Friday, May 01, 2020

In Search of the Clampet Mansion

The idea came to me as I drove past the Fox Studios Lot in Century City Los Angeles. Why not get on a bicycle and explore the area. Of course this looks obvious on the page. But in Los Angeles the only real obvious mode of exploration is by automobile. I wanted to change that. I would conceive, plan and execute a trip around Century City and Beverly Hills by bicycle, which would forever afterwards redound to my personal credit, or perhaps redound to my esteem, or redound to the fascination of Los Angeles, or redound somewhere. It would be redounding long after the bike was packed away and the parking tickets paid. 

 My reasoning: Whereas Beverly Hills, Century City, Culver City and surrounding neighborhoods constitute a delight for the eyes and a temptation for the purse, they ought to be enjoyed even if you can’t live there.
Therefore, I would explore those places by being in them, using my bicycle as a vehicle, stopping frequently wherever interest struck or whenever confronted by an aggressive character. I would visit Beverly Hills and Culver City and other such places as the map might suggest, with no purpose in mind except to be there and be awake.

Possibly the less said about nerving up for this adventure the better. From the outside it looks like no adventure at all. But I appeal to the candor of the reader: What foreign and uncomfortable thing do you regularly take up and execute, even knowing it might benefit you in the long term? How often do you break the habit of what has become comfortable?

Having learned how to map out rides and many times reliably followed my own routes as loaded into my trusty GPS, and returned to my starting point, and avoided injury, I laid down a route to take me around Beverly Hills. I laid it out in a square, starting from Fox Studios, then north to Rodeo Drive and the Will Rogers Memorial Park, then west to the Playboy Mansion, then south toward Century City and my car.

The first part, driving there with my bicycle on the back of my car, caused anxiety. But really, how many potential travelers demur from travel because they worry about parking. Just go. The truth is, almost anywhere you go you will find space for your car, especially in America, especially on a Saturday during a national quarantine.

I parked on Motor Avenue in Cheviot Hills, near the Fox lot. I marked my parking spot on the GPS with the name Car so I could get back. I made sure to mark the location of the car, not like the last time I parked somewhere and accidentally marked the position of the cursor, which had drifted off center on my screen.

One of the many safety minded provisions of the Covid 19 quarantine is the ruthless closing of any facility that might be of use to those who happen to be away from home. These facilities include:
  • Parks--all studiously taped with police tape to discourage entrance
  • Libraries--locked and dark
  • Restaurants--ditto
  • Rest rooms, of course, which can in no wise be considered beneficial to anyone with a pandemic under way and the populace consigned to solitary confinement.
But near where I parked I found an open restroom, clean and tidy, and bless you whoever decided to overlook the edict on closing everything useful. When civilization goes down in flames, I am convinced, there will still be people willing to do the right thing.

North to Beverly Hills—actually to the ally running parallel to Rodeo Drive, with its multi-car garage buildings, shy dog walkers and super capacious trash cans emblazoned with the Beverly Hills crest—a cast off party hat lay on the street by one of them--and then over to Rodeo where it meets Wilshire, and becomes the storied Rodeo of high-ticket boutiques.

The Beverly Wilshire Hotel casts a great two-winged shadow over the intersection with its Roman arch and ornate stonework, its ground level lined with shops and a restaurant run by a Wolfgang Puck. Across from that is the Tiffany shop, above which a stone man holds a clock on his shoulders.

A freestanding sign in one nearby street rehearses, very politely, the measures California has taken to prevent contagion and that Beverly Hills requests those outside to wear face coverings at all times. Courteous. It’s got to say something important about a place when the signs are polite. Someone may find someday that the word please on public signage raises real estate values.

There’s no one around. And it’s really a shame these shops are closed, as I would like to do some shopping. One place called Agent Provocateur, whose window features mannequins wearing lingerie and climbing gear, seems especially appealing, as I cannot think of a more innovative way to scale a rock wall than in frilly underthings.

Beyond, a rogue’s gallery of upscale boutiques, some public sculpture on the sidewalk with plaques admonishing pedestrians not to play on them: more shops, more shops, more shops, more shops. Up ahead, an end to the shops as evidenced by the sky-high line of palm trees.

