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    On the Road
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    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Blue Highways: Franklin, West Virginia

Unfolding the Map

The New Year has begun, and William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) finds the power in a circle - the circle of his trip, the circle of life.  I will explore and reflect upon how our passages in seeming straight lines are really circles, and how this New Year is yet another segment on the circle of our own journeys through life.  To see where Franklin is located, please see the map

Book Quote

"After a small meal in the Ghost, I marked on a map the wandering circle of my journey.  From the heartland out and around.  A blue circle gone beyond itself.  'Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle,' Black Elk says.  'Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.'

"Then I saw a design.  There on the map, crudely, was the labyrinth of migration the old Hopis once cut in their desert stone.  For me, the migration had been to places and moments of glimpsed clarity.  Splendid gifts all."

Blue Highways: Chapter 10, Part 2

The Potomoc River in Franklin, West Virginia. Photo by Doctor Flowers and hosted at City-Data. Click on photo to go to host site.

Franklin, West Virginia

As we start this new year, with its promise of new beginnings and fresh starts, it is easy to look back at the trajectory that our lives have taken and reflect upon them.  In my previous Blue Highways post I did some of that reflection by examining the past year.  As one gets older, it becomes more commonplace to reflect on longer periods of time in the past.  As a child and young adult, my capacity for reflection beyond what I had experienced a day, or maybe a week at most, in the past was fairly limited.  As I have just reached the completion of my 49th circuit around the sun, I find that I am spending more time in reflection deeper into my past.

One of the themes of Blue Highways has been that of circles.  A person's journey through life has been described in the book as a series of setting out on journeys, and then circling back to the origin.  Nothing, it seems, ever is a simple trip from point to point.  Most of the time we set out somewhere, we return, giving our lives a circularity that we rarely notice.  We go to work, and then return.  We set out on shopping trips, and then come back home.  My sense is that if we mapped people's short and long journey's the result would resemble the drawings I did as a young person with Spirograph plastic wheels.

Circles so dominate our existence that we barely even think about it.  We live on a spherical planet that is essentially a series of circles increasing from infinitely small to the maximum diameter of our planet and then decreasing back to infinite smallness.  That planet rotates, meaning that we essentially make a complete circle once every 24 hours.  That sphere travels in a roughly circular orbit, with other spheres, around a spherical sun. The sun itself travels with other stars on the outer arm of a spiral galaxy in a circular path around the galaxy's center.  The universe itself may be spherical, originating in time and space at the center in a titanic explosion and expanding outward like a big bubble.

If we look at our journey through time, over the course of our lives, then once again we have a circle.  LHM quotes Black Elk, but Black Elk was not the first to notice this circularity.  The seasons, following a cycle determined by the circular travel of the earth around the sun, prescribe a rotation through time as fall changes to winter, winter goes to spring, and then spring turns to summer, and summer goes back to fall.  Life moves in a circle as well, with the smallest creatures serving as food for larger creatures, and so on up the food chain, until death makes even the largest creatures food for smaller creatures, and even some of the smallest living beings.  Water moves in a circular pattern as well, from oceans to rivers, streams and lakes and back to oceans - with some taking a side trip through our bodies before it is purified back through the ecosystem into the circle again.

Some of our earliest religious symbols were circles.  Life itself follows a circular pattern.  It is easy to see life as being a line from birth to death, but long before Black Elk spoke about life's circularity the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible warned people that "from dust we came and to dust we shall return."

If our life indeed prescribes a circle then it stands to reason that my past year is just one little stretch along the rim.  When I think about how my life might fit this model, I realize that all of the little circles of life that I have taken have still moved me forward.  My little circles to and from work and back home have worked toward moving me forward in my career, as well as helping me save resources that may lead to the purchase of a house in 2013.  My trips to and from the classes I have taught have given me a greater understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and will ensure better classes for my students in the future.  My writing in Littourati, while moving in a seemingly linear fashion through On the Road and Blue Highways, has taken me on a circular path between the past and the present, over and over, especially in my more reflective posts.

