Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I remember spending a lot of my young life in the back seat of various automobiles, going to and from various places in the west. No freeways. In fact, most of our travel was on two-lane roads that followed the contour of the landscape. Mostly I remember our old 49 Hudson Commodore, black with gray fabric upholstery.
The landscapes tended to be bleak, desert or mountains, brown, tan, red, ocher -- any color but green. Occasionally, though, we'd pass fields of corn or alfalfa, and I'd watch the long rows march in long strides alongside our car. Sometimes, I'd put my hand out the window and observe what happened as I turned it in the airstream. Early lessons in aerodynamics.
Mom was our tour guide and entertainment center, as I don't recall ever listening to the radio. If we were passing a cemetery, she'd say, "A silent city," and make us be quiet until we'd passed it. If we were passing rugged terrain, say, in Arizona, she'd point to it and say, "Cochise's stronghold." Cochise, of course, was the legendary Apache chief. I remember thinking that Cochise sure had a lot of strongholds.
Two staples of travel back then were the billboards. There weren't many. The best of them were the Burmashave boards. They were small, maybe three feet by two feet, and came in a sequence. There would be five. The first four would give a little verse, and the last would say Burmashave. I liked those. You had to wait for each line of the verse to appear, but you always knew what the last one said.
There was another kind of billboard too. It would say something like, "Maguire Caverns 200 miles" in large letters. Underneath would be a list of the delights that could be found at the caverns, usually including a zoo. In another 50 miles, there'd be a "Maguire Caverns 150 miles" sign. By the time we finally reached Maguire Caverns, Tootie and I were frantic to stop, and had pestered Mom and Dad into stopping. Maguire Caverns, or whatever it was, was always somewhat of a disappointment. The "zoo" consisted usually of a mangy coyote and a lizard or two, and the "Caverns" would be a small cave with a store that hawked really really cheap souvenirs. I could usually wheedle Mom and Dad into buying a rubber knife or something else to torment Tootie with.
Oh, and we usually travelled about 55 mph the whole time.
Did I mention that the car was black, no air conditioning, and that it was invariably hot?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Since we are desert people, basically, so we haven't had all that much experience with boats. When we lived in Alaska, though, Mom and Dad got a homestead on the far end of a big lake, called, with some lack of creativity, Big Lake. The only way we could get there was by boat, so dad bought a home-made thing about 15 feet long and three feet wide, with an absolutely flat bottom. No keel, no skeg, no nothing. Whenever we took the boat across the lake, it had to be on a perfectly windless day. We'd start out and have a great old time skimming across the smooth water. Came time to turn, though, and things got exciting. Dad would turn the engine, and the boat would turn all right, but keep going in the same direction. So, we'd be motoring north with the body of the boat pointed northwest and making the same speed. In order to turn, we'd have to slow way down, carefully get the boat pointed in the right direction, and take off again. Dad knew what was wrong, but I don't know if he ever fixed the problem or just left it to the next owner.
Dad liked to build things strong. So, one day -- I was in college by this time and we lived near Lake Powell -- he found a build-your-own-boat ad in Popular Mechanics, I think it was and sent off for a set of plans. The boat was kind of wedge-shaped, not pointed at the prow, and was designed to run on two skis, or sponsons, at the front. It was to be built of light-weight plywood. Dad built the boat to specs, then decided that it wasn't strong enough, and covered the whole thing with fiberglass, making it about three times its original weight. He finished it off with a plastic windshield and two seats made of red Naugahyde bar stools with short backs and no legs on them. The whole thing was maybe two feet tall, and looked racy as all get out.
Unfortunately, it was also too heavy to be much of a boat. It was supposed to get up on the front skis and skim along the water. However, we never did, to my recollection, get it up out of the water. Finally, I think Dad just junked the whole thing and bought a nifty little Lone Star aluminum 16 footer that was one of my favorite boats.