The Ballards - Western USA







 

Whilst living in Illinois I tried to visit as much as possible of the USA.

A two week break was allowed, so I asked my American fellow workers what I should see?
They made many suggestions, all of which involved being West of Peoria, so I circled them on a road map and joined them up with lines.

Following Genesis' advice I would "Go West, Young Man" all the way to the Pacific at San Francisco, turn South along the coast road to LA, then turn back East and return through Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.
A route emerged (there was no Roadside America in 1987). No museums, no art galleries, lots of civil engineering projects, and lots of landscapes.
But it was 6,500 miles: I had 16 days.
So I needed to average 406 miles a day, every single day, plus sightseeing.
No easy tour.

I didn't want to go alone.
I drive fast, even in the USA (my radar detector provided me with almost complete protection, but I did get stopped...), and most Illinois people I knew were afraid of that.
My then-girlfriend Diane Ryburn refused to go (the reason, even now, eludes me), and so did my English friend Caroline Caldecott. I think she was more worried about the prospect of having to sleep with me than the driving...
Eventually I was faced with going alone or not going at all.
So I went alone.

As dawn broke one Saturday morning in mid-August 1987, armed with a full tank of petrol, a heavily-annotated Rand McNally Travel USA map and a sheaf of notes, a back seat with 300 music cassettes (none of which I listened to, local FM radio being much more interesting), $1,500 in cash, a credit card and a vague promise to meet some friends in Fremont, I left Peoria headed for Iowa and the way West.

The road West left Illinois to enter Iowa via the "Quad" Cities: Davenport, Rock Island, Bettendorf, and Moline.
Only in America could a city have a name like Moline: it sounds like some Deep South poor white trash girl, as in "Moline, ah shaw did bin' tellin' u to clean up your room, now....".

The Interstate crossed the mighty Mississippi on a typical red box-girder Interstate bridge with a thrumming steel mesh roadbed [they turn these bridges out by the thousand in Meccano-like sets somewhere near Bethlehem, PA], and joined I-80, the main East-West transcontinental route.
In a typically US display of "sense we could all learn from", East-West roads are even numbered, North-South odd-numbered.

The landscape remained unchanged: the lack of hills on the horizon giving the false impression of driving across a huge impossible plateau like some early-70s "Yes" album cover.
I've only ever seen this effect in the USA and in central France: the phrase "Big Sky" began to have some meaning.
The sky remained overcast with a high cloud base. The temperature and humidity climbed; I was glad of the car's air-conditioning.

Shortly before Iowa City was the first sight-seeing detour: At West Branch is Herbert Hoover's birthplace.
Herbert Hoover was the first US president to be born West of the Mississippi River (although only about 50 miles West!) and the 31st President from 1928 to 1932.
You come away with an overhwelming feeling of how small the houses were in the late 1800s: the whole house would fit neatly in to my sitting room.

Also on display is most of the rest of the village: the US Park Service is expert at creating and maintaining these sites without too many "Keep off the grass" exclusion zones. National Trust take note.

The well-preserved church has an interesting twist: there is intentionally no pulpit. Anyone who wanted to talk stood up from wherever they were sitting. A much more ecumenically democratic arrangement than the norm.

The freeway arrowed past Des Moines and West towards Omaha, the long uneventful hours allowing exploration of the FM dial.
All radio and TV stations West of the Mississippi start with "K", whereas those East of the Mississippi start with "W". Thus KVIL in Dallas TX and KFOG in San Francisco CA, but WXTV in Teaneck NJ and WWCT in Peoria IL.
These radio stations, like all FM transmitters, have very little range, so the radio hops between signals as you drive. But they all sound the same, too much REO Speedwagon and Asia.
AM was mainly talk shows, and some were very interesting; you just don't get radio like that in England. But the AM signal quality was terrible.

Eventually reaching I-29 (must be a North-South one, that...) at the Missouri River, the map indicated a detour North to join I-90 at Sioux Falls, then West to Mitchell, South Dakota, to spend the night.

Mitchell SD has one claim to fame: maize cobs are so commonplace they can afford to decorate a building every year with them in different patterns. In 1987 it was to be "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck.
And they had done a creditable job of reproducing the feel of the book using maize cobs. Quite why the building had onion domes however, like some Turkish brothel, was unfathomable...
People come from hundreds of miles to see these displays, so if it puts Mitchell on the map, more power to them. But we English have a word called "naff", and this epitomised it.
It's a hard word to describe to anyone not English, though. I wonder how TEFL teachers manage?

