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April 27, 2003

Resuming normal service, but slowly: It was a long trip, nine days, part business, part pleasure. I got home late Wednesday night. Then, an hour later, our net connection went down.

After several days (and no thanks to Speakeasy and Covad) we’re connected again. I have over a thousand new email messages waiting for me, in addition to the ones that were already stacked up before. If you’ve been waiting for a response from me about something, that’s probably why.

Observations: There certainly is a lot of Pennsylvania. There’s just as much Ohio and Indiana, but it has much less reason for being. 2:00 AM is the ideal time to zoom through Gary and Chicago. And who knew that Wisconsin was so forested and geological and picturesque? Piney woods and jagged rock chimneys! I could have sworn I was out West, someplace real, instead of in one of those toy Midwestern states full of farms and stuff.

But it’s good to be home. Now to spend several days catching up. Bear with me. [08:18 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Resuming normal service, but slowly::

Tuxedo Slack ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 08:33 PM:

Our host skrev:

There certainly is a lot of Pennsylvania. There92s just as much Ohio and Indiana, but it has much less reason for being.

As a Pennsylvania resident, I probably ought to resent the hell out of that. But I've only been a Pennsylvania resident since the end of last September, so I'm just wondering if Patrick could clarify what he means by that.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 08:56 PM:

I would suggest you start by re-reading it. As I see it, the point was rather complimentary to Pennsylvania. Or at least the rather scenically mountainous portions traversed by I-80.

Teresa read that post and said "You really are a Westerner, aren't you. If it doesn't have visible geology, it's not quite real." But of course.

Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 09:07 PM:

Were you in southwestern Wisconsin? If you like your landscape elevated, that's unquestionably the prettiest part of the state. (Me, I'm partial to Up North...)

Elusis ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 09:11 PM:

Actually, there's about half the Indiana that there is of Ohio, unless you're traversing them in some kind of extremely odd U-shaped fashion. But having made that I-80/90 drive that I'm betting you describe, it's true that there is very little to recommend the Indiana or Ohio portions. The top halves of both states were all scraped of by the great glacier, you see, which stopped at around Brown County, IN, leaving Brown County and the like a wonderful kind of bumpy, rolling-hilly wonderful in contrast to the sort of horrible flatness up north.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 09:20 PM:

Ahem! Wife's family from Ohio! Very fond of Ohio, I am!

freelixir ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 09:28 PM:

Don't miss Project For A New Century Of Freedom (Freedom Century), Patrick. I've got some new stuff for your review.


freelixir ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 09:30 PM:

you name it, I got it. freedom, nanotech wmd, demccracy, war and oil, sunshine laws, IRV, electoral reform, oil industry corruption indictments (ExxonMobil), the list goes on.

Even a poem.

jordan ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 09:45 PM:

shhhhh, the northwoods in wisconsin are secret......
it's really quite awful there.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 10:58 PM:

Patrick, as a native soutnern Pennsylvanian, I'd like to point out that southern Pennsylvania is like that too, only perhaps more so.

Unfortunately the one Interstate that goes through that way is the Pa. Turnpike, which in addition to being expensive is old, narrow and crowded (mostly by humongous trucks), making it much less fun to drive than I-80. And you miss some of the geology by literally going through it via the tunnels. Though they've re-engineered the Pike in recent years and bypassed some of the tunnels; last I looked there were only four now, instead of the seven there used to be.

Some of the non-Interstate roads, such as U.S. 30 and U.S. 40, are very historic and scenic, but you get all the local traffic.

And should you ever wander as far as West Virginia, you might enjoy that trip too, at least the Interstates. Some of the side roads are a little *too* interesting! One of the scariest roads I've driven is U.S. 250 between Fairmont and Moundsville -- a narrow two-lane in very winding, hilly country.

On the W.Va. Turnpike, I-64 in the southern part of the state, you can see the coal seams in the "cuts"
through the mountains.

Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 11:09 PM:

Ahem, Mitch (and how nice to see your name), from Ohio, and don't object to PNH's comments in the least.

Especially up in the northern half, Ohio is extremely flat and industrial.

Glad to see that you guys have connectivity again. Was it squirrels after all?

Andy ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 11:25 PM:

Welcome back Patrick. Take as long as you need to get back up to speed.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 11:34 PM:

There's a surprising amount of Geography in flyover land. There is bunches of flat (Illinois, between STL and Chicago, climbs all of 200'. Total. The highest point in Missouri is wheelchair accessible.)

But there's this road, by The River, north of Alton, Il. At sunset, you don't know where you are -but you *know* this isn't flat, or Missouri -- or anywhere.

There's these rock, in Southwest Missouri. They're perched, like elephants, on a huge granite dome.

There are these creeks, trying to carve through the hardest granite in the country. They're making it, slowly -- and carving themselves into a natural water park.

We may be low. We're often flat.

But we can be heart-breakingly beautiful.

Even when flat. Sunset. Navy Pier. Chicago spread in front of you. I rest my case.

(But, then again, the front range at Sunset, Colorado, will break your heart too.)

Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 02:19 AM:

As an easterner whose family is mostly out west and who has been recently transplanted to Chicago, I think I've seen at least a bit of the best of all worlds. Personally I'm not terribly enamored of the flatness of the midwest, somehow it seems to lack the epic scale that flatlands further west have. I guess it's just that in places like the Dakotas you have the occasional hill to give you perspective, so the only landmarks aren't always human made. But for the best views it's very hard to beat the west, there are a couple of places up in the Sawtooths that I'll always remember. There are a few places in New England that can compete, but ultimately for scenery it's got to be the west.

Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 03:04 AM:

Western Wisconsin shares the same 'out of place' feeling that Erik describes in parts of Illinois. There's a state park in Southwestern Wisconsin, the name escapes me, close to the Iowa border, where you're looking out into the Mississippi River valley from a high limestone cliff.

Driving between Madison and Minneapolis on I90, you pass through some wonderfuly disturbed terrain left by the meanderings of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. And there's Pie, Spike Parsons is your go-to person on that matter. But go East of I90, and all the history has been ground flat by the last glaciation.

Hope Corflu was good for you, but you and Teresa should come back out to WisCon soon.

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 04:26 AM:

One of those formative memories of my distant and misspent youth is driving through Chicago for the first time, shortly after sunset on I-90 from Minneapolis. That would have been when I was about 12 and we were moving to New Jersey.

I had never seen a really big city at night - my experience with big cities was limited to a very small number of brief daylight trips to Denver and Minneapolis. Western Canada's metropoles were nowhere near the same order of magnitude. I had no idea what it was like to see the distant lights of the city grow from a dirty orange blob on the horizon into a massive urban agglomeration that made the sky glow in every direction. I remember that it was something over an hour between the time when there was no longer any empty land around us until the lights were all behind us and I-80 was surrounded by farmland.

I had been reading Asimov's Caves of Steel shortly before the trip, but I had not really been able to imagine the kind of place Asimov had in mind, all enclosed with buildings built over each other, all connected and full of people. And here I saw what it was like for small homes to become denser and denser, then grow into multi-storey blocks and finally skyscrapers, interlaced with highways and railways through areas so crowded that the roadside services were actually built on top of the highway itself like some sort of strange overpass.

It was in that light that I saw Chicago. It was scary and wonderful all at the time, and all mixed up with my parents deep distain for big cities and my father's hatred of driving on anything more crowded than a rural interstate. That was the moment when I realised that I wasn't like them. Like a moth, I was attracted to the lights and the noises and the crowds.

Two days later I was in New Jersey, almost within sight of the New York skyline. I didn't like suburban Jersey much, but that trip across Chicago planted in my mind the idea that my disaffection with suburbia might be better resolved by moving further into the city instead of moving out of it, although it would be a number of years before I could test that idea.

Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 04:39 AM:

There was a Twilight Zone dramatization of Harlan's "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty," toward the beginning of which a Hollywood actress says to the protagonist in the most incredulous/contemptuous tone you've ever heard, "Why are you going to Ohio????" As a native of the state in question, I was initially affronted, then more and more amused as time went on. I mean, there are some nifty things in the northern half of Ohio: Cleveland Heights, Maureen McHugh . . . um, I'm sure there's a third one somewhere.

Welcome back, PNH. Missed your bloggage.

Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 05:50 AM:

I concur - there IS a lot of Pennsylvania out there.
Speaking as a person who's probably driven across it more often than anyone else reading this blog over the last 28 years (unless there's a trucker on the list).

However, PA driving is at least kind of interesting. and, yes, challenging at times. I've also driven across Ohio many times and once you get into the Columbus area, it's deathly dull.

Non-of these states quite match the sheer-mind-numbingness of driving through North Carolina on 95. They built the road in such a way that all you see for about 200 miles are pine trees and signs for cheap cigarettes. *Oh the horror!*

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 07:59 AM:

Just for the record, re Bill Humphries' post: I wasn't at Corflu. Different weekend, different convention, different city.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 10:56 AM:

Non-of these states quite match the sheer-mind-numbingness of driving through North Carolina on 95. They built the road in such a way that all you see for about 200 miles are pine trees and signs for cheap cigarettes. *Oh the horror!

Hah! Trivial! Drive across Nebraska or Iowa sometime. Better yet, don't. There's a reason everyone calls it 'flyover land.' More distance, less trees. Far, far less trees. Hell, I-55 in Illinois (and, worse, I-57 in Illinois) is far, far, more mind numbing than any east-coast highway. 200 miles? Sheesh, that's not even three hours across the state. At least the midwest can understand PA distances -- PA seems to be the only decent sized state in the original 13.

(You want pretty and long in NC, you take I-40 across.)

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 11:18 AM:

Recently drove from Vancouver to Toronto.

Ontario is two fifths of this drive, most of it two-lane, undivided, and through treed ancient rocks; steep drops to iced-over lake water (or non-iced swamp water) optional.

Quite lovely.

The most memorable bit of driving was the sign, descending from the peak of Rogers Pass toward Alberta (four metres of snow walling off the parking lot of the Best Western there), that said 'watch for wild sheep'.

Sure, I thought. Rare, skittish ungulates as hates noise are going to come down and tippy-toe over the highway. (Also two lane, undivided, but somewhat overprovided with trucks.)

Down some, couple of sweeping curves, one of those 'next 14 km, 8% grade' signs, and there were six of them, in a pull-off by the side of the road, nibbling on what I assume was salt.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 12:09 PM:

Laurie: For mindnumbing you want I-70 across Kansas. The long way.

Margaret Middleton and I did it to and from the Denver worldcon, lo these many years ago. Doing it at night, after a full worldcon was worst. We had to stop every hour to change drivers because neither of us could stay awake long enough.

I grew up in the Great Plains so I'm used to, and can find enjoyment in, many long flat stretches which would bore lots of people, but western Kansas just sucks.

Oh, welcome back Patrick.


Mris ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 12:28 PM:

I'm with you, Mary Kay: long stretches of flat land aren't inherently boring, but western Kansas is nowhere I'd choose to be if I had other choices. I don't find western Nebraska any more boring than Colorado or Oregon: in NE, it's just field, field, sandhill, field, whereas in CO and OR it's mountain, trees, mountain, trees. There are interesting details and boring similarities within either set.

Joel Garreau's _The Nine Nations of North America_ quoted someone or other as saying, "On the prairie, the horizon is the central feature of the landscape." This confused me mightily: did that mean that it *wasn't* the central feature elsewhere? I always had thought that people elsewhere just liked their horizons higher and more jagged than I liked mine. The things we take for granted.

