Current Littourati Map

Neil Gaiman's
American Gods

Click on Image for Current Map

Littourari Cartography
  • On the Road
    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

Search Littourati
Enjoy Littourati? Recommend it!


Littourati is powered by
Powered by Squarespace


Get a hit of these blue crystal bath salts, created by Albuquerque's Great Face and Body, based on the smash TV series Breaking Bad.  Or learn about other Bathing Bad products.  You'll feel so dirty while you get so clean.  Guaranteed to help you get high...on life.

Go here to get Bathing Bad bath products!

Entries in Wisconsin (9)


Blue Highways: Kewaunee, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

Kewaunee, on the shores of Lake Michigan, will technically be our last stop in Wisconsin with William Least Heat-Moon.  Today I opine on taciturnity, privacy and reticence.  In the United States, some regions might be more reserved than others, at least in their cultural norms.  To see where silence is a virtue, quietly tiptoe over to the map, and don't disturb anyone!

Book Quote

"Across the central North, conversations had been difficult to strike up.  The people were polite but reserved; often they seemed afraid of appearing too inquisitive, while at other times they were simply too taciturn to exchange the banalities and clichés necessary to find a base for conversation.

"When I walked the North towns, people, wondering who the outsider was, would look at me; but as soon as I nodded they looked down, up, left, right, or turned around as if summoned by an invisible caller.  'Stranger,' Whitman says, 'if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?'  I even tried my old stratagem of taking a picture of a blank wall just to give a passerby an excuse to stop and ask what I could possibly be photographing.  Nothing breaks down suspicion about a stranger better than curiosity - except in the North; whatever works better there, I didn't discover.   The effect on me was that I felt more alone than I ever had in the desert.  I wished for the South where any topic is worth at least a brief exchange.  And so I went across the central North, seeing many people, but not often learning where our lives crossed common ground."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 13

Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse. This photo by JerichoHW is posted at the forum. Click on photo to go to host site.

Kewaunee, Wisconsin

I've touched on the taciturnity of the upper Midwest in previous posts at stops in Minnesota.  However, since LHM brings it up again, it is worth looking at the reticence one may find in various places once again.  LHM compares the North to the South, which he indicates is more outgoing.  As one who has lived in both places, this has been my experience also.

I'll repeat my experience visiting Wisconsin after years of living in Texas and in Louisiana.  In Texas, we got used to very nice, open and outspoken people who dressed in more vibrant colors and peppered their speech with the "isms" that Texas is known for.  My wife and I were two of what is fast becoming an endangered species in Texas - liberals.  We hung out with other liberals but also had occasion, either personally or through work, to rub elbows with those ideologically opposed to us.  Regardless of any of that, Texans put a premium on being social and on conversation.  People appeared, therefore, to be open to interaction with others.

In Louisiana, we had similar experiences.  Of course, our experience of Louisiana was mostly New Orleans, where everyone just lets who they are hang right out there.  If anything, that openness and willingness to interact culminates each year in the explosion of color and celebration known as Mardi Gras.

In those states, anything you brought up was a topic fit for conversation.  How different, then, it was when we visited Wisconsin after a separation of a number of years.  With our friends, it was like old times where all kinds of issues were on the table.  But with people we didn't know, trying to make conversation on even non-political, safe topics like the Green Bay Packers was often met with one-word answers and awkward silences after.

I'm not saying that Wisconsinites are cold and rude.  Far from it.  The people I met and got to know intimately are generous and kind, and opened up once I got to know them.  I believe that the reserve and reticence is cultural.  I found the same type of reserve in Germany, which shares cultural roots with much of Wisconsin.  The dynamic, I think, is that it is not seen as polite to be overly curious about someone else's business, especially if you do not know them.  It is also not polite if someone inquires too deeply into your business.  What is left is an unwillingness to engage in small talk and to allow strangers glimpses into one's private business.  I also think that the harsh winters, so similar to those in northern Europe, separated and isolated people for a number of months.  That isolation probably left people tight-lipped and quiet.  This has filtered down as a cultural attribute.  It leaves a person like LHM in a kind of limbo - how can one pierce the walls surrounding people?  It's a Catch-22.  The more he tries, the less success he has.

