Crossing the Mississippi

Going from point A to point B should be a straight forward line easy to follow. Not always! Crossing the Mississippi at Cairo (Kay-ro), Illinois proved to be my most difficult venture. A trestle bridge connects Missouri with Illinois. After about ¼ mile in Illinois, I was across the Ohio River also and dumped into Kentucky. I could see below me the junction of the two rivers with a large triangle of land which I thought would make be a great campground. I went back and forth on the bridge several times but couldn’t figure out how to get down there. Fort Defiance of Civil War fame stands above this point. The entrance to the Fort and its lookout was also a challenge, but once I got there, I could look down and figure out how to get to the campground below.

All that effort was not worth it. This point of land looked like it might have been a campground once upon a time, but now it was totally overgrown and not a person in site. This was lowland which periodically floods. I quickly realized that this would be a very unsafe place to camp. That was confirmed when I got into downtown Cairo. This was the most depressed city I had ever seen. All the buildings were shells of what they once were. It was totally bombed out with only 2 bars operating. Charles Dickins once said of Cairo that it was “a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise”. Cairo had some of the cheapest real estate prices in the United States. It would be ripe for development.

Getting out of Dodge was easy now; I headed northeast in Illinois to the town of Metropolis. Friends in Oregon had put me onto this not-to-be-missed town. What does the town name bring to mind? Yes, Superman. In 1972, DC Comics declared Metropolis, IL  the official home of Superman and he stands proudly15-feet tall in the center of town. Okay, but what about Lois Lane. Well, she only get a 9-foot tall statue a couple of blocks away. I cry foul, though the visit to her was worth it.

From Illinois, I traveled into Kentucky and drove through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Forty miles long, this Recreation Area covers 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and open lands on a peninsula between two lakes in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. I was surprised to see this heavily wooded stretch of land as I had had no experience with Kentucky. Also along the way was one nursery after another on both sides of the road. I wondered how all of these survived near one another. An Oregon friend who had had a connection with plants told me these nurseries supplied America’s drug and convenience stores with the plants they sold.

Traversing Tennessee, I found the interesting little town of Tellico Plains. This town in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is the entrance to the Cherohala Skyway, a route through the Cherokee National Forest ending in Robinson, Tennessee. Motorcyclists congregate at Tellico Plains to ride this curvy, hilly, and very scenic route. I stayed one night in a motorcycle encampment, a series of small hostel-like buildings. The manager told me someone with a car was a rare occurrence at this encampment. It turned out to be a great place to stay.

One of my attractions to this foothill community was that it had a used bookstore. I had packed a few boxes of books for this trip, hoping to find a bookstore where I could sell them. Pathetically, I never encountered a bookstore until I got to Tellico Plains (I had avoided the large cities where there undoubtedly were bookstores). I left the books over night for the owner to assess. He may have bought a few – I don’t remember – so I ended up donating the remainder to the local library.

The next day, I headed up a mountain to a woodsy area named Coker Flats. I stayed there a couple of days. This was my kind of community, except there was nothing there but a Post Office and a restaurant/convenience store down the road. This dream of living in the woods was not one I could make into a reality here. I pushed on to North Carolina.

I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the US. I slept one night in my truck and moved on to drive the Blue ridge Parkway in the morning. I was expecting to see the fall colors. This proved to be a big mistake, as the fog was so thick at that time of day, I couldn’t see but a foot ahead of me. I had to give up and return to the entrance of the Parkway. That was a big disappointment. I had no choice but to push on south into Georgia, where I ended up staying for 11-1/2 years.

Meandering Along

I spent two years in Joseph, Oregon after closing my last store trying to figure out what to do next. In frustration, I finally gave up, put my belongings in storage, got into my truck and just started driving. All I knew was that I wanted to go east. I had equipped the truck with a raised bed for storage underneath. I carried dishes, pot and pans, a single burner stove, and miscellaneous items. Above, I had a sleeping bag over a futon, along with extra blankets, food, and four gallons of water.