For the first few hours an attempt was made to drive at something resembling the speed limit, but the third time I nearly nodded off I realised this was futile: I was never going to drive at 65 like an American.
So I put my foot hard down and drove at what seemed a reasonable speed (probably about 85) with the radar detector on.

Eastern South Dakota looked like Iowa but bigger: slowly the corn and hogs gave way to grassland with no apparent use. The grass was cropped short by something, but what? There was no livestock or horses evident.

Signs appeared counting down the miles and occasionally, bizarrely, the Kilometres to the Missouri River crossing at Oacoma.
Expectations were high of bluffs, a Meccano bridge and maybe a sternwheeler but the river is deemed unnavigable to big boats this far North so a dull-as-ditchwater low concrete freeway bridge took us across the brown flow.

A detour to attempt to photograph the river crossing from a more interesting angle revealed abandoned trams up on the hillside. It was a shame to see these venerable transports reduced to sun-scorched wood and peeling paint by the march of the motor car.
They have now been rescued, restored and are on display in a museum somewhere; when I find out where I'll add this information in.

From partway through Iowa and increasingly as the freeway headed West were semi-trailers parked in fields next to the Freeway counting down the number of miles to Wall Drug.
As the boredom of driving for hour after hour through identical scenery began to prey on the mind, a visit to Wall Drug came to seem more and more inevitable.
Is this how brainwashing works? Bore the subject to tears then repeat the same message hundreds of times...

A detour to visit the Badlands announced the start of the "interesting stuff" that would mean leaving the freeways for the minor roads. But the average speed would drop.
The trip was about to become hard work.

The Badlands resembled nothing more than colourful abandoned gravel workings. Like so many things, the reality rarely lived up to the expectation...

Wall Drug has an interesting history, quite apart from the bizarre marketing.
It started as a conventional drug store, struggling to pull punters off the roads West, until the owner hit on the idea of offering free ice water to all.
This coincided with the 1930s Westward drift brought on by the Depression meaning many thousands of migrants in Model Ts passing the door.
It made Wall Drug, and they still offer free iced water today.
On the wall inside is a picture of a Vietnam War foxhole with a sign "Wall Drug - 4,772 miles"; this has become something of a national institution.

The next stop was Mount Rushmore, to take the inevitable photo of the first 4 Presidents of the USA.
The journey up to the Park was interesting, as the road builders had tried very hard to keep the road as rustic-looking as possible, but had been told to build a dual-carriageway with split-level junctions.
So they built all the flyovers in wood, which look great but must have cost an arm and a leg in timber.
Rushmore was smaller than expected and one takes away the feeling that really they should have carried on: why stop at 4 Presidents?

Also at the site was the beginnings of the Crazy Horse Memorial, with a plaster cast of how it will look in 100 years' time.
For now, despite the obvious effects of a lot of dynamite and rock chisels, the mountain looked like... well, a mountain.

The road West led through Custer (tourist tat) and towards Newcastle in Wyoming.

 

The route back to the freeway led through Newcastle and some forgettable countryside. I-90 led further West to Buffalo where we parted company. I-90 would continue to Seattle but it would be Salt Lake City before the Grand Am hit a freeway again.
From Buffalo the road wound up and up in to the Big Horn National Forest, resembling parts of Scotland where the Forestry Commission had gone particularly wild with their conifer planting. The reverse slope of the pass went down a great deal further than the up slope: long steep stretches with hairpin bends.

After 40 miles of this I estimated we were 3 miles below sea level, and the brakes, without the benefit of engine braking to balance the retardant load, gave up.
A lay-by was spotted, but getting the car to a standstill needed the handbrake and the "1" position on the Auto box, as the footbrake had completely ceased to function.
The finally stationary car disappeared in a cloud of evil-smelling smoke. It took 30 minutes for the brakes to stop steaming, after which a gentle experimental run confirmed that they were, indeed, working again, if a trifle woodenly.

I cursed the American fixation with the automatic gearbox that had done it's best to kill me for the second time.
The first time, a few weeks before, the same car had changed up unexpectedly on a curving wet concrete freeway entrance ramp when the car was nicely balanced, the sudden change in engine torque making the car try very hard to spin me into a passing 18-wheeler.
Automatics are dangerous...