As LHM looks at the map of his journey, and you can also look at the whole map here, he realizes that his journey is not only circular but also resembles the circular maze of migration that is part of the Hopi mythology.  The Hopi believe that starting in the First World, and into the current Fourth World, the clans of humanity have continually set out, come back together, and then disbanded again over and over in a repeating pattern.  The sequence and cycle of togetherness and harmony followed by separation and discord seems to encompass most of our experience of life.  These past holidays, I noted how U.S. families, no matter how difficult their relations with each other, keep coming back together at certain times of the year and usually always around the Christmas holidays.  Sometimes these gatherings can be harmonious, at other times they can be full of dysfunction and pain.  Yet something keeps drawing us through that particular circle year after year.

I celebrate the circles in life, but realize that these circles will bring me forward through joy, and occasionally backwards through pain, melancholy and remembrance of things that I wish would stay in the past.  Yet I can't help but move forward.  When people have wished me a happy new year in the past few days, I thank them but am very aware that some of it will be happy, some of it will be sad, but all of it will move me forward on my own circular life journey.  And that is as it should be.

Musical Interlude

Rodney Crowell's song Dancin' Circles Round the Sun, encapsulates the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epictetus who argued that we should not worry about the things that we can't control.  When people try to exercise too much control over life, things get out of balance, and as we all know a circle out of balance, such as a wheel, can cause a bumpy ride.


If you want to know more about Franklin

Guide to Pendleton County
Wikipedia: Franklin

Next up: Judy Gap, Seneca Rocks and Elkins, West Virginia


Blue Highways: Stanardsville, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

At the close of 2012, I will use this post to reflect on the past year.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), toward the end of his trip and as he traveled through Stanardsville, reflected on what his trip had accomplished.  Usually we accomplish quite a lot that we don't give ourselves credit for, and overemphasize our failures and shortcomings.  Not this time, Littourati.  Not this time.  To the right is the Virginia State Seal, found on Wikimedia Commons.  To see where Stanardsville awaits the New Year, go to the map.

Book Quote

"I went up U.S. 33 until the rumple of hills became a long, bluish wall across the western sky.  On the other side of Stanardsville in the the Blue Ridge Mountains, I stopped in a glen and hiked along Swift Run, a fine rill of whirligigs and shiners, until I found a cool place for lunch.  Summer was a few days away, but the heat wasn't....

"....In a season on the blue roads, what had I accomplished?  I hadn't sailed the Atlantic in a washtub, or crossed the Gobi by goat cart, or bicycled to Cape Horn.  In my own country, I had gone out, had met, had shared.  I had stood as witness."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 2

Greene County Courthouse in Stanardsville, Virginia. Photo by Calvin Beale and posted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Stanardsville, Virginia

As I write this post, it is New Year's Eve 2012.  The time of year often entails a look forward at the coming year, and even resolutions for what one hopes to accomplish.  However, on New Year's Eve media often spends time looking back at the year's accomplishments, failures, events, and the people that have passed on.  We can see from the quote above that as LHM is the end of his own journey, he also takes a look behind him to tally up his own accomplishments on his travels.

It is curious that he begins with a list of those things that he didn't accomplish, and one could read this as his admission that his trip wasn't important.  After all, instead of crossing "the Gobi by goat cart," he went out.  Instead of bicycling "to Cape Horn," he met.  Rather than sailing "the Atlantic in a washtub," he shared.  Above all, he had "stood as witness."  To what?  To his country certainly, but also to himself.

As I look back at my own journey in this past year, not necessarily through space but definitely through time in the form of days that make up a year, I can ask myself the same questions.  What did I do?  And my list isn't that exciting.  I worked.  I made a trip or two.  I hung out with friends sometimes, and I spent a lot of time alone.  The three major accomplishments that I can list are the following: With a colleague, I got a paper published in a major political science journal; I wrote roughly 118 posts in Littourati for a word count of around 120,000 words; I made great strides in my own personal development through a combination of therapy and self-reflection.  I watched all the episodes of the old Star Trek.

