In Lucas, Kansas, twenty-two miles east of Paradise and two-hundred miles west of Hell, is a true masterwork of kookdom: Samuel P. Dinsmoor’s “Garden of Eden.” An eccentric Civil War veteran (Union army) who married a woman 61 years his junior and fathered three children after the age of 80, Dinsmoor came in his dotage to believe concrete the miracle substance of the Twentieth Century. To prove this to the world, Samuel P. built a “log cabin” out of concrete “logs” and was so happy with it, he went on to create a concrete barn, a concrete spring (which he supplied with water by illegally tapping into the town’s water main), a concrete pyramid and mausoleum, and an an elaborate lattice-work of concrete trees, flags, and statues–over 100 tons in total–suspended from poles and scaffolds and wires around his house.
Continue reading ‘In The Garden of Eden, Baby’
In 1542, the Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado crossed the Rio Grande northwards in search of the fabled El Dorado, city of gold. He didn’t find it, but he and his men became the first Europeans to lay eyes on the lands that are now Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. By the time they got to Kansas, legend has it, a good portion of Coronado’s party had begun to go mad, completely incapable of coping with the endless, monotonous size and flatness of the country they were discovering.
I’m not sure if I buy it: after all, Spain has some pretty big flat parts too. But it is a good story, and I like to picture the Spanish conquistadors in their pointed silver helmets and puffy shorts, flopping around on the great prairie like fish in the bottom of the boat, their brains blown out by the sheer vastness of it all, while a couple of bemused Indians stnad off to the side, saying, “So who are these jokers?”
Anyway, Gove, Kansas is the sort of place that makes you think it might just be true.
[2007 Edit: I was too "cool" to mention it back in 1996, but the reason we actually went to Gove, Kansas was that it was the setting for a 1980s-era Call of Cthulhu adventure called "The Killer Out Of Space" (from the Cthulhu Now supplement) that scared the underoos off me and my buddies when we played it back in high school. Decades later, I would revise/update the Coronado legend for gaming purposes, as seen here.]
As you might surmise from the name, Carhenge is a full-scale replica of Stonehenge, accurate to the smallest detail–except for the rateher significant detail that, instead of massive stones, it’s made out of cars.
Nebraska’s answer to England’s most famous Neolithic monument was erected by a farmer named Jim Reinders and his clan at a family reunion in 1979. When asked why, this modern-day Merlin’s only response was the cryptic plane loqui deprehendi–Latin (sort of) for “the thing speaks for itself.” Today the Reinders have moved on like the Druids of old (to Santa Fe, I think), leaving only the mystery of the standing cars as mute testimony to their former greatness.
Carhenge stands a few miles north of a little town called Alliance, Nebraska. Never intended to be a tourist attraction, the ‘Henge is set well back from the road and only nominally advertised. [2006 Edit: In 1996, that is. The good people of Alliance have since realized they had a kitsch kash kow on their hands and have stepped up accordingly.] We arrived on foot in the middle of the night. There was no moon, and making our way across the Nebraska plain with only one thin flashlight, one could well imagine himself upon the English moors. (Whatever. It was dark and cool.)
The slaughter stone was a station wagon, a pre-OPEC monster with a grill like the jaws of a hungry beast. It was here, in the dead of night, that we performed the blasphemous rituals only whispered of in Brown Jenkin‘s owner’s manual. We stripped off our raiments and fell to our knees in the manner of the ancient Druids. A fat cloud of mosquitoes performed blood sacrifice. In a guttural tongue known to us only by dim ancestral memory, we gave thanks to the Elder Automotive Gods for carrying us thus far and offered strange tribute to ensure our safe return…
We came back the next morning to get a bunch more pictures. In the light of day, of course, what we had been able to imagine as spooky and ominous became merely cheesy. But that was fine too. I mean, Christ, whaddaya want? It’s just a bunch of cars sticking out of the ground.
BUSTED. Leaving Diamondville, Wyoming after refuelling at Shufflin’ Chappie’s World’s Slowest Service Station, Jenkin was clocked at a neck-snapping 48 mph by patrolman Curtis something or other. $76 cash and a brief lecture by a guy in leather pants later, our heroes were back on the road, but Derek, who had been at the wheel (and who is probably the most conservative driver of the three of us), nursed a bitter grudge against all Wyoming for the rest of the day. Dinner at a vile little Hardee’s squatting off the interstate–the only thing open in Cheyenne on a Sunday night–gave Pete and I good reason to join him.