Actually it’s Will Rogers Memorial Park. A plaque there gives this history of the park—it was once part of the front lawn of the Beverly Hilton, became the city’s first municipal park in 1915, and took Rogers’s name in 1959—and names him indeed as a man who, through his fame and community spirit, got named as the first honorary mayor of Beverly Hills.

From there I go north along Richmond Avenue and plunge into a leafy residential neighborhood, which in Beverly Hills means something. Leafy neighborhoods here are not places where kids play in the streets but forbidding rows of mansions each sequestered in its security perimeter of tree-high hedges and trees in the form of a peristyle, the effect being of an impenetrable wall, but also a luscious landscape. 

Everything about the houses is hidden, except the decorative stone bowls that jut at regular intervals sometimes out of the secrecy and into view. The Clampets lived around her somewhere; they must have hated this sequestration.

Then, suddenly, I’m on Benedict Canyon Road, which draws me off my regular path and north toward the hills. The name Benedict Canyon is familiar enough that I know I should follow it. More mansions pass. This is what happens when you ride a bike in Beverly Hills: you begin to understand that the Clampet mansion must have been much smaller than they made it seem on TV.

From Benedict Canyon I take a slight detour onto Shadybrook, and from there I get onto Cielo. And now I know what sounded so familiar about the streets I have been riding. Cielo was the street where one of the Manson murders took place. It’s not a big street at all. Is it my imagination or does every house within half a mile have a high-security fence around it?

For a moment I think I recognize the house from books and news reports of that event, but only later do I research and learn the house was demolished long ago, and occupied its own private lane anyway. Just as well. I can think of a lot better things to be mesmerized by than the site of a mass murder.

I continue up Benedict Canyon for several miles to where it executes a hairpin turn and trails off in an unwanted direction. Here, my self-assigned point of turn-around, I set the front wheel downhill and push off, beginning a long, gentle, roll downhill at a constant 14 mph, along the hillside cottages and mansions that have made this street famous.

A gray haired man on a bike and in full rider regalia wishes me good morning at a stop sign, then jolts up ahead into the distance and disappears. Good morning, he said, the lingua franca of basic courtesy, a sign of good breeding, which not even yet has come under attack by the enforcers of lowest common denominator. Maybe this is where I belong.

Certainly it’s very white, very waspy, very clean and upstanding, which I know would get under my collar soon. But a nice place to visit: Wondrous Wasp World, the best possible outcome of all those niggling mores that you usually can’t stand. But isn’t it such a wasp way to hate what makes you strong? Might there be a Norma Desmond out there for me? 

Back in town and then out of it again, this time to the south, I fetch up in Holmby Park, another outdoor locale which by God’s grace and someone’s oversight remains open to all comers. And there we all sit, on a luscious close-cut green sward of a lawn, each group beneath its own tree, enjoying the cool shade while watching the lambent sunlight. I could stay here for days. This place is not so much rich, though it is that, as confident, complaisant, powerful, a necessary concomitant to rich, a big brother to rich.

And then, on the bike once more, around Playboy Mansion which I didn’t even see, no bunnies out front flouncing or bouncing or whatever bunnies do. The bunnies have all gone away, I fear, now that Hef is not there to feed them. And so on back to the car, which I reach in good order and without incident.

And that is that. I got nothing more from my day’s expedition than the knowledge that I must change my life. It’s also a good reminder to be grateful for the desirable things I have, because God knows I won’t ever get to live in Beverly Hills.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb MistakesThe Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes by David   Robson