(I also always took for granted that Ohio and Indiana were not part of the Midwest. Then I moved to California and learned the term "flyover.")

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 12:30 PM:

I drove cross-country in '97, on Route 80.

The most tedious and unprepossessing state on the route: Wyoming.

I understand that there are parts of that state that are wonderous and beautiful, but the unbroken dull green of the sagebrush desert along 80 got really, really hard to take after awhile.

God Bless the wonderful guy who founded Little America, and thought to surround it with trees.

Arthur ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 01:02 PM:

you guys are going too fast. I rode a bicycle across the country once in a Summer. The prairie that extends from Thief River Falls, MN (where the Northwoods end) through the entire staet of North Dakota and all the way to Browning, Montana (where the Rockies start) took about two weeks. At that speed, it's vibrant, alive and always changing every mile of the way.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 01:20 PM:

Of course, one could mention I-20 across West Texas (but I happen to like it). That drive, in an earlier day (Lousiana to El Paso) inspired the ditty: the sun has 'riz and the sun has set, and here we are in Texas yet . . .

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 01:24 PM:

That's probably true. All kinds of landscapes that are enervating by car can be interesting on a bike.

Generally speaking, I often like really, really sparse landscapes. Kansas, Wyoming, Nevada's Great Basin, all of these are beautiful places in their way. I am, after all, at least part desert rat. ("You say 'bleak' like it's a bad thing.") I'm even willing to grant that northern Indiana has features to recommend it, but there's a particular rhythm of not interesting enough and not austere enough either which makes for very dull driving. It is of course not any landscape's obligation to provide maximal entertainment for people traversing it at 65 MPH inside metal boxes on wheels. Strictly speaking.

Tuxedo Slack ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 01:58 PM:

Our host, catching me chewing on my own ankle, says, vis-a-vis his post:

I would suggest you start by re-reading it.

...Boy, is my face red. I read it as "There's just as much as Ohio and Indiana".

If you need me, I'll be in my room, making no noise and pretending I don't exist.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 02:02 PM:

Think nothing of it. Happens to us all. (To me, about six times a day.)

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 02:32 PM:

Roger that. Don't feel bad Tux, I read it the same way. And more than once.

Patrick: I grew up in Oklahoma which merely a different sort of desert. I love desert landscapes. I love the Great Plains stretching out to the sky; I love picking out the subtle color variations and admiring the shape of what few trees have survived the rigors of the winds and the heat and the insects; I love the colors. Wait I said that already, but I do, the colors in the Great Plains are amazing. I love the blue of the sky and yellow of the sun. Uh, wait, I could do that all day. My point is, I know those landscapes and love them. Western Kansas still sucks. Eastern Kansas and the Flint Hills are an entirely different matter. I lived in Kansas you know.

Stefan: You sound like someone ripe for my theory about how Wyoming doesn't actually exist.


jfwells ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 06:32 PM:

Mris - you must not know Oregon well if you say, "whereas in CO and OR it's mountain, trees, mountain, trees." The whole eastern 2/3 of the state is technically desert. Sure, there are a few forests where mountains poke up enough to catch the clouds not fully wrung dry by the Cascades, but also a whole lotta sage.

Oregon is a very diverse state. Where else can you go from over 180 inches of rain a year (and less than 5 of those inches in July, August & September) in the north Coast Range, to less than 5 inches a year in the Alvord Desert? (Upper left corner to lower right corner of the state)




Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 07:06 PM:

I'm sitting in the children's play area at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, having just returned from Madison; Mike & Steven shared the driving while I sat in the back and prevented myself from killing the kids. 'A lovely drive' said Geri, and it was certainly interesting enough to those of us for whom roadside billboards are endlessly diverting. That didn't include Mike; he announced at one point, rather randomly, 'if I ever take a fancy to drive all the way across America, prevent me'. I think we'd driven past rather a lot of farms by then. I on the other hand, have it on the list of things to do many years later; taking a month over it and visiting every tatty roadside attraction and outpost of fandom we can find.

