Saturday, August 3, 2013

Destruction to Departure to Distress: Moving toward Game 86 in Casper

If there are RVer angels or superheroes, then surely I met two of them on the morning of our scheduled departure from the Walnut Creek Recreation Area near Omaha.  The previous night’s storm had raged about us and rocked Arby as though we were in a row boat buffeted by the wake of jet ski.    

By midnight, the storm cells had passed into Iowa, and we slept, or at least tried to sleep until dawn sifted through the darkness.  Under clear skies, we rose and quickly surmised that the awning was an entire loss: the support arms were twisted, the canvas torn, and the roller bar bent.  The entire set-up would need to be removed.  
Bonnie surveys the damage to Arby's awning.
As I began to disengage the roller bar, the spring in the arm released, thwacking my thumb, which throbbed with pain as it began to swell.  Immediately I iced it and then gloved my hand to protect it while I returned to deal with the destruction. 

My injured thumb, which eventually took 18 months to heal.
Moments later two RVers who had been anchored at the park for several weeks offered to help me with the removal and disposal of the awning.  Both brought tools, expertise, and energy that were indispensable.  Vern Bridgewater, who now spends winters in Alabama and summers in Walnut Creek Park, had been a metal worker and tool specialist before his retirement a few years ago.  That meant he had electric tools—plenty of them—and good advice.  While I unbolted the arm supports and drilled off the heads of rivets securing the sidebars to Arby, he used his reciprocating saw to cut through the final portion of the support whose complete release had been prevented by hinges on one of Arby’s storage bays. 

Vern saws portions of the awning cover.
Meanwhile, Mike Meehan, whose RV had also suffered some damage during the storm, began to slice the canvas from the roller bar.  Since he was sporting a Red Sox cap, I turned some of our conversation to baseball and the national anthem and learned that, although he had spent most of his career in San Diego, he had never shifted his allegiance from Boston to the Padres.  Whether residing in California, or wintering in Georgia, or summering in Nebraska, he still claimed citizenship in Red Sox Nation.  (I decided not to muddy matters by refraining from expressing my allegiance to the Yankees.)  While we toiled together, Bonnie took photographs of Vern sawing the roller bar into six-foot lengths, me loading them into Mike’s van, and Mike hauling them away to the dumpster.

After a quick breakfast, Bonnie and I attached Toad to the tow bar and headed west across the sameness of Nebraska’s eastern flatlands toward my next scheduled appearance more than 600 miles away in Casper, Wyoming, where I would sing for their Ghosts.  On five previous drives across Nebraska, I had thought that I-80 was a purgatory of prairie.  But this time its sameness proved soothing to Arby, who seemed to sigh in relief, especially after having struggled over the hills of western Iowa the day before and suffering the broken awning during the night.  While big rigs rolled past us with greatest ease, Arby contentedly stayed in the right lane, sloughing along at 55 or so.  Even at that slower freeway pace, Arby managed to pass three vehicles—an overloaded minivan, a battered sedan, and a crippled pick up truck—bringing his total of overtaken cars and trucks to 29 since leaving Los Angeles.   

As much as I had appreciated the facilities at the county parks in Iowa and the recreation area in Papillion, they hadn’t provided Internet access.  One of the difficulties of reduced Internet access was that I could not easily re-contact the coming week’s teams to check on arrival information and pre-game routines.  So the opportunity for lunch, gas, and free WiFi lured us off the Interstate to the Bosselman Travel Center in Elm Creek.  There we ate sandwiches, filled Arby with almost 40 gallons of regular, and connected to the Internet, enabling me to send messages to staffers at the upcoming week’s Montana ballpark trifecta: Billings, Helena, and Missoula.

Days before, I had sent my normal request for arrival information to my Casper contact.  But since the email had not prompted a reply, I worried in my usual way.  Already twice on the tour I had experienced anthem cancellations because of personnel changes at Northwest Arkansas and Charlotte, Florida, where new staff did not receive their predecessors’ records of my engagement.  After those late cancellations, I made every effort to re-contact teams several days before my scheduled appearances with them.  Even so, a few teams never reconfirmed information, causing me some anxiety until I arrived at their ballparks.