I am currently reading a memoir of Istanbul by the great Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk.  He identifies a melancholy, which he labels with the Turkish word huzun, that Turks collectively have when they consider Istanbul.  All around them are the reminders of the glories of the Ottoman Empire, in particular the crumbling houses and palaces of Ottoman princes.  Turks, after the last political remnants of the Ottoman Empire had been swept away under the Westernizing zeal of Ataturk, could not simply forget that they had once been a great civilization.  The reminders were there to see.  Sure, they could look forward to the accomplishments of a modern, Western and dynamic society.  Indeed, Turkey has positioned itself as an economic and political player in the 21st century.  But Pamuk points out that the melancholy weight of the past still hangs on the coattails of Turkish society.

As I look back on my last year, I could look at it with the same melancholic air, and in keeping with Pamuk's concept of huzun, I'm most likely not the only person who does this.  There were so many things I could have done.  What about those things that I might have accomplished.  I wanted, for example, to take up some sort of hobby, to learn how to bead necklaces and earrings for example, as a reflective and creative enterprise.  That didn't happen.  I had hoped to begin running again and didn't even begin.  I wished to even do some mundane activity, but very necessary, like organizing and cleaning our house.  I couldn't get a handle on it, and didn't even know where to begin.  I wanted to write more in my field of political science.  The list could go on and on if I let it.  And like Pamuk's Turkey, the weight of my past accomplishments as well as the expectations I had for myself weigh down my thoughts and create a thin veil that blurs the good that I did accomplish this past year.

It's very easy to get caught up in the "would haves," "should haves," and "could haves."  Doing so tempers the thoughts about the new year.  I have ceased making New Year's resolutions because I find that I just disappoint myself if I do so because I never complete them or give up on them.

As I close 2012, and get very close to finishing Blue Highways, it's easy to reflect back on the year and see the things that I didn't do that I wished I had.  It's easy to look back on my life and regret some things I've done, other things that I didn't do, and certainly all of those things that I could have done better.  At the same time, we often give short shrift to that which we accomplished, and those things we accomplished well.  I suppose that's human nature.  We often regret choices and actions taken, and pile up the dead weight of past glories and should-have-beens behind us.

It's true that I didn't achieve a lot of the goals that I set for myself.  But it's also true that I achieved other goals.  As I look back upon my 2012 journey, I realize that the most important thing is that I participated in the process of living.  I lived, not in the sense that I stayed alive but in the sense that I actively participated in life.  That participated included both the joys and the disappointments, the achievements and the failures.  Given the alternatives, I think my year went pretty well.

On this New Year's Eve, 2012, my wish for you, dear Littourati readers, is that you also truly lived in 2012, and will continue to do so in 2013 and beyond.  A very happy New Year to all of you!

Musical Interlude

Even though it's from 1988, and references that year, this song by Abba, Happy New Year, has lyrics that fit the post.  Enjoy!

If you want to know more about Stanardsville

Wikipedia: Stanardsville

Next up: Franklin, West Virginia


Blue Highways: Cuckoo, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

You may think we are cuckoo, but we are only passing through Cuckoo, Virginia.  As unlikely as the name might make it seem, Cuckoo was the start of an unheralded but important ride that may have saved Thomas Jefferson and other founders of the new American democracy during the Revolutionary War.  Read on to find out about it, and the importance of what I call "journeys of warning." At right is an illustration of the flower of the flowering dogwood, Virginia's state tree.  It is by N.L. Britton and A. Brown, and is hosted at Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Captain Jack Jouett probably didn't have a chance against the fame of Paul Revere, yet Jouett's deed was comparable: on June 4, 1781, Captain Jack rode his bay mare, Sallie, forty miles from Cuckoo Tavern to Charlottesville to warn Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and that nest of sedition, the Virginia General Assembly, that Bloody Tarleton's Green Dragons were coming.  Jouett rode without stopping, while the British raiders stopped three times - once to burn a wagontrain - and thereby lost both the rebels' capture and a chance at dramatic incident.  A good thing for American history.  And for Henry Wadsworth Longellow.  Jouett is a devilish name to rhyme.

"When I saw Cuckoo, Virginia, it was a historical marker and a few houses at an intersection."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 2

Cuckoo, Virginia. Photo by "Idawriter" and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.

Cuckoo, Virginia

LHM's account of Jack Jouett's ride, as well as others I've read, leads me to think about what I'm going to call "journeys of warning."  Usually, one can find a lot of material on the internet, but so far, I've been unlucky in my search to see if anyone has compiled a list of these types of journeys of warning.

