders show up. I swear there were at least that many volunteers helping out - this town does support its ambulance service! Next time you're in Staunton, Illinois, don't follow the orange arrows painted on the roads - I had only been in town a few hours and I think I might have have gotten a few of them, um, backward...

Midnight Riders. Saving lives while other sleep.

# 40. Making out at the Drive-in
Friday, October 9, 1998, Litchfield, Illinois
From Abbott and Costello to Muppets in Space (soon!) The Sky View Drive-in has been a favorite date for Central Illinois (movie) lovers for nearly half a century.
Posted October 16, 1998

Saw this monster outside the Launching Pad restaurant,
on Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois.

Date: October 16, 1998
Location: Union, Missouri
Recent Stops: St. Louis
Next Stop: Springfield, MO
Mileage so far: 11,632

Mark's Eleven Commandments for Staying Alive on the Road

1. Thou shalt stay reasonably close to the speed limit.
2. Thou shalt ignore billboards and other nonimportant signs unless they are actually in the road.
3. Thou shalt replace thoust tires before they lose their life-saving traction.
4. Thou shalt not get lost, so thou dost not have to make dangerous turns getting found.
5. Thou shalt keep a respectable following distance, and then some.
6. Thou shalt avoid riding on wet roads and shalt ride extra carefully when thou must ride in rain.
7. Thou shalt not let other drivers intimidate thou into speeding.
8. Thou shalt watch out for soybean wagons moving at 10mph in a 50mph zone.
9. Thou shalt remove every ounce of weight from trailer, motorcycle and person.
10. Thou shalt keep thoust attention out of La-La-Land and on the road.
11. Thou shalt not try to unfold and read a map in a 60 mph wind in the fast lane.

# 41. Larry's World
Enter Larry Baggett's world and find the secret to a healthy life. It may be three foot tall chickens or it may be ghosts of Indians on the Trail of Tears. Enter at your own risk.
Posted October 26, 1998

If you want Sherwood Kloppenberg to cut your hair, you better hurry, he hangs up his scissors in 229 days...

Date: October 20, 1998
Location: Joplin, Missouri
Next Stop: Oklahoma(!)
Mileage so far: 11,870
Notes: A lot off the back, please, and put it all back on top.

Paid for my first haircut of the tour last week, in Union, Missouri. Sherwood Kloppenberg had the honors, clipping my locks as he has done patrons for forty years. I got there just in time, too, as he is retiring "in 229 days". I paid nine bucks for the haircut - more, I believe, than I have ever paid for one. He did a pretty good job, though, and at least he trimmed the hair out of my ears - I'll tell you, at 60mph, that stuff can sure make some noise.

Memories Outside Joplin
Joplin Missouri means nothing to me, except it is near the town where an old friend moved to years ago. Vicky Calico and I got along famously in Memphis, Tennessee when we were both 13 years old. Those exciting, heady days of my early teens were sparked by the times we were together, mostly in a church youth league. We were only friends, but she made me feel special. After my family moved back to Maine, and hers to southern Missouri (some small town near Joplin) we kept in touch by mail. After college, I had a job interview in Chicago and I rented a car and drove through the night just to see her and her new family. She has since divorced and last I heard is working for FedEx and we have since lost touch and I don't even remember her new name, but she will always be Vicky Calico and I will always remember her sweet smile.

# 42. Solace on the Vine
After a career spent teaching Missouri's most hardened juvenile delinquents, Marvin Rippelmeyer cultivates a different seed, enjoying life as a grape grower in central Missouri.
Posted October 23, 1998

Date: October 23, 1998
Location: Fairland, Oklahoma
Mileage so far: 12,113
Notes: Searching for the Gold
Man, is it COLD! I can't get over how nice and warm it can be during the day and then FREEZING at night. There was about a forty degree difference yesterday, with the highs in the upper seventies and going down to the upper thirties at night. This isn't how it is in Florida and darn it, I'm gonna look into this mess!

I found a way to help keep my feet warm at night. I bought a wool sweater at Goodwill and cut it right up the middle. Then, I turned each sleeve inside-out and sewed the chest pieces back together. I put these on like giant socks and put my feet in my sleeping bag and cover that with two wool blankets and it almost works!

My pager (from Pagenet, mind you) gives me weather forecasts, so I can at least plan my shivering ahead of time. I'm heading for California, but Route 66 doesn't dip south at all - brrrr! (They say nights in the desert are freezing!) Whenever I can, I try to catch a copy of usa Today. On the back page, they have a color weather map. I'm in the green area now and I can't wait to drop into the area colored in gold - that's my "True America" right now, as far as I'm concerned, yessir. But I'm going to stick to my Route 66 plan - "Getting my shivers on Route 66"

I am pretty sure I caused an accident today. I'm just speculating, but chances are I was, well, not to blame, but part of the cause, if you will.

I was on 66, heading into Kansas, when I pulled over to the shoulder to read some directions. Two cars stopped in the road beside me, because a large truck was stopped to make a left hand turn. I heard screeching tires and I looked up and saw a third car run into the rearend of the middle car, which bounced into the front car.

No one was hurt. Three or four ladies got out of the front car and started shouting about the truck turning. The young girl in the middle car was really shaken up and said "I ain't never been in a wreck before!" and the old man in the rear car kept saying "They were stopped in the road! There was nothing I could do!"