While stopped at Elm Creek, I was able to read the somewhat terrifying response to my Casper email.  Its message: “Yes you can sing here tomorrow night for the West Virginia Power.”   My email effort had been forwarded to the former Casper staffer’s new address with a team in the Appalachian League more than a thousand miles in the opposite direction.   My quick reply indentified my progress toward Wyoming, and by evening I had received word from him about whom to contact now in Casper.

For more than 300 miles Arby hugged the slow lane of I-80 before we turned northwest along Highway 26, which soon rises up a bluff above Lake McConaughy.  I had no idea that Nebraska could offer such a scenic view; and we would soon find more!  After passing through the shrinking village of Lewellen, which falls one L short of my Welsh middle name, our route split the parallel paths of the North Platte River on one side and, on the other, a freight rail line along which chugged train after train with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of coal cars headed south toward Texas. 

Photo of Chimney Rock from National Park Services.
Nearing the end of the longest day’s drive on the tour, we spied Chimney Rock from miles away.  Rising out of the prairie like an offshore island lighthouse, Chimney Rock is the most frequently mentioned landmark in journals of nineteenth-century pioneers along the Oregon Trail, which basically followed the course of the Platte and North Platte rivers.  A short time later we reached our evening destination at the Robidoux RV Park in Scottsbluff.  There I docked Arby, checked email to no avail, and took more Advil for the persistent pain in my thumb.  Then following a simple dinner—I think it was microwaved chicken pot pies with added green peas—Bonnie and I walked through the mostly empty park and watched dusk tiptoe through the remaining shards of daylight to introduce a starry night that would have wowed Van Gogh. 

As we held hands while walking through the park, Bonnie sensed my silent distress about Casper and suggested that I focus on the evening’s splendor and recall the great assistance provided by Vern and Mike, without whose incredible help that morning we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy this sight at this time. 
Early the following morning, I finally talked with Casper’s Executive Director Tim Ray about my appointment for the evening’s anthem.  He indicated that after the team had been sold during the previous winter, he had not been notified about my tour or about the scheduled date for my performance.  Since he had someone else lined up to perform that evening, I thought I didn’t stand a ghost of a chance to sing.  Even so, I briefly explained my project, the circumstances related to my contact with the team, and my anticipated arrival in Casper by mid-afternoon.  I begged him to see if the other anticipated performer could be rescheduled, and I gave him Bonnie’s cell number to call since I would be steering Arby throughout the morning.

About the time that we crossed into Wyoming, Bonnie’s phone rang. 
“A Casper staffer?” I mouthed with eyebrows raised.   
Straight-faced, then squinting slightly as she listened, Bonnie nodded, smiled, gave me thumbs up, and began to jot down instructions.  Relieved and ready for mid-morning coffee, we stopped at McDonalds in Torrington, logged onto our email accounts through the fast food’s WiFi, and sent the Ghosts my intro information.

Within a dozen miles, however, we missed Lingle’s left turn toward Casper and headed instead north toward Lusk on desolate Highway 85.  No intersections or wide spots in the road offered space to turn with Toad still attached.  Bonnie pointed to creek crossings and dirt side-roads that I ignored, gaging them impassible for Arby’s weight and width.  Still I slowed for each hint of a crossroad or driveway.  Finally, fifteen miles or more beyond the missed turn, I saw a wide, hard pad beyond a rancher’s front gate.  Turning across his cattle guard, I circled Arby and Toad around as though maneuvering covered wagons of yore and reversed our course back toward the Oregon Trail.

I had failed to follow the route toward Casper.  I had failed to stop to figure out what to do once we were wrongly headed.  I had failed to heed any of Bonnie’s suggestions.  Now for only the second time in the four months of touring together in the RV, we had an argument, not so much with words, but with silence.  Neither the pain in my right thumb nor my anxieties about the Ghosts’ game approached the depth of my distress at that time.

Yes, we returned to Lingle, and yes, we correctly made the turn toward Casper.  But on in silence we rode.  By the time that we reached Fort Laramie within a half-hour, Bonnie had initiated the healing by asking, “Aren’t we a team?”

I nodded.

“Then you need to let me contribute,” she concluded.

With calm apologies, we reaffirmed our teamwork as she made evening reservations for us at a riverside campground in Casper.



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