by David Robson
Being of the journalist tribe, I’m often asked how to distinguish between real and fake news. My answer—be cautious, skeptical, intuitive, read several accounts and always consider the source—has so far never closed the issue with the triumphant thunder one might want. Author David Robson brings additional resources to the problem, certainly a key difficulty of our days, in the hopeful exploration of other forms of mental discernment not measurable by standard intelligence tests. He calls these powers extra-cognitive, and certainly they deserve attention if only to remind us how poorly we appreciate intellect when measured along a single lonely axis. Much of the book admires these other powers—intuition, curiosity, the vivisection of one’s own argument, courage, open-mindedness and others—and the people who study them. The research is assiduous; the case studies are excellent, and the hope is invigorated that one day we might all see through bunkum as easily as a window glass. At the end, though, it can still be argued that no acuities or mental combinations will ever unerringly tell truth from fraud, and we must always default to doing the best we can at the moment with whatever powers we can bring to bear.
Still, the implication here that smug reliance on our logic and superior intelligence serves us poorly, and that finding truth today requires the fuller use of our powers, deserves as wide a distribution as this book can possibly get. It's one of those books that should be kept near, and read periodically, as a kind of hygiene, to soften the hardening of ideas.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Non-Banality of Evil

Morality never gets away completely clean. What's clear to others, especially later, by no means comes through in crystalline at the moment. Neal Storrs's new book, In Times of War, makes this abundantly clear.

Daniel Levashonsky never intended to become an SS officer, never thought he could be. A Mennonite of German heritage in Palestine of the 1930s, Levashonsky slowly closes ranks with the Nazis as the result of other men’s ambitions and his own Christian imperative to free Russia of its anti-religious regime. But the grip of Fascism slowly forces him into horrific moral battles with himself, his loved ones, and the kind intentions shown to him, from which you can be sure that no contenders emerge in anything like tranquility.

Author Neal Storrs gives us a moral kaleidoscope of a tale about identity, the contest between love and duty, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Storrs admirably paints the moral confusion of the early Nazi juggernaut, while keeping his protagonist so righteously faithful to the Christian imperative as to be largely insensible to the horrors taking shape around him.

Except that Levashonsky is never exactly the good guy fighting evil from the inside. So bespattered with guilt is his bewildered journey that the hero emerges compromised enough to keep the moral questions alive long after the story ends, through enough twists and turns to addle even the fine Mercedes he drives through Berlin. All in all it's a wonderful and thought-provoking read.

Monday, October 02, 2017

The relative place of it

One broadcasts oneself as well as one can, though there can be too much of it. They’ve been predicting the demise of letters since a few days after they started. Waves cross the planet putting faces on every screen and voices in every speaker, while the slow reduction to language plods on, a marvel of inefficiency. These days speak for themselves, I’ll not compare them to others I found more comfortable. I speak only on behalf of friends; there weren’t any so close as those who appeared on paper. What remains now for these flags of truce, sent forth uncertainly into the world, but to see who wants peace, and how many?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How far you get

You can ride a bike all year, of course, but snow is no fun. We decided go to in October, early November, a not advisable time but not completely inadvisable.

The day came at last, late October. Little Mighty, 25, arrived in Philadelphia, with her shiny red 1965 Schwinn 10-speed girls’ bike, all smooth and sprightly, with its upright shifters and brake extenders on the handlebars and pants protection wheel on the chainring. To this assemblage she had added some prim zip-up saddlebags that carried everything she needed, which at this point was about everything she owned. I had the Trek I had saved from the dumpster and which had now carried me through a large chunk of the west.

Ultimately Little Mighty was bound for Mexico, Ecuador and Columbia, but that was later, after the bike ride. She was a svelte little dynamo who gave an excellent impression of indifference when her clothing began to fall off as she walked, and, as I found out, as steady under duress as she was breezy, unwilling to notice inconvenience, unwilling to notice even the most jarring discomforts.

For fun she volunteers as a farmhand in South America and for work she cooks aboard tall ships. She had just spent two months sailing the Pacific in a wooden ship and whipping up crew-jubilating meals out of tumbleweeds. That is of course an exaggeration but not much. We are both sailors, I am sorry to report.

I cast a doubtful look at her bike. Early in life it had probably never taken its young owner farther from home than the corner store. It looked clean and capable enough. But God save me from rookies. God save me from riders who set out cross-country on a tank from Walmart wearing sneakers and a 50-pound backpack. How much time would I spend finding the shortest walkable distance to our destination after she got too tired to pedal? Where would I find the numbers of local cab companies? Who should I call when the emotional crisis occurred?