I told the man that he sure could have stopped sooner, if he had been paying attention, and he told me the get the hell out of there. Well, seeing how I didn't even see the truck, I knew I couldn't help the lady's case and I was fixing to get clobbered by the old farmer, so I took off.

After I left, I realized that the guy was probably looking at my bike and trailer, which is an unusual sight around here, and didn't stop in time. Anyway, from now on, I'm going to pull waaaay over to read my maps.

Date: October 24, 1998
Location: Sallisaw, Oklahoma
Notes: Just had to detour to visit this town, nearly on the Arkansas border. About a month before this trip began, I read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and I happened to note all of the towns on the Joad's journey from Oklahoma to California, hoping to explore the same route someday.

Well, it all started in Sallisaw, so I went to see what tragic circumstances could inspire a man to write such a compelling story. Well, of course, few people in Sallisaw even knew of their town's literary notoriety. Even though the book had become a best seller, second only to Gone With the Wind, it isn't mentioned at all in the town's historical museum and the folks at the library are checking out the book, as my searching for clues seemed to have stirred their interest.

I did find the reason for the apathy, and it isn't because - duh - the book is fiction, but because, even though the result of the book was to awaken the country about the tragic weather conditions in the state during the depression, many Oklahomans took it as insulting their state and it was banned in many places. The novel generated much wrath of its own, a possible source of pride for Steinbeck, who, reportedly, never even visited the town.

Sallisaw seems to be doing very well now, and I can only conclude that Steinbeck chose this town as the home of the Joads because it is about as far east as you can get and still be in Oklahoma. Any input on this matter sure would be appreciated.

Date: October 24, 1998
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Recent Stops: Sallisaw, Oklahoma
Next Stop: Oklahoma City
Mileage so far: 12,305
Notes: I met Allyson Johnson, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as she was waiting to race in the Junior Dragster class of the American Drag News Bracket Finals, at Tulsa International Raceway, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a sweet girl, and she told me about how she has raced over fifty times and was in the junior dragster national competition in Indianapolis last August. She has won four races so far and was ready for another.

I followed Allyson to the start line and watched her take off in Pink Lightning, the car her father, Ron Johnson (also a racer) bought for her. One eighth of a mile and 14.64 seconds later, she had run in 51 races and I went over to the pit to see how it went.

Well, Allyson was in tears, like any eight year old girl who had just lost a race might be. "I keep breaking out!" she cried, meaning, actually, that, at 40 mph, she drove too fast. If you don't understand what this means, check back in a couple of days when I upload Catch Me if You Can, a piece about two men who drag race for a hobby and don't cry much when they lose.

# 43. Catch me if you can
Feel the rumble, hear the roar - it's drag racing time in Tulsa!
Posted October 31, 1998

Date: October 27, 1998
Location: Claremore, Oklahoma
Notes: I couldn't pass up the chance to introduce myself to one of the world's greatest entertainers. Will Rogers is a household name even seven decades after his death, but few people today (myself included) can grasp the magnitude of achievements and the breadth of talents this part-Native American had. The museum, which was his home, displays the Will Rogers as an expert horseman, as a live audience (follies) entertainer, a newspaper columnist, an adventurer, a singer and motion picture actor. The extensive museum does an excellent job exhibiting Rogers' life. He was buried here, a few miles from Route 66, after his death in an Alaskan airplane crash with Wiley Post.

Many thanks to Warren Myers, who let me stay in his yard for two nights and opened up his shop for me. Bob (Harley) was in need of repairs and he made it his personal challenge to get me on the road in good shape. Thanks Klea for the delicious food! Warren and Klea are grandparents thirty-two times and remarkably, 28 grandchildren live near them in the Tulsa area!

# 44. The Peace Maker
Eight year old Dolores Dolezal and her sisters spent two years with terrible, German soldiers. They were two of the most enriching and memorable years of their childhood .
Posted November 3, 1998

Date: October 31, 1998
Location: Hinton, Oklahoma
Recent Stops: El Reno, Oklahoma City
Next Stop: Clinton, Oklahoma
Mileage so far: 12,487
Notes: Stopped in Oklahoma City for the obvious reason. Actually, I wanted to interview the police officer who arrested Timothy McViegh, but I could not find him. I stopped by The Fence and was impressed by the many tokens and memorials people have left there. I was disappointed by many of them, too. People have left all sorts of garbage, from T-Shirts and license plates advertising their businesses, to broken yamagucci toys. It seems people just empty their pockets or purses of useless junk they don't want, and hang it on the fence, just to get in on the act. I can imagine those people watching news reports to see if their useless baubles (and somehow, they) get their 15 minutes.

There were many touching articles - the ones I like best are anonymous and pay tribute in some way to those affected. The little bell was my favorite, but don't ask me why.

# 45. Cheyenne Pride
She is full-blood Cheyenne. Her name is Kind Woman. Her skill is beading and sewing moccasins. Her love is people.

What color moccasins do you think Johnny Cash wears?
Posted November 7, 1998

True America Tip

The 50-state collection of True America postcards is available from the main page, by clicking on the U.S. map.

Click anywhere on this map to view the Alaska postcard.

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