2 (You Name Your Car, Don't You?)
Leafing through the foreign language
dictionaries at Powell's Book Store, I found the name for my roadster.
The little car is a reproduction of the Bugatti Model 35, one of the winningest
cars of the 1920's. I found: "A Seno Scoperto" means "topless"
in Italian. At least I think it does. So the car is nicknamed
This little roadster is a tad odd
looking and people frequently ask, "What is it?"
Sometimes I answer, "It's a 1927
They usually nod and say "oh" or
"yeah, I thought that's what it was."
(Seno's Trial Run: Idaho or Bust!)
Biggs Junction is basically a truck
stop. I've never noticed any churches there or schools or even a
post office. What you do notice is the price of diesel in yellow
and black letters about the size of the Hollywood sign in L.A.
I had completed 84 miles up I-84 and could now live to tell about it.
It seemed a momentous occasion--even though I had 328 more miles to go
before I was within walking distance of the final destination, the conference
center in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
The Cascade mountains begin to drop
away from the Columbia River after you reach the dam at The Dalles, Oregon.
The towering cliffs and white lacy waterfalls start melting into round,
rolling hills. You've now passed through the Rain Curtain where the
green and the damp just disappear. The air is lighter, warmer, drier.
The sun looks at you like, "What's the matter? You don't recognize
me? I'm over here in Central Oregon all the time. You should
come visit more often."
It was now 9-11 + 3 and I was grateful
a) I had an all-consuming
task requiring complete concentration.
b) I had no radio.
At this precise moment in history
the only thing I could do for the rest of the world was grieve and keep
Most of Oregon is high desert, not
rain forest. The people clump together like moss in the Willamette
Valley but the cowboys and the crops are all over here east of the Cascade
Range. Biggs Junction really is a junction--significant to me because
US 97 presents two amazing possibilities. You can go south to Shaniko
from here and Shaniko is a ghost town and the ghost resides in the reconditioned
hotel. That's very cool...or you can go north to...well, if you've
never seen it or heard about it, you wouldn't believe it.
Almost 90 years ago, a guy who looked
like Dom Deluise with hair looked at this collection of rolling brown mini-mountains
in Washington State and said, "Hmmmmm, Stonehenge." With money and
land to spare and a fondness for concrete, Sam Hill had Stonehenge built--the
original version as if it had never fallen down. I suspect that the
phrase "what in the Sam Hill?" first came from the lips of people who saw
what Sam Hill was up to and wondered if there was some pharmaceutical explanation
for his behavior. This was before LSD, remember.
Sam was up to quite a lot if you
read between the lines of his life, depicted at Maryhill Museum across
the river from Biggs Junction. Road baron and visionary (seems
there were a bunch of those guys in the 1920's), Sam was responsible for
helping to rebuild Europe after WWI and he brought much joy to that part
of the world--especially to the women. And the women (artists, dancer,
queen...the usual) got together and said, "Let's make an art museum out
of Sam's place." And now you can stop by and see Rodin and Thomas
Hart Benton and Charlie Russell. The Queen of Romania took one look
at the desolate, uninhabited thousands of acres and said, "A perfect spot
to leave my coronation gown." And she did. It's all there,
inconveniently located and surrounded only by "beware of rattlesnake" signs.
I am not making this up, (www.Maryhillmuseum.org).
There's nothing out there but wind, wind and more wind...and snakes.
Although I was hell bent for Idaho,
there is no way I was going to pass up a stop at Stonehenge. It is
a destination point for me. Like Nordstrom's is to a mall, Stonehenge
is an anchor attraction in the Columbia Gorge. It pulls me like the
English original pulls dowsing rods. The neolithic impostor is four
miles east of the museum and it overlooks 100 miles (50 to the east and
50 to the west) if you can buck the wind long enough to stand up and see
Up to this point the prevailing
westerly wind had helped push me eastbound. The Gorge is a large
natural wind tunnel and home base to world class wind surfing. The
little surfboards with their delicate single sails gyrate like butterflies
by the dozens in the wide river and the tug boats, hauling commercial freight,
are supposed to dodge these bugs. What the wind freaks don't realize
is that it takes an entire mile to stop a tug boat. And that's on
a calm day when the wind is only hitting gusts of 40 mph. This same
wind blew me and my little car all the way to Biggs Junction--I probably
could have turned off the engine and made it in the same amount of time.
But I-84 is an Oregon interstate
and Stonehenge is on the Washington side of the river and that meant getting
on the bridge. Can you say "White Knuckle Cross Wind"?
The forces pulling on the Biggs
Junction bridge are probably comparable to the moon pulling the tides.
The Mighty Columbia, moving thousands of acres of melted mountain snow,
careens westbound and the wind, strong enough to pull the dandruff right
off your head, blows eastbound. Caught in the middle of this chaos
is a long but little 2-lane bridge, a narrow strip of asphalt that connects
Oregon to Washington. That skinny bridge stretches straight out in
front of my fiberglass roadster. Coming at me is the chrome face
of a Freightliner with stadium lighting all over it. My car handles
like a box kite on the bridge. The wooden steering wheel shudders
back and forth. There are no shoulders and there's no turning back.