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 07:17 PM:

The Indiana portion of that Indiana-Ohio stretch?

Much more fun in late summer, when the fertilizer's had time to bake under the sun. --Do please note the peculiarly snarky usage of "fun."

All's I know, having just got back from Vancouver Island, is that it's downright weird for misty Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest fjords and salt-encrusted Sitka spruce to feel so demnably heimlich to an expat 'Bama boy. (Spruces? Spri?)

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 07:20 PM:

Alison said about driving across the US I on the other hand, have it on the list of things to do many years later; taking a month over it and visiting every tatty roadside attraction and outpost of fandom we can find.

Oh, can I come too? This sounds immensely pleasurable to me.


Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 08:14 PM:

Sounds like a market for American Gods - The Tour Guide version. For my own taste Indiana offers the Painted Hills from the Bloomington limestone country; Ohio is pretty from Athens to West Virginia but all of the hinterlands are; have something to offer those who read them - see Tom Brown (the tracker) on the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Sage country and much of Idaho say in general is pastel, pink and coral instead of the Morrison Colorado red rocks where all the geology of western Kansas breaks the surface - easier to remember Kansas geology if you already knew the place names in Colorado.

I think it helps in western Kansas and eastern Colorado to have some personal history and read the crop changes as the water has been mined and the land (Ogallala Aquifer) sucked dry. Still even a lot of (suitcase)farmers don't actually live there.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 02:02 AM:

I've driven or taken the bus across the country numerous times. And the Interstate system, with the exception of some areas with large mountain ranges, is pretty boring. Not merely North Carolina, but the whole stretch of I-95 from northern Florida to DC is boooooring. And I-80 in Nebraska is, too. But if you take a less-used road, such as the highway across Nebraska tha tpasses through McCook and Hastings (don't have a map handy) you will find that nebraska is actually a very scenic and interesting place. In general, the smaller, slower roads are the ones for points of interest, in scenery, industrial sites, classic architecture, and garish American Veernacular signs and constructions. And obviously a bicycle trip will be even more interesting. I guess walking would be the ultimate....

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 08:48 AM:

IN November 2001 I drove from St Louis to Madison, up the river, and then through Wisconsin backroads, partly to understand what it was that Americans worshipped about America, and at the end of the drive this seemed pretty obvious.

Monte Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 08:52 AM:

Driving west across PA on I-80 always makes me think of settlers cresting ridge after Appalachian ridge to see yet another deep-soiled, well-watered valley: "Looks good, think I'll drop off here..."

I took my son to Charlottesville, VA last week for a college visit, with dogwood and azaleas all around Massa Tom's architecture. It'll be a month before the landscapes of New England campuses can begin to compete.

Since early childhood in Dallas, I've spent most of my life in New England or New York City -- but something about the landforms and climate from Delaware to the Carolinas, reaching west to say Lexington and Chattanooga, really says "home" to me.

Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 09:14 AM:

If I ever booted up my computer and found a thousand e-mails waiting for my attention, I think I'd simply throw gasoline on the machine and light it up.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 12:28 PM:

Interesting Fact:

For much of its length, I-80 closely parallels the bed of the first transcontinental railroad (Omaha to Sacramento, Union Pacific / Central Pacific).

The surveyors chose a path that was level, not picturesque.

I still get a kick of I-80 more-or-less beginning at one big city bridge (George Washington) and ending at another (Bay Bridge).

David Wilford ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 12:57 PM:

Wisconsin overall is a scenic state, and I'm most partial to the Apostle Islands area. It's also a weird state to live in at times, and it seems to have more than it's share of eccentrics. One of my favorites is a guy who has a sculpture garden just north of Sauk City on Hwy. 12. There's one work that required the FCC to sign off on it, because it incorporated four gigantic Tesla coils which, if fired up, would wreak havoc electromagnetically speaking. It's about a 30 minute drive from Madison, and I might be convinced to take a little trip out there while attending Wiscon. And stop for a bit at August Derleth's house in Prairie du Sac too. And maybe visit Wollersheim Winery for some party contributions.

