About Jan Bohlmann

I like Jeeps and motorcycles and beer and a wide variety of literature. Retired from community college teaching. I like to travel--no tours or cruises, thank you. Like to smoke dope occasionally.


If one were keeping score, say Ups versus Downs, even though no players were injured on the field during my move from Kansas to Oregon, the negatives were far outscoring the positives. The Downs made the first point in Topeka when I rented a Jartran truck and the asshole at the agency refused to show me how the towing contraption worked. He claimed that the company’s liability insurance forbade him from doing so. The mechanism looked more like hobbles used to immobilize a cow during branding. It took my friend Dan and me several hours of grief before we were able to hitch my old VW bus to the truck.

The Downs kept scoring with lost keys, getting lost in Denver, mechanical problems with the truck, horrible food, bad motel room, a blowout on the bus, and a tire salesman trying to rip us off in Rock Springs, the Gem of Wyoming.

It was early afternoon, hot and dusty as we drove past Green River in western Wyoming, and neither of us had spoken more than ten words since we left Rock Springs some one hundred miles behind us. Dan was at the wheel and pushing the truck hard as we attempted to make up some of the time we’d lost due to our trail of misfortunes. By the time we crossed the Utah state line, the sun’s late rays were streaming in below the windshield visor. The dry, brown landscape turned a chalky sepia in the fading light. The sagebrush gave off a smoke-musk fragrance. In other circumstances we might have appreciated the beauty of the scene.

Ok, one point for the Ups, the weather had been fantastic.

Aside from a slight dip on the oil pressure gauge, it had been running high anyway, the truck seemed to be running as well as an overworked vehicle of that age and milage could be expected. The fuel consumption was way over what seemed reasonable, but then my only comparison was a VW bus that averaged about 30 mpg and a Rabbit that was getting close to 40 on the highway. The Jartran rental was loaded with my junk and pulling the afore mentioned bus, and great fuel economy was not to be imagined. However, my next credit card bill was something that continued to be of concern.

The western sky turned pink with a few purple clouds when the first billboards started appearing suggesting motels and gas stations near Salt Lake City appeared, and it was full dusk as we pulled onto Interstate 15 heading north. The traffic became heavier, but it was much easier and less confusing than what we’d faced around Denver. There was no diversions through Salt Lake, and we were able put off getting gas until the reading on the fuel gauge suggested we stop in the town of Bountiful. After filling up at the Texaco station, we stopped at a Taco Bell, where we picked up some belly bloating burritos with acidic coffee.

Back on the road, devouring our bean-filled delights and swilling the lukewarm, but jolting coffee, we continued our journey north toward Idaho. With our caffeinated buzz, the darkness did not seem as daunting, and the traffic seemed to be thinning out. The way we felt, it seemed that Oregon was just over the hill, but of course, the Interstate was flat and the distance was going to wear us out.

It was near Ogden that our fine dining began to catch up with us, and the truck cab atmosphere became thick and odiferous. Both windows were quickly rolled down and the dry, cold air of the Utah desert ventilated us, but left us chilled. So we drove several miles with the heater on high, windows down until the next exit with a gas station could be seen.

The truck wheels were still turning when Dan wrenched his door open, jumped out and ran toward the men’s restroom, only to find it locked. He waddled into the station, picked up the key and with very small but fast steps scooted back to the toilet.

I might have laughed at the sight, but I was trying not to fill my own pants. There was no way that I could wait for Dan to finish his business, and I was sure that I was going to have to loosen my load in the parking lot. Then I noticed a woman coming out of the ladies’ john and that she left the door ajar. This was no time for niceties, nor did I look to see if anyone was watching. In the nick of time I was on the throne giving thanks that there was a full roll of toilet paper on the dispenser. I also gave my thanks to St. Christopher that nobody came in to disturb my meditations.

I felt much lighter, even energetic and a bit smug as I washed my hands, but as I opened the door to leave the ladies toilet I met, immediately outside, a rather large, stern looking woman with a key in her hand, ready to insert it into the lock. She wore a pink sweatshirt with a picture of Minnie Mouse and had a shock of brownish hair that looked as if it had been combed with an angry cat. The glare of malevolence through her thick lenses could not been mistaken. She was ready to take me down.

With my quick thinking and wit I said,”Uh, hi. Um, wrong toilet. You might want to wait a few minutes before going in there.”

I stepped around her large person while her head turned like an owl’s, and I waited for a chop to my neck, but I made it back to the truck without harm. I did not look back.

Dan looked rather pale, and rather disquieted. Not angry at all, which was unusual. I asked him if he felt all right, not that I could actually do anything about anything.

“Just let’s get the fuck out of here. Jesus Christ, I don’t know how you always talk me into shit like this.”

I knew right away that he was going to be fine.



The move from Topeka, Kansas to Portland, Oregon during, June 1984 was anticipated with good feelings. The teaching position I had taken, a dual appointment at the University of Kansas and at Washburn University, had pretty much burned itself out. The only time I went to Kansas City was to attend biweekly faculty meetings, and the rest of the time was spent in the less-than-charming city of Topeka with its rather closed society. The two years included springs with tornado warnings; blistering, hot summers; cicada filled autumns; and winters with brutal, bone chilling winds off the western plains. No, I would not miss Topeka.

Dan, who’d been a classmate in college and afterwards become a close friend, had been Shanghaied into helping me move. Even before we left Topeka, we’d run into a problem while trying to figure out how to attach the hitch to my old VW bus so we could pull it with a rental truck. After several hours of swearing and bruised knuckles, we finally pulled out of town.