There's a fascinating story about Jouett and what he did to save the Virginia Assembly, including Thomas Jefferson.  You may think that a forty-mile ride on a steed is no big deal, but if you do, like I did, then you are forgetting the time.  There were roads, but they were far cries from our modern superhighways.  They were often dirt or grass pathways, worn with the ruts of wagons and difficult to traverse in the best of seasons.  When the British came past Cuckoo Tavern on what has been described as their version of an eighteenth century blitzkrieg to surprise and take a number of notable rebel politicians, they were using the main highway.  So Jouett was forced to take back routes that were even more dangerous.  He was doing it on a full moon evening, but there is no way of knowing what the weather was like.  Chances are that regardless, he wouldn't have been able to see well and he risked serious injury or death to himself and his horse.  The success of his ride also depended on a bit of luck.  If the British hadn't have stopped to rest for three hours, then to burn a wagon train of supplies, and finally to commandeer some breakfast, they might have achieved their objectives.  Even then, when Jouett rode up to Monticello to warn Thomas Jefferson, at that time Governor of Virginia, Jefferson waited until the last possible moment despite several hours of warning to have breakfast and settle up some affairs.  He only fled when he saw that the British were about to swarm over his property.  As history and Longfellow record, Paul Revere's warning ride was very important, but Jouett may have saved the American independence effort a mortal blow which would have been dealt had the British captured the founding father who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I've tried to think of other similar treks of warning, but my history is not that good.  I can think of the Grecian runner, Pheidippides, who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the victory over the Persian army, then collapsed and died.  Certainly running twenty-six miles is a worthy achievement - I failed in my one attempt - but not unheard of.  What's not known about this story, and there are doubts about its veracity, is that Pheidippides was considered Athens greatest long-distance runner and had been called upon to run about 150 miles round trip over two days to ask for help from Sparta to repel the Persians and to bring back their answer (evidently "sorry, we'd love to help, but we need to wait for the full moon according to our law") to the Athenians.  He fought the battle at Marathon, and then ran his famous run to Athens to announce the victory.  No wonder he collapsed and died!  However, we only have the account by the author Lucian to tell us this story.  Herodotus, a possibly more trustworthy historian in some ways, only tells of Pheidippides run to Sparta and back.  as Herodotus relates, on the way back from Sparta Pheidippides meets the god Pan (possibly because he was delirious from the running?) who promises his help to the Athenians.

I've heard some modern amazing stories of journeys to warn and bring help.  A woman that I used to work with related the story of her birth.  She was born in a snowstorm in rural New Mexico, in the cabin that her mother lived in.  Her mother had been affected mentally by a childhood bout with a type of fever, perhaps scarlet fever, and at the time she was only assisted by her sister at the birth.  After the baby was born, the sister mounted upon a bicycle and rode through the snowstorm to the nearest town, a distance of over twenty miles, I think, to get a doctor to come check on the mother and baby.

What fascinates me about such journeys is that they were taken in pursuit of a single goal, whether that goal be warning or bringing help, or both.  The people undertaking the journey not only had a single goal in mind, but were firmly bound by a cause or, at least in my last case, family ties and love that gave the journey a meaning beyond the simple act of getting from point A to point B.  In the minds of those undertaking such journeys, whole endeavors such as the America Revolution may have depended on their journeys and upon themselves.  They believed that lives were at stake.  Those making the journey didn't know if they would be celebrated in history or be a simple footnote.  At the time they performed their heroism, it seemed as if the world depended on whether they succeeded.

We can contrast such journeys with those of the type that are chronicled in Blue Highways.  Journeys of discovery, reflection and healing are those that begin without a goal, or at least a single goal, in mind.  They aren't focused on anything specific.  In the end, however, they achieve similarities: a message to self or others, an achievement, often after a path of difficulty that tries endurance and capabilities.  Sometimes, the acts of heroism are in service to self, the changes wrought are in one's own life and the lives saved might even be one's own.