My goal was to cross the country on the blue highways. I wanted to avoid the Interstates, though this proved to be very difficult in the mountainous West. I just drove until I found a place to sleep; sometimes I figured this out ahead of time, sometimes not. The whole point of this trip was to experience freedom. I had no agenda, no obligations, no commitments, and I didn’t always know what day it was.

Once I hit the backroads (blue highways), I would venture off to right or left to see something of interest. I ended up spending three weeks in Western Kansas because I found so many interesting and wacky things to see. I visited the world’s largest ball of twine, the contiguous geographical center of the lower 48 states with its chapel seating 6 people, and the gallery of They Also Ran (lost Presidential bids). I happened upon some guy’s fence covered with hubcaps for as far as the eye could see, and another guy’s recreation of the Garden of Eden. There is also the Boyer  museum of animated carvings. I feel that Kansas gets a bad rap. There is just so much that demanded my attention.

Venturing out of Kansas, I stopped at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum.  This adventurous couple has documented their travels in Africa, Borneo, and the South Seas. I used to carry their book in my bookstores, so I was not disappointed to see their museum. I made a quick tour through the lake country of Northeast Oklahoma and then went to  Branson, Missouri.

The Branson claim to fame is its music venues lining the main street. Everything from Dolly Parton’s restaurant to big band nightclubs brings tourists from all over the country (world?). The traffic was bumper to bumper, so it was slow going through town. Not enjoying crowds, I decided to just keep going. I got into Arkansas and took a side trip to visit some attraction (I now forget what it was). I had to park on a hillside, facing up the hill. When I decided to leave, my car would not move up the hill. I had lost my clutch. I had to wait to be towed to Mountain Home, a North Arkansas town at some distance from me. Of course, this was on a Saturday, and I couldn’t get my truck looked at until Monday. Fortunately, the garage was next to a Holiday Inn motel, where I ended up having to stay until Wednesday. Travel has its unexpected adventures.

I headed north to the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, an area of the country I was looking forward to visiting. I drove into the little town of Gainesville, picked up a newspaper, and immediately rented a duplex, with the agreement that I would stay there for 9 weeks. Having filled my gas tank daily for over a month, I needed some non-travel time to catch up with my credit card bills. Gainesville turned out to be a totally non-exciting town, so I took little day trips around the Ozarks. This small mountainous area is very beautiful, filled with circuitous narrow roads leading to off-the-beaten-track villages.

It was now time to push on, so I crossed the bottom of Missouri, seeing more of the Ozarks. I’m now about half-way to the East Coast with still more to see along the way. Follow along to see the large statue of a character you know well.

[This Kansas portion can be seen at:]

Monday Chat

I encountered some problems with the last two blogs I sent. The Grand Tour (Europe) had two hyperlinks in it that shouldn’t have been there. Operator error. In the email for Okay, Mr. Whittier (going west) the photos did not lay out as I had uploaded them. This turns out to be a problem WordPress is working on. Not my error.

In place of the email message you get about a new blog being available, you always have the option to go to the blogpost itself ( There you would have seen a better layout for the last blog. All of this continues to be a learning process for me. Please overlook any errors.

The last few days, I have been madly writing. I have a feature article in draft form; this would be my first feature. I also have an article about my venture in Panamá almost ready to go. I have also started working in my landlord’s consignment shop two days a week. Would that that would get me off the computer except my job there is on a computer. I have no complaints about life here.

Okay, Mr. Whittier

You win. Not so young, though, I’ll give the West a try. Carless, I left the highways to fly the skies. My ventures west were really a fluke. I had been accepted to study in Paris, but it all fell through at the last minute. So I took my Paris luggage and flew to San Francisco. Initially, my travels there were with a monthly bus pass, but eventually I had a Ford Escort and got better acquainted with California. Most of my San Francisco days were spent in the Haight-Ashbury where, as Organist-Choirmaster, I installed a new tracker organ in the neighborly All Saints’ Episcopal church.

Receiving an early retirement from the University of California Medical School, I left San Francisco. Up the coast and inland I went to settle on a mountain outside the Napa Valley and discover the top of the state. By now, I was accumulating too much stuff to move via a car, so a U-Haul truck took me further north to the Oregon coast and then a moving van to the mountains of Eastern  Oregon. In both places, I created a bookstore and did music on the side.