We got everything ready. Which direction should we go? South, of course. Ever south. South toward the waning sun, to a destination still vague but probably North Carolina.We set our caps south. We set everything we had south. Everything but our sails. We needed a break from those.

And so began the great No Pressure Tour, a vagueish sort of bike tour starting in Philadelphia, featuring Little Mighty and myself. You will not credit, reader, how two giant northeastern cities, connected by highways, connected by bus schedules, and train schedules, and flight plans, and gas prices, and weather patterns—you will not credit how two giant northeastern cities might also be connected by streets, ordinary streets that you might walk upon.

But they are. On streets, so it had been said, one may in fact travel from place to place, indeed from city to city, without ever resorting to that methamphetamine-with-rest stops that is the modern interstate highway. It’s like walking around your block 90 or 100 times and finding yourself in Chicago.

We set off from 30th Street Station and wound southwest through streets that had once been the main gates into town, Grays Ferry, Paschall, Lindburgh, Elmwood. This was the route George Washington took when traveling from Mount Vernon to New York, on the way to his inauguration. Brick town homes gave way to wooden Victorian ones, and then to plain wooden ones. The level of repair went from City Historical to Urban Neglect to Suburban Tidy. And so the miles passed until we reached The John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, that exuberant patch of wilderness beneath the main landing approaches at Philadelphia International Airport.

And then twisky-twee like a corskscrew we rode along the graveled paths, with a wrong turn here and wrong turn there, marveling the luxuriance of green just a javelin throw from Interstate 95, and the marshy lowland that was the original landscape through much of the northeast. We saw exotic birds in the swamps.

And then back to the street, and so on down along the western side of the Delaware River. We followed long streets of respectable residences, giving way to light industrial roads. And then to Chester, where a tunnel might be the best route through. Then we found a path along the waterfront that took us through the old Chester Waterside Station coal burning electric plant. It’s an office park these days, unless the utility workers must all wear business suits now, because that’s what we saw as we rode past: a complement of office workers in office casual dress, relaxing and smoking on the great fortress causeways of the power plant.

We missed our intended host and spent the night in chain hotel, a neo-Greek sort of place that had everything of a classical nature about it that could be rendered in cinder block. The night was peaceful, though we were still somehow astonished by the knowledge--the proof, now--that you can arrive at place without getting into an automobile. It didn’t seem right. We felt like cheaters. The staff were chirpy, happy and friendly.

Little Mighty had brought her own computer, and we planned our next day’s route, consulting everything the Internet could bring us. A good breakfast next morning and then: South.

We rode past Newcastle and through Newark, then into Maryland, past Elkton, past Northeast, much of this on a federal highway that by some accident has wide shoulders. We finally got to some country roads near the Susquehanna River and wandered northish to Perryville and more chirpy happy friendly.

Here we settled in satisfied, and comfortable in knowing that for the first time we had actually hit a target we aimed for. Once again the free Internet brought us more possibilities than we knew how to use, and for the next hours we planned exotic jaunts through Virginia by way of Sacramento and Disney World. Later we walked the non-exotic 100 yards to Denny’s for dinner, then went to bed happy and woke up to a driving rain.

Here it was. Rain. The make or break. The wheat from the chaff. The men from the boys. The women from the girls. The parking lot splashed and spattered with it. We knew what we had to do. There is only one thing to do in a case like this. We went back to bed. And all day the rain came down, heavy and thick. The rivulets ran in the gutters and into the storm drains. For a while we paced. We checked Facebook 70 or 80 times. We texted friends. The day wore on.

And then, next day, the rain had ended but puddles remained. Sunshine struggled, struggled. In place of rain there was now a constant 20 knots of wind from our intended direction. Already the dead leaves were flying off the maples and sycamores. Grasses bent horizontal. Ah, well. Wind will not soak you or give you flu. Wind’s discomfort lasts but a moment, unlike rain’s. (By this time our choices were dwelling among the least hurtful terribles.)

We suited up, executed the departure checklist I had written out the previous evening after becoming exceeding wroth about losing my phone charger, loaded the bikes and pedaled out. Our first job was crossing the Susquehanna River, the only unrideable part of the trip.