The trip west had not started smoothly. Lost keys, mechanical problems, and bad motels all contributed to a less than optimistic start from Denver where we picked up the truck at a mechanics shop. The greasy faced guy at the garage said that the engine timing had been the problem, and now the motor was running as smooth as a Swiss watch, a rather dated expression that did not give us a lot of confidence.

By now we should have been experts with the hitch, and, truth be told, it didn’t take us long to get on the road, towing the bus behind. We still had no idea how the hitch actually worked.

It was around ten o’clock on a bright sunny morning when we got on Interstate 25 going almost straight north, and the truck seemed to be running normal: no stalling, sputtering or gulping noises. Slowly we began to resume our own normal patterns of breathing, and no longer were we holding our breaths while listening for the troubling sounds that had lead us to finding the mechanic in Denver in the first place.

We saw the mountains of Colorado slowly drift out of view, and we crossed the Wyoming line where we soon met Interstate 80 near Cheyenne and turned west. Even Dan, ever the pessimist, began to relax as he pointed out the occasional pronghorn and circling hawks floating in the blue sky above the rolling prairie. The day was turning out to be a relaxing drive, and we were pleased with ourselves as we pulled into Rawlings for the night. The small city seemed to be welcoming as we found a decent motel on the edge of town. The clerk was friendly and spoke excellent English, and the room was clean. Both heating and air conditioning worked. The plumbing was up to date with a toilet that could be flushed without our reaching into the tank. We would have both hot and cold water.

After a good night’s sleep and a great breakfast not far from our totally adequate motel, we headed west on another cloudless day. Fired up by several cups of coffee, we were talking in unusually positive terms about what a fine place we found Rawlings to be. After around 70 uninterrupted miles, we heard a loud bang from behind, and in the side mirrors the bus could be seen to be rapidly swerving back and forth.

I knew exactly, as soon as I heard the noise, what had happened. This was entirely my fault as I had failed to unlock the steering when we last hitched the bus to the truck. Every slightest turn that the truck made was just like scraping a pencil eraser on sand paper, and the front tires of the bus, well worn anyway, were now completely bald. The right side had all the rubber gone and had finally blown. It was still smoking as the truck stopped on the side of the Interstate.

Dan took it well, as he pointed out that we’d made considerably good time since we left Denver. Actually, our progress had seemed too good to last much longer. He was even pleasantly surprised when he found that I actually had a spare tire for the bus. He even complimented me on my being prepared for this incident.

Dan has a sarcastic streak that cuts deep.

One of the worst ethnic massacres in US history took place in Rock Springs, Wyoming. An outlaw briefly worked in a butcher shop in Rock Springs and became known as Butch Cassidy.  According to city data, as of 2020 one out of 325 people in Rock Springs is a sexual offender. The foregoing information might supply a little color to the city.

Driving as slow as reasonable so we wouldn’t blow another tire we pulled into a mechanics shop on the edge of Rock Springs that was near the interstate and saw that there were several piles of old tires lying around.  Encouraged we walked inside and saw that there were hundreds of new tires stacked on orderly shelves all around the walls. It looked like our problem was solved.

A guy, about 40 with slicked back hair and with arms that were larger than my legs appeared behind a counter and asked what we wanted, not if he could help us. I inquired about tires for a ‘73 VW bus.

The man paused for effect, looking around for an audience, and, smirking, announced, “We don’t sell tires here.”

There were undisguised chuckles and snorts from the guys working on different race cars and pickups.

Ok, that place didn’t pan out. With our beards and mildly long hair, we apparently looked like hippies or communists. A lot of folks in that part of Wyoming did not do business with that sort.

With all the righteous indignation we could muster up, we left the rednecks and attempted to slam the door behind us. Unfortunately there was a pneumatic door stop that only hissed with the effort and caused more laughter from within.

Three miles down the road we found a Shell station with a modern looking shop that had a large sign in the window that said, “TIRE SALE.” After pulling into the parking lot we got out of the truck and started to walk hopefully toward the store. But, before we had gone three paces, a young man positively bounded out to meet us.

He was a young, Asian guy who looked barely out of his teens. He smiled as he approached and stuck out his hand as he said, “You gentlemen looking for some tires?” Without waiting for an answer, he simultaneously grabbed Dan’s right hand in both of his and yanked vigorously.

Dan doesn’t like to be touched by acquaintances let alone strangers, and he withdrew his hand as if it had been scorched by fire.

Without losing a moment, the kid turned to me and started pumping my hand. “My name is Norman,” he explained, “and I can get you a great deal on some great tires and have you out of here in less than an hour.”

“Well,” I said while trying to extract my hand from his, “ I don’t need more than one tire, and I’d like to get a used one for that bus behind the truck. I can use the bald one for a spare.”

Norman was mortified and responded as if I was pointing a pistol to my head.

“You can’t have mismatched tires,” he shrieked. “That is so dangerous. A vehicle has to have tires that won’t cause shimmying and cause an accident. Safety of the customer is most important to us. Come, let me show you a set of good, matching but inexpensive tires.”

Perhaps it was the momentum of the conversation, or maybe it was the impression that he actually would sell us tires without making us the butt of a red neck joke, but we dumbly followed Norman inside the store.

While the salesman went to check his inventory, we met an elderly couple from Wisconsin who were waiting for new tires to be installed on their brand new Chevy Nova. The husband explained that the tires that the Chevrolet factory put on the car were wearing out after only a little more than a thousand miles. Norman had shown them the the tread on their tires would be gone in five hundred more miles, and that a blowout could happen at any time.

