Thursday, August 29, 2002
I’ll be doing my thing over in the Corner or in regular G-Files from now on. Thanks for tuning in.
Posted 7:37 AM
Wednesday, August 28, 2002
We got home last night around 10:00 PM. We went straight to our favorite Chinese restaurant and picked up dinner. We love red meat, but we craved spicey food — other than Mexican — desperately. We drove from Deadwood, South Dakota to Washington DC — roughly 1,800 miles — in two days. I’m going to take it slow today. I’ll probably check-in over at the Corner later. Will sum up the trip later. Thanks for the extremely kind and helpful email.
Posted 7:08 AM
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
Jonah Goldberg was barely 15 minutes over the border into South Dakota when Johnny Law spotted a bug-and-mud splattered 1991 two-door Fleetwood Cadillac occupied by a man, a woman and a dog. The driver, a male Caucasian, had at least a week’s worth of facial hair. The woman seemed half asleep. Perhaps because she was tired from the journey. Or, perhaps, because she was high.
The guardian of the Mount Rushmore State decided to investigate. He flashed his lights at the blue Cadillac and both cars pulled over. He approached the passenger-side window, perhaps for safety from the interstate traffic, possibly because the potentially fierce attack dog was sitting behind the driver and hence capable of lunging out the window.
The officer was polite, professionally polite. He said hello to the woman, asked the driver for his license and the registration. As the woman cautiously extracted the necessary documents from the glove compartment, she explained that the couple had picked up the vehicle in Alaska, the starting point of their journey to Washington, D.C.–or perhaps, more accurately, their sales trip to the nation’s capital, illegal sales trip that is. The trooper informed the travelers that they’d been speeding, but that he would let them off with a warning–this time. Then, he asked the driver to get out of the car and sit on the passenger side of the officer’s cruiser. The male Caucasian complied, perhaps signaling to his dog to be prepared for anything.
The male Caucasian suspect got into the officer’s car and sat in the passenger seat. The trooper radioed into the dispatcher, giving her the suspect’s information, as gleaned from his driver’s license: “Goldberg. First name: Jonah, J-O-N-A-H: Middle name: Jacob…”. And so on.
Then the officer decided it was time to begin the eternal dance, the great game of cat and mouse, the battle of wits that might end with one of them dead or the other in the stir, the Big House, the Stony Lonesome.
He turned the radar gun’s readout to face the passenger side and said, “You see, sir, I clocked you doing 82 miles per hour.”
“Oh, I believe you,” Goldberg replied quickly. “We’re just tired and in a hurry. It was my mistake.” The apology hung in the air like the dust cloud we’d created when we pulled over to the shoulder of the highway.
And, then, the first move.
“So, Mr. Goldberg. You from Alaska?”
“Actually no. I’m from Washington D.C.”
“I see. What were you doing up there then?” The lawman asked matter-of-factly. But then again, everything about him was matter-of-fact. “Well, we were visiting my wife’s family up in Fairbanks. She’s from there. “I see. Mmm hmm,” he replied giving the big fish, ironically named Jonah, a little more line before reeling him in. “What do you do out there in D.C.?” he asked.
“I’m a conservative journalist sort of guy. I write for a magazine called National Review and do some other stuff.” Clearly, Goldberg was trying to take advantage of the officer’s law-and-order sympathies. “Conservative” indeed.
“Mmmm hmm, Mmmm, hmmm. Okay, I see.” If Johnny Law was softening, Goldberg couldn’t see it.
“So, I’ve been reading about the drug problem up in Alaska. What do you think about that? You know anything about that?”
Aha! A lunge! The parrying was over! But Goldberg was ready.
“Actually, no,” Goldberg retorted. “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know Alaska very well. I’m not from there.”
“Mmmm hmm. Mmmm hmmm. Okay, okay. So you don’t have any opinions on that? On the drug problem up there?”
“Ummm, nope.” Goldberg was a stony place where the officer’s questions could find no purchase.
“What about D.C.? How’s the drug problem down there?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a lot better now that we don’t have a crack-smoking mayor.”