What did we do in Utah? What didn’t we do in Utah? Oh the things we did in Utah, my stars!
OK, OK. We just cut through the corner of Utah to pad out our total number of states.
Here’s a switch: a natural park noteable not for its scenic beauty or majestic grandeur but its basic, well, crappiness.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, in Idaho about 140 miles east of Boise, is a huge field of crumbly, pointy black rock left over from some ancient Idahoan volcano. But it doesn’t look much like the moon, and you certainly can’t bounce around astronaut-style with the greatest of ease. It’s more like standing in a giant barbecue full of charcoal briquettes the day after the cookout.
I was eating some Doritos as we made our lunar landing, and it came into my head that the craters and the crackers were ver well matched: that is, if these rock fields were a food, they’d be Cool Ranch Doritos–and conversely, if Cool Ranch Doritos were a national monument, they’d be the Craters of the Moon. I wasn’t trying to be especially profound: I just meant that the landscape looked and felt like a big plate of blackened Doritos, and that the Doritos, like the landscape, were hard and crunchy and would be difficult to walk over. [2006 edit: No, I was not high.] Pete and Derek gave me weird looks and made me sit in the back seet for the rest of the day.
More hard driving brought us back into the USA, once again stiffing plain Jane Washington as we made a beeline for glamorous, seductive Idaho.
You Had To Be There Moment #77
(as seen on Entertainment Tonight)
“Pssst! Onytay! Ixnay on the abybay!”
–Tony Danza’s agent
Jenkin had to bust its little brown hump to do it, but we made it back to The Great White North in time to celebrate the Glorious Fourteenth (of August) with our own kind. Specifically, with my former Golden Words Has-Beens Colin and Colin, known to the world as Pepe and Big Bird, respectively. Big Bird has some kind of George Costanza-like job with the Vancouver Grizzlies, and this thin veneer of corporate respectability makes him a beloved host and sugar daddy to slackers from around the globe. Well, halfway around the globe. Louise was from England, and Alex and Laura-Kate (and us, I guess) were what British Colubrians call UFOs: “Unemployed From Ontario.”
Pepe came over, Derek tracked down his buddy Sean, another Ontarioan expatriate, and we opened my birthday presents: American malt liquor from Derek and Pete and some Canadian [redacted] from the Birdman. So we partied in, around, and on top of Big Bird’s high rise apartment building, listened to space age bachelor pad music, watched Star Wars, and somehow acquiered a little stuffed pig wearing a Harley-Davidson jacket.
The next day, while Big Bird was off to work and Brown Jenkin underwent some reconstructive surgery at Canadian Tire, we toured Vancouver with Sean, who came out here to live the good life a few months ago. Sean had what you might call a “mandatorily minimalist” apartment off of Commercial: after six months, the sum total of furniture he had acquired was: a TV, an air mattress, and a roommate (yet another UFO). The beach was just okay, and a lot of Vancouver was pretty seedy and depressing, but Sean kept us in stitches all day with old stories of Derek’s love life, Lovecraftian spellings of “Dole” a story involving Patrick “Jean-Luc Picard” Stewart that segued into a three-minute guitar solo from “Jesus Is Just Alright,” and pantloads more. Granted, we were an easy audience after hearing and making the same fifteen jokes for three weeks straight, but Sean remains a machine.
Six Road Movies to Inspire and Delight–and not one involving a Trucker and a Chimp!
Fargo, while fun, was redundant. Hilarious and hyper-kinetic, Raising Arizona is the only film the Coen brothers, or anyone else for that matter, ever need to make. If I start recounting my favorite parts, we’ll be here all night, so I’ll just say, “Boy, you got a panty on your head,” and leave it at that. Oh, and Nicholas Cage has never been better, and that’s saying a lot. [Well, it was in 1996! Remember, all this was written 10 years ago.]
Continue reading ‘Beavis, Butthead, and Butthead do America’
Washington State, beautiful as it is, was underappreciated by our heroes as they drove Jenkin hard to make a return to native soil before the sun went down on my birthday. Isn’t Seattle kind of 1993 anyway?
Speaking of the early 1990s, we did stop for burgers at a diner near Isa‘s home town of Bellingham, and there spotted the kind of sublimely tacky t-shirt Canadians usually only read about. On the front was the ingenious Gulf War slogan “Saddam Hussein = So-Damn Insane,” and on the back was a cartoon showing the Butcher of Baghdad under the gun from a bristling array of star-spangled bombs and missiles, defecating in fear. So now we know where Isa gets all of her genuine class.