There are benefits to the reserved nature of many in the upper Midwest.  Nobody knows your business, and by extension, your problems.  That privacy can be very important and very protective.  Unfortunately, my sense is that it can lead to isolation.  Growing up in a small town in a dysfunctional family, I know the harm that isolation and a lack of openness can breed.

However, contrast this with the openness that you often find in the South.  There is a lot to be said for it.  Yet, one can be overwhelmed with that openness.  Sometimes, that openness doesn't translate to a feeling that there is interest in what you have to say.  Sometimes it might seem that boundaries can be stretched.

I realize that I'm painting regions with a broad brush.  One finds very open people in the upper Midwest, just as one finds reticent and taciturn people in the South.  As for me, as I get older I tend to err on the side of openness.  I've had too much experience with the harm that can come from holding back, keeping secrets, and avoidance.  I would rather maintain an open demeanor and show my curiosity about people and the world.  Perhaps it might get me in trouble sometimes, but I feel that the rewards will outweigh any of the costs.  I also just simply like how it feels to be more open and less reticent.

The ultimate test of one's ability to deal with openness and lack of privacy often comes in overpopulated sections of the developing world.  In the late 1990s I traveled to Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and any illusions of privacy were shattered.  I was always in the midst of a crush of people, even in the rural areas.  Everything I did, regardless of if I was eating in a roadside restaurant, taking a walk, looking in a shop window, or looking at a landmark, was of such intense interest to everyone else that if I stopped for a certain amount of time I attracted a crowd.  At first it gave me an inflated sense of self-importance.  By the time I left, however, I was aching for that sense of personal privacy to be restored.  I often wonder, as populations grow around the world and global climate change makes some areas less easily inhabited, if more and more people will be forced to live closer and closer together and share resources.  Is it possible that personal privacy will become a true luxury, one that is unavailable to most?

Musical Interlude

I'm not exactly pleased with my music selection for this post as I wanted to see if I could capture the "taciturn" North.  But I couldn't find really anything that satisfied me.  So what you're left with is a song by Ultravox called Quiet Men.  It's a perfectly fine song, but doesn't set the mood I had in mind.  Oh well...sigh...

If you want to know more about Kewaunee

City of Kewaunee
Green Bay Press Gazette - Kewaunee County (newspaper)
Kewaunee Chamber of Commerce
Wikipedia: Kewaunee Kewaunee

Next up:  Somewhere on Lake Michigan


Blue Highways: Green Bay, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) drops off Stacie McDougald, his teen hitchhiker, at her grandmother's house and realizes that he got some kind of Wisconsin experience, though not exactly what he expected.  Preconceptions will be the topic of this post, along with a little bit about the team that put Green Bay on the map - the Packers.  Just where is Green Bay cartographically?  Do an end run to the map!

Book Quote

"'If you took me on to Green Bay you could get the ferry across Lake Michigan.  You wouldn't have to drive through Chicago.  Please?'

"I agreed to it although now I would be across Wisconsin without really seeing Wisconsin.  Later, as we drove along state 29 through the moraine country of dairy farms and fine old barns, across the Embarrass River, it occurred to me that I had seen something of Wisconsin.  What I hadn't seen was the Wisconsin of my blue highway preconceptions.  Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went.

"At Green Bay the smell of Lake Michigan blew in strong.  The girl directed me to her grandmother's house.  When we arrived, she became excited and jumped down and ran to the bungalow.  Then she ran back to the truck.

"'Hey!  What's your name?'  I told her.  'Okay.  Keep on truckin.'"

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photo by Milwaukee3181 and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Green Bay, Wisconsin

"Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went."

I really enjoy this bit of a mind twister that LHM has thrown on us.  It's all about preconceived notions, and we all have them and we all get caught up in them, so much so that we often talk ourselves out of going places or being places that might actually be interesting because we already know what they are like.  Or, we get to some place and it doesn't fit our mental image of what that place should be like.