Goldberg laughed at his own comment. Johnny Law does not laugh. He cannot afford to.
“Right, right. Mmm hmm. So, nothing to say about that?” The man with the steno-pad eyes asked hoping there might be some hint of panic, some excuse for the peace officer to become a little less peaceful.
“No, not really,” Goldberg replied. “But, the crime situation is getting a lot better.” Goldberg then attempted light conversation about criminal-justice issues in the nation’s capital. And then he said: “I’ll tell you though, if you really want to know how things are going on that front, you should talk to my wife. She works for the Department of Justice.”
This time, it was the lawman who was being offered some bait.
“Mmm. Hmm. Mmm Hmm. What does she do there?”
“She works for John Ashcroft….the Attorney General.”
“Mmmm hmm. I know who he is.”
Goldberg thought this might have softened the hard man, like a day old bagel in the microwave.
But perhaps not.
Johnny Law tried one last gambit.
“What kind of dog is that?” Johnny Law inquired of the beast in the Cadillac.
The dog’s pointy ears could be seen poking up through the rearview window like some backward canine kilroy from Hell.
“Well, he’s sort of a cocktail of dogs,” Goldberg responded, worrying immediately that “cocktail” might too citified a word to use on this Justice Bringer of the Prairie. “He’s supposed to be half Australian cattle dog and half lab. But we go back and forth about what he might have in him.”
“Mmmm, hmmm. Right. I have a lab,” the officer responded.
Goldberg relaxed a bit, thinking, ah, we’re going to make small talk about dogs. I can do that. But then, in the same breath–for a good lawman never wastes what could be his last gasp of the sweet ambrosia of American freedom–Johnny Law gestured to the rear of the vehicle behind the cage which separated the driver’s side from the back seats. “He’s a drug dog.”
Goldberg looked through the checkerboard of metal in search of the man’s K-9 partner, but the backseat was empty. Goldberg wondered for a moment whether he was supposed to pretend the dog was actually there. But Goldberg decided to play it cool responding in as friendly a tone as he could muster. “Yeah, labs are the sweetest dogs.”
“Mmm hmm. Right,” the peace officer replied with metronomic predictability, once again studying his subject the way the spider assays the fly. Goldberg didn’t know how much longer he could withstand this polite questioning without cracking. Days? Months? Indefinitely? Still wasn’t it possible that even his complete innocence and goodwill might not protect him from his inquisitor’s zeal forever? And what about his impatient wife in the car? What furious chain of events–and possibly gunfire–might be unleashed should she emerge from the Cadillac looking for answers? But just then, as Goldberg pondered whether he should compliment or perhaps even pet the officer’s invisible dog, a voice crackled on the radio. It was the dispatcher.
“He’s clean,” she declared.
“Okay, thanks” the officer replied into the transmitter, using all the proper codes. “Well, it was nice talking to you,” Johnny Law offered Goldberg with a tone of collegiality, professional collegiality that is. “Like I said, you were speeding but I’m going to let you off with a warning. I know you’re in hurry, but you’ve got to be careful. Have a good day.”
Goldberg thanked the officer and exited the vehicle.
The cruiser followed Goldberg’s prairie-sky blue Cadillac for a half mile or so, both cars adhering to the posted speed limit. Then Johnny Law pulled to the left, slowing down to take a U-turn onto the westbound lane of the interstate, pointing back toward the Wyoming border. Another dust cloud rose up as this South Dakotan sentinel aimed his cruiser for Big Sky country, in search of wrongdoers–especially wrongdoers with drugs–who assume South Dakota is the Devil’s playground too.
Jonah Goldberg never saw Johnny Law again, but even now he thinks often about the man with the badge and the invisible dog, feeling secure in the knowledge that at least one corner of this blessed land of ours is safe.