Dan talked me out of leaving immediately by pointing out that we needed to replace a tire before we left Rock Springs. Meanwhile, Norman, the asshole, was happily rolling tires in our direction. As he approached, Dan suggested that we go outside, start over, away from the nice couple from Wisconsin.

Norman had no choice but to follow us out the door, and, once outside, it was explained that we would not buy a set of new tires; not even one new tire. A used tire that was the same size as the other front tire would be fine.

Norman balked, but before he said more than a couple of words, he was interrupted by Dan who was suddenly the one who was losing his patience.

“Shut the fuck up for a minute,” he said quietly, but with sincerity. He then proposed that Norm come out with a decent used tire or there might be a conversation with the nice couple from Wisconsin (not that they would believe a couple of bearded strangers) about their tires.

Whether or not the threat made a difference we would never know, but the salesman did go back into the store as we followed. A few minutes later he rolled out a tire that looked decent, and, upon closer inspection, proved to be the right size. Pleased with Norman’s selection,

Dan asked the price.

“Well,” Norman hedged, “since it is a used tire, we can’t offer a sale price, but it is still a bargain.”

We waited while he looked at us, judging how far he could take us. Finally, he said, smiling proudly as if he were a magician, “Only two hundred.”

Dan confided later that he thought the blood vessel on the side of my face was going to blow.

“Two hundred dollars?” I shouted. “I can get two new tires for that much.”

Taking me aside, Dan told me to just wait by the truck for a minute or two. He then motioned Norman to step away from me and quietly engaged the salesman in a conversation that I couldn’t hear. There was a lot of nodding, shaking of heads and shrugging. Eventually Dan came back and told me to drive the bus into one of the bays for a tire change.

He never explained to me how he was able to buy the tire for $50.


There might be some unfortunate readers that have been waiting breathlessly for a continuation of this exciting saga, but the story must wait for a few weeks. In addition to the interruption of the holidays and not a small bit of sloth on my part, I find that using a keyboard with one hand to be quite difficult.

You see, I broke my left hand while unwisely trying to walk across our ice-covered alley while wearing cowboy boots. It was an accident that could have easily been avoided just by turning around to walk just 50 feet farther on bare, concrete sidewalk.

Age, it seems, has made me no wiser.


It was not yet dawn on that late June day in 1984 when we pulled back on I-40 and would soon be leaving Kansas. We were driving a Dodge rental truck full of my junk and pulling a ‘73 VW bus that contained more of my junk. After having lived in Topeka for two years, I was happily heading back to the Pacific Northwest, specifically Portland, Oregon. My friend Dan, who lived in Washington had eventually grown tired of my whining and agreed to help me move, and so far, he’d begun to regret the decision. The trip had begun with a couple of small problems. First we got a late start after some confounding issues with a hitch, and second, I had managed to lose the truck keys before we even ended the first day of travel. Although we’d eventually figured out the hitch and I had found the keys, Dan was less than thrilled to be involved in this adventure. But, with the start of a new day, he had decided to keep his misgivings to himself.

It had rained during the night, but the clouds had moved on east and the world looked fresh and green as we crossed into Colorado. Surprisingly, the landscape did not change and this part of the state looked just as flat as Kansas. Dorothy would have felt very much at home. The lush verdant of the early morning prairie soon lost its appeal as the hot sun of June dulled the sheen of the early day.

However, after a few hours of driving west the horizon began to change dramatically. The mountains slowly became visible; and after the monotonous plains the rugged, sharp landscape in front of us presented an exciting image. We would soon be up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

But first, we had to get through Denver.

Fortunately it was mid-day as we joined the traffic of the Mile High City, but we we became a little nervous as the highway kept adding lanes while cars and trucks around us kept going faster. Several drivers came up behind the truck and flashed their bright lights with impatience as we tried to steer our way through the city.

I was tempted to speed up, but the bus tended to fishtail if our speed climbed above fifty miles per hour. While I gripped the steering wheel harder, Dan looked at the now-ragged map, trying to keep us on I-70. The Interstate route was not easy to follow as the green signs frequently had destinations of cities and parks without noting what highway we were on. Dan cursed freely as we got herded off onto an exit that led us into an industrial area by large semis that had drivers who obviously had anger problems. A small, slow truck pulling a VW bus did not belong on their streets.

Eventually with Dan alternately wildly pointing at a street that looked like it might lead back to the Interstate, grabbing at the dashboard in terror or cursing at the trucks surrounding us we somehow found our way back to I-70 going west toward the Eisenhower Tunnel and up into the mountains.

It was steep going, but, on the map it looked like the quickest way through the Rockies rather than going the longer route up through Boulder and on through Wyoming. But the grade turned out to be too much for the truck.

We had only gone maybe twenty miles out of Denver, driving with less frantic traffic than earlier, going our top speed of 50 mph uphill when the truck’s engine started acting peculiar. It would be running smoothly and then do something like a hiccup and burp. Then it would continue to run normal for a mile. Then the hiccups turned into something more ominous, a long tortuous gagging sound, like a person might make just before vomiting.

Dan was also making noises, hissing and grumbling each time the motor faltered. He pointed at several possible exits off the Interstate, but I was too slow to turn off. He was ready to yank the steering wheel away from me, but I explained in a loud voice that I was turning into a rest area that I’d spotted. In a louder voice he pointed out that it was not a rest area where we were going, it was just a viewpoint where travelers could look at the majesty of the Rocky Mountains (as well as the smog above Denver).

