Friday Frivolity: Antiquity

From our AMTRAK suite heading west through Montana, I was not expecting to observe “Antiquity”.  Montana is very up-to-date.  Not “cattle” ranches—Black Angus.  Gone are the double-bottom plows turning over a few acres.  They are replaced by enormous disking implements that need acres to turn around.  Silos next to barns are replaced by elevators next to railroad sidings.  Those silver silos are about the only un-flat viewing in the sprawling flatland of eastern Montana.

I take that back.  There has been several other smaller rises in the rather blasé for scenery.  Junk.

It is amazing to me to see so much scrap metal languishing in the yards of dilapidated buildings. Now, I realize that Michigan has very spacious “Scrap Yards”, some of which specialize in recycling discarded automobiles.  For the most part, those “yards” are in metropolitan areas where it is rather easy for folks to dispose of their junk.  As we travel west on the rails, I haven’t seen any city worthy of “metropolitan” in two days.  So, with most every farmer having a yard big enough to dedicate some of it to a scrap metal repository, there is some reasonability to the frequency of automotive graveyards.

And in most instances of such scenes, there is a rich heritage of the family’s automotive history.  Kinda makes me wonder if there might be annual pilgrimages by the family into the “memorial yard”…A time to wander among 50 years of rust to share memories about grandpa and grandma’s first date in ‘that rumble seat’.  Yes, many of the derelict vehicles I’ve seen today are even back into the 1930’s.

In Michigan such classics would be bid on by dozens of car enthusiasts.  In Montana, I’d bet there are not a dozen enthusiasts in the whole state.  But wait.  Some of these “yards” actually do seem to focus on “antique vehicle collections”.  We did pass one that seemed to be all busses.  At least if you remember when the family station wagon was the bus to school.  Oh, and one was all 1960’s road resurfacing equipment.  Considering most of the roads visible from the train are gravel and don’t even have RR Xing signals, makes me wonder how far that guy must have gone to find the Asphalt roller.  Missed a great photo op there.

Oh, look, was that 20?…no had to be a couple dozen rusty, steel wheeled, tractors and some vintage harvesters.  Oh, my goodness.  And an antique manure spreader.

Friday Frivolity: Black Friday

Though I was selling books in Chesaning today, I submit this Friday Frivolity from several years ago in honor of those who began their Christmas shopping on BLACK FRIDAY
Sue and I begin our Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday. I understand that is the name retailers use to inspire wholesale idiocy.
Sure, I know it is theoretically indicative of their desire to finish the year in the “black”. Marketing wise, maybe they should call it Pink Friday…as in the customers will be tickled pink with the savings. In reality, it might be more properly known as Black & Blue Friday. Black for retail hope—Blue for those whose hopes were dashed as they missed out on the last one of the limited supply.
For us, it just seemed fitting to still be in a thankful mood to begin preparations for giving gifts. Besides, many retailers offer great savings—Plus, additional savings are in the offing for very early shoppers on Friday. Commonly, these savings are referred to as Door Busters.
Words like that really get shoppers in the mood…albeit aggressive. It’s incredible what happens to people at 6 a.m. when there’s a really good deal in the offing. Why, I could hardly believe it. Pushing, shoving, jostling for position. It was like a rugby scrum without mud. Some people were actually shoving store displays aside to make a new route to the pile of boxes. (Black and Blue they may be tomorrow.)
Some, with arms full of their prized purchases, were actually struggling to get out of the melee. Others stooped beneath flailing arms to weasel in…via a down-low route …desperately reaching between a myriad of legs …grasping blindly for one of the last boxes on the floor. It was almost shameful.
But, with those tactics, I did manage to get a box before they were all snatched up.
Not to worry. The scuff marks on the knees of my pants will wash out and the blood has already clotted. The wound was inflicted on my skull by the downward thrust of a woman’s hand bag. Ouch!
I’m guessing she sharpened those rivets just for this event.
And a powerful thrust it was as she screamed an obscenity. I swear I didn’t touch her.
But, in the scheme of things, I suppose she thought a guy crawling on his hands and knees in a crowd was a bit suspect and worthy of her actions.
Nonetheless, the scrape on my scalp was relatively minor. It did not warrant any further delay. That pile of boxes was disappearing quickly and it was a high-priority item on our gift list. Not only was I willing to sacrifice my dignity, but also I put my moral integrity at risk by crawling among the legs of these already tense ladies.
I actually needed to stretch and twist my 6-foot 4-inch frame supine…if not serpentine…along the floor. I was almost to the prized-present. Just one …last …push with my toes. A slight roll onto my side, and I’ll …be …ughhh… able to reeeach……
I have no idea why the gal at the innermost ring of screamin’ meemies had an umbrella, but I’m sure the swelling will diminish before Cyber Monday.

