Friday, October 30, 2009

Stories from the Road -- Pelican Point Recreation Area, NE

"It's like riding a bike."
"I've scraped my knee a few times riding my bike."
"Well, imagine bigger scrapes, and you'll soon have driving figured out."

Everyone remembers (or should remember) when and where they learned to drive. I learned on the country roads east of Tekamah, NE.

'M' Street goes east out of town for approximately five miles to the farms hugging the Missouri River. I have many memories of this road, some of which are good and some of which are not. I remember one of my first storm chases occurred on this road, as I watched a beautiful storm with impressive cloud-to-ground lightning from the hilltop near the creek just outside of town. I followed the storm all the way to the Missouri River, dodging hailstones and lightning strikes. A similar drive from my grandmother's house back to town was full of nighttime lightning, causing the staccato static I so love hearing on the radio when a storm passes.

I cringe when I think of the summer drives and the tall stalks of corn making that curve toward the north a blind one. I can see the standing water in the fields after a heavy rain, or the cracks in the soil during the dry periods.

The bad memories were of those trips back home after a Sunday meal at the grandparents. School would return the following day, and with it the responsibilities I was not ready for at that age. The drive was not long enough to delay the inevitable. Typically, the moon would shine brightly into the pickup, reminding me that time would not be stopping on my account.

Another bad memory was learning to drive.

I drive a lot these days. I average 20,000 miles a year, although this has diminished somewhat recently because of increased gas prices and decreased availability to take such trips. Driving is "like riding a bike" for me now, but it did not start out that way for me.

That damn white Isuzu pickup. I learned to drive in that jalopy with a cab, and I hated it. I hated the crooked steering wheel, the misbehaving clutch, the piercing sound of the engine, and the high-albedo paint job, making any misstep of mine obvious to anyone within ten miles of me.

I never figured out the manual transmission. I tried and tried, but I never had the patience. I could drive a manual now, but I guarantee there would still be those sudden stops that everyone who has ever learned to drive a stick knows is the quick reaction of the vehicle to "driver error". I remember the dust rising up from those sudden stops on those gravel roads. It was the visual affirmation of my driving idiocy, and the all-telling sigh of my increasingly agitated father was the exclamation point of my failure.

Learning to drive on these rural roads, one begins to appreciate the little things about these lands. I began to notice the see-sawing trees in the wind, the waves in the grass, the happy-go-lucky butterflies, the comforting chant of the meadowlark. I noticed that the drivers passing by would wave to you, suggesting that they made the effort to look at the driver of the other car or that they knew who the driver was simply by the vehicle he or she was driving.

These roads are shockingly beautiful in their simplicity. Occasionally, they would pass a lonely house, typically with a dog barking in the front yard and kids laughing and playing in the back. Poles lined one side of the highway, standing as physical directions for the driver. These drives are stereotypically charming, and reliable in their durability over the years. Time passes here, like everywhere else, but you have to really notice to confirm it.

The 'M' Street road eventually leads to the Missouri River, after a couple of curves to the north. On one side road from this rural highway, the path takes you to Pelican Point. It resides along the Missouri, shrouded in trees. I've stood along the shores here many times, watching the brown water flow quickly by. I would occasionally see a boat pass, or a brave soul on a canoe. A separate family had a few lines in the water, waiting for a stubborn catfish to be hungry.

I remember campfires here, with the sound of the river current masking the popping of the wood fire. We would tell stories, we would stare at the fire, and we would look up in the crisp, cool air to the dark blue glow of a moonlit sky at night.

I learned to drive on this road too. I learned to reverse here, to park here, to shift gears here. And I would roll the window down, waiting to hear the current. I watched this water, always flowing downstream. Another reminder of time's complete neglect of my desire for it to stop, just for a second, and remain in that rural paradise of complete irresponsibility. Inevitably, the keys went back in the ignition, the pickup would abruptly stop from another "clutch malfunction", and eventually I would drive off back to town.

The dust would rise again, slowly disappearing into oblivion. I was too young to realize that that was time's most ominous reminder.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I'm out of time and material tonight, so here's a link to my sister's latest travel blog on Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Tomorrow: Stories from the Road
Friday: Dangerously Dumb People in the World
Saturday: A Halloween Tale

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chad's Takes

I think it's time to say it. I believe basic cable is now outshining the Big Four with quality television. AMC seems to be the creative empire right now, with the masterful Mad Men and the blisteringly brilliant Breaking Bad. (Love the alliteration, huh?) Meanwhile, the USA Network has created a channel of high-quality escapism, with the love-him-or-hate-him OCD victim Monk to the dynamic duo of Psych to the coolest burned spy in Burn Notice to the MacGyver of medicine in Royal Pains to the detective-criminal partners of the impressive new series White Collar. The USA Network is on a roll right now with breezy, sophisticated "mystery series" of various genres. It's the only outlet that has made detective shows watchable again, and I like that one network is trying to get out of the melodrama business. There was a reason Saturday afternoon matinees were popular, and USA has rediscovered this.

The boldest dramas on television have come from two unlikely sources. The first is FX, which housed one of the best series to ever hit television (The Shield). Talk about shows that make detective series interesting again. The daring and often gut-wrenching drama elevated this network as the affordable HBO. Since then, there have been series hits (Rescue Me, Damages, Sons of Anarchy) and misses (Nip/Tuck), but the fact that one network is always trying to stretch the limits of television is gratifying...since the main four have given up this task.