He was right. It was just a small parking area off the highway where tourists could get out, stretch, take a few photos and then leave. There was no phone booth or even a toilet. Other than a couple of men standing next to their cars, one a beat up old Ford, the other a new BMW sedan. We were alone. The two guys were obviously concluding a drug deal, furtively exchanging cash for a small, clear, plastic bag containing something that looked like salt or baking soda.

By this time our truck’s engine had stopped running. My efforts to start it were futile as I cranked the starter. We could smell gas and agreed the engine was likely flooded but disagreed how to fix the problem. Dan wanted to wait a few minutes and try the starter again. My idea was to place a screw driver into the throat of the carburetor, holding the vanes open, allowing the gasoline fumes to disperse.

The truck’s motor was basically under the cab, and access to it was a metal cover between the seats. After releasing a few clamps and lifting the cover the engine was immediately visible. Dan was dubious and decided that he would watch the procedure from outside the truck, not trusting my ability as a mechanic. He stood with the passenger door open and muttered as I removed the cover off the engine.

It all looked familiar to me as I removed the air filter from the top of the carburetor and handed to Dan. He took the piece and stood back a little further. Not having a screwdriver I rummaged around in the glove box and found an old ballpoint and asked Dan to hold in the throat of the carb while I turned the engine.

After he flatly refused to help me with this simple task I found a piece of wire that I wound around the pen and shoved it into place. Then I turned the key of the ignition.

A large poof followed by a flame that thankfully extinguished itself as the engine roared to life. I admitted to Dan that I was not expecting the small explosion, but, I pointed out, the truck was now running.

Dan was not as impressed, and in fact it took a lot of apologies and convincing to get him back into the truck even after the air filter and motor cover were safely back in place. Still, it seemed prudent to have the truck looked at by a mechanic before continuing on up over the mountains. Something that fixes itself will eventually break itself.

We carefully chugged up the Interstate until we found an interchange where we could turn around. As we started back down toward Denver, we looked for a place that had a pay phone (cell phones were still only in the comics as Dick Tracy’s “two-way wrist radio.”) At the same time we saw a green sign that indicated that a restaurant and facilities were just ahead.

The engine started sputtering again as we pulled into the parking lot of a trendy little place in the woods where tourists and locals gathered with a bar connected to a restaurant. I found the rental papers with an emergency number and went inside where I found a telephone booth just inside the entrance. I dialed the number listed on the papers while Dan headed toward the bar.

The person that answered the phone was very friendly and said that the company valued my business and that an agent would be on the line shortly. I waited for several minutes while listening to jarring, loud music from an oldies station. Eventually somebody interrupted the noise with a raspy voice that was intermittent with static.

“Buzz, buzz -lo, this is buzz buzz, how can I help you?”

I tried to gather my thoughts and then babbled on about my predicament for several minutes. A few long seconds went by and the only thing I could hear was another conversation that seemed to be in a foreign language.

I asked if there was anyone there. The answer was now so loud that I had to hold the phone away from my ear. The voice wanted to know where I was calling from. I had no idea, but I explained that I was not far from Denver.

The voice loudly asked what state I was in.

I longed to join Dan in the bar where I could see him wiping foam off his mustache.

After the voice and I shouted back and forth for five minutes, the voice told me to call back in twenty minutes while someone would look for a repair facility close to where we were.

I took the opportunity to go to the bar and explain to Dan what the situation was, and all in all, he took it well. I realized that he’d had more than one beer and was probably on his fourth while he chatted happily with his new friends who were from California and Illinois.

It was necessary to call back twice, but after almost an hour, someone (a woman with an English accent) gave me the address of a repair place with whom the rental company had a contract. The garage was in the middle of Denver, but, she explained, I could go back to the rental agency in Topeka and return the truck for another, if I wished.

After a nightmare of a drive in the early rush hour with the motor threatening to stall at any time, we eventually found the shop just before they closed for the day. The guy at the desk looked as if he bathed in grease and chain smoked Camels as he guessed at what might be causing the problem with the truck. He suspected that the carburetor was sticky and that they should have it fixed by ten the next morning.

There was nothing to be done but to disconnect the bus from the truck while wondering if we could ever figure out to get the complicated hitch back on again. It had taken hours to do the hook up in Kansas and the frustration had almost caused me to break into tears. But with a lot of cursing, sweat and bruised knuckles, we’d eventually found the solution. Hopefully the miracle would repeat itself in the morning.

We found a motel that didn’t look terribly diseased and checked in. The young Vietnamese woman at the desk accepted my credit card without a word and handed us a key. She pointed to the stairway and said, “Your room on floor two.” And as we turned away she added, “No smoke.”

Of course, when we opened the door to the room, it smelled like the place had been occupied for weeks by someone who had a four-pack-a-day habit. I went back to the desk and asked if there was another room. The woman looked at me for a moment and frowned.

“No, no. All full up. Very nice room.”

Later, after returning from the nearby Taco Bell and watching Bonanza in black and white, we noticed that the room was getting quite chilly. There did not seem to be a thermostat or heat control any where. But the room was steadily getting colder. So, I picked up the telephone and called the desk, wondering if the heat could be turned on.

“Oh no. Only air conditioner,” was the answer.

Our evening was completed by finding the shower temperature was barely tepid and the stool could not be flush except by reaching into the tank for a slimy piece of string and pulling the valve open.

Dan said that he would pick the next night’s accommodations.

Leaving Kansas

As the afternoon wore on and long shadows fell over us, the novelty of the puzzle began to wear off. The hitch that would connect the ‘73 VW Westphalia Camper to the rental truck seemed to be designed by someone with severe psychosis. The device looked more like something to restrain a large animal, sort of like the hobbles we put on milk cows when I was a kid to prevent being kicked while hand milking into a pail. The hitch was a tangled mess of chains and clamps, and it came without instructions.

