Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Car Tag

The Merry Pranksters

I'm looking for a word or phrase that evokes a free-wheelin' non-conformist spirit of adventure, a rejection of society's conventions on wheels - the type of spirit that propelled Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty down the highway in the book "On the Road" --that sent the Merry Pranksters merrily across the country in 1964 in their 1939 International Harvester psychedelic-painted school bus.

This is the spirit I want to channel when I drive, the spirit of gypsies and hobos and the open road. This is the fantasy of freedom that I, as a motorist, licensed in the state of Kansas, want to indulge in. To properly register my car for this purpose, I am going to get a license plate with a word or phrase that expresses this freedom. It's hard, though. The DMV will only give me seven letters or numbers to make this statement to the world.

To help in my brain-storming for the right car tag, I've been doing a little research. Did you know that Neal Cassady, one of the original Beats in the 50's, and the inspiration for the character Dean Moriarty in "On the Road," hung out with the hippies in the 60's, and became the driver of the Merry Pranksters' bus?

Robert Stone said of him: He was "the world's greatest driver, who could roll a joint while backing a 1937 Packard onto the lip of the Grand Canyon". 

Cassady's post-Beat years bear a striking contrast to those of Jack Kerouac's. While Cassady was out joyriding with his happy band of long-hairs, Kerouac was at home, being all curmudgeonly and conservative,  refusing to join the Pranksters. The bus stopped at Kerouac's en route for a visit, and reportedly it did not go well.

Now the Pranksters had a name for their bus. They called it "Further" and it just so happens that "Further" is exactly seven letters. So I'm giving that word some serious thought. If I put "Further" on my car tag, I think maybe I can summon the spirit of Cassady and the Pranksters to join me behind the wheel.

There is a world of possibilities for what could go on my tag. What plagues me is knowing there may be some choice word out there I haven't thought of. So I'm soliciting ideas. If you think of anything, let me know. Post it in a comment below. As you can see from my last brainstorming session (below), it doesn't have to be brilliant.

RAILHPR  (Rail Hopper) No, I'm not really jumping freights, but it has a nice ring to it.
Forget ROADTRP and ONTHERD ---those are already taken.

The word doesn't even have to have anything to do with travel. It could just be random words that are cool, like these words I like just because:  


What else?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wind! Sun! Stickers!

On Wednesday the girls and I set out to play tennis, but it quickly became a game of sticker ball. On the way to the tennis courts, Lilah got 12 stickers in her flip flop. As we hit balls back and forth, Annabelle picked up a sticker in her barefoot, one of the hard, thorny ones. Whenever the ball bounced off the court and into the surrounding grass, it got covered with stickers. Whoever retrieved it had to pick it up delicately. I found that raking the ball across the wire fence in back of the court helped to dislodge the stickers effectively.

When we weren't battling stickers, we were being beaten by the wind, which blew our hair into our faces, and blew the ball back onto our side if we hit it over the fence too weakly. And then there was the constant glare of the sun in our eyes. Playing tennis in western Kansas is exhausting!

It made me appreciate how tough our girls' tennis team was in high school. We routinely played in gusty prairie winds and in the blazing heat of cloudless skies. I remember a tournament we played out in Tribune. We drove out in the morning and ate at a little place called the Feedlot Cafe. The name should tell you something about how the whole town smelled.

The tennis courts were located somewhere on the outskirts, out in the big wide open under an intense amount of sunshine. There was no shelter, not an inch of shade, and I got a nasty sunburn that day. And water? I'm sure I drank some, but I don't remember people carrying around water bottles like they do now.

I wasn't an athlete and was just an okay player, but tennis was the one sport I could play without embarrassing myself totally, thanks to all the time Deana and I had spent on the courts during our goofing off hours. We had spent many an evening on the tennis court hitting balls back and forth, yelling at the top of our lungs, trading pretend insults, (and a few obscenities) and one time, we had an epic fight that we both remember to this day. We were both juniors, and the other two girls on the team were seniors (yes, there were only four of us on the team), and they both ended up getting pregnant and had to quit the team before the school year was over.