This morning, while I was at the dentist, I was talking with the hygienist who was scraping away on six months worth of plaque and tartar buildup on my teeth.  She asked me if I had any plans for the summer so I told her, in a sort of, "I ah going oo Ooo Ork i ah ate ing or a edding" (translation: I am going to New York in the late spring for a wedding).  She asked if I was going to New York State or City.  "Itty," I said.  She then told me her mom had grown up in Long Island.  So I said "Oo ust ave een oo Oo Ork a ew imes" (translation: You must have been to New York a few times).  "My mom lives here now," she said, "and I've never been there."  "Illy?" was my astonished reply.  "I?"  "Oh, I've never liked crowds," she said.

So, there's a preconceived notion that has kept this woman, who likes museums and other things cities have to offer, from going to New York.  I've been to New York many times, and yes, I have had to deal with crowds on the subway and in certain places.  But the city is a big place, and you can find areas of the city that at times are just as quiet as any smaller place.  If the reason that she hasn't gone to New York is that she doesn't like crowds, she's missing out on a fantastic experience.

I try to fight against others' preconceived notions as much as I can.  As some of you know, I visit Mardi Gras in New Orleans every year.  I have to defend Mardi Gras from those who have only seen Girls Gone Wild or pictures of Bourbon Street and have preconceived notions that Mardi Gras is a drunken sex-fest, rather than the culturally complex and significant, family-friendly event that I know.  I have a friend who insists on painting the South with his preconceived notions of illiteracy, inbreeding, radical conservatism whereas the South I have experienced is much more nuanced, extremely cultural, complex and filled with some wonderful people.

So, I love how LHM realizes that even if he hasn't seen the Wisconsin of his imagination, he has seen it.  He has seen it in the amusing and often tragic stories that Stacie McDougald, his teenaged hitchhiker, has told him.  He has seen it in the supper clubs and the gift shoppes, in the diary farms and the barns.  He sees it in the industrial city of Green Bay.

One place that does live up to preconceived notions is Green Bay.  Green Bay's biggest export, the symbol of the city that turns it from a forgotten northern outpost to a world-class sports city, is the Green Bay Packers.  It's too bad that LHM does not make a trip to the ultimate destination in Green Bay, Lambeau Field.  Green Bay has Christian churches, but the real shrine of the city is where the Packers play.  Nowadays, you can see the remodeled, refurbished stadium and the Packer Hall of Fame (both places that, sadly, I have never been).  The team is so identified with the city and its people that there is is anywhere from 86,000 to 96,000 people on the season tickets waiting list, and a possible wait of up to 956 years.  People designate recipients of such tickets in their wills.  When the stadium was recently remodeled and the sod replaced, people paid money to buy a bit of the old sod, called "the tundra," and I'm sure that some still have pieces of it in their freezers.

The Packers are also unique in the modern era of sports in that they are not owned privately, but are owned by the community in the form of shares, and have a governing board that makes team decisions.  It's the only reason that Green Bay, the smallest market among professional American football teams, has been able to maintain one of the longest-lived franchises in the National Football League.

I have not spent much time in Green Bay proper, but I have friends in De Pere, the town next door, that I have visited.  One cute fact about the Green Bay Packers is that unlike other professional football teams, they do not have a cheerleading squad.  Instead, the local liberal arts school St. Norbert College loans the Packers their cheerleaders.  It's wonderful bit of wholesomeness in the often unwholesome world of sports.

Preconceived notions, whether they live up to our expectations or not, can be a limiting factor in our lives.  If there's anything that I hope that Littourati will do, I hope that it will help banish preconceived notions and get you thinking about things you haven't considered, read books you've never read, and perhaps even visit a place or two that you never thought you'd visit.  Keeping open to new experiences is life giving and acting on that openness can be life changing. 

Go explore, Littourati!

Musical Interlude

Since Green Bay isn't known for much outside Wisconsin besides the Packers, I'm going to give you a triple shot of musicians and/or celebrities who are natives of or who lived in Green Bay. 