Dan, a friend from RT school, had traveled from Washington State to Topeka, Kansas to help me move to Oregon, and he was running out of patience. We’d expected to be out of town with my belongs stuffed into the truck and bus around noon, but we were still screwing around with the hitch problem. My neighbors had gathered around to give suggestions earlier, but they’d lost interest hours ago. Plus they’d also become offended at our cursing and use of obscene language as if words would somehow magically cause our problem to be solved.

But it was sort of a miracle when suddenly it became obvious how the attachment worked. Clank, rattle, click—and the bus was hooked up to the truck. After a short break to wash the rust, dirt, grease and blood off our hands, we climbed into the truck and headed west on I-70 toward Denver.

Except for the hills and valleys, on the east edge of Kansas where the topography is formed by the Missouri River, the landscape of the state is monotonous, flat as a billiards table. The only relief to the mind-dulling view is an occasional town where there are always three objects that stick out of the prairie: the steeple of a Catholic church, a grain elevator, and a water tower. So riding along a highway while staring into the late afternoon light with nothing along the road other than corn or soybeans is less than exhilarating. But, what are friends for?

The sun had just about disappeared below the line between the flat dirt of Kansas and the hot, white sky when we pulled off the Interstate to stop for the night. The motel was one of the ubiquitous chains that spring up out of nowhere next to a highway interchange. It was at that point that I noticed that the rental truck had two ignition keys, but they were on a small fob with a metal cable that would not allow a key to be removed. [Actually, I’ve noticed that all rental vehicles are like this. They come with two keys that can’t be separated. What is the point?] I became a little nervous. What if I lost the key and there was no spare?

After checking into the motel, we walked to a nearby restaurant that had a sign that promised “authentic, homemade Mexican food.” We were pleased to find a cuisine that we appreciated and entered the place with expectations of hot tamales and retried beans. The place seemed dark after facing the sun for so many hours, and the air conditioning was obviously on its highest setting. A young woman who looked as if she might have a Mexican heritage led us to a booth near the bar. There were neon signs that had Tecate, Modelo and, of course, Bud Light. The woman told us, in a definite non-HIspanic English, that our server would be with us soon.

It turned out that the restaurant was owned by a Pakistani family, and while the food was homemade and hot, it lacked the authenticity that was advertised outside. The retried beans were coarse and the picante sauce had a little taste of curry. The beer, at least, was cold and Mexican.

I was hungry and wolfed my food down while Dan drank his beer and ordered another. He stared at me and shook his head, his plate hardly touched.

“What?” I asked, wiping the strange, brown hot sauce from my lips.

“How can you eat that shit?” he asked with a frown of disgust on his face.

“I was hungry,” I righteously explained. “Aren’t you going to eat?”

He said nothing, but ordered another beer.

Dan has standards.

We finished our beers and I paid at the counter.

It was dark when we exited the restaurant and walked toward the motel. But first we stopped at the truck to get our packs out of the cab. When I reached into my pants pocket I found some coins and a screw, but no keys. My other pockets revealed a billfold, more change, a pocket knife, a filthy handkerchief but no keys. I looked foolishly, but with hope toward Dan.

He looked back at me, blankly, and then it hit him.

“You’ve lost the god damn keys, haven’t you? I saw you looking at them when we got out, and I knew it. You might have just said right then, ‘I’m going to lose these keys.’”

I had to admit it. He had a point, and I’d only had two beers.

We peered into the cab, trying to see if the keys were in the ignition. It was dark, but it didn’t look as if they were there. They weren’t on the seat, but we couldn’t see the floor. We went into the motel room and searched around the beds and in the bathroom. No keys

I was now convinced that the keys were on the floor of the truck and went back into the parking lot to look for a stone or something to break the side window of the rental. But Dan, being of the sounder mind, suggested that we retrace our steps on the chance that the keys dropped out of my pocket.

The glow from the street lights of the parking lot gave enough light so that we could see as we slowly went back toward the restaurant. I was temporarily elated when I found something that looked like keys, but it turned out to be a woman’s hair clasp that had been run over several times.

Dan sighed and said he was going to have another beer, and after a moment I followed. I decided that I was going to have several beers.

We stood for a few minutes, getting used to the dark light, then we headed straight for the bar. As we passed the cashier’s counter I happened to glance at a small bowl filled with matches. Nestled among the booklets I spied something other than matches. It was the key fob.

Missoula, Montana

Missoula, Montana.

When snow flakes drift down from the sky and slowly build up on the fence, creating a pure white topping on the brown wooden fence, I normally feel a peaceful sense of appreciation for nature’s art. Usually the snow covers the dry, yellow grass of Fall, the gray of the sidewalk and gives the world a feeling of purity and cleanliness. There is a feeling that the earth is preparing to sleep, gain a bit of rest before arising with energy for a new year.

Today, September 29, the snow is falling on green grass, on flowers that have yet to go to seed, on leaves that have not turned into Autumn’s gold, brown and red. The snow that is coming down brings me sadness and fear. But, perhaps I am being foolish and becoming pessimistic with my advancing years.

Still, I get a feeling that we are burying our collective head in the hot sand of climate change while telling each other that this record cold in September is a random, once-in-a-century turn of events. The snow will soon melt and the season will return to its normal, mild change as the days get shorter.

Will we look at the disappearance of 30% of our grassland birds and shrug our shoulders while saying, “Isn’t that strange?”

