A Trip to the Far East – The Winter of 1990 – 1991 Part I

Tuesday, December 12, 1990:

This is day seven on my way to the Far East. Haven’t seen a cloud in the sky, not one: Mid 60’s in the day; low 40’s at night. Doin’ all the Interstate cruisin’ after the noon hour, so the flamin’ winter low sun is at my back. I couldn’t ask for more perfect driving conditions. Oh-hum. Even had a 7 mph tail wind. I look at it this way-maybe the Good Man upstairs is saving up all the cloudy days for my trip back, south by southwest. Sure hope so.

What a great way to start the journey, staying a few days with 2nd cousin, far-removed. Sipin’ wine in front of the fire; playin’ cut-throat gin; doin’ lunch with daughter Cindy in Denton (diggin’ life); touring her “country club”, Sneaky Pete’s on Lake Dallas, oops, I mean Lake Lewisville; and best of all, talkin’ with Harry, the Russian restaurateur. His reason for coming to America – Freedom! Diggin’ Livin’. Geez, I just swelled up inside listening to how much he cherished his new life. Ah, good of William Early, so easily translatable in any language. In Russian: Veli Rena’. Now that’s the spelling phonetically. Could have spent all day with that beautiful man. Gettin’ antsy to get on the road again. Want to get to at least Greenville TX tonight.

This is a visitation voyage. Little Nick in Little Rock, Jimbo in Memphis (two ex-Columbia U. drinking buddies), and “Boo” in Knoxville (one of Mom’s good church buddies). Oh Lord, it’s been such a peaceful, pleasant trip, so far. Sure been seeing my own shadow on the pavement in front of Ol’ Baleau a lot. Creeping through Knoxville over worn-out bridges. Old buildings everywhere. Up to Kingsport to see James and Reece Toohey, Boulder Jim’s parents. No answers. Use my handy Ma Bell SelectCard to call Pit Toohey. Mr. & Mrs. T are in San Fran. O.K. How about brother Mark? I met him at his downtown office, and follow him to the Toohey mansion to see where little Jimmy grew up. It’s just like I pictured it would be – spacious and modest with hills and giant elms all around.

And, of course, the TV room where the fanatics watch the U. of T. Vols whip up unmercifully on SEC foes, namely the hated Crimson Tide from ‘Bama. This is frenzied, football, fever country. Reminds me of Austin back in mid-November. On my way up I-81 (it’s now Wednesday), I spot this dumb Dodge van from North Dakota. Where ’bouts in N. D. ya’ll from? Near Minot. Oh yeah, I knew a lady in Denver from there. It turns out they’re coming up from Florida, and they had seen the aftermath of the Fatal Fog on I-75 near Cleveland, TN.

A massive, chain-reaction pile-up that claimed 15 lives. Oh Lord, I thank You every night for getting me safely to this spot all right. A list of terrible accidents are imbedded in my head, just to keep alert. But I can’t predict these tragedies.

No Colorado plates yet. Bet I’ll never see one. Why don’t they coordinate the Exit numbers with the mileage signs in Virginia? Some states are funny that way. They shoot “Marvels” in northeast TN – a grown-ups game of marbles. I’ve gotta revert back to the Toohey’s house – it reminded me so much of Tulsa, where we would use the hill for sledding in the winter, and roller derbies in the summer. Great place to grow up.

There’s no finer driving than through TN and VA – smooth asphalt, rolling hills, thick with trees, and super rest areas with real mirrors and paper towels! So many derelict barns and houses. An abundance of manufacturing plants along the valleys. Honest-to-gosh mountains in western Virginia. The Blue Ridge and Smokeys under a constant haze, and the trees are dying from acid rain. Are we ever going to save this green earth? Beautiful rural drive on U.S. 40 from Roanoke to Richmond as it rolls and pitches, twists and turns with a railroad track paralleling it. Finally get to see a choo-choo – coal trains plying their way from eastern Kentucky to the Atlantic seaboard. But one ominous picture keeps cropping up – how many Civil War bones have turned to dust in these Virginia hills? They could not have found a proper burial place for 100,000 dead. Ashes to ashes…

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