Posted 8:03 AM
Monday, August 26, 2002
That reminds me: Earlier tonight Jessica took Cosmo on a hike up and around the hills surrounding the hotel. Cosmo dashed off into the woods and it took a second for Jess to realize that Coz had spotted the white-tailed menace. He chased them deep into the forest primeval, hunter and hunted. When they emerged from woods, Cosmo didn’t have a deer leg as a trophy, but he was immensely proud of himself. When he returned to the hotel room, he couldn’t stop following me around as if he couldn’t be praised enough for purging the vermin from the area. I know that giving a full-experience to your dog isn’t exactly the same thing as giving one to your child. But it does make us feel good that Cosmo will have had a rich life–for a dog. Our one worry is that now that he’s tasted the thrill of chasing caribou and smelling bear spore, he may not be able to readjust to suburban life. Last night, for example, he seemed like he’d taken a hit of the crack pipe and would never put it down.
Anyway, I’ve got to go to sleep. When I return: My run in with South Dakota law enforcement.
Posted 9:03 AM
This drive hasn’t been boring even if, like the shadows in Plato’s cave, this travel blog suggested otherwise. One of the reasons I haven’t posted as much – other than the vacation thing–is that we’ve spent a great deal of our time visiting beautiful places. I’m very, very reluctant to get into the business of nature writing. I’m afraid I will come back like John Belushi in Continental Divide. He was a hard-bitten cynical reporter who came back from the mountains capable of writing only purple prose about sunsets and eagles. If start writing things like “The soft caress of the wind on the treetops stirred the Edenic chorus in my soul,” some flying monkey will drive by my house and set a bag of dog crap on fire on my doorstep.
That said, we really have seen some unbelievably gorgeous scenery. The drive down through Banff! and Jasper parks in Canada may be the purdiest (as they say around here) I’ve ever seen. We keep stopping at national parks and campgrounds to unleash the beast, as it were, and these Cosmo-motivated stops have turned out to be the best part of the adventure and not just because we’re obsessed with our dog.
Posted 9:02 AM
I didn’t gamble tonight in Deadwood. Well, I gambled that Jess wouldn’t divorce me, despite staying at the Super 8 on our anniversary. But I didn’t gamble in the sense that I didn’t wager money at a casino. I didn’t feel like playing alone and “I’ll see you back at the hotel” didn’t seem like the most romantic thing to say.
Also, Jessica and I got into an argument about gambling in America (she’s asleep now, as is Cosmo). She thinks that casinos “sleazify” everything they touch. I basically agree, with a few caveats. First of all, Las Vegas and Atlantic City were never Paris and Vienna to begin with. The idea that Vegas was sleazified by gambling is sort of like saying that radiation made Godzilla really tall. Of course, gambling sleazified Vegas, but without the sleazification process Vegas wouldn’t exist at all.
There’s also another silver lining to gambling that people often overlook. With the abolition of the draft, the blackjack, craps and poker tables may be the most democratic institutions in America. As I learned from Mickey Kaus’s The End of Equality, JFK’s PT Boat crashed because the skipper screwed the pooch…oh wait, I learned that from somewhere else (Victor Lasky, I think). I learned from Kaus that JFK’s crew was instructive in that it had blue collar workers, farmers, professionals etc. Like the platoon in Saving Private Ryan, it featured a cross-section of American life. That was one of the great things about the draft, it brought everybody together in one democratic experience.
Today, the gaming tables in Vegas are the only place I can think of where a $200,000 a year stock broker and a large animal veterinarian might strike up a conversation. This may be sad commentary on America, but it is a saving grace for gambling.
That said, the spread of casinos and lotteries is a moral disaster. Lotteries are a tax on the dumb and poor. I don’t think, like so many liberals, that the dumb and poor are akin to sacred animals deserving of our constant protection and deification. But it is outrageous that the state entices these people by selling them impossible dreams and false hope. If you want to defend lotteries because they contribute to education funding, fine. Run commercials touting that. Don’t make it seem like your fantasies are a scratch away.
In the case of casinos, I like ‘em. But I think they should be contained to AC and Vegas (and maybe a few places like Deadwood), so people can do it a couple times a year if they want and that’s it. If you want to be a year-round gambler you can move. This is the federalist solution to most of society’s ills. If you want to be full-time Amish, move to Amish country. If you want to be a full-time sexual adventurer, move to San Francisco. If you want to double down every day, you can also move to San Francisco–unless you’re talking about blackjack, in which case you can move to Vegas or AC. But why we believe that every lifestyle must be catered to by every community is a mystery to me. It’s a race to the bottom morally, and it makes the whole country more boring.
