Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Well, once again the house-sitter is in place, and Clan Eschenbach is on the highway. Just me and the gorgeous ex-fiancee this time, our daughter is working as a construction manager south of San Francisco. Our plan is to roll out through Nevada, then generally up through Yellowstone from south to north. Then on to Whitefish, Montana, where on July 17th my good friend David Raitt, who is Bonnie Raitt’s brother for you music fans, is playing with the Baja Boogie Band.
From there we’ll cruise back west through Idaho and into eastern Oregon, and finally south through the Sierra Nevada mountains. As with our trip through England last year, I’ll be writing about it as time and the tides allow. Our route today and tomorrow is the “Lincoln Highway”, a curious highway with a strange past. It was the first transcontinental highway, running from New York to California. It was also the first national anything named in memory of Abraham Lincoln, predating the Lincoln Memorial. And it gets odder from there.
Today I found out that the Lincoln Highway came into existence back around 1911 because of the work of something called the “Good Roads Movement”. This was a movement calling for improved roads, and citing all of the benefits of a system of improved roads for the economy and for the working man. Of course “improved” in 1910 meant gravelled, not paved, but a gravel road is a huge improvement over a mud bath. That’s not too odd … but here’s the odd part. Care to guess what kind of automobiles were owned by most of the membership of the “Good Roads Movement”?
None. Most of the members rode bicycles.
It turns out that in the late 1800’s, the bicycle ushered in a new era of transportation in America for the common man. They weren’t cheap, but they were way, way cheaper and far more convenient than a horse or a horse and buggy. And they allowed a man to work a considerable distance from his home … but only, of course, if there were good roads.
So in about 1880, up in New England, some local bicycle clubs got together and formed an organization with an absolutely wonderful name … the League of American Wheelmen. It was hugely popular, and spread across the US. They published a periodical called “Good Roads” … and it was that League of bicyclists who subsequently formed the core of the Good Roads Movement.
How strange this world is … the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, is the brainchild and the product of the concerted action, not of a bunch of car drivers, but of a bunch of bicycle riders.
In any case, today we rode the Lincoln Highway from the Bay Area across the dry hot Central Valley, through the semi-permanent traffic snarl in Sacramento, then up the Sierra Nevada mountains, and over the Donner Pass of culinary renown. I grew up in the northern Sierras, and as always, they were full of oxygen and the entrancing smell of the pine and fir trees.
Then over the top and down along the Truckee River to Reno, where we grabbed a room at the Nugget Casino and I’m writing this post. I hadn’t been in a Reno casino since I came here about 38 years ago to play professional blackjack, as I discussed in my post called “Decimals of Precision.
The biggest change in that time is that hardly anyone gambles with actual objects any more. For example, people play blackjack without touching a single card …
… they play roulette without a wheel or a ball …
… and they shoot craps without ever touching the bones.
I gotta admit, I don’t see the lure. I mean, on my planet you need to talk to the dice, shake them in your hand and blow on them, instruct them in the proper methods of rolling … and how you gonna do that with electrons?
Plus, maybe I’m just a suspicious guy. Although I trust a deck of actual cards, the venerable pasteboards themselves, why would I ever trust a computer model of a deck of cards? Seems like the programmers could do anything they want and I’d never know … does this sound familiar to students of climate?
The other thing that’s different is that back in the day, you had to pull the handle on the slot machines. So you’d see these old men and women with some big workingman’s glove on one hand, to keep them from getting blisters on the hand that pulled tha handle. But at least they were moving enough so you could verify that they were still breathing. Now, you just push a button … and seriously, for some of those folks, that’s the only thing moving. Their eyes are fixed of the “wheels” of the slot machine, which are not real wheels of course, their differential is glued to the chair, and all you see is the finger repetitively pushing the button.
So we went and jumped into the pool instead, or rather the hot tub. There we met a lovely couple of young folks just about to start college. They said they’d gone to a “magnet high school” in Las Vegas, which is a high school that teaches (in their case) medical related stuff designed to prepare people for an actual job … a crazy idea, I know. They said you can graduate from their high school as an EMT technician. How cool is that? … and there are other such high schools with different focuses. One of them is aerospace oriented, and you can get your freaking private pilot’s license as part of your high school curriculum! Dang … where were the magnet schools when I was in high school?
In any case, dear friends, we’re back on the road again for eleven days or so. It’s a musical journey this time, both Ellie and I have brought our guitars. She has a lovely Taylor steel string with a nice skinny ladies neck that fits her hand, and a strong, melodious tone. I have a Goya classical gut string, it’s probably thirty years old or so.
It’s taken the two of us a long time to learn to play music together. For a guy to teach his wife something, or for a woman to teach her husband something, is a delicate art. When we were first married, Ellie wanted me to teach her how to sail. So I sent her to a sailing school … I didn’t want to risk the storms.
But after 35 year of marital blitz, we’ve worn off all of the sharp corners, and in the last two or three years we’ve taken to playing music together. I used to play for a living, so I get to do the teaching, but it’s a pleasure this time around, we sing and laugh, and laugh and sing, and we both learn in the process.
So the theme for this trip is two-fold. The first theme is, guitars always sound better out of doors … and the second theme is “esperanza inutil”, a question I’ll return to next post.
As before, we’re looking for interesting places to see and people to meet. If you are anywhere around where we’re going, which would be on the Lincoln Highway out east from Reno, up through the corner of Idaho and then through Yellowstone, on to Missoula, Flathead Lake, Whitefish, and back through eastern Oregon and the north-eastern part of California, drop me an email at willis, with the usual “at”, and surfacetemps dot org. And of course, suggestions of what to see and do are always welcome, post’em up, move’em out.
All the best, the journey continues tomorrow. Posting, of course, will be as and when …