I'm sure that there are many acts of heroic journeys done daily, throughout history, that have been lost in time.  However, we celebrate these journeys and those that are lost to us when we celebrate them in literature, song and art.  For that reason, I'm glad I learned about Jack Jouett's ride through the Virginia night from Cuckoo Tavern to Charlottesville over treacherous paths to warn Jefferson and others.  As we prepare to close another year, let's celebrate all journeys, great and small, that we all take daily.

Musical Interlude

I was noodling around and actually found a song celebrating Jack Jouett's ride.  Jack Jouett's Ride was written by Tim Sparling and Allen Werneken, but I'm not sure who performs the version here.

Here is Jack Jouett's Ride.

If you want to know more about Cuckoo

TBD TV: What's in a Name?
Wikipedia: Cuckoo
Wikipedia: Cuckoo (house)

Next up: Stanardsville, Virginia


Blue Highways: Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

The events of the past three weeks, particularly with gun violence in the US, stirred me to write this post as I did.  My intent is to add to the national thought surrounding the recent tragedies, not to stoke antipathy among any readers.  Of course, I have my opinions and I share them with you as a thoughts and reflections for myself.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) laments the loss of boys' ability to play war.  I lament the loss of boys and girls in Newtown, Connecticut and other places because we as a society can't seem to come to terms with the violence that permeates our culture.  At right is the Virginia state bird, the Northern cardinal.

Book Quote

"Three children raced from under the oaks out over the grass to reenact the battle with guttural gunshots from their boyish throats."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

A memorial to Ohio soldiers killed in the Civil War battle at the Spotsylvania Court House. William Least Heat-Moon remarks on the names of some of these men in Blue Highways. Photo by "cowpie21" and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia

As I write this past, the day after Christmas in 2012, the holiday joy has been saddened by recent gun violence that have shaken the nation and could create a sea-change in how Americans perceive and regulate gun ownership in the United States.  Or not.  I will admit that I've only chosen part of LHM's passage to fit this post.  The full quote goes on to lament that in the age of the nuclear weapons, boys who want to play at war will have to find their inspiration elsewhere.

There has been a lot of carnage over the past few weeks: twenty schoolchildren and six school staff killed by a disturbed young person who then turned his gun upon himself, in Newtown, Connecticut; firefighters lured to a fire by a deranged man, who then shot four of them as they got out of their truck and whose note said that he was doing what he loved best - killing people.

It occurs to me that boys have found other ways to inspire themselves to play at war, sometimes with tragic results.  The United States, so prudish about sex, has glorified violence to the extreme.  Movies and television have pushed the extremes of violent depictions.  The cartoon violence that I grew up with has turned into graphic depictions of throats slit, bullet wounds, spurting blood and separated body parts.  A recent study of the James Bond films has determined that seriously violent acts in the long-running series have doubled.  My wife and I recently started watching an HBO series called Game of Thrones, and we see at least three or four extremely violent acts such as beheadings and bludgeonings per episode.

Video games provide kids with another access point to violence.  First-person shooter games such as Call of Duty and Halo are extremely popular.  I am not going to moralize on the games other than to note that there are some, perhaps with addictive personalities, who spend a lot of time on these games where death simply means that one can get back up again and continue shooting or start a new game.

When these cultural influences are mixed with our gun culture in the United States, it can become a very volatile mix.  There has been much written about the interpretation, or what "should" be the interpretation, of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The actual text of the Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  Does the right to bear arms as spelled out in the Constitution simply apply to the time when the US did not have a standing army and therefore arming volunteers was key to keeping the fledgling Unites States secure?  Or, did it intend to help the citizens of the United States defend themselves against a potentially tyrannical federal government?  Did the amendment intend to allow people to keep and bear any arms, or can the federal government infringe on some rights and not others.  Unfortunately, the answers to these questions have not been clear and our inability to come to any meaningful answers has had a direct bearing on our culture and our public and contentious moral quandary comes front and center after every new tragedy that involves the procurement and use of weapons hits the media.

I think that at the root of our problem is America's addictive personality.  We may be addicted to violence, and addicted to the tools of violence.  People who are addicted to anything, whether the addiction be to drugs, alcohol, sex, or anything else, gradually increase their tolerance and also become numb to the effects of their addiction.  An addiction over time means that those who are addicted usually want more of what they are addicted to and at the same time, are unaware of the chaos that they bring to those around them.  Often loved ones, family, and friends wring their hands over what to do to help the addicted person, and yet are afraid to confront them, fearing their erratic behavior and possible rage.  It's easier to turn away than deal with the problem, especially if the problem is also partly enabled by the behavior of those who want to help.