In 1986, Timbuk3 shot to the top of the charts with The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.  Here is Pat MacDonald, Green Bay native and one-half of Timbuk3, with his new project Purgatory Hill (his bandmate is Milwaukee singer-songwriter melaniejane).  The song was originally performed by Timbuk3 and is called Count to Ten.

I was introduced to Mystery Science Theater 3000 while living in Wisconsin, and it turns out that Joel Hodgson, one of the creator's and the main character in the show, is a native of Green Bay.  If you haven't seen MST3K, it is a great way to watch a lousy movie.  Unfortunately, the end of the theme song gets cut off, but you get the idea. 


Leo Ornstein, a resident of Green Bay in his later years, was a composer and pianist known for his modern and experimental piano pieces.  For many years Ornstein was the oldest published composer after he published a piano sonata at the age of 97.


If you want to know more about Green Bay

City of Green Bay
EdGeinsFurnitureSeconds (badly named food blog)
Fox Valley Foodie (blog)
Green Bay Botanical Garden
Green Bay Chamber of Commerce
Green Bay
Green Bay Press Gazette (newspaper)
Heritage Hill State Historical Park
National Railroad Museum
University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
Wikipedia: Green Bay

Next up: Kewaunee, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Merrill, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

We turn southeast again at Merrill.  I will once again, and for the last time perhaps, address the daughter that I will never have.  This time, I will reflect on children that are unwantedand seen as the cause of their parents' problems.  I hope that some of them make it over the rainbow.  Thank you, all visiting Littourati, for putting up with my need to get all of this off my mind.  Where's Merrill?  Let the map be your guide

Book Quote

"Looking for the land again, I turned east at Merrill....

"'Nana says Angus never forgave us kids for changing his life.  We kept him from becoming a famous writer.  But Nana says it's because he was too scared to really do it on his own...It's all bullshit.  The only way he's big is pushing little people around.'

"'He must have treated you fairly sometimes.'

"'Yeah?  Like he calls us 'hundred-thousand-dollar jerks' because he read that's what it costs to raise a kid.  Or he calls us 'unfeathered, two-legged arguments for abortion....'"

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Downtown Merrill, Wisconsin. Photo by royalbroil and hosted at Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to host site.

Merrill, Wisconsin

This post will be the last in my series of the letter to the daughter I will never have.  Go here to see Part 1 and Part 2.

Letter to
the Daughter
I Will Never Have
(Part 3)

"Thousand dollar jerks."  "Two-legged arguments for abortion."  How people who bring life in the world can so discount their own offspring, so minimize them, so utterly demean them, is infuriating to me.

What makes me angry is that there are so many children that need love and affection, and I am continually left with the question why?  Why are children born into homes that don't want them?  Why do people with attitudes like the father's above even bother to procreate?  It is not only a huge act of irresponsibility to get someone pregnant when you don't even want children, but an even bigger act of irresponsibility to demean them and abuse them once they've been brought into the world.

As a semi-practicing Catholic, the Church tells me that I should believe that abortion is evil.  This is echoed by evangelicals around the U.S.  But what kind of world is a child coming into if he or she is born into a family that doesn't want a child, and who views a child as a cause of problems?  Wouldn't it be better to simply not allow that child to be born?

On the other hand, what kind of world would it be if people can simply abort children when they want to correct their own irresponsibilities?

I try to steer away from that debate, but it seems to me that the answer to the question is to be responsible.  Don't have children if you don't want them.  Use a condom or birth control (another method my Church doesn't condone, but I really don't care).  If you are responsible, and still a pregnancy results, then all parties should consider all options instead of just taking a seemingly easy way out.

What bothers me about the rhetoric that flies around about the abortion debate is the assumptions that are made.  There are assumptions made that if children are not aborted, that the families will want them, or that there are people out there just waiting to adopt.  Maybe, but it's not guaranteed.  Again, I ask, what kind of life is a child consigned to if there are no safety nets to catch newborn babies?  There are also assumptions made that it's just easy for a woman to have sex, get pregnant, and then go and get an abortion.  I know that is not true.  A person would have to be an unfeeling, complete sociopath to not have any emotion about having that procedure.