The hill eventually bottomed out at about the lowest level of a South African gold mine and the road headed for Tensleep.
Lunch was a great burger, fries and strawberry shake in an original, unrestored stainless steel and chrome diner in Tensleep.
Then on to Worland and Cody where the road met the Shoshone River for the run up in to Yellowstone Park.

Ever since I was small and Yogi Bear gambolled in Jellystone Park I had wanted to see Yellowstone Falls and the Old Faithful geyser.
The surprise was the Buffalo, which happily walk across the roads, safe in the knowledge that they will not get killed. If they did that in Scotland, the Scots would be eating them and they'd be extinct.

Yellowstone was amazing, despite having to whisk through it to make up the miles. Old Faithful was not as faithful as it had been but eventually it erupted and was well worth the wait.

West Yellowstone is a dreadful, parasitic, expensive tourist life-support machine for Yellowstone Park. The motel was awful.

South of Yellowstone the Grand Tetons National Park is spectacular, although you can't drive up in to the mountains, which is a shame.


Further South the road passed through Afton and across the border in to Idaho.

The road dropped suddenly in to paradise: a lush valley full of pretty little villages with French names: Montpelier, Geneva, Paris.
I could live here, I thought, and vowed, MacArthur-like, to return.


The road through the valley was dead straight, with a town in the middle at the bottom of a bowl.
For several miles whilst descending in to the bowl the radar detector warned of impending doom.
Entering the village the cause became apparent: the local Sherriff had parked his car outside the doughnut shop on Main Street with the radar on, and gone inside for a quiet coffee and doughnut.
He had two radars, front and back, so my radar detector kept up it's caterwhauling all the way out of the village and up the road.
A very neat arrangement to police the speed limit in the town; he probably left the car there all day!


In Idaho I had begun to wonder when I would feel warm: this was August, after all.
Logan Canyon, my introduction to Utah, was noticeably warmer at the bottom than at the top. Again, the dreaded braking problems with the car, but this time I stopped half-way down and let the brakes cool off thoroughly before proceeding.

As Idaho turns in to Utah you emerge from the rocky hills and canyons to the Great Salt Lake, and Salt Lake City.

Brigham Young brought The Church of The Latter Day Saints to the Great Salt Lake (then Mexican Territory) in 1847, declaring "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it" (Isaiah 2:2). And so they set to and built Salt Lake City, which is still a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding, though not entirely Mormon, community.

Most Brits (and, I suspect, many Americans) don't quite know what to make of the Mormons. They claim to be Christians, and yet they aren't the gentle, peacable Church of England summer-fete-and-church-roof-fund variety
Proselytising religions never impress the Brits: to us their religion smacks of charlatanry, of Moonies brainwashing and religious leaders driving Rolls-Royces. So I was interested to see what Salt Lake City was like.

In practice, it's like any other small American city: lots of traffic, some very grand public buildings, good roads, unsynchronised traffic lights. The people were no more clean-cut than anywhere else.

Travelling does terrible things to the mind. Awakening in the morning, the motel bedroom was so generic it took 10 minutes to remember the name of the city...

Salt Lake City does have a problem with the rising level of the Great Salt Lake. The route of I-80 along the South side of the lake had to be moved twice between 1975 and 1987. A shopping mall built beside the lake is now marooned, with its car park being used as a marina.

I-80 West, once clear of the Salt Lake, was straight as an arrow and hot. The Bonneville Salt Flats were like another planet, but it wasn't that hot, even in August. I was told there were people "out there" planning motorbike speed runs, but like most things you couldn't get anywhere near the action.


The temperature rose once in to Nevada. The road was straight and boring. We were advised to stop for petrol if our tank was below half full to ensure we didn't run out of petrol.

In Britain the lack of traffic on this route would have ensured it remained a 2-lane rabbit track with half-mile stretches of dual-carriageway every 20 miles, all ending in speed cameras to ensure no one actually got any enjoyment out of the road, but this was America, where engineering projects get done properly.

A lot of the traffic was mineral lorries: drawbar trailers with extra drawbar trailers on the back making an unreversible combination: illegal in Britain but evidently not in America and certainly not in Australia, where they call them road-trains.

Crossing a range of hills a train became visible: it was so long that despite a good mile of it being embedded in a tunnel both ends were visible and nearly a mile long. The tractive effort rquired to start that load must be truly vast.