As I watch the debate unfold over the latest tragedies, I see addiction.  We have enshrined the right of the purveyors of violence (video games, television, movies) to continue to provide their product in the name of Constitutional free speech.  Some propose that the solution to the problem is to provide more tools of violence, weapons, to everyone or at least well-trained individuals to protect us.  To me, this is similar to a an alcoholic arguing that he or she will be okay if they just get another drink to steady their nerves.  On the other hand, nobody in the United States seems to want to confront the hard problems of addiction and mental illness.  In the 1980s, the government cut funding for services to the mentally ill and since then those who would have previously been in treatment have had to get by on their own.  When our own failings as a society are brought to light, it's often easier to blame our "gun culture" than consider some of the deeper problems we have.

I am not blind with naivete.  I grew up with guns and saw the best and worst of them.  I also grew up with addiction and to this day I'm surprised that, when these two things mingled in my family, nobody got killed.  I still remember insisting to my father that he let me carry the gun when he demanded that we go on an evening deer hunt and stumbled out of our camp and into the hills.  When my father died, the Savage Model 99 rifle, along with a shotgun for hunting quail, stayed in a closet in my mom's house until she decided to give them to a cousin.  I have a twinge of regret that they are gone, but I don't really miss them.  I benefited from having guns in the form of venison meals and quail dinners, but I realized how dangerous they could be in the hands of individuals who, for whatever reason, should not be carrying them.

As we go through another round of debates, I would encourage us to not only debate the proper use and scope of the tools of violence, but also add the deeper roots of our cultural addiction to violence to the conversation.  And I encourage us to remember the martyrs of our societal moral quandary: the Newtown 26, the Rochester firemen, the Columbine dead and wounded, the Aurora dead and wounded, the Tucson dead and wounded and all the others who have been killed in our culture of violence.

Musical Interlude

Robert Earl Keen's version of the song Sonora's Death Row is a great illustration of the tragedy that comes with combining our various forms of addiction.  The rough and wild Old West was a gun culture, and full of all of the temptations of substance and sex money could buy, and it sometimes didn't end well.


If you want to know more about Spotsylvania Courthouse

National Park Service: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania
Spotsylvania County: Spotsylvania Courthouse
Wikipedia: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
Wikipedia: Spotsylvania Courthouse

Next up: Cuckoo, Virginia


Blue Highways: Fredericksburg, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

Four wheels, two wheels, or even three wheels?  Which is best?  As a person who utilizes two wheels of the human powered variety for transportation, I envy motorists sometimes.  But, as William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) stops in Fredericksburg for some gas, I look at the the pros and cons of each, at least in my life.  To see where Fredericksburg sits, pedal or accelerate over to the map.

Book Quote

"Vern, in his antique ways, believed that anyone who got behind a steering wheel could rightly be expected to operate the car rather than just steer it; that's why you wee issued an Operator's Permit.  He believed the more work a driver did, the less the car had to do; the less it had to do, the simpler and more reliable and cheaper to repair it would be.  He cursed the increasing complexity of automobile mechanics.  But, as I say, he was a man of the old ways.  He even believed in narrow tires (cheaper and less friction), spoked wheels (less weight), and the streamlined 'Airflow' designs of Chrysler Corporation cars of the mid-thirties - designs Chrysler almost immediately gave up on before proceeding to build the biggest finned hogs of all.  We boys of the fifties loved their brontosaurean bulk.

"Another of Vernon's themes we laughed at was his advocacy of the comparable economy of and safety of three wheels (he drove a motorcycle with a sidecar) for city driving.  He would say to us, 'Two wheels ain't enough, and four's too many. So where does that leave you, boys?'  'Three wheels!' we'd shout back, mocking him.  'No sir, it leaves money in your jeans.'"