If it doesn't snow, of course. You never know...

Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 06:16 PM:

Of course you can come with me, Mary Kay! Anyone else? Perhaps we should hire a bus...

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 06:27 PM:

OOOOHHH! Thanks Alison. I wonder if we know the same outposts of fandom or if pooling our knowledge will result in an even more interesting trip! I've never been to the Grand Canyon, can we include it?


Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 07:18 PM:

Are you going for Kitsch? Secenery? Both? If both, may I suggest retracing Route 66. You start at the Art Institute of Chicago, and work your way west to the Santa Monica Pier.

You do miss the Rockies, though.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 09:24 PM:

As a regular of the Winnipeg-Minneapolis Minicon trek, I think I can say something about long stretches of interstate that aren't, um, entirely enthralling at 65 mph. I've found two approaches that work well.

One is to focus the attention on subtleties. Easter weekend on the prairies is usually a good time to be alert for signs of spring, such as the deepening colours of bark. Willow and sumach get quite bright just before they leaf out. You can note the glitter of running water in the ditches, or the artistic way hoarfrost bends the grass stems. Or, if you prefer, you can concentrate on not driving off the road while freezing rain glazes everything.

But for making the miles fly by, I recommend reading aloud. Ideally this should be done in a van with sufficient friends to take turns so that nobody's voice wears out, but it can be very pleasant even when there are just two of you, the driver and the reader, to switch places as needed. I hear books on tape do work fairly well as a substitute, but it wouldn't be as companionable, I shouldn't think, and you wouldn't be as likely to stop every so often and get into lively discussions about what you all think is going to happen next.

By the way, as I understand it, a lot of the landscapes you're talking about as having been scraped down by glaciers... weren't. They were buried by glaciers, in all the topsoil and debris from regions farther north; that's why they're on the dull side. You want to see scraped, go look at the stark Pre-Cambrian Shield Ontario landscape that Graydon mentioned. The scratches are still visible in the bare granite from the boulder-studded ice scouring the land down to the bedrock. Pine and spruce, lichens, moss, rock-bottomed lakes. Wild blueberries, in season. Also black flies...

And the Black Fly, the little Black Fly
Always the Black Fly no matter where you go
I'll die with the Black Fly pickin my bones in north Ontario io
In north Ontario

No coherence here, no. Just ramblin'.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2003, 10:46 PM:

I'm an Easterner by raising and choice, but I understand Patrick's interest in the sparse. One of the most ... varied sparsities is parts of the drive from Albuquerque to Los Alamos:
- dozens of miles of once-flat water-carved in steps -- think of handsful of miniature Grand Canyons in the making;
- pay no attention to the strip mall with the theme park at the end (the Santa Fe city council decided on the 65 legal colors for the town center, all of them variations of adobe);
- less carving and more scrub, as the landscape closes on in the Rio Grande: multi-million-year-old rock on one side, 10,000-year-old volcanic outpouring on the other (and ignore the aluminum-bubble casino in passing);
- raw red rock as you go up the side of the mesa -- it took several somebodies to cut this road but none of them were there on a midweek afternoon;
- at the top, a perfectly ordinary midwestern town (perhaps in somewhat better shape than most of its progenitors) -- with the old school in the middle like a fly in amber plastic.

And that landscape is at least accessible. I once flew from Las Vegas to Denver in the afternoon; the landscape was beautiful if you like so austere and uniformly red-orange that you can't imagine anyone walking through it and coming out the other side with their sanity.

PS: Alison: if you want a tack tour you may have to do Florida as a separate section; Shetterly's Dogland understates the way it used to be, and most of the incredible number of bits that weren't bought out for Disney World are still there.