Driving most of the day from an early start meant a midday transition to the most interesting State in the Union - California.
At the California border an unsmiling State Trooper waved us all over. Paranoia kicked in -did I need a special license to drive the car this far out of Illinois? No, it was just for a fresh produce and livestock check. I breathed a sigh of relief.

In the great American exodus from England, all the ones that kept going West ended up here in California.
And it was worth it: the climate is like an English summer with more sun but all year long. San Francisco is about 75°C most of the year. Peculiarly, both North and South of the Bay are warmer; this is known as The Bay Effect.

All along the long downhill run from Truckee in to California were official signs in Trucker language, saying things like "ease up on those brakes, buddy", "10-4, looks like we're clean clear to FlagTown" and other such "Convoy" material.
A later trip in 2000 revealed these had been removed and replaced with more sober instructions. Such is the Dead Hand of Officialdom.

After several hours of going downhill to what felt like a mile or so below sea level, the route flattened out and headed for the Pacific.

San Francisco is the one American city I could live in. The people are not as parochial as many parts of America, the ethnic population is mainly Chinese and they are very cosmopolitan.
It has a reputation for tolerating homosexual behaviour and several parts of the city are openly gay, and as thus are magnets for more gays.
I could have spent a lot of time there exploring the BART and the hilly streets, the street vendors and the cable cars, the architecture and the commerce (but not the gay lifestyle).
And, of course, Alcatraz.

Everyone of my age can remember the Streets of San Francisco TV series, a Quinn Martin Production (weren't they all?), with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas.
The streets were the real stars of the series, the screaming tyres the backdrop to our youth as we imagined ourselves (wet, cold, skinny early-70s English youth) as detectives in skinny-tyred Buicks pursuing criminals around the hilly streets of San Francisco. Either that or as Jack Lord in Hawaii Five 0....

 
 

The various bridges around the bay are spectacular, but none so spectacular as the Golden Gate Bridge, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.
For once, a sight lived up to the expectations: from any angle, it looks as though the bridge is meant to be there; it doesn't look imposed upon it's surroundings. And because of the widely varying weather at that point, the bridge has moods.

Lombard Street, the street they always drive down in 60s comedy films like Herbie, was good fun to drive down (dodgy brakes and lack of engine braking notwithstanding!).

The cablecars were great fun - until I got thrown off one for failing to realise you had to pay!

In Chinatown even the McDonalds is in Chinese. A much more satisfying Chinatown than in London.

 

Finally, and reluctantly, I left San Francisco, vowing to return (I did, in 2000 and twice in 2001 - all visits confirmed my initial reaction), and drove to Carmel-By-The-Sea, hoping to meet Clint Eastwood the Mayor, but instead finding a tourist trap with the most expensive English sweet shop in the world.

This would be the furthest West section of the journey, so to celebrate a paddle in the Pacific Ocean was in order, before rejoining Route 1 and heading to Big Sur.

The road wound in and out of the bays, up and down and around. Enjoyment was only briefly marred by some crazy American in an Audi who thought he could drive like a European but 10mph slower, and was very reluctant to allow passing.
A complex feint-and-pass manoeuvre (learned going around Hyde Park Corner before they tamed it with traffic lights) dealt with him, then the road was empty once more.

At length the road straightened out and became a freeway, allowing the speed to rise, which was nearly my undoing.
A CHP cruiser on an overpass appeared. Jamming on the anchors slowed the car to around 55mph just before my radar detector did it's customary blast of audio kaleidoscopics warning of his "instant-on" radar gun, but he pulled out and followed me for 30 miles before eventually peeling off to allow my heart rate to slow. A close shave...

A few miles later, whilst passing a sign saying "You are now entering Los Angeles" the freeway traffic ground to a complete halt. I was in LA.

LA is not a city: it's a collection of communities connected by 7-11 stores.
The freeways were massive and congested, everything was imported or fake, or both.
Rodeo Drive was dull, Hollywood was boring, even the Baywatch beach failed to live up to expectations.
Only the Universal Studios tour, the poor old Queen Mary and Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose [since removed to Oregon] were worth visiting.

Disneyland on a cool Tuesday morning in August was packed half an hour before opening time. It was expensive, fake, and definitely not for adults.
Half way round, looking at a fake cactus, a strong urge to see a real cactus manifested itself, so LA was abandoned for Barstow and the desert.

The desert was a breath of fresh air. Everything was reinvigorating and real again, blowing away the cobwebs. And we were headed East.