The sea life is dying, and the earth’s lungs, the Brazilian rain forest is being burnt to make room for more toxic agriculture that uses petrochemical fertilizer to grow crops that are unnatural and foreign to the tropics. Greenland’s ice is melting into the sea. Last summer was the hottest on record, ever. Hurricanes become ever stronger and more frequent while spawning devastating storms inland.

Isn’t that strange?

The children of the world have taken notice and have left their classrooms to gather on the streets to protest the adults’ ignorance and lack of concern for the welfare of the earth. The leaders of the world, and the parents of the children, smile and give lip service to the young ones. Some of the adults even agree to make resolutions, even go so far as to declare an emergency.

No one with any power takes action.

Meanwhile, I hypocritically drive to the gym in my gas guzzler Jeep that releases heat and carbon dioxide into the air. I think about camping trips into the mountains while pulling a trailer that reduces the fuel efficiency of the vehicle to half. I think about a flight overseas in a jet that blasts heat and poison into the sky.

I think about snow falling on green grass, flowers and summer leaves.

Adventures in Lodging

Having decided to stay in Olympia for two nights and wanting to avoid any motels or hotels, I went with Airbnb  which, in my experience, has consistently provided choices of lodging that are much more homey and less expensive than motel style accommodations.

After spending an hour or so on line, I found a very sweet looking booking in Olympia that had a photo of a one room cabin. The accoutrements included a bathroom and shower, but the real draw for me was the price: $35 per night.

Well, of course, I was a bit suspicious, but there was also a photo of the interior of the cabin that made it look very inviting and the references, while less than glowing, were very encouraging. So, I sent in my request to book. After all, it wasn’t as if I were going to spend a lot of time in my room. It was just a place to sleep.

Within minutes of my application, I received a message that I had a place to stay in Olympia. My host and I exchanged a few e-mails that built confidence between us.

When I arrived in Olympia I quite easily found the Airbnb rental, and the cabin (really a converted shed) looked quite nice, very comfortable. The inside was warm and quiet and well appointed with easy chairs, lamps, a counter with water, tea bags, and an electric kettle. The bed was basically a metal cot, but the mattress made it into a very decent bed.

However, as I looked around, I did not see bathroom facilities. Then I remembered that there was a second door to the shed and went out to check to see if the other room was a toilet, but it turned out to have yard and garden equipment inside.

My host came out to see how I was settling in and told me that the house across the yard from my shed would be unlocked and I could use the bathroom on the second floor. That meant, I later discovered, that when I wanted to take care of my ablutions, I walked out of my shed, across the yard, over the back deck, through the kitchen, past the living room, up the stairs, and down the hall before arriving at the bathroom. And, it was a shared one.

Lucky for me, the yard was dark at night.


After my stay in Olympia I drove down to the Portland area where I had reserved a room through Expedia in Vancouver to stay overnight in a Motel 6. The website (Expedia, not Motel 6) advised me to hurry and reserve a room as there were only two left for the Thursday night I wanted. When I arrived at the motel, the clerk seemed to be unaware of my reservation, but she asked if I wanted smoking or non-smoking. When I gave my preference, the non-smoking, she asked if I wanted a first or second floor room. Queen or king bed? The choices seemed endless and there were, in spite of the urgency that Expedia suggested, plenty of rooms left.

After I’d checked in and was taking my bag up to my room, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people wandering around the parking area. People that did not fit a middle class portrait, and, if I were to be judgmental, I might say that these folks looked like they were looking for a drug deal. And, these possible peddlers and users weren’t just around the Motel 6, but I could see a similar lot lurching and stumbling through the properties of Best Western, Comfort Inn, and other chain motels that usually are pretty straight. It was middle afternoon, yet there were people sleeping on the lawns and in doorways. 

I went out for a bit to check out the Columbia Gorge by crossing the river and driving east on Marine Drive. It is always a delight to follow the road that, other than a few marinas and house boats, has an unobstructed view of the Columbia and of a spectacular Mt. Hood with its crown of snow. Unlike the summertime, in April it is still too cold to put many sport or fishing boats in the water, and, in fact, when I stopped at a park to watch the river, there was not one boat to be seen or heard. Other than a bit of traffic on Marine Drive, there was no sound other than a few geese, gulls and ducks.

Next, I drove to Sellwood, where we used to live, and found it in the full flowering of spring. Since spring was still a month behind in Montana, I strolled around snapping photos of tulips, daisies, and fruit trees as well as blossoms that I could not identify. With the technology of my cell phone I was able to share these sights with Sheila and possibly make her envious.

Coming back to my accommodations, this is what I found blocking my way into the parking lot:


After I managed to squeeze the Subaru through the police presence, I joined the gawking crowd outside the motel and waited for something to give me a clue what was happening. I joked to a couple that having all the cops around made me feel safe. The woman snarled at me using the most unladylike, but picturesque description of the law enforcement officers. It was apparent that she did not find the remark funny and did not feel that safe around the police.

Her partner did not respond. His half closed eyes were pretty red, and he seemed to keep his hand on the woman’s shoulder for balance.

An emergency vehicle’s siren could be heard getting progressively louder, and soon the ambulance lights, red and white, flashed dramatically as the vehicle raced down the Interstate. There was little doubt of its destination and more folks stumbled over to the parking lot while the police made a feeble effort to keep them out of the way. It began to seem as though the cops were gathered more for their own entertainment than law enforcement.