On maps and biking guides you will often find the assurance that, despite Maryland’s tenacious resistance to letting cyclists pedal across the river, several local bike shops will transport you, free or cheap, with 48 hours’ notice.

But faced with the prodigious fact of a long no-bikes-allowed bridge whizzing with motor traffic, or a 40-mile additional upriver pedal to an equally terrifying crossing of the Conowingo Dam, all that bike-friendly help disappears. The bike shops have moved on. The help lines to the Maryland Transportation Authority are dead. The MTA agent at the bridge itself answers your question with a flat No, then sends you for more help to a phone that rings forever. (It is ringing even now.) The trains don’t accept bicycles; the buses don’t run on weekends. All of this, plus rain, plus being too long indoors, plus your dying phone, plus your lost phone charger and your new bandana made of (you just realized) uncomfortable polyester, makes a challenging day.

At the Route 40 toll plaza we found no one to make big eyes at and get sympathy from, as had been our primary plan. (Little Mighty is a master at this.) A cop just then arriving told us we couldn’t cross, as of course we knew. And so, the cab. The cab came directly, a stationwagon, into which we squeezed our bikes—one longitudinal in the bed, another sideways in the backseat—and ourselves—one atop the other in the passenger seat—and prepared for the impossible passage.

The driver vouchsafed to us the many great places we might go for a bite or a sip, if we were inclined to abandon these ridiculous riding plans, my god look at that wind. Where did we want to go, anyways?

The Bridge Diner, I said.

Doesn’t exist anymore, he said. Gone.

Whatever is left of the Bridge Diner, I said. The ruins of the Bridge Diner.

I need an address, he said. There’s a Waffle House there.

We want to go to the Waffle House.

They’re building a Royal Farms where the diner was.

Let’s go to the Royal Farms.

Eight minutes later we were across. Before we had unloaded our stuff a cyclist dressed in foul-weather clothing screeched up and declared he was glad to see someone as crazy as himself out in this wind. Where did we intend to go?

When we told him he insisted we’d have no trouble. Insisted. Then he screeched off. We found the streets our map wanted us to. The turning cues seemed to correspond with our presumed direction. We got rolling. Not 10 minutes later as we lay into the breeze whistling through a housing tract a woman opened a window of her SUV and asked if she could take us wherever we were going. Anywhere, she said. She couldn’t stand the thought of riders out in this wind. By this time we were making a solid 3 miles per hour, which meant only 12 more hours of riding today. We thanked her and declined.

At the end of that street we turned left, somewhat off the main thrust of the wind and gained speed, though every 200 feet another gust smothered us to a stop. We could feel the bikes swerving and shying with every puff. The traffic in its endless flight came up behind and disappeared before. The shouldered highways gave way to unshouldered ones. On.

Over the hills, through the dips, the steady rush of traffic belittling our plebeian little two-wheeled-pumping-of-the-feet transport. If we amounted to anything in this world we would be in one of those big cars. We would be whushing past those poor suckers on bikes, those idiots too weak and poor to own an automobile. What is a pansy tin machine like that, with less than one horse of power, compared to the astronomical great power of an august and magnificent internal combustion engine, with its spinning fans and its harness of electric pulses and its thresh-work of pounding pistons tuned to maximum force? What it a simple pedal machine compared to tech-now-low-gee?

We made it finally to Monkton near sundown, the trees filtering the late afternoon autumn light as we made the last turn into a road marked with the sign of the farm Little Mighty had persuaded to let us stay.

Well, that was the beginning. We split after Monkton. She got as far south as North Carolina, where her boyfriend picked her up and took her to Florida. I got to Baltimore, where I stayed with my brother and his wife, and enjoyed the autumn colors, the landscape daubed with reds and golds, and the presentiment of wood fires and apple cider.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The importance of finding Ernest

Ernest Hemingway came to Idaho first in the late 1930s, a guest of the developers of nearby Sun Valley Resort, then sporadically for the next 10 years, hunting along Silver Creek and the Sawtooth foothills. In the late 1950s he bought a house in Ketchum, and in 1961 died there, after two years reaping the rewards of a lifelong will to self destruction. The funeral was brisk, the burial local, the trout still ran and the geese still flew. But thus another place name went onto the map of literary reverence.

