Sunday, August 24, 2008

Driving Solo Through North CA

THE GOLDEN STATE, Aug. 23 - I don't seem to remember, back when I lived in Rhode Island, ever having to drive an entire goddamn day within my own state just to reach a major city. But after a wildly successful tour, followed by my wife's departure from Seattle airport, I was confronted with the prospect of crossing the gas giant of western states all on my own. It was a long, boring drive. Here are all the highlights I can think of.

This adorable little mountain town, set in the crook of CA-97 and I-5, has long ago embraced the countercultural types that flock to its gift shops for I Heart Weed bumper stickers and t-shirts. The nearby towns of Fart, Munchies, and Arrgh should take note.

I went into this upscale Nomlaki tribe casino to use the john, and walked out a richer man, having won $1.25 off a $1 slot pull. Imagine if that'd been a $10,000 bill.

I only made it through disc five of Walter Borneman's POLK; THE MAN WHO TRANSFORMED THE PRESIDENCY AND AMERICA, which got me just into Polk's inauguration and was still many CDs away from the Mexican American war. President Polk was responsible for annexing (among other states) Washington, Oregon, and California; the very territory I had to traverse. If history had gone slightly differently - if, for example, James Birney hadn't pulled a Ralph Nader on Henry Clay in the 1844 election - a different and potentially more technologically advanced nation might today control this territory, meaning I could have roared home at 120 MPH on some sort of non-American autobahn superhighway.

Still, it's hard to bear our eleventh president a grudge. His biography is filled with delightful Disneyesque characters like Francis B. Fogg, Gideon J. Pillow, and Lean Jimmy Jones. There is a good deal of dueling in this book, and much Whig treachery. When 1840's politicians wanted to insult each other they would use words like "dastard" or "calumniator". I'd always assumed that I was somehow related to president Polk through my great, great, great grandfather, Trusten Polk, but some harrowing surgery for kidney stones (using brandy as both antiseptic and anesthesia) probably left young President Polk sterile, and he died without children.

The library sticker for this box set covers half of Polk's face. I have no idea what he looked like.

Like everyone else, I was greatly disappointed to read that Barack Obama did not pick Wesley Snipes as his running mate. But there's still time for John McCain to do the right thing. If he wants to cement his reputation as a maverick, while simultaneously placating the conservative wing of his party, only one name will do for the GOP VP spot; Dick Cheney. Not to state the obvious.