Posted 9:02 AM
Here I am in Deadwood, South Dakota. This is about one lifetime early according to my plan for returning here. It’s not that I dislike Deadwood, it’s actually kind of cool. We’re staying at the Super 8 Hotel on–that’s right–my first anniversary. Jessica is being a good sport. Although, in my defense, I warned her in advance that if we did this trip I couldn’t guarantee we’d stay someplace nice and special on our anniversary, considering we didn’t know where’d we be or who would take a dog. That said, I’d hope for something nicer than this subterranean cave.
We just had dinner at Jake’s in downtown Deadwood. I think it’s owned by Kevin Costner. Despite an abundance of cream cheese as an ingredient in various dishes, I have to say we were impressed. Still, all told the two best meals we’ve had on the road were at Mae’s Kitchen on the Alaska Highway in Canada. They make giant pieces of toast there. They also killed a grizzly bear in back of the restaurant in 1999. Go there for the toast, not the bears.
The other great place we visited was the Over Easy Café in Bozeman, Montana. It’s a very cool diner with almost equally good food. The staff couldn’t be nicer and if you’re in Bozeman, I cannot fathom why you wouldn’t go there. We had breakfast there this morning while waiting for the Wal-Mart lube and tire shop to open. We got a flat pulling into Bozeman last night. Wal-Mart was the only garage open and I swallowed my anti-Wal-Mart hypocrisy with relish.
If you’re wondering why were a thousand miles away from where we were when last I posted, it’s because we decided we want to go home. I know I haven’t posted much compared to last year, but this turned out to be more of a vacation than I planned.
Posted 9:01 AM
Friday, August 23, 2002
OK, here’s some hints. You can post how many people send you these chestnuts.
How do you tell a Grizzly from a black bear?
Go up and kick the bear in the butt. Run like hell and climb a tree. If the bear climbs the tree and eats you, it’s a black bear. If he knocks the tree down and eats you, he’s a Grizzly.
Bear bells and pepper spray — when hiking you wear a bell to let the bear know you’re coming , and they’ll avoid you. Carry pepper spray to fend off the bear in case you get a bear that likes bells.
You should also examine scats in the area to know what kind of bears might be about. Black bear scats feature berry seeds . Grizzly scats contains bells, and smell of pepper.
Bring a whole new meaning to Winnie the *pooh*, doesn’t it?
Posted 8:42 PM
I suppose this is a good time to address a long-running disagreement between the Missus and me. Being an Alaskan, she has a healthy respect/distrust/fear of bears. Being a pseudo-intellectual demi Jew from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I’ve always thought bears would giggle if you poked them in the belly with your index finger. Jessica comes from the Dirk Kempthorne school, I come from the Winnie the Pooh school. Dirk Kempthorne is the Idaho governor who decried the Clinton Administration’s proposed introduction of grizzly bears – what he called “massive, flesh-eating carnivores”– into his state. Winnie the Pooh is a cute little fella with a vaguely scatological last name.
Anyway, whenever Jessica sees Disney-style treatments of bears or ultra green documentaries about how “misunderstood” bears are, she yells “bear propaganda!” and leaves the room. I’ve always considered her a bit of a hypocrite on such things because she actually loves the creatures. Meanwhile, on this trip, my hypocrisy has been monumental. We’ve been to a half dozen spots where the possibility of being hassled by bears — presumably unamused by tickling attempts — has been acute. We’ve had to stop and inspect the wild shinola (Manhattanites can’t tell the difference) on more than a few occasions. And, at one spot, we even turned around because we couldn’t identify some sounds in the bushes. In short, it’s a lot easier to think bears are cute when there’s little likelihood of being eaten by one.