If you ever read the book The Shack, you may remember the tragic accident that happened at the corner in Joseph, Oregon. My bookstore was the second building in with the slanting roof over the sidewalk at that corner. You can believe I sold a lot of copies of that book while I had the store.

After I closed my second store,  I developed a chain of small convenience stores where I could sell books, and I thoroughly enjoyed traveling to service those accounts. Once I went to online selling, I traveled all over Oregon with a pickup truck, sleeping in the back wherever I felt like stopping.

And stopping I did. After 30 years in the West, I felt the urge to go back east. So I put a canopy on the truck, stored all my belongings, and headed out for parts unknown. This travel venture was the greatest experience of all my travels. Stay tuned.

The Grand Tour

While living in Portland, Maine, I took vacation time to visit Europe. I flew Icelandic Airlines, which was the popular cheap way to get to Europe in those days. The plane stopped in Reykjavík, naturally, so I had to deplane and walk to the terminal in order say I had visited Iceland! I landed in Luxembourg and began a circle trip, returning and flying back as I had come.

With a Eurail pass, my first stop was Bonn, Germany, when I had the use of a friend of a friend’s apartment for three days. I had never studied German, but I took to it easily and found my way around. Bonn struck me as a boring city, though it had some great buildings from the days when it was the capital of West Germany. A saving grace was the Beethoven museum and concert hall. I took a day to go up to Cologne to visit the cathedral.

My next stop was Amsterdam, though it was only a pass-through to Haarlem, the real reason for this tour. I had secured a place in the Haarlem International Organ Course, a big deal among organists. I studied organ works of Bach and Céasar Franck on the organ at the Bavokerk, the “cathedral” of Haarlem. This magnificent organ, the only remaining instrument of the builder, had been played by Mozart. It was a thrill to sit where Mozart had sat and to play the same instrument he had played. I then returned to Amsterdam for a few days to walk the canals, visit the Anne Frank house, and spend time in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum.

It was time to get back on the train and head to Brussels. Unfortunately, I arrived on a weekend when nothing was open, and no people were to be seen. Another boring city, but with beautiful architecture. I followed this with three days in Paris. I got by with my limited French but found people to be of no help. Pure joy for me was feeding my love for French impressionist art. I spent most of my time in the Louvre and l’Orangerie in the Tuileries gardens. I also attended Mass at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, Franck’s church.

It was now time to head home. I took the train back to Luxembourg, but I made a big mistake. When the crowd of passengers got up to go to the dining car, I decided I would wait for the second seating. Well, there was no second seating. I was absolutely starved by the time I reached Luxembourg City. To make matters worse, my plane was delayed, and I lost my connection in New York. To top this, I was very sick (food poisoning?), had to sleep on the airport floor for a night, and finally got a plane home the next day.

Still, it was a grand tour.

Monday Chat

In addition to my blog schedule, I would like to occasionally chat with you on Mondays. This allows me to talk about anything I want to talk about, and it gives you the opportunity to hear directly from me. A chat is a conversation. If you would like to talk back to me, you may use the form on the opening page of the blog or email me at

Today, I would like to tell you about my start and a goal I have in mind. It didn’t    take me too long after arriving in Panama to get this blog started – exactly 1 month. I gave a preview to the readers of Tidings, my former church’s newsletter. If you are not a reader of Tidings and would like to read that preview, contact me and I will send it to you.

As of today, I have 15 followers, including 2 people I don’t know; they found me on the Internet. I would like to double that number by the end of the year. You can help me do that by sending followers my way. I know that among my friends there has been some confusion about subscribing to my blog. This is something only followers can do, as the request must come from their computer. Can you help me achieve my goal? I’ll keep you informed about the progress. Thanks!

Go West Young Man

[I believe that most of you are interested in my current situation. To get there more quickly, I am going to send two blog entries per week.]