After the ambulance driver nudged the vehicle through the ever-increasing crowd, the EMTs pulled out a gurney and advanced toward a room on first floor in the rear of the motel. After a short period of time, less than half an hour, they came back out wheeling an unconscious young man. Everyone came to the same conclusion: he should have just said no.

Of course there were a number of folks that were ready to say, “yes, I’ll have some of that.”

I did not sleep well that night.

Spring Break

In the middle of April I took a trip by myself to visit some friends who were staying in Olympia, Washington, for a few days. At the same time I decided to visit another friend who lives just outside of Elma, Washington, an unpleasant little town between Olympia and Aberdeen—a really crappy town. One might wonder why my friend lives where he does, but if you knew him, you would understand. He is a solitary sort of fellow who rarely leaves his house other than to drive to a store for cheap beer.

I flew from Missoula to Seattle where I’d reserved a car at the Dollar agency through the Expedia website, and it was a pretty good deal. For something like $40 a day I would have a small little compact that would hold at least two pieces of luggage plus a passenger. I could drive it to Olympia, Elma and then to Portland where I would pick up my daughter Erika. We would go to the Oregon beach for a couple of days, and then I could leave the car off at the Portland airport. From there I would fly back to Missoula.

The friendly clerk at Dollar, who spoke excellent English with an exotic Latin accent, had something else in mind. He completely ignored my reservation and told me that I could have a car similar to what I’d rented a year ago when another guy talked me into renting a Toyota Highlander. He seemed not to understand me when I said that I wanted the car that I’d reserved through Expedia. He merely frowned and asked me where I was going.

I reminded him that I was leaving the car at the Dollar agency at the Portland airport.

“Portland!?” he exploded. “Well, you need something comfortable to take on the Interstate. We have a nice Lincoln available. You can drive all over with that and never get tired.” He showed me a picture of a huge sedan on his computer. “It’s new,” he said, looking around as if he were engaging me in a conspiracy. “Only 20 thousand miles.”

His mustachioed smile turned into bushy eyebrowed frown, and he seemed worried for me when I said that I wanted the compact that I’d reserved (hadn’t I reserved one?). He seemed to suggest that someone of my age might perish in something as small as a compact. He appeared to be completely unaware of the line behind me where people began to glare at me.

I sensed that they were impatient with the old guy with the white beard who probably didn’t understand the rental procedure and most likely shouldn’t be driving anyway.

The agent showed me three more vehicles before I finally caved and agreed to rent a style of Subaru that had a sporty name something like Crossbow or Superdog.

But that wasn’t enough for Ronaldo (the name on his airport ID) as then we had to discuss insurance, several varieties going from the simplest where I wouldn’t be liable for scratches to the premium where I could total my rental by smashing into a police vehicle and walk away free and clear.

Then there was the issue of whether to bring the car back with a full tank or let the company fill the tank for you. The price that the agency would charge was exorbitant, but the guy explained that I would not be able to bring the car back full as there were no gas stations near the airport.

Again I surrendered. I was ready to sign anything just to get out of there, and as I walked away with the keys I am almost sure I heard applause from those who were waiting to be served.

Understanding Brexit

A month or so ago I decided to attend a lecture at the University of Montana that had the title of “Understanding Brexit.” England’s departure from the European Union had been heavily featured in the various news mediums for several months. It seemed as though the UK had somehow forgotten the issue and now was divided aggressively against itself. It was as if England had suddenly developed an autoimmune disease.

The lecture was sponsored by The Friends of Irish Studies and, since an outfit that has been labeled “The New IRA” had been indicated in some disturbances related to possible changes in the border between the Republic and the six counties that make up the English held Northern Ireland, I was interested in an Irish professor’s take on the situation.

Sadly, the name of the professor and her college escapes me, but I do recall that she came from County Sligo and that she had a charming brogue. In fact, I was so enchanted with her accent that I sat for twenty minutes before it dawned on me that her lecture was leading in a totally different direction from where I’d expected. Then, since I was seated only a few feet from her lectern, it was impossible for me to escape unnoticed.

The charming Irish professor spent an hour and a half explaining how the term “Brexit” was translated into the Irish language.

To be honest, there were some interesting points. Her research at one point involved finding what words were most commonly used in the English news media in the UK and in Ireland. The word “vote” came in as the most common word looking at subjects and verbs. I don’t remember what came in second, but “Trump” came in third just before “Brexit.”

Makes me proud.

The professor also reminded the audience that the term “Irish Goodbye” refers to a person leaving without mentioning to anyone that he/she is leaving or sort of sneaking out of a party without being noticed.

I must admit that I’ve done this on occasion, but, in my case, no one remembered that I’d been in attendance in the first place.

The Irish professor also defined “an English Goodbye” for us. The term describes someone leaving a gathering, but taking a long time to say goodbye and being angry about it.

By the way, the Irish word for Brexit is Breitimeacht.

Springtime in the Rockies

Last Thursday we decided to take a break from our usual activities and get out of town for the day. The sky was a mixture of white, gray and stunning blue, the lower parts of the mountains were losing the snow cover and a shy bit of green was beginning to show on the lawns of Missoula.  We would spend the day with first a visit to the National Bison Reserve, below the Mission Mountains northwest of Arlee, and then go for a soak in the pools of Quinn Hot Springs, north of St. Regis.

At the Black Cat Bakery, on our way out of town, we picked up a huge cheese and bacon biscuit and a German pretzel containing the same healthy ingredients that was just as gigantic. By the time we were on the highway my hands and steering wheel were covered with grease, and it seemed as if all was right with the world.