Yet, it's easy for me to extemporize.  It's easy for me because, in a sense, I've been irresponsible.  In my case, I put off my own wants and desires for children and it has cost me ever conceiving you, or conceiving of you, getting to know you, caring for you, raising you, and loving you.  But at least I am not putting you into harm's way.  Someone else will have you, someone else will raise you, someone else will love you.  At least that is my hope.

I just hope that the persons who raise you want you.  I hope that they don't see you as an impediment to their dreams, but as a dream come true.  I hope that they don't see lost opportunities in your existence, but find the incredible opportunities that arrive and await them because you exist.  I was talking to a coworker who is raising a teenage daughter and he was remarking on the amazing amount of dystopian literature aimed at teenage girls.  It makes sense, because the world is a scary place for girls in the teen years, when they are so vulnerable and still have to be so strong.  The world is dystopian enough for teenage kids.  Why do we have to reinforce that frightening view?  We should be shattering it.

I hope that if I cannot be your father, that wherever you are out there I'll meet you.  I hope that I'll meet you in the park with your mom and dad and that I get to play with you a moment.  I hope that I meet you when, as I hope, I volunteer with an organization like Big Brothers or some other non-profit that matches needy kids with someone who will pay attention to them and provide companionship or mentorship to them. 

Perhaps I've already met you in the myriads of kids with which I've gotten on the ground or floor, suspended my worldly worries, and just gone into their world.  Maybe you've already touched my emotions or for a few moments relieved my sorrow about not having a child, a daughter, of my own.  Maybe I've still yet to meet you.

Yet I know you're out there, and if you aren't to be my child, I can still be a special person to other children.  I can still be someone to which they can become close and get support and friendship.  They just have to find me.  I have a feeling that it will happen.  And when they do, regardless of the reason, they'll know that they are special.  Maybe, in this way, I'll be able to honor you, the daughter I will never have.


Michael Hess
Your Father that Might Have Been

Musical Interlude

Life always throws one curve balls.  I've had a few hit me in the face.  When I get down and melancholy, this particular song, Over the Rainbow, has always given me a reason to keep going.  I remember it touching me when I was young and when I hear it now, I often get tears in my eyes, especially if the singer puts some real emotion into it.  Judy Garland made it her own, then Jane Monheit claimed it, and most recently Israel Kamakawiwo'ole nailed it.  I've loved them all, and I can imagine that a lot of kids in difficult situations wish they, too, could fly over the rainbow.  Pick your favorite, or listen to them all.

If you want to know more about Merrill

Merrill Chamber of Commerce
Merrill Courier (newspaper)
Wikipedia: Merrill

Next up: Green Bay, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Minocqua, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

Turning south on US 51 at Minocqua with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) and his teenage rider, we head down a celebrated road filled with gift shoppes and supper clubs.  I will reminisce about Wisconsin, it's wholesome shops and its supper clubs while we go.  Where is Minocqua?  Let the map feed your curiosity!

Book Quote

"We turned south onto U.S. 51 at Minocqua.  Motels and restaurants gimmicked up like barns and country stores the whole way; most had gift shoppes and some had caged animals for petting.  Then the supper clubs, each named after its owner."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Downtown Minocqua, Wisconsin. Photo hosted at Click on photo to go to host page.

Minocqua, Wisconsin

Of the things I remember about Wisconsin, one thing that I always found a little cheesy was the plethora of what LHM calls "shoppes."  Literally cheesy.  When one drives from Chicago to Milwaukee, not far over the Wisconsin state line is something called the Mars Cheese Castle.  It is a "gift shoppe" filled with Wisconsin-made cheeses, sausages, and other foodstuffs, as well as other types of knick knacks and tchotchkes.  The Mars Cheese Castle, however, is a freeway stop so it is really big.

The state, however, is full of these types of shops on a smaller scale.  Every adorable and cute downtown in small towns around the state have little gift shoppes, all catering to people's ideas of the simple rural existence of Wisconsin.  I remember a lot of crafts, crotcheted and knitted pieces for example, or locally made pottery, woodworked, picture frames, and a lot of knick knacks with people's names on them.  Most of the gifts seemed to have a useful purpose in some way or another, some utilitarian function that somehow seemed to fit the industriousness of the people of a state where letting things go to waste seems to be somehow improper.  The shops were all very homely, not in the sense of beauty but in the sense of being another thing that bolstered Wisconsin's image as a wholesome place steeped in the simplicity of rural life.