The bridge has a slight hump in it, so now I'm also pulling against gravity.
It's seven o'clock in the morning and I am sure that the trucker in that
oncoming Freightliner has been driving all night and has been looking forward
to getting to Biggs and a good strong mug of coffee. My headlights
with all of 3 candle watts are heading towards his two spotlights and our
combined speed is 120 mph. I realize that if I should live long enough
to reach a cross point with this semi that his big body will momentarily
block the wind. Any overcompensation on my part with the steering
wheel and I will be shmushed like Silly Putty on the side of his trailer.
He would be wearing me and probably not even know it.
You don't close your eyes at moments
like this. You want to, you really, really want to but it's not recommended.
It is the Zen experience. Yes, I am in the Now Moment. I am
not worried about the scrambled files in my office or the five emails I
didn't send or the crumbs on the kitchen counter. I am not thinking
about how things could be better between me and my relatives. I am
not aware of the unemployment rate, the crippled stock market, the voting
debacle in Florida or even global warming. I am only aware that this
Freightliner is so big that it creates its own weather and on the off chance
that I will survive its going by, there is a passenger car right behind
it, following closely in its vortex.
The only trick left to me is speed.
If I slow slightly, I'll have a nano second more to deal with the sudden
block of the wind. I wonder how that's going to go over with anyone
behind me. Yes, of course, I would have the twin brother Freightliner
in my rearview mirror. His headlights clear the top of my head.
Tiny whitecaps, thrown up by the wind, lap at either side of the narrow
passage across the river. It occurs to me that you can survive in
the cold of the Columbia River for 60 seconds before hypothermia sets in.
I can hear Butch Cassidy laugh and say, "Hah! The fall will kill
The Cummins diesel behind me growls
and all of us go rushing towards each other. As the wall of the oncoming
truck goes by my left side, my helmeted head flops as if on a spring when
the Seno and I hit that dead space of air. The momentum of my forward
motion gets me safely into the wind again and although I think the wheels
left the ground and we were officially airborne, I'm still in the game,
now going by the passenger car. Up ahead I can see land where
the bridge connects with Washington State. My fingerprints are etched
permanently into the wooden steering wheel.
Roadster Lesson #2:
You can't be like the kamikaze pilot who flew 188 missions; when you commit,
Alyce and Seno
at Stonehenge in WA state
When I wake up every morning...
Voice-in-Head #1: "Is this
it? Is today the day we leave?"
Voice-in-Head #2: "(Groan.)
It's not today, is it?"
#1: "Remember to pack the
charger for the cell phone. Write that down."
#2: "This is such a nice house.
I love this house. I've probably got enough toys and projects inside
this house to last me the rest of my life..."
#1: "We need a siphon hose...how
about the tubing left over from that old fish aquarium we used to have.
Would that work?"
#2: "Siphoning gas--gag.
I haven't even had my coffee yet this morning."
#1: "Need to get on the net
and order the KOA directory."
#2: "Excuse me--I don't camp.
What do we need a camp directory for?"
#1: "Gotta get a spare set
of keys this morning on the way to Tai Chi. Still haven't read through
all those tour books yet for the Must See list..."
#2: "It is so lovely in May
in Oregon. Who could resist an Oregon May? And the Rose Festival
in June. Grandmothers with little ones in tow at the Fun Center downtown.
Cotton candy. Gracie got me on the dragon ride at least four times
last year. And her parents wouldn't take her on the ferris wheel.
If I'm not here, Gracie won't get to go on the ferris wheel."
#1: "Don't forget distilled
water for the battery."
#2: "Maybe I'll come down
with a terminal disease and I won't have to go."
February 25, 2002
Rented "Road Trip" and watched it
last night. Having friends over to watch "Gumball Rally" tomorrow
night. Finished reading "Ford Tramps"--when they left to drive to
all four corners of the United States in 1924 neither one of them had ever
driven a car!
#1: "I can't wait to go!"
#2: "I don't want to go..."
#1: "If we don't go, I'll
never forgive you."
#2: "We'll get a thousand
miles from home and you'll realize what a truly dumb idea this is."
#1: "Then we'll deal with
#2: "And this coming from
the woman who considers parallel parking a major accomplishment.
Remember the word 'error' comes from Middle English word 'erren' which
means to 'travel about'--when will you listen to reason?"
#1: "I can't wait. A
vrooom with a view!"
#2: "This isn't really going
#1: "You just keep telling
yourself that while I pack. Life is not measured by the number of
breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."
#2: "I can't breathe...I can't
#1: "Here, blow into this
Hit The Road:
Across America in a Topless
Car for $16.95, plus $6.95 for
or send check to:
1928 S. E. Ladd Ave.
Portland, OR 97214