Just about the time we turned west off of US93 and continued on MT200 we could see the snowy tops of the Mission as the rest of the clouds started to dissolve. The Clark Fork River was swollen with rushing water from snow melt. Ducks struggled to maintain some sort of dignity as the stream swept them rapidly down the river.

After about ten miles we turned north, off the highway on a smaller road that would bring us to the reserve. We passed a ranch where a large herd of domesticated bison were feeding on a long line of alfalfa hay. These buffalo were getting first class service while those in the reserve would be digging up grass still covered by a layer of snow. Of course, what the tame critters did not know was that they would end up on someone’s table while the wild bunch would be still capering around on their piece of dedicated wilderness.

The visitors’ center was still closed for the season and a padlocked gate barred the way against anyone trying to drive up the still snow covered drive, but there was a wet and muddy road that continued into the interior of the reserve. At the entrance there was a sign tacked up to a post that had a large heading that said, “WARNING,” but the words below were too small for us to read. It was probably left over from last summer, maybe warning about fire danger.

Most of the reserve is rolling hills with a few wooded streams. Apart from the narrow roads and the tall fences that keep the buffalo from roaming into places where they might get into trouble, the land appears to be wild and untouched. The bison have to share the space with a couple of species of dear, black and grizzly bears, coyotes and wolves. Maybe a moose or two.

We made our way slowly, eyes peeled for bison, frequently mistaking large boulders sticking up out of the bushes for sleeping buffalo. Sheila spotted deer on the horizon, and we also spied meadow larks, magpies and starlings. There was plenty of evidence of bison in the form of pile of buffalo poop, but no sight of the animals themselves.

Crossing into another fenced area of the reserve we saw another of the white signs, and this time we could read what the warning was about. Black bears and grizzlies had been seen in the area last fall and visitors were warned to stay in their vehicles. We were in early spring and there were likely to be very few bears emerging from hibernation during our visit.

We drove to the end of the visitor road in the reserve where we stopped to talk to a man who told us that he was a frequent visitor, as often as once a week, to the reserve. He turned out to be a retired wildlife biologist, and he volunteered his observations about the area. He also shared a few of the photos on his phone that he’d taken over the last year. He had photographs of bears, deer, bison and birds as well as flowers and plants but admitted that he’d not seen any mammals other than the occasional white tale deer.

We drove even slower going back toward the entrance to the reserve, hoping that at least one bison might emerge from the hills. There were a couple of more permanent signs that warned people not to wander far from their vehicle as well as signs that forbade bicycles, motorcycles and hiking in the reserve.

Sheila asked me to stop so that she could focus the binoculars on a colorful duck floating in a small stream some distance from the road. After she pointed it out, I wanted a better look and asked for the glasses, but the duck had disappeared behind some trees. I got out of the Jeep for a better view.

I initially left the door open, but closed it because of the alarm sounding with the motor still running. Walking over to the side of the road and peering down among the trees with the binoculars I was able to focus on the brilliant feathers of the wood duck. But then I was distracted by the Jeep’s horn making a racket as if the anti theft alarm had been triggered.

Looking back at the Jeep I saw that Sheila was causing the disturbance, honking the horn to get my attention and pointing behind me. I turned around and saw what the fuss was about: a giant bison bull was standing ten feet from me. I stood still, frozen, wondering: if you aren’t supposed to run from a bear and try to look big for a mountain lion, what do you do when a bison is balefully staring at you?

The bull tossed its head while snot flew right and left. And it stunk, a most rancid odor. When it huffed and pawed the gravel I know that things were going south in a hurry. I was maybe five feet from the Jeep and I could hear Sheila popping the driver’s door. The bison started to move and I turned and ran.

Up to that moment time had crawled, as in a slow motion movie, frame by frame, but then everything turned into a blur. The next thing I knew was something slamming into my back, just under my shoulders and my face hit the dirt. Then something picked me up by my belt and I was flying. Then nothing.

Sheila said that I was tossed up on to the roof of the Jeep and then slid off to the other side and landed on my right side. While the bull was still flinging snot on the drivers side, Sheila got out and somehow picked me up and shoved me into the back. Then after getting back into the passenger front seat, she slipped over the gearshift and got into the driver’s seat.

She tried dialing 911, but being up in the wilderness among mountains, there was no connection. She had to drive to get help.

By this time the bison had lost interest in its game and had wondered up the road, but stood in the middle as if wondering what had just occurred. Sheila put the Jeep in gear and moved forward, approaching the animal, but it just stood there. It wasn’t menacing, shaking its head, pawing the ground or even seeming to notice the Jeep. But it was blocking the road.

Sheila crept closer, getting within feet of the bull, but it did not move. She honked the horn repeatedly. Finally she got mad and slowly drove into the buffalo. It, at last, seemed to realize that there was a mass larger than itself, and it slowly lurched its way into the snow and brown grass on the side of the road.

My nose hurt like hell, and I wondered why I was in the back seat lying down and curled up. When I tried to sit up my right shoulder and arm exploded in pain. I must have yelped as Sheila asked if was hurt bad. For some reason I said no and closed my eyes.

By the time that Sheila had cell phone service, she had driven almost all the way back to Missoula, and it made more sense to go to the emergency room at St. Patricks than to wait for an ambulance. In spite of the pain, I wasn’t that badly injured: a deep cut on my head (gonna have a great scar), a broken nose (I’ve had several of those before), a dislocated shoulder (shoved back into place in the ER) and a sprained wrist. Maybe a concussion and a definite black eye. I didn’t even stay over night.

As I came home through the back yard our neighbor, William Sanders, asked what happened. Without an instance of hesitation Sheila replied, “It was a buffalo, Bill.”