John Greenleaf Whittier would not have been pleased with me. I continued heading east until I reached the Atlantic. Filled to the gunnels with all my belongings, I left New York state in a small Opal station wagon. This time, I really avoided the Interstate because my license plate had expired a month earlier and I was determined to get out of the state without getting caught. No such luck. I got caught and had to mail a check back to the state’s coffers.

Marsh Chapel, Boston University
Marsh Chapel, Boston University

I arrived in Boston to go to grad school (Boston University). I had only a few dollars in my pocket and no other funds. Brazenly, I got in the registration line not having any idea how I was going to pay for my enrollment. While in line, I noticed people leaving another line with a check in their hands, so I quickly got into that line. When I was asked how much money I needed, I confidently said I needed the full amount for the year. I received full tuition, room and board, and spent the next several years paying it back. So much for the third degree, literally.

One of the faculty got word of an organist-choir director position 40 miles outside Boston. I grabbed it as it had a good organ, and I didn’t have to compete with all the competent Boston organists. I remember one very snowy, stormy day when I pushed my car out those 40 miles only to find that the local parishioners wouldn’t leave their doorsteps. So much for fair weather Christians.

I also took a part-time job with a publishing company. They produced a magazine about this new thing called a computer. Their computer was taller than a refrigerator and had to be installed in a climate-controlled room. One of my jobs was to track computer installations in Russia. I can’t imagine how I got that information but track them I did. I doubt that anyone tracks computers anywhere today.

Portland Head

After a couple of years, I took that Opal and drove north, this time to Portland, Maine. I spent 7 years getting acquainted with the coast line, loving the salt air, the salt box homes, all the while salting away an income. I worked as Minister of Music and the Arts at Maine’s unofficial UCC “cathedral” and at Maine’s official Episcopal cathedral. The Opal got me around the state playing recitals and performing on Portland’s City Hall organ, the second largest in the world when it was installed. Eventually, that Opal would no longer go in reverse. I had driven it into the ground. What now?

The Days of the Skylark

After graduating from high school (Mankato) and college (St. Olaf) in Minnesota, most everyone I knew headed west. No, not me. I headed east. My adventures began when I purchased a Buick Skylark, a little car that would hold all my belongings. I headed off to seminary (Colgate Rochester) in Rochester, New York and found I could do that trip in 2 long days of driving. By then, the Interstates were created for expediency. I recall how a 12-hour trip was very tiring. I would shift my left leg to the gas pedal and stick my right leg straight out to the passenger side. That brought some relief.

I often left Rochester on the Ridge Road headed to Niagara Falls. Then I would jump the border and travel across Canada, coming down to Detroit and on to Chicago. I hated driving around Chicago due to the traffic and toll booths. I don’t remember the exact cost of the tolls, but once I got behind someone who deposited all pennies into the hopper. My travel time was sure delayed that day.

That little Skylark got me through numerous long-distance trips. Once, I got caught in a flood and drove through water over my headlights. When I got to high ground, I heard such a screeching sound that I was sure I had ruined the car. I left it parked along the street and ran home in the rain. I arranged for a tow truck to retrieve it the next day. When they did, they discovered that I had been pulling a smashed up garbage can under my car. The universal joint was wet, but the car still ran. However, all good things must come to an end. The Skylark and I departed each other some five years later.

What is to come? Stick with me.

Once Upon a Time

You must take care not to pick up a bug when you travel. However, to travel means you already have a bug – the travel bug. I think mine must have begun when I was a child.

The Travel Bug - Posts | Facebook

Every summer, my family traveled from Minnesota to either Denver or Seattle. That was the beginning of my travel bug, whether I realized it or not. My mother’s family lived all around us, so we saw them frequently. My father’s family, however, all went west, so we traveled the blue highways before there were Interstate highways.

Most of the stops along the way were either in the middle of Nebraska or in Eastern Idaho. We would scan the roadsides for motels; there was never a need for reservations. Our goal was to spend less than $30.00 for the night. We did travel east once, though I hardly remember it.

My mother traveled all year long – on maps. I think I inherited the map bug, as I have always done the same. When I got older, I scouted out my own trips, studying the maps so intensely that, by the time to trip started, I could travel without a map.

Let me begin my travel sketches here. Please join me for the ride.

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