Death Valley was colourful and 120°.
Stopping to take pictures the atmosphere outside was uncomfortable within a couple of minutes.
Very few cars were passing and the repeated opening of the doors overloaded the air-conditioning to the point where the car started to make strange growling noises.
This was not the place to break down...
The camera fogged every time it was put back in the car, but it would have melted in the boot.

We were so far below sea level they had a marker up on the cliff showing where sea level was (just visible above top right)

Exiting Death Valley and heading for Vegas, the temperature dropped but the strange noises continued and got steadily worse.

 

Las Vegas is indescribable.
A totally artificial community in the middle of the desert, feeding on Hoover Dam electricity and pent-up greed caused by the American State legislatures' obsession with preventing gambling.
Nevada profits $billions every year by the fact that in all other state gambling is almost entirely illegal.
Why?

As a result, Nevada is gambling mad. Slot machines between the petrol pumps, in the lobbies, in the loos...

 

I'm not what Vegas wants: I'm just not a gambler.
I usually lose, see no point in putting good money after bad, when I win I quit while I'm ahead, and I've never been able to afford to gamble enough for the potential returns to excite me.
My perfect gambling day would be to put a single quarter in to a slot machine and pay off the mortgage, at which point I would never gamble again. So I'm afraid it all rather passes me by.

But I had to see it: the lights, the Hells Grannies with perfect perms playing the acres of slot machines, wheeling up and down on little wheeled stools with huge buckets of quarters.
I thought the moving ramp off the sidewalk to get in to Caesars Palace (but you have to walk out again) summed up Vegas perfectly: come in, waste your money, get out.

The evening was a good time to take some long-exposure photographs of the strip. Of course everybody thought I was mad, lugging a tripod around: "Hey, this is Vegas, get gambling!".

In the end Vegas won, and I did gamble, but $100 in quarters in assorted slot machines yielded no mortgage-busting Jackpot, so an early (and surprisingly cheap) motel bed was in order.

The other thing Vegas is famous for is "Quickie" weddings, so there are naff wedding chapels all along the strip. In England marriage is taken seriously; here it's "Out of State checks OK" and "Wee Kirk o'the Heather" wedding chapel, open 24 hours.
Sometimes, America is another planet.

Like having a system that encourages learning to drive (16) before learning to drink (21) - doh!
In England, we get the falling-down-drunk bit done whilst still only being able to ride a bicycle: it keeps the road fatalities within reasonable limits.

Like the 55mph limit.
Like Prohibition.
Like American cars, with wallowing suspension, driving a mattress.
Like concrete roads with oversized expansion joints that make your fillings fall out every 10,000 miles.
Like the Immigration system that prohibits English people with college degrees from working in the country and adding to the national wealth whilst allowing millions of illiterate Mexican peasants in to live on Welfare.
Like the banking system that means a cheque written in Peoria isn't valid in Bloomington-Normal, the next town.
Like the mobile phone system, where you need 3 different types of phones for national coverage.
Like having to pay for your petrol in advance of pumping it (despite petrol being cheaper than water).
Like the complete lack of decent Ordnance Survey maps.
Like the complete reliance on traffic lights to control traffic, as opposed to Give Way signs. At night, driving through empty towns, it can take 30 minutes to go 2 miles even though you are the only car for 10 miles.
Like abortion being a political issue.
Like supporting the IRA.
Like Survivalists.
Like TV evangelists (why can't people see through these guys?) - I exclude Billy Graham from this as I have seen him and he is good.

I could only stand one night in Vegas, cheap though it was, as Vegas motels are subsidised by the casinos, and there is no Sales Tax (paid for by the casinos!).

Hoover Dam can only be described as a working Art Deco museum: fluted columns, unpainted concrete, flat roofs.
It's more interesting than Vegas will ever be, and quite a feat of engineering.
It's interesting, though: there are no real English equivalents to the US 1920s and 30s engineering projects like the SF Bay bridges and the Hoover dam, and many other dams and bridges all across the US.
Were we asleep, or just not bold enough?
I mean, we built Wembley Stadium (which was nothing to write home about) but nothing else really sticks in the memory from that period.
Of course, the Germans did a lot of urban re-engineering in Britain in the early 1940s so that may account for some of the shortfall, but I still think we squandered the decade.