Frank Mayhar ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2003, 02:13 AM:

For sheer uninterrupted nonscenery, I think it would be hard to beat west Texas. The first time I drove through it was in '91 when my car (a 240SX) was still new. I decided that the only effective way to survive the drive and not fall asleep was to do it as quickly as possible. I averaged almost 100mph and passed maybe one car every five to ten minutes.

Most of the drive between Los Angeles and Texas is very beautiful, particularly if you take the more northerly I-40 route, but that southern route can be maddening. Never again.

Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2003, 12:40 PM:

In 1979 my family drove from Pennsylvania to Texas via Florida, with a holiday in the middle. Which means that I've already done some of the finest bits of Florida tat. Not that I would mind going back.

Frank, the worst section of road trip we ever did was the journey from San Antonio to El Paso on I-10. I guess that was in the summer of 1980 or 1981. It's unbelievably empty; full-blown four-way freeway exits lead onto dirt tracks; presumably roads to individual ranches. It's not even beautiful in the way that much desert is. We were pretty dependent on roadside eateries, too; the lowlight of that day was a stretch of hundreds of miles with nowhere to eat other than Dairy Queen. Combined with my father's cast-iron refusal to exceed the speed limit (55 at the time), it's stuck in my memory much more clearly than many more pleasant memories from the same holiday.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2003, 04:06 PM:

I've driven I-40 from California to OKC and I have to agree with Frank; it's very beautiful. Especially New Mexico.


Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2003, 04:52 PM:

Laurie Mann cites the awfulness of driving across North Carolina on I-95, way back upthread. And it is indeed awful, an endless vista of scrubby pine trees and "South of the Border" signs.

On the few down-the-coast trips I made back in college, though, I found I-95 in Georgia to be even more loathsome. It's got the same rows of pine trees screening the interstate for numbing monotony, and there's no radio worth listening to. North Carolina at least has a few reasonably interesting stations, but Georgia might as well be in a Faraday cage. The combination of bad country music and ignorant talk radio is really not attractive at all.

On one trip, I got stuck with the 3-7 am shift across Georgia, and the only tape within reach was U2's Achtung Baby (everyone else in the car was sound asleep). Every time it finished, I'd pop it out and search in vain for a radio station I could bear to listen to, and five minutes later, the tape would go back in.

It's a testament to the quality of that album that I can listen to it without requiring heavy sedation.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2003, 05:36 PM:

I could never properly see the USA by driving myself, or with friends, although I've done that coast-to-coast many times. My solution: hitch-hike with backpack and guitar.

I did 30,000 miles of that, in between the Sophmore Year and the Second Try Sophmore Year of college. Long periods of time at unpredictable places along the way. People who drive out of their way to show you something particularly beautiful (i.e. an cop drove me 80 miles to show me some nearly secret Redwoods).

Twice I made it from Boston or Amherst Massachusetts to or from Seattle WA or Eugene OR in 3 1/2 days. Sang for my dinner, and I'm a poor singer (but good songwriter). Never more than 7 days.

Some states take too long to get through, however geological (i.e. 900 diagonal miles of Montana). Some had sublime qualities I'd never heard about (such as roadside food in Iowa). No end of surprises. There was the car-theft ring that took me, blindfolded, to their favorite fishing spot. By now several of you are shivering from psycho-killer scenarios in your brains. But I don't think America is as dangerous as the media wants you to think.

I was filled with preconceptions about all the stuff in between coasts (as a native New Yorker transplanted to the Los Angeles area). I was SOOOO wrong. That hitchiking cured me of blindness to my own country. I became a true patriot. About the PEOPLE, mind you. I revile the current GUBBERMINT.

Granted, hitch hiking may not be as safe for women as for men. Granted, there is some kind of risk. But I content that you cannot have real adventure when you drive yourself. And my legs are too flabby to bicycle the whole way...