Another really interesting thing in Wisconsin that I found fascinating were the supper clubs.  LHM mentions driving by these establishments.  I have to admit I never really understood what a supper club was.  You would walk in, and they appeared to be an ordinary restaurant, though the architecture and the decor always reminded me of movie restaurants set in the late 50s or early 60s.  The food was usually good, but not exotic.  You would find typically meats (and sometimes fish), soups, potatoes and salads, with pies, cakes and ice creams for dessert.  In other words, if you were looking for haute French cuisine, you were not going to find it at a supper club. 

I was always confused a little by the idea of these places being "clubs."  Were they clubs because certain people paid memberships and therefore got better food and booze in a back room?  I never saw any evidence of that, though it was obvious that, like at any restaurant, there were repeat patrons that the staff knew by name.  But being in Wisconsin, I didn't associate the word "club" with entertainment.

Of course, I did a little bit of reading on the idea of supper clubs before I wrote this post.  Since they are ubiquitious around the upper Midwest, I was surprised to learn that the first supper club was not established anywhere near that region, but in Beverly Hills, California, though the proprietor was from Milwaukee.  The idea of the supper club is to create an atmosphere and ambience where people would want to spend an entire evening.  In that sense, the supper club differs from a restaurant.  Restaurants serve, patrons eat, patrons leave.  In a supper club, patrons go for an early evening cocktail and "shoot the breeze" with friends.  Then, dinner and dessert is served.  Finally, there is an evening entertainment and nightcaps before people head home.  In other words, if one does the supper club correctly, one would spend 5 or more hours at the place.

The ambience of the club is supposed to be that of a high-class type of place.  Patrons would want to go there because it is a step above a restaurant.  It is a place that a guy would take a girl that he wanted to impress with a nice evening out, or where a couple can celebrate a significant wedding anniversary.  It could also be a place for wedding receptions.  A supper club is a place where natives might take their out-of-town guests to impress them.  However, the cost of going is not prohibitive.  The supper club is affordable because the menu is kept simple.

Of course, living in Wisconsin for a few years, I had the opportunity to visit a supper club or two.  For many falls, I would travel with friends to the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.  In the fall, the Canada geese use the refuge as a stopover on their way south to warmer climes.  Thousands of geese nest in the marsh in the evenings, and during the daytime fly out to the fields to search for food.  If you get there at the right time in the late afternoon, you can see the geese, tens of thousands of them, fly back into the marsh.  It is quite a spectacle, and I still remember one time when I saw, very distant, a "V" line of geese slowly wing across a low, huge yellow moon.

Once, on the way back, Megan and I stopped in at a supper club and had a nice dinner there with a very friendly waitress - I seem to remember she was dressed in something resembling a dirndl but I can't be sure.  One of the most famous supper clubs was The Gobbler, just off I-94 in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin.  It was a strange looking building.  Evidently, it was supposed to celebrate the turkey, and the architecture was supposed to resemble that bird in abstract.  It was a unique experience, let's say.  The place closed in 1992 and has been memorialized and missed ever since.  James Lileks, who created The Gallery of Regrettable Food, has one of the funniest and best memorials of The Gobbler, which he called the "ugliest, and somehow coolest, motel in America."

I had another experience with a supper club in northern Illinois, one that fills me with a strange sort of pride.  Taken there by a native, the menu offered something called the Pork o' Plenty plate.  I asked the waitress about it.  She advised I not get it because it would be too much food for me.  I was young and had a stomach of iron that belied my 6' 1" 150 pound frame.  I took the challenge.  I also ordered some soup and salad, despite her warnings.  I not only ate the soup, salad and the Pork O' Plenty, but I also ate my dessert and most of my companion's dessert.  When I left, I heard the waitress exclaim "we get big ol' farm boys in here but I've never seen anyone eat like that!"