The road East from Hoover led across the most spectacularly uninteresting scenery for many hundreds of miles, until reaching the Southern lip of the Grand Canyon.
Only in America could a National Parks Service, realising the interesting bits were so far away from civilisation few would vsit by road, build an airport to draw visitors.
And having driven there, I could understand why the airport needed to be there: it was a very long drive down a very straight road for a single amazing view.

U2 were affected by this view: this was the site of the famous Joshua Tree, inspiration for the album of the same name, and at the time being played to death on every radio station.
The album was the turning point for their careers: the punky Irish band had made it big in America and from then on could do No Wrong.....

Further up the course of the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon is Page, where the river is again dammed creating Glen Canyon Recreational Area. The scenery was greening up again towards Colorado, so a final visit was called for: to an Indian Reservation.

On the road between Kaibito and Tonolea is an Indian Reservation, full of lacklustre shacks and trailers, tumbleweed blowing through, the smell of alcohol and marijuana on the air, men and women lying about doing nothing, scrap cars and household appliances.
If this is what Native Americans do when left to their own devices, is it any wonder the European culture overwhelmed them? Is this the inevitable fate of human culture when aliens arrive (and arrive they will, one day)...

Four Corners is an entirely artificial administrative structure: the corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet here but there is nothing else. It all seemed a little pointless (and in 2009 GPS surveys discovered it's in the wrong place anyway!)

Colorado took far longer than expected, partly because there were few Interstates and partly because there was no much interesting stuff in the state.

From Four Corners the road crossed the San Juan Mountains to Montrose then up in to the Sawatch Range to Salida then on to the Royal Gorge suspension bridge, built in 1929.
This is the highest suspension bridge in the world, 1053ft above the Arkansas river, but is completely pointless as it goes nowhere: it was built purely as a tourist attraction.
The railway below has a much more interesting history.

At Monarch strange contraptions appeared at the roadside heading off up in to the hills. Strange, until you realise Monarch is a ski resort in the winter.
So that's what ski-lifts look like in the summer!

North of I-80 was the final bit of scenery on the agenda: the Rocky Mountain National Park. Here (and probably long overdue, with hindsight), accelerating hard in to the Park, in a hurry as usual, I passed a Park Ranger coming in the opposite direction with his radar on, too late to slow down.
On went his lights, so it was time to pull over.
Apparently he'd clocked me at 75 in a 45 limit, which I thought was pretty good as I was only 400 yards in from the entrance and still accelerating...
Then he asked to see my Operators' License.

Out came the large, foldout, green English license.
"Where's the photograph?"
"English Licenses don't have photographs, my Good Man"

Off goes Mr Ranger back to his cruiser.
He spent 20 minutes on the radio examining the alien artifact before returning it with a complex looking ticket.
"Well, Mr Ballard, if you were an American I'd be giving you a $150 ticket, but as you're not, Have a Nice Day"
And he gave me the ticket which was a Formal Warning Not To Do It Again, Ever, Honest, Cross My Heart And Hope To Die.
Which I took, smiled nicely, and drove off. Slowly.

 

Trail Ridge Pass was pretty, with a few lumps of snow remaining, even in August. The wildlife was tame, and I only saw two other cars in the whole Park. If this is what it is like in August, it must be completely dead for the rest of the year.
When do Americans go on holiday... sorry, vacation?

The way out lead through Thompson Canyon and out to Fort Collins. The sightseeing was over.

Lack of time and slow progress had finally caught up with me: it was time to go home.

900 miles of driving got the increasingly noisy and erratic Grand Am back to Peoria across the endless expanse of flat grassland that is the MidWest.
Nothing could distract me now: not even the prospect of the SAC Museum at Council Bluffs [since moved to South Bend].

Near the Quad Cities the engine refused to go back to idle and the last 40 miles was spent riding the brakes to keep the speed below 90. Home was finally reached at sunset. I'd driven about 8,500 miles in 15 days.

Exhausted, I slept for 24 hours.

The Grand Am was terminally ill and had to be replaced. I had to look innocent at the rental car desk. Death Valley had done for it...

The photo service thought they'd died and gone to Heaven when they saw my huge bag of films for processing...

I learned that America is not a country - each state is a country, with it's own identity. America is a continent.

If Europe all spoke one language, it would be a much easier place to transact business. If it was as easy to transact business across Europe as it is across America, with it's common language, coherent laws, lack of cross-border petty bureaucracy and good communications links, Europe would be a richer place.

McDonalds make the best fries, Burger King the best burgers.

One day I'll do it again, with more time, a better car and a companion.

One day.