I found his grave as easily as one finds the neat Ketchum Cemetery, near downtown, a gravely slab bearing his name and often littered with pennies and pens—which are in fact an error in the liturgy, for Papa used only no. 2 pencils. By such commonplaces is communion with greatness achieved.

But the city nowhere advertises his last house's location, perhaps fearing a swarm of Papa wannabes, an invasion of acolytes, an asphyxia of aspirants. It is left to the cunning, the clever, the calculating, to find his house on their own. It is left to those with access to Google maps and a disinclination to ask the owners for a tour. Thus:

It sits alone on a small hill, this house, as it did when Hemingway lived there, despite the dazzling wealth that has thrown up its idols nearby. It's sat empty for many years, the gossiping river running ceaselessly along its front, and is now maintained by the Nature Conservancy, who can't figure out what to do with it.

I got to its driveway, with all the No Trespassing signs glinting nearby in the sun, yet with obviously no one near who could threaten me with jail—and decided not to go the whole way after all. Hemingway was in deep trouble when he lived here: depression, paranoia, attempted suicide, great physical pain, shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic, alcoholism of course. He took the final step with both barrels of his shotgun in the foyer. I didn't need to see the place to know the story. And I think: Which is more worthy of reverence, the life or the work? And how much may they be separated?

To my friend Sterling I recommended an old Esquire piece by a guy who found himself on this same pilgrimage I was. Sterling came back at me angry that, in the piece, Norman Mailer gets to call Hemingway a coward. If I want to know Hemingway, Sterling says, I should read his short stories, The Sun Also Rises, the hunting scenes in Green Hills of Africa and any of his journalism.

“That writing is all that you need to know about Ernest Hemingway,” Sterling says.

Yeah, maybe. I wish I it was all I did know. And I wish that my reverence might someday learn to be careful.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Sawtooth Tour

Sawtooth NRA, not actual size
Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It contains mountains, it contains forests, it contains broad sweeping pine-blanketed plains rising curvingly up to white blasted crags blazing in the sun and rocky overhangs with snow on the upper ranges. And then miles after miles of sloping pine forest, lonely forests of trees, until you come to a lake, several miles off the highway and circled by a pavement, with clear opaline water and reflecting yet another stark asteroid of a mountain on the other side.

Every 50 or so miles, there is a little grocery and service station built of rustic boards, until you get to Stanley, pop. 258, where there is also a restaurant. In Idaho City, pop. 63, there are also genuine frontier storefronts with long wooden sidewalks before them, and a picturesque gold rush cemetery.

Kurt, Mark and Kate, in a rare stationary moment
We started from Boise and rode 42 miles south, to Melba, toast capital of the west, then an additional 10 miles to a place called Celebration Park. My three teammates put distance between themselves and me, but we all flew along, with Idaho state flags flying above our machines.

The park, a state park, contained petroglyphs and other items of archaeological interest which you could view from a trail that wound among them.

The second day we followed an ancient still-elevated rail bed out of camp, across an old train bridge and on through the country until we reached the barbed wire barricade.

Advance notice of this obstacle, stretched defiantly across the right-of-way, had come to us before the ride in an email message from the route planner, to whom we swore left and right it would not hinder us a fig.

I had occasion to wonder at this certainty, as we handed our entire royal caravan—three recumbent trikes, a bicycle and trailer, 10 stuffed panniers, coats, helmets, cameras, water bottles, pumps, sunglass cases, all held aloft--over the dangerous wires and to a resting place further along the railbed as we shimmied and jiggy-footed trying not to stumble down the slope.

What we hadn't seen coming—what we had reason to believe would not come—was the screaming man issuing from his trailer down the way to command our immediate return from whence we came. He seemed to be quite agitated. He directed us to just turn around and go back, just turn around or we would go to jail. Clearly this was the biggest thing that had happened to him all week. From his trailer he began to make his way over the scrub toward us. 