Posted 10:12 AM
But they certainly do take themselves seriously here. There are no garbage cans in the town, but dumpsters with missile silo security to prevent bears from getting in. Each one sports a sign saying “Keep the bears wild” accompanied by a picture of some cute grizzlies. I don’t claim to be an expert on bears, but I have a hard time believing that the bears would wander into town past the tour busses, street lights, neon signs and the like to get to a garbage cans downtown. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but there is a lot of hustle and bustle downtown, which usually keeps bears at a distance.
My suspicion is that there’s a certain degree of wishful-thinking and marketing by the Banff!ans. Sure, there’s a national park surrounding the town, but there are also a scores of ski slopes and the rest. Banff!ans want to believe they are frontiersmen, despite their designer clothes and designer cars and Manhattanite environmentalism. More important, they want the busloads of Japanese and German tourists to believe they are in wild country despite the fact every hotel room comes with a hot tub. Declaring that the grizzly bears might get to their Egg McMuffins is one way of doing that.
Posted 10:11 AM
So we just finished walking around Banff! Cosmo had to be on a leash because, technically, we are in a National Park and an unleashed dog could be “disruptive” to the wildlife. I’m sympathetic to this argument, except I’m at a loss to understand how the assortment of skate-punks, tour busses, propane dealerships, garbage trucks, sushi bars and construction sites are somehow in euphonious harmony with the natural surroundings, while my dog chasing a tennis ball in a downtown park would obliterate the ecosystem.
Posted 10:09 AM
We’re in Banff!
For some reason I have to say Banff! with an exclamation point. It might have to do with the fact it sounds so much like the spund-effect for the comic book character Nightcrawler. But that’s probably too much information.
Anyhoo. Banff is really, really beautiful (and full of itself). At least the setting is. We spent the day yesterday driving south on route 40 (“The Bighorn Route”) to 16 through Jasper National Park and Banff National Park. Jasper is staggeringly beautiful and big (about the size of Connecticut). We pulled into Banff last night and are going to hang out here for a day. We’ve driven almost 2,000 miles already and we need a break, especially as our anniversary approaches. Hopefully this means I can post more. We’re off to get coffee.
Posted 6:57 AM
It now seems clear that there are people reading this thing. Apparently my bout of melancholia was the result of some bad mountain clams. While a few people have grand and arcane theories about why traffic has been down, the overwhelming consensus is that i just didn’t post enough to make it worthwhile. I will try to change that.
Posted 6:47 AM
Thursday, August 22, 2002
It’s later in the day. Cosmo is madder than H.E.-double hockey sticks as my father-in-law likes to say (it sounds better in a Slovakian accent). Despite numerous opportunities, Cosmo was not permitted to exercise his God-given right to supervise caribou activity in this region. He moped in the back seat for much of the afternoon. But he was still willing to get out of the car in Fort St. John in BC. We went to Charlie Lake, a pleasant little camping and boating spot right off the highway. The most notable thing about the park was that it was the first place in over a thousand miles where the authorities seemed more concerned about what bears might do to us rather than what we might do to bears. You see, for most of the way through Canada the only “bear warnings” at the various parks cautioned people not to feed them – “a fed bear is a dead bear” – or implored good citizens to turn in bear poachers. I can understand the anti-poacher thing. But it would be nice if they could note from time to time that the tragedy of a dead bear is lessened if his final meal was you.
Anyway, at Charlie Lake, they posted nice little pictograms of grizzly bears – you can tell from the distinctive hump on their backs – which cautioned that bears are in the area. Of course, I’m just assuming they were warning us. Rather than advising that the delicate critters were in the ‘hood.