As a scientist (who just had an hour-long interview by a panel of 7 interviewers for a full-time Professor of Astronomy gig), my ought-to-be-patented invention:


America. Love it or risk being branded an Enemy of the State.

Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2003, 12:51 AM:

Alison Scott writes:

> Of course you can come with me, Mary Kay!
> Anyone else? Perhaps we should hire a bus...

No, a caravan of smaller fannish vehicles. Connected with a rolling cloud of Wifi. We'll carry laptops and webcams for intra-squadron chats and mass dramatic readings.

Post one-shots to RASFF about our progress, when we happen upon a friendly land-based access point.

People can swap passengers at rest stops and get in good long visits.

I'll drive Cyrano, our stefnal '94 bullet van.

Bring musical instruments.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2003, 02:41 AM:

Bill: This was all firmly tongue planted in cheek for me until Iread your post. Now I really really want to do it. Damn, that would be fun.


Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2003, 01:13 PM:

Funny, I'm just reading Callahan's Key (I was on jury duty, whaddaya want?) and more than half of the book is about the whole gang of Callahan's regulars schlepping from Long Island to Key West in 24 converted school buses. As usual with Robinson, it's full of heavy-handed polemic (more annoying the more you agree with the point of each poleme), and he disses New Jersey more than this Hoboken resident finds palatable, but I was really just bringing it up for the coincidence.

Did I just invent a new word?

Anne ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2003, 02:55 PM:

Xopher: Hear, hear! I just reread it too (I'm going on a cruise to Key West and I want to see if I can find the RL version of the bar--can anybody help?). I hadn't read any Robinson in a while, so the polemics got in the way rather forcefully.

Perhaps a "poleme" is the species of meme one finds in polemics?

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2003, 03:46 PM:

I've been to Key West, and he exaggerates its niceness rather extremely.

And a poleme is a unit of polemics, as a phoneme is a unit of phonemics and a morpheme is a unit of morphemics (aka phonology and morphology respectively).

Hmm, I guess that kind of makes a poleme a Talking Point...

kla. ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 11:07 AM:

I'm one of those people most people hate: I prefer NYC to every other spot I've been. I love the beauty of the remains of rural New England (especially the mountainy parts) and the older sections of PA which haven't been torn down for those hideous starter-castle developments and the hot easy Savannah, but when I think of places I want to live, NYC's at the top.

However, second on my list is Madison, Wisconsin. I love that town. It's a most American place: urban and rural and suburban, liberal and conservative and everything in between, all represented in this state capital/college town. (Favorite: the farmer's market around the capital building hill. Best cheese curd ever!) Increadibly welcoming people, even when they knew I was from NYC. Also, adorable accent.

Not that anyone particularly cares, but I thought I'd put in my two worthless cents.

Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 09:10 AM:

Darn, a series of comments about topography and I get to it when it's winding down.

Anyway, someone above (Erik Olson, I think) mentioned a river drive north of Alton Illinois, near a small town called Elsah, and he was exactly right--I took that trip around sunset a and words fail--it was like being in a landscape painting. No one would go there for a vacation--it's only the sort of day trip you'd take if you lived in St. Louis (as I did for several years) or someplace nearby, but in a place like this, you start to realize that you don't have to visit mountains or spectacular seashores to
feel some mystical Wordsworthian sort of ecstasy. Ordinary landscapes in flyover country can do it.

Well, I suppose the Mississippi River isn't exactly ordinary, come to think of it, but I could say similar things about landscapes in West Tennessee or other places that no one would fly thousands of miles to visit.

Eliani Torres ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2003, 09:43 AM:

A friend of mine got a speeding ticket while blasting through Montana, which state was an obstacle between him and Seattle. He paid the fine on the spot, and when he was about to drive away, the patrolman reminded him to hold on to the ticket, marked _paid_: "It's good all day." He arrived in Seattle shortly thereafter.