The railroad bridge, just before The Encounter
Now, this was not the time to debate the ascendancy of property rights over the needs of poor touring pilgrims like ourselves; nor did we think it quite politic to ask how any private person could own a railroad right-of-way. Or how we were supposed to effect a rapid escape with that barbed wire behind us. Or, for that matter, who he was and how was he able to throw us out. (Private property it may have been, I thought, but my attention is private also and he was trespassing on it.)

The thing to do, as Katie said later, is de-escalate. Kurt began this by assuring the man we were leaving, yes we were leaving, yes, leaving right now, just this minute. Meanwhile, the last of the party were joining us from the rear. Just turn around and go back, the man said, or you go to jail.

Yes, thank you, we are leaving.

We kept going. In the direction we had been going.

The man disappeared into his trailer, probably to get his gun. We were making steady progress down the road, which had become a driveway, a private driveway, upon which we were making highly illicit and probably immoral passage, toward the county highway just beyond. Four minutes later a frantic woman in a white Lexus came screaming up. She was slender and white and burning with the kind of rage that can only result from the secret belief that the world intends to destroy your flowerbeds.

Katie, the designated de-escalator, leaned into the woman's window and began emitting soothing tones. Her husband Mark stood by as diplomatic backup. Kurt and I watched. A minute later a 60-ish western-looking man went whizzing by on an ATV, trying to head us off at the pass.

More soothing sounds. In the car, the woman's voice had come down half an octave. She had grandchildren on those grounds she was saying, and they couldn't have just anyone going through. Sixty feet away Kurt rolled his eyes.

We got past that obstacle and down the road, down the long road. Night Two brought us, after a day of intermittent rain, to a state park called Bruneau Dunes which, despite this being Labor Day, was about half occupied. The park featured giant sand mountains that brooded over the little camp ground like a sky full of stars.

That evening we attended a lecture and slide show by a “UFO-ologist” in the park's observatory, and learned among much else that:
  • The US government has for many years suppressed information about our frequent visits from space beings; this information has included the unbelievable sightings, witnessed by our astronauts when traveling in space, of space vehicles and alien structures built on the moon.

  • The government is itself in possession of a planet-hopping spacecraft, built usingtechnology reverse-engineered from UFOs, along with several secret places on earth that serve as bases for this vehicle.
  • There have been a number of UFO crashes, all well and carefully documented, on US soil. The government won't tell you about them, though.
  • We have also, it goes without saying, many bodies of aliens now preserved, and have given medical attention to alien survivors of UFO crashes. 
  • A UFO researcher has initiated a program allowing all this information—including suppressed astronaut testimony--to be freely disclosed by those who until now have been sworn to keep mum. The researcher got the green light for this project when he wrote to Bill Clinton saying he would do it and got no response from the president saying he couldn't.

There was much more UFO information on offer, but Kurt and I fell asleep in our chairs during the last half hour. During this time it was obvious that Kurt's brother Mark was not in attendance, as we heard no one's head exploding, as Mark's would have.

Night Three, after another 60 miles: an empty RV park in Gooding, ID, where we slept amid the great empty cement pads designed to support large recreational vehicles.

Night Four, after yet another 60 miles, we got back to civilization again, to Hailey, where Mark's daughter and son in law fed us, slept us, and got us warm again. At dinner I announced complete satisfaction with my riding so far, and therefore my intention to quit here and remain satisfied with myself, rather than to become angry or frustrated or, perhaps, dead. Hailey had been planned as one of the possible quitting spots, so this was no problem. And Kate was also quitting here to go visit a new grandchild. I would ride one more day with Kurt and Mark and then return alone to Hailey the following day.

And so it happened. Three of us rode next morning to a campsite called Easley Hot Springs, and there spent a pleasant evening fretting about bears and hoisting our food into the trees; and next morning it was 27 degrees and my toes were frozen together.

Idaho City
This and a swelling achilles tendon brought home the wisdom of leaving early. Kurt and Mark continued on for another hundred miles, most of it uphill—I met them later near Idaho City. Meantime I rode downhill back to Hailey, stopping along the way to take pictures of trout streams and mountains.

So there it was: 311 miles in six days. Nothing for some folks but at least respectable for a cripple and invalid.