Back then I played with a fiberglass Yamaha racket. I had talked mom in laying down $50 for it, an incredible extravagance that would have been unthinkable when all five kids were still under the roof. But I was the last child at home, and could shake down my parents more easily than my older siblings. I still have that racket, and still bring it out here on visits to western Kansas, and usually end up playing with it. The kids prefer to use the vintage wooden rackets I bought used off of Craig's list.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Break In Western Kansas

Whoever says Kansas is flat hasn't driven through the Smoky Hill River Valley. There are some righteous hills right around Cedar bluff, where we were detoured yesterday by the highway patrol. We had just crossed the bridge over Cedar Bluff dam, heading south, when we ran into the patrolman, blocking the road. He said a semi had overturned the day before and had spilled grain all over the road, and they hadn't got it all cleaned up yet. So he sent us the long way around  ---three miles to the east, four miles south, and then a couple of miles west back to the highway.

Man, those dirt roads are steep, traveling through terrain that is more wild than the smooth plains further west. There are rocky outcroppings and the land is covered with an unruly mixture of native plants and grasses. How untamed and heaving is the bosom of Kansas! "I really need to get out here more," I thought, while navigating the sharp uphill twists and plunging descents.

When we finally got to Ness City, we drove straight to the nursing home, where mom was in the middle of a concert. Every other Tuesday, she loads her keyboard and stand into her car and drives a block and a half to the Long Term care facility. She played "Red River Valley," "Wooden Heart," and an original, titled "Nostalgia."

We're hangin' in western Kansas for spring break, and we got out here by way of my brand new used car. My 2008 Honda Civic is easy to drive fast. When I get above 60 in my 1994 Corolla, everything starts vibrating and rattling, and the engine gets really loud. I can hear Scotty yelling, "She's breaking up, Captain!" The cd player skips and air whistles through the breach in the sunroof. My new car is smooth as silk and it has an MP3 player hookup. And as you accelerate, the volume increases automatically to compensate for the increased highway noise.

And something else. By the time we got to Ness county, the sun was bright and unchallenged and it had grown quite warm inside the car. So we were glad to have working AC, that flowed easily at the push of a button, and didn't require the imagination to make it colder.

The car is three years old, but from our perspective, this road trip was its maiden voyage. We christened it by picking up a sack of Cozy Burgers in Salina and eating them in the car. Lilah and I like ours plain, so we can really taste the beef and onions, but Annabelle's burgers had ketchup on them. I cringed inwardly, but tried not to think about the possibility of ketchup dripping onto the newish seats.

What a different world I've been living in these past few weeks, a world where my car's interior is impeccable, and not crusted over by food crumbs, french fry grease, chocolate stains, beach sand, snotty tissues, and dog hair. Now I have a chance to make a fresh start. All these years, I've blamed the state of my car on the grubby urchins occupying the back seat. "Well, you know, I have kids...." I would say, waving my hand over the front and back seat to indicate that all of the debris, all of the detritus bulging under the seats, was an unavoidable consequence of ferrying two uncivilized passengers for over a decade. Now that the kids are older, I may find out whether I've just been an overwhelmed mother all these years, or just an incurable slob.

Today is a wonderfully warm and mild day in the 70's, and so we'll play tennis, and swing by the Frigid Creme to see if it's open yet, or still closed for the season. And tonight we'll work on the 750 piece puzzle named "Carnival in Venice" that we started last night.

 I started the day off right by doing something I've been wanting to do for ages. I spent the entire morning reading. I finished the young adult book "Steinbeck's Ghost," that Lilah had read and urged me to read. In it, the characters of some of Steinbeck's books reappear, so to speak, and so does the ghost of Steinbeck himself, until he finds someone who will tell the one story he had left to tell, that he was afraid to tell while he was alive. The book also follows the fight of the Salinas, California community to save its public library, the John Steinbeck library, that is threatened with closing. I love the book's passionate message about the importance of books, stories and libraries!

Now Lilah has checked out several Steinbeck books, and is currently reading "Grapes of Wrath." It's been a long time since I read any Steinbeck, but I think my favorite book was "Cannery Row", about the fish canneries near Monterey Bay. I just may have to read that one again. But right now I'm ready to crack open "A wrinkle in time," which I have here in western Kansas with me. I barely remember it, but I remember where it was shelved in the children's section of the Ness County Public Library, and I can still picture its  nondescript cover. It had no fancy book jacket, just its plain title on the original binding. But inside it was weird, so unlike anything else I had read before, it quickly became one of my favorite books.