Friday, September 23, 2011

Strong Winds Possible

I'm in Occidental, California right now, in position to participate in the FIC's Art of Community gathering, which starts today and runs through Sunday. I just love community events, where the Fellowship junkies get to press the flesh with people eager to receive and share information about community living.

I figure a healthy organization should be obsessed with learning all it can about its constituency and nothing beats a community gathering for giving us a clear snapshot of our audience, where we come face to face with a representative sampling of the folks most interested in what we have to offer. People are happy to tell you what they want: all we have to do is be open and pay attention.

The winds of interest in community and sustainability are blowing more strongly every day in this country, and we intend to be flying some kites pretty high this weekend. If you
are reading this in northern California and want to come play, it's not too late to join the party. Bring your own virtual kite, and we'll supply the string to get it aloft.

• • •
My inspiration for the title to today's blog was plagiarized from a roadside sign that Tony Sirna and I encountered on I-80 in Wyoming, outbound from Missouri. We drove a hair over 2000 miles (spread out over three days) to get here, schlepping about 20 boxes of books to create Community Bookshelf's presence at this weekend's event. En route, we encountered some interesting sights, and I thought it might be fun to offer up a kaleidoscopic slide show of some of some of the standout moments.

1. Strong Winds Possible
You have to wonder by what process the Wyoming Highway Dept decided they needed to post a sign with those words on it, indicating to drivers that the winds which are characteristically present in the High Plains may actually blow while you're driving. Duh.

"Mabel, I'm not sure our Winnebago can take much more of these gusts. I'm gonna write a letter to the goddamn highway people telling them they oughta warn people about this shit. It's dangerous!"

Never mind that it was never that bright an idea to be barreling along the highway at 75 mph in a box on wheels. Sigh. How much do you need to caution people that it's not a good idea to abandon common sense just because you're on the interstate?

2. Elko: Where Pasties Meet Pasties (or is it Meat Pasties?)
Elko is a wide spot in the road as you wend your way along I-80 from Utah to California. Though it has a population of less than 50,000, it's far and away the largest town in the northeast quadrant of Nevada, where there's little water and lots of land. Tony and I spent our second night there, and got to learn a bit more about it than you'd learn breezing through at 65 mph.

Perhaps uniquely in the United States, Elko features two Silver State staples: mining and casinos. In consequence—I doubt anyone intended this—there's an unusual opportunity for word play (which, if you know me, I hate to pass up). When you see "pasties" advertised in town, it could be either one!

The one I learned about first is the traditional Cornish meat and vegetable baked-in-a-dough-pocket delectable that's readily available in northern Minnesota and northern Michigan (because of the mining tradition). Sure enough, we passed a store advertising this savory miner's lunch item on our way out town. See my blog of June 27, 2010 (Catching the Ferry) for the last time I bumped into pasties of this variety.

The other version, of course, refers to something entirely different: a piece of adhesive costume that barely (so to speak) covers the nipples and aureolae of a woman's breasts, designed simultaneously to draw attention and to meet the minimal standards necessary to avoid charges of indecent exposure. You can bet that some appreciable fraction of the scantily clad show girls that are a regular feature of Elko casino floor shows are sporting pasties—and I'm not talking about dough pockets.

3. These Buds Are for You
Tony and I laughed about how we could have used Budweiser plants as directional guides for when to enter and exit I-80. Heading north on I-25 out of Loveland the second morning, we essentially followed the guidance "turn left onto the interstate right after you see the Budweiser plant on your left." (There is this monster you-can't-miss-it brewing plant just before leaving Colorado and entering Wyoming.)

Then, more than 1000 miles later, we took the advice "exit the interstate and turn right onto California 12 right after you see the next Budweiser plant on your left," this time in Fairfield CA. Kinda eerie how Budweiser goes wherever we go.

4. You're on the Left Coast Now
Mostly, when you cross a state line, the scenery is pretty much the same on both sides of the line, and so is the culture. Not so when you leave the Silver State and enter the Golden State. Shortly after cruising by Reno, we crossed into California and queued up for an agricultural inspection, where officials carefully check to make sure that out-of-state fruits and vegetables are not inadvertently carrying bugs or disease that might be harmful to California crops.

As we pulled up to the officer, his first question was where we were from. When we told him Missouri, he smiled and responded with, "Right on." Holy shit, we had fallen into a worm hole that dropped us into the 1960's. I had no idea anybody still talked that way. Welcome to the Hotel California.

5. Sleeping Wind Towers
It was heartening how many wind farms we passed along our route. Perhaps half a dozen. These were clusters of gentle giants: 200-foot towers, each with three 70-foot blades rotating sedately. Typically there would be 40-50 towers in an array. For reasons that were mysterious to us, the blades never seemed to all be turning at the same rate, and there always seem to be a few that weren't turning at all. Were they resting?

At one point there was a whole line of towers where none of the blades were turning. As we speculated about what might cause that (do they get sick together?), we noticed that one of the towers toward the end of that run was so tired that it had lain down. We wondered how long they needed to sleep like that before they had the energy to get up again, but didn't linger long enough to find out.

It'll just have to remain one of those anomalies of the road that will be investigated at a later date. Perhaps on the return drive next week, when we'll no doubt experience even more adventures in Americana.

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