Blue Highways: Chapter 10, Part 1

Downtown Fredericksburg. Photo by Ken Lund and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fredericksburg, Virginia

At the time I am writing this post, it is a winter morning in Albuquerque.  We've had no snow yet, but we've finally gotten to the point where the mornings are very cold, around 17 degrees in the morning just when the sun comes up.

For a person who rides his bike to work, such as myself, it isn't the greatest experience, especially when the wind blows.  On those days I bundle up in layers, but not too many, so that I can be warm enough on the ride.  I put on a hat, or a snood, and after the new year my new balaclava, under my helmet and gloves on my hands to keep my hands from freezing.  No matter what kind of gloves I get, they never seem to keep my hands warm enough and I usually end up with biting cold fingers by the end of the ride.

The ride is only about three miles, and I do it as fast as possible.  While mostly downhill, it is a strenuous workout because I have to do a couple of nice rises in there.  Those mornings, however, when the wind is pushing against me so that exposed areas of my face are frozen and after a few minutes certain parts of my body are retreating rapidly like rabbits into a hole, I really wish I had a car.

The reason I don't have a car are various.  Mostly it has to do with money.  Two cars in our family would increase our costs.  We would pay more for gas, though my wife does most of the driving.  Repairs would double, especially since neither one of us has had great luck with cars so there is usually some huge thing that needs to be fixed every three years or so.  I would also have to pay $450 or so a year for the privilege of having a parking space about a half-mile away from my office, or much more if I wanted to park closer.

I am mostly fine with the arrangement, except, as I wrote, on cold winter mornings and the occasional day when I find myself having to ride to work or home in rain or, even worse, slushy snow.  Another advantage is that I get exercise, especially coming back home where my downhill turns to a steep uphill climb, and by the time I get home my heart is pumping hard.

But there are some disadvantages.  If I'm late, I'm usually really late because I can only go so fast on my bike.  I usually have to leave earlier for things that I need to get to.  Also, my freedom of movement is limited to where I can get on my bike.  I envy my wife's ability to go where she wants, even up to Santa Fe, down to Socorro or over to Gallup if she needs to.  Bike racks on the bus could make my radius a little larger, but one is limited to the bus schedule and places they go.  And the safety factor is also a disadvantage.  While Albuquerque is a relatively bike-friendly city, some drivers here see bikers as a hindrance.  This has not been helped by serious bikers, that train in Albuquerque because of the altitude, who sometimes seem to go out of their way to annoy drivers by riding in packs in the middle of the road.  The clash of bike culture and car culture, and people on both sides who don't understand the rules of the road, means that there are far too many "ghost bikes" along the sides of highways.  There is one at an intersection right next to the university where I work.

My wife and I often joke about getting a motorcycle with a side car.  The joke goes that I could drive the motorcycle, and we could outfit our dog in goggles and she could ride in the sidecar.  But that will never happen because my wife really doesn't want me on a motorcycle.  "Donorcycles" she calls them.  I've thought of getting a scooter at times, but they face the same disadvantages that a motorcycle does, though I think that my wife is worried about me on a motorized two-wheeler on the open road rather than in a city, which I think is probably more dangerous than the open road.

So when it comes to keeping money in my jeans, as LHM quotes from old story of his youth, I'll probably remain on two wheels, ride defensively and hope that I remain safe.  And I'll just suck it up with those cold winter mornings - they give me a reason to look forward to the warmer temperatures of spring when I can shed my layers and ride in shorts and a polo shirt.  And, as we look for a house, we'll just have to look for one within biking distance of my work, which is where we want to be anyway.

Musical Interlude

I debated putting this video on.  Queen's Bicycle Race was the first song that came to mind when I wrote this post.  The video, featuring naked women in a bicycle race at Wimbledon, has been linked with the song so that one can't think of the song without the images.  So, if you are sensitive to mild images of naked women riding bikes, don't watch the video.  And be assured, I'm not advocating naked bike riding nor have I ever ridden a bike naked.  Nobody wants to see that!

If you want to know more about Fredericksburg

City of Fredericksburg (news site of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)
Greater Fredericksburg Tourism Partnership
University of Mary Washington
Virginia Tourism: Fredericksburg
Wikipedia: Fredericksburg

Next up: Spotsylvania, Virginia