The other is formerly Sci Fi, now SyFy (for reasons beyond understanding). With the resurgence of science fiction thanks to Battlestar Galactica, all of a sudden, the genre has become a critical wonder once again. Warehouse 13 has recently brought back the Mulder/Scully era, and Eureka promises viewers that not all sci-fi takes itself too seriously. The highly anticipated Caprica comes out next year, which brings family drama to the science fiction world. I can't wait.

Meanwhile, there are the Big Four. ABC has been the winner this fall, by far. Clearly, they were the only network looking for quality, with CBS convinced that every show should have the letters NCIS or CSI in their names, NBC convinced that Jay Leno is the "new age of television". People with taste and remote controls have told NBC otherwise. Fox appears not to care about anything except singing, with the woefully uneven Glee and the perennially depressing American Idol ominously approaching this winter. Meanwhile, ABC is taking risks, and succeeding with many of them.

The biggest and best risk was on the comedy front. Modern Family is the best comedy to hit the tube in years, with an A+ cast and writers with brains, who recognize the audience has them too. The Middle has brought back the Malcolm in the Middle crowd and may actually be superseding it on some grounds. And Cougar Town is showing that middle-aged humor is often the funniest. If only the other networks would take such risks...

Unless the other three networks catch on with the trend of taking risks, you'll have to pay money to find quality television. Right now, cable is the best game in town.


Here's something I never thought I would say. I will not be attending OU women's basketball games this season.

Why? Because, apparently, the OU women's basketball team isn't aware of the term sportsmanship. At the Nebraska-Oklahoma volleyball match earlier this month, members of the team excessively heckled Nebraska volleyball players during the match. It prompted an investigation by the Big 12 into the game, and since then, OU's event management personnel have responded by closing off the first row of bleachers next to the floor. A small step, but something at least. As usual, the RufNeks were involved (a travesty of a fan club here at OU), but the women's basketball team? That's embarrassing to the athletic program and to the university.

The very people who should be demanding respect by showing everyone what it is are the people who acted irresponsibly and stupidly at an athletic event. For shame. I support Sherri Coale and the OU women's franchise here, but not if the players do not show respect for their opponents. As such, I will not be attending a single game this season. As many of you know, this is quite a sacrifice I am making, which hopefully shows how extremely disappointed I am of the players.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Growing Up: Trick or Treaty

You know, I have to admit something. I hate Halloween.

I know, I know. Deputy Downer. And no, I don't have those "Halloween is so evil" religious arguments, especially in light of the pagan rituals that have made their way so cleverly into Christmas mainstream. And, really, I don't care if people believe in ghosts and goblins, ghouls and poltergeists. All power to you freaks, uh, folks. (No, seriously, I don't care.)

I just find it weird that people like dressing up in weird costumes. All I can think of is the movie Eyes Wide Shut and that creepy piano music. If ever there was a piece of music that so completely illustrated my attitude toward costume parties, that crazy one-finger melody of stone-cold suspense is it. Strangely, everyone at those costume parties was either a poser or a sex fiend. I'm not sure if Kubrick was trying to say something or not.

My hatred for Halloween stems from the weirdness I had as a child walking up to strangers' houses and asking for candy, when my parents kept telling me not to take candy from strangers. I was confused by this contradiction, especially since they made no attempt to show their faces behind a mask that Medusa would be jealous of.

I never trusted a neighbor who would put an apple in my candy bowl. The apple was commonly thrown in the neighbor's garden, where it would rot and poison his own property rather than mine. Clearly, some neighbors knew I had no love for licorice. And what about this taffy business? The goal actually is to be able to chew and digest the candy, right?

Why did all of the girls dress as ballerinas and the boys dress as devils? Most of the girls I knew were more devilish than the dudes. I still shiver at the death stares the girls in my class had whenever I walked into the room. Typically on days when I forgot to look in the mirror while combing my hair, but I'm positive that was purely coincidence.

I think I wore a devil outfit in first grade. This was shortly after my "pirate stint", where I had a patch over one of my eyes thanks to my fourth eye surgery. People who would later be capable of beating me up on the order of milliseconds were afraid of me in early elementary school because my eyes were genetic mishaps. By fourth grade, I would dress up as a ghost, which metaphorically represented my status once everyone realized I was not capable of pillaging boats.

I always wondered why no neighbor would trick me. Why did they always treat me?

By sixth grade, I had had enough. No more costumes, no more asking for candy from people I knew didn't wash their hands. So, a new phase of Halloween began. Babysitting.

If there is anything worse than trick-or-treating, it is supervising kids trick-or-treating. My first year of babysitting, temperatures were in the twenties, and the wind was howling. The babysitter never got candy, not even the taffy that no one liked. All I heard was, "Come on, Chad! We're going to the next house!" Sadly, I had no car to keep me warm. Age fifteen was still quite a ways off, and I could only dream of running into garages at that point. (That will be a separate "Growing Up" story.)

Five hours of hearing, "Oh, hey, Chad!" from the neighbors who knew what hell I was enduring all too well.

By eighth grade, I finally was selfish enough to say "no" to babysitting Halloween. So I used the best excuse in the book: studying. Who knew that being lame could be so cool?

However, the price I would pay for this educational indulgence would be high. Enter phase three of Halloween childhood: answering the door.

The horror. The horror.