I wouldn't be able to do that now.  But I would still visit a supper club, as they are unique institutions that somehow seem to fit the region of the United States where they are most common.

Musical Interlude

As we know from the quote, LHM and his teenage passenger turned onto Highway 51 in Minocqua.  This particular highway runs from near Canada straight north-south down into Mississippi, and has been celebrated in song from the likes of Mississippi bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker to 60s folk icon Bob Dylan.  I'm giving you a double shot in this post: Robert Allen Zimmerman (if you don't know him, click on his name) doing a live version of Highway 51, and Tommy McLennan, a roots Delta bluesman from way back, doing New Highway 51.

If you want to know more about Minocqua

Campanile Center for the Arts
The Lakeland Times (newspaper)
Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce
Wikipedia: Minocqua Minocqua

Next up: Merrill, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Hayward and Park Falls, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

Picking up a teen hitchhiker was probably not the smartest thing that William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) did, but as we're riding along with both of them it's a good time to examine factors that lead kids to run away.  As we pass through Hayward and Park Falls, I'll reflect on my own experiences running away, and the diagnosing and medicating of kids with ADHD.  Flee to the map to pinpoint our location.

Book Quote

"East of Hayward we drove into resort country where billboards and small, tacky motels lined the highway.  The pavement rose and dropped, up and down, and the van rode like a cockboat.  The girl fell asleep.  At Park Falls, I stopped for gas."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Downtown Park Falls, Wisconsin. Photo by ForwardLook and posted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host site.

Hayward and Park Falls, Wisconsin

I'm going to quote a little bit more from this chapter of Blue Highways.

"Her name was something like Stacie McDougald, and she had run away two days earlier with another girl who returned home by bus after the first night.  Stacie then hitched a ride with a boy who brought down the back road.

"'He never said anything, but when he stopped by the lake I got scared and ran.  He looked for me in the woods and stuff, but the mosquitoes were like real terrible, so he gave up.'

"She had hidden in the trees all night, eaten a couple of Ho-Ho's, and finally put her head in the knapsack to escape the very mosquitoes that had saved her.

"....She took a vial from her jacket...Vacantly she stared at the vial, shook out a pill, and swallowed it with a swig of Pepsi.

"'What's the pill?'

"'Gotta take them.  I'm hyperactive.  They're Ludes.'

"The vial had no label.  'Prescribed?'

"'Oh, sort of.  Like they used to be.  I took Ritalin when I was little.'"

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

I wanted to quote a little more because this girl touches a few spots in me, as you might have guessed from my last post.

One thing she brings to mind is my own futile attempts to run away.  I don't want to give the impression that I did it often, because I think I might have made the attempt two or three times when I was in my early teens.  Like Stacie McDougald, I had good reasons to run away, which will become apparent as we accompany LHM and Stacie a little farther down the road in Wisconsin.  But here's the problem - I was too scared to actually go through with it.  So, my attempts at running away took this form:

1) I make a big deal and run out of the house down to the end of the lane, and mill around waiting for someone to come after me.  When nobody comes, I get scared and walk back down to my house and sheepishly do something outside until I go back inside and act like nothing has happened.

2) I yell at my mother/father that I'm going to run away, and one of them (usually my mother) says "fine, call us when you get to where you are going."  Then I get scared and stay home and eventually go inside and act like nothing happened.

The truth is that I was too scared to do something like that.  Despite the problems at home that I'll get into in a future post, I was too comfortable at home.  I probably had as many reasons to run away as anyone, but I just couldn't do it...I couldn't take that next step.  Now, many years older and supposedly wiser, I realize that for a child to run away, they have to have really compelling and overwhelming reasons.  No child wants to run away, so there has to be something really bad going on at home for a child to choose to take to the road and forgo the comforts of home.  Especially if forgoing the comforts of home means running from a boy whose sole intent in providing a ride is so that he can rape you, and then spending the night in wood full of mosquitoes.  Usually, children run away because home is not comfortable, and has been made an unsafe place.  And that's sad because of all the places a child should feel most comfortable, most safe, most at ease, it's in his or her own home.

