Highway Hazards and Animal Abodes

Wyoming’s landscape rolls like waves: treeless hills of sagebrush undulate under a large sky.  Mesas and buttes poke their heads above the restless, arid plains, ravines carved by long-ago water snake between the hills, and massive tan rock formations thrust into the sky like curious animals.  Traveling east on I-80 on our way to Omaha, I became aware of a gradual descent, a flattening of the geography, as if someone was pulling the sheets tight on a bed.  Uneven grazing lands filled with cows gave way to miles and miles of corn, wheat, and soybeans, ponds and reservoirs, and the lush green of America’s heartland.

Interstate 80 is a major thoroughfare, filled with 18-wheelers satisfying the country’s insatiable demand for products.  But if semis are the red blood cells of the American economy, motor homes are the cholesterol-carrying fat cells.  These bloated road hogs reach 40 feet in length have romantic, hyperbolic names like ‘Bighorn,’ ‘Reflection,’ or ‘Quantum.’  The monolithic ‘Dutch Star’ we passed allows its passengers to enjoy nature with Bermuda glazed maple hardwood cabinets, a king-sized bed, induction cooktop, Samsung TV and Blu-ray player.  At over $400,000, this example of conspicuous consumption keeps the oil industry healthy, getting a miniscule six miles per gallon on flat roads.  If I stayed in a $300/night hotel for 30 nights each summer for ten years, I’d have spent only $90K. But to each their own.  You go on with your bad self, draggin’ your ‘Stryker’ down the road at 63 m.p.h.  Enjoy your mortgage.

Speaking of road hazards, Burger King has now made my list of things to avoid while driving, like deer, or hitchhikers in prison garb.  I was possessed to go there in the first place at the prospect of actually being able to order a burger before 11 a.m., which for some reason is anathema to most fast food joints.  But, to my annoyance, I was informed that the flame-broiling-Whopper-maker was incapacitated, so I settled for a bacon, egg, and cheese Croissan’wich.  The picture on the left, below, looks delicious, yes?  But oh, my, what I got (see picture on the right) was the most disturbing bite of ‘food’ I’ve ever eaten.  Yes, bite (singular), because I threw the rest away.  I would have licked a Silverback’s butt to get the taste out of my mouth, but in the absence of the primate, orange juice, coffee, a cigarette, a day old, overripe banana, and water did the trick after about twenty minutes. Cindy’s sausage version of the same thing tasted like it’d been dipped in kerosene before serving, and the hash brown nuggets like they’d been hammered in eight-day old spoiled fryer-oil.  Shame on you, Burger King on 205 N. Greeley Hwy, just off I-80 in Cheyenne!  Shame on you, plastic-faced spokesperson Ronald McDonald wannabe King! I am sick when I do look on thee!

 

Speaking of Silverbacks, the Omaha Zoo offers a reasonably priced opportunity to view a wealth of the world’s animal species.  Depending on what survey you look at or who you talk to, it’s up there with the San Diego Zoo in the number one or two spots on the “Best Zoos” list, but at half the price.  We got there early, allowing us some peaceful exploring before the inevitably strident invasion of children under ten.  Highlights for us included the gorillas, the desert dome and swamp beneath it (I had forgotten beavers were that big), and the aquarium with its stunning collection of jellyfish.

Our trip concluded with a visit to my cousin Jennifer Schurman’s farm near Pickrell, between Lincoln and Beatrice.  In addition to her day job, she runs the Shepherd’s Rest Goat and Sheep Rescue, a not-for-profit providing rehab and sanctuary to these animals.  I’ll admit, it’s kind of trippy taking a walk through the woods with thirty-six hooved and horned mammals of all shapes and sizes.  She’s fundraising for hay right now: you can find the organization’s page on Facebook (Facebook@ShepherdsRestRescue).  And if you’re in the area, Goat Yoga takes place on weekends.

Colorful Fantasia: Denver Pride

Laramie, Wyoming is quiet.  Calm.  Cool, in both temperature and, like The Fonz, attitude.  From our street I can see the Snowy Range off to the west and the brush-covered hills that border hiking trails and Curt Gowdy State Park to the east.  In between is vast expanse of sky that hosts a diversity of clouds by day and a surprising density of stars at night. Houston’s lights, buildings, and air quality never afforded me either.

On my way to Denver a few days ago, I was reminded of another reason to have left Houston: the traffic.  Interstate 25 was a rage of congestion, construction, unchecked bad driving spawned from the anonymity of vehicles and shared communal anger.  For years I’d blamed myself for my anxiety, my high blood pressure, my imagined need to crush another driver’s skull with a crowbar, but like a bad relationship, the solution was simple.

 

Were it not for an invitation, my wife and I might not have made the trip to the Denver Pride activities,  but our close friends from Kansas were driving in and that, along with the promise of a good party, was more than enough to convince us to make the two plus hour drive into downtown.   We stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel, close to the Fifteenth-Street Mall and the Capitol grounds where thousands of the proud and colorful walked, danced, held hands, walked their dogs, or lounged in the grass.  The pride flag hung above the Capitol steps; the day was gorgeous and so were the people.  Colored hair floated through the crowd like cotton candy; furry animal costumes mingled with the topless and nearly denuded; bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and, I might add, political affiliations made their way through the packed tents of vendors, and everyone was gay. We laughed when a friend said, “Straight couples are welcome, but don’t flaunt it, you know?” I’d like to think that this gathering represents America, its true nature, embracing individual expression and imagination in a Pantheistic celebration of communal love, but I fear this country still has a long, long way to go.

On Saturday evening, between the Capitol gathering and the Sunday morning parade, we visited the Brown Palace’s cigar bar, an opulent leather-bar from well over a century ago.  Framed prominently therein was an original painting by the Italian painter Virgilio Tojetti (1851-1901) titled Colorful Fantasia, but also known as The Sultan’s Dream.  Against the backdrop of a Turkish cityscape, a dark, bearded man sits in a boat while naked, white young odalisques clamor to him like codfish to a fisherman. I couldn’t help but interpret the romanticized ‘other’ as both something barbaric and at the same time (because of its prominence in the room) admired, as if to say, “My God, look at that savage,” while secretly savoring the image as a private fantasy. Inebriant ruminations, perhaps, as I enjoyed my cigarillo.  The Manhattans were superb.

Painting