Posted 10:05 PM
It’s what Cosmo has been waiting for his entire life. It’s what he trained, worked and studied for. All of the sacrifices have finally paid off! Cosmo the wonderdog chased caribou! On Wednesday morning, around 10:12 AM, for about 12.6 seconds, Cosmo was the ruler of big game. Or as the Congolese might call him, he was the Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga (“the all-powerful canine who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake” – a liberal translation.). About an hour or two south of Muncho, Lake in British Columbia the beasts became plentiful along the side of the road. We stopped the bomber often to look at them. Cosmo bounced off the walls trying to see them. At one spot there was a group of three medium-sized oil-drilling-stopping grass chewers. We pulled over and Jessica got out to get a better look and Cosmo tumbled out behind her. He could not be stopped. He was tanned, rested and ready and the caribou were just asking for it! He tore off after them on gravel-covered ground, scattering the herd (Cosmo insists that it was a herd). One fled to the West. The other two bounded North, hoping the citified wolf wouldn’t pursue. But he did pursue with a sense of mission normally only reserved for ham — and ham doesn’t run. Some cars showed up and for all we knew, it was against the law for Cosmo to chase the beasts. Worse, he might run into traffic. So Jessica called him back before Cosmo had a chance to round up the “massive herd.” But that’s all Coz needed to know that this was his true calling. He’s never cried before in the car, but for the rest of the day, if he saw a moose, caribou or any other hooved beast, he wailed.
Posted 6:41 AM
Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Well, it looks like no one is interested in reading about my trip to the North Country – if traffic stats and email are any judge. That’s cool. Though I have to admit, I’m a bit mystified about why nobody is reading my travelblogue (the “u” makes it classy).
That’s not ego talking either. You see, last years travel diary was a big hit and I was equally befuddled by its popularity back then. Why this year’s trip is a “noxious bore,” to quote one loyal reader, while last year’s was a hit perplexes me solely because I don’t understand why last year’s wasn’t a noxious bore too. You – and I mean “you” in the collective sense – could have saved me a lot of hassles if you’d just told me that last year’s column was the epistolary equivalent of the Old Faithful – “it both sucks and blows” in the words of Bart Simpson – and I could have avoided writing this thing altogether.
Now I kind of feel like Mick Jagger singing to an undersold arena in Dayton. Most of the seats are empty and the fans who do show up spend the whole night booing the new stuff and shouting for the classics like “Paint it Black” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” It feels like all I need to do is phone in a few French jokes and maybe talk about how Alec Baldwin is too dumb to be a spell-checker at an M&M factory and I’d be free and clear.
Alas, I can’t phone in any French jokes because, once again, I’m staying someplace without a phone or a TV or a newspaper or huge entertainment center with reclining chair and kegerator. But that’s ok. We stumbled on this inn in Muncho Lake in British Columbia and it’s pretty cool; sort of like a Swiss colony in the Canadian Rockies.
The best thing about it though is that it feels like we’re somewhere. For the last two and a half days Jessica and I have been driving through a place that makes the middle of nowhere look like the set of the Tonight Show. I’ve now seen 8 kazillion trees and, unlike snowflakes and the Sierra Club’s insistence notwithstanding, many of them do look alike.
When we checked into the inn my wife asked if they had TVs or phones in the rooms, and the surly girl behind the counter responded, “Nope. Welcome to the North.” Jessica was sorely tempted to tell her, “listen sugar, I was born and raised 600 miles to the North of here, so don’t give me any of that ‘I’m purer-than-thou-crap.” But, alas, we have to be nice to hotel people because we’re so desperate to find places that accept dogs. I’d go on about that but apparently you people crave “substance.”
Posted 11:41 PM
A man walked into the produce section of his local supermarket and asked to buy half a head of lettuce. The boy working in that department told him that they only sold whole heads of lettuce. The man was insistent that the boy ask his manager about the matter. Walking into the back room, the boy said to his manager, “Some a**hole wants to buy a half a head of lettuce.”
As he finished his sentence, he turned to find the man standing right behind him, so he added, “and this gentleman kindly offered to buy the other half.”
The manager approved the deal and the man went on his way.
Later the manager found the boy and said “I was impressed with the way you got yourself out of that situation earlier. We like people who think on their feet here. Where are you from, son?”
“Canada, sir,” the boy replied.
“Well, why did you leave Canada?” the manager asked.
The boy said, “Sir, there’s nothing but whores and hockey players up there.”
“Really!” said the manager. “My wife is from Canada!”
The boy replied, “No way? Who did she play for?”
Posted 8:43 PM