Friday Frivolity: Vacation Notes

I know I mentioned previously that Sue and I took a lengthy trip to “the west”.  During the trip, I would send “Status notes” to a few friends “back home.”  Here’s extracts from the first day or so on the AMTRAK – Empire Builder.

Day two…morning.  A noteworthy start of the day.  I did not take my camera to breakfast so I was unable to photograph the geographical center of North America. The train stopped but I was unprepared to truly capture the awesome significance of this otherwise flat nothingness of North Dakota.  I was mesmerized by the sign as well as the situation.  Just think…someone had the great wisdom to build a station on the exact center of North America.  Makes me wonder if AMTRAK also has a station on the geographical center of the United States.

Second noteworthy special moment…or moments as the case may be.  There is no internet service within miles of the center of North America.  I’m able to type on my iPad, but when I’ll be able to send this memo it anybody’s guess.  It seems that guys who bale thousands of acres of hay don’t need the Internet.

And if it’s not hay bales for as far as my eyes can see, it is Black Angus roaming across the plains waiting for Rowdy Yates to come and round them up for a Rawhide drive to Kansas City.  Had one of those steaks last night.  Oh, boy was that a fine dinner.  $32 if you are riding “coach” fare.  Breakfast was sausage, eggs, redskins, pancakes, croissants and juice…what diet?

And that’s the way it is this morning traveling the rails north of US-2.

I’m telling you, I’m considering a coup on this Empire Builder train.  Of course I knew we’d be going through time zones.

Of course I knew we’d lose an hour going into each time zone as we headed west.

Of course I knew the folks on the land cared about the time of day.

But I DID NOT know those of us segregated from the stationery outside world in a fleeting dining car would eat on a fluctuating time schedule.

My body does not care what time zone it is in.  Stomach Time is measure by minutes since the last morsel of food entered my mouth.  Breakfast at 7, snack at 9, lunch at 11.  No, no, no., it is unacceptable to push lunch back an hour just because we entered Montana.

Even if my stomach could interpret my words regarding warping time, with its own walls warping inward, my hunger pangs are growling so loud it would “hear” nothing of my logic.

By the way, buying a small container of caramel corn was ill advised.  It WAS a delicious snack a couple hours ago…no three hours instantly as we are now in Montana.  Regrettably, I’m now down to snacking on the health food bars Sue packed.  They are all I’ll have to get me through the next time zone change tomorrow.

Time zones aside, the scenic zones change rapidly at a hundred miles an hour.  Today alone, we went from endless flatlands of hay and corn, then into rolling hills of cattle, and now huge fields of oil wells.

When I was checking the Parshall Oil Field info for my personal edification, I discovered that we are currently North of the Upper Peninsula. No wonder I about froze at the Minot ND stop while the train replenished its water supply.

The train’s speakers announce this stop with a warning of the refueling of the engines and refilling the water tanks.  No potty breaks while they do this. Just imagine pressurized ice cold water back-flushing the toilet while you sat there meditating with a copy of STUMPED.

Anyway, I’m wearing shorts and a golf shirt because Sue stuck my jacket into the “checked baggage” back in 75° Chicago.  In fairness to her, I didn’t “carry-on” long pants or sweatshirt.  How was I to know our fine luxury suite had no control of the air-conditioned temperature.  I tried to close the vent, but ice had already formed on the lever.

I decided this lengthy stop in Minot would be a good time to stretch my legs on land that wasn’t swaying.   Both Sue and I exited the train for a stroll.  Short stroll. People in Minot apparently think 40° is Indian Summer.  Most of the Dakotans wandering about were attired similar to me.  Did I mention this stop was NORTH of the Upper Peninsula?  — and I assure you no Yooper was dressed for a golf outing today.  As Sue, bundled in sweatshirt and blanket, told me she was getting back on the train, I could see her breath.  I was right behind her.

And that’s the way it is in the far north, …in a vastly different time zone than you.

Maybe next Friday, a few more notes home.