The second thing that strikes me about these particular passages in the book are that, like many children, Stacie McDougal is medicated.  Whether her quaaludes are prescribed or illegal is beside the point.  Children today, if they aren't drugged up on illegal drugs, are often drugged up on prescription medication.

I remember when some children were just considered to be "very active."  Activities were planned for them.  Sometime, when I wasn't paying attention, the terms "hyperactive," and then "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," or "ADHD," came into vogue.  Now it seems that every child who is active enough that parents or teachers find it difficult to keep up with him or her is given that diagnosis and put on pills like Ritalin, Dexedrine and Adderall.  Should those diagnoses have been common when I was young, I too might have been put on drugs as I was known to be "forgetful in daily activities," be "easily distracted," and lose "toys, pencils...etc."  I too blurted out "answers before questions have been completed" and had "difficulty awaiting [my] turn."  I also "[fidgeted] with hands or feet or [squirmed] in seat." (All quotations from the definition of ADHD by the National Institutes of Health's US National Library of Medicine).  I thought that was all part of being a kid, but have discovered that it is seen to be a disorder.

I realize that there are some children that are truly disordered, and that such kids can be very difficult.  But when did the line blur between being an active child and being disordered?  When did daydreaming become a symptom of a mental problem?  In my case, my symptoms were the result of something far more insidious going on in my family.  I often wonder, as we medicate our children, how many signs are being misread?  How many children are in crisis either from neglect or abuse, but we drug those signs away?

I surmise that in the future, rather than seeing the increase in diagnoses of ADHD as an illness or disorder that had not been recognized, instead it will be seen as a symptom of our society as it is today.  I think that in a time where traditional families, with one parent at home, are fast disappearing as both parents go to work, the need to keep kids focused on homework and activities becomes more and more necessary.  No longer can children waste time in unorganized play, daydreaming, and just being kids.  Instead they have to be attentive all the time, whether it's in their organized activities or their schoolwork.  I grew up in one of those traditional families where, when I came home from school, I had time to unwind in play before dinner and before I did my homework.  I don't see that happening much any more.  So, if a kid doesn't show that initial capacity for that kind of focus, they are diagnosed and medicated.

I may be totally off-base.  After all, one can take issue with the fact that I've never had children, despite my desire to do so.  That's a fair criticism of my views, and I won't hold it against anyone who brings up such a criticism.  I only have opinions and ideas based on my conceptions of being a parent.  I've never been down in the trenches dealing with an unruly child, or trying to hold it together while the kids fight, or just tried to keep up with the ordinary demands of parenting.

But I read about this girl that LHM describes, this Stacie McDougal who ran away from home, and who as we'll see has very legitimate reasons for doing so.  And I read about a girl who has been convinced that she needs drugs to deal with certain problems and therefore is taking quaaludes that she is convinced help her.  However, there are legitimate concerns about the overdiagnosis of ADHD, such as parents who don't want to deal with unruly children.  All this is happening right about the time that ADD and ADHD became the vogue diagnosis.  Now not only children but adults are diagnosed with this disorder, fueling what some call an "ADHD-industrial complex" consisting of American psychiatrists, US pharmaceutical companies, and makers of herbal supplements.  It has also led to ADHD prescription drug abuse among teenagers to get high and undiagnosed college students using "study drugs" to focus and get better grades. 

I wonder if as a society we are missing the mark, somehow.

Musical Interlude

I was quite touched, unexpectedly, by Ludacris' song Runaway Love (with Mary J. Blige).  I say unexpectedly because I didn't know that Ludacris rapped about specific social issues.  But then I didn't know much about Ludacris.  His foundation apparently supports efforts to find and help runaways.  It's a very powerful song.

If you want to know more about Hayward or Park Falls

Hayward Chamber of Commerce
Hayward Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau
Park Falls Chamber of Commerce
Price County Daily (Park Falls newspaper)
Sawyer County Record (Hayward Newspaper)
Wikipedia: Hayward
Wikipedia: Park Falls

Next up: Fifield, Wisconsin