August 6, 1969: Gran!

Rained at 6AM. Miserable morning but we got to Ithaca at 5PM. Gran just beat us. Talked and washed. Mike pretty sick. Took a bath!

Marge Binder, August 6, 1969

More travel woes: rain, “miserable morning,” “Mike pretty sick.” But that was the last morning Mom would be waking up in a tent with three boys — at least for a week or so.

An arrival of sorts.

Gran in 1983

We’re far from home yet, but today we arrive at Gran’s home in Ithaca. For the next few days we’ll be hanging in this little town smack-dab in the middle of the mitten. It’s a place we visited every summer of my youth, as far as I know.

Mom went to high school here; she and Dad got married at the Methodist Church down on Center Street. Gran is buried a few miles away in the North Star Cemetery, along with a few of our relatives who helped to settle this part of the state in the 1800s.

Over the next week, please indulge me to unload years of memories of this place, most of them watercolored by five decades of romanticizing.

I remember the wide streets and lumpy sidewalks, the stately courthouse with its tolling clock tower across the street, the candy store with the girlie mags over by the firehouse, the A&W Drive-In out by the highway, the house on West North Street where my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Dale lived, days riding my bike everywhere and nights in the front yard chasing fireflies.

I remember how Gran’s house smelled (sweet and calm). Mom references here that she took a bath the day we arrived, likely the first in months. I can tell you this: the whole place must have smelled like sulfur when she ran the water. And later that night, it probably smelled like Swiss steak.

When it’s your Gran’s house, though, all of the senses just surrender and you are overcome by the embrace of acceptance and love. Welcome to Gran’s.

August 5, 1969: The ER!

Mike snorting and snuffling. Ran into rain in Omaha (yesterday). Crossed the Mississippi. Camped near Utica, Illinois. Tim fished. Mike swam. Had to take him to St. Mary’s LaSalle emergency room for his ears.

Marge Binder, August 5, 1969

We are officially back east, now that we’ve crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. Even with the typical daily activities of Tim fishing and Mike swimming (where was I? Knitting?), Mike also found time to snort, snuffle and eventually visit the ER. I would agree that this post’s headline is a little sensational for an ear ache, but this is — shockingly — the only ER visit cited on the entire trip.

Below is a postcard of the hospital in La Salle, Illinois back when people sent postcards of hospitals they visited. Actually, my brother Mike would have been a prolific mailer (sorry, Miko!).

August 4, 1969: A Fair!

Got a good start but had to stop 2 hours to get Tim a shot of cortisone. Camped at the free campsite in Atlantic, Iowa. Had another town pool plus a fair to visit.

Marge Binder, August 4, 1969

Looks like Tim was still battling “something poison,” so we stopped for two hours to get him some cortisone. But hey, free campsite. And a fair! (Note: exclamation is mine, not Mom’s.)

A Fair to Remember, or not.

I had a nice post planned: I figured I’d research this fair in Atlantic, Iowa and paint a nice picture of community, tradition and middle America. Early on in my (internet) research, I learned that Atlantic is the seat of Cass County, so the fair Mom references must have been the Cass County Fair.

The Cass County Fair looks spectacular on the internet. Its site has lots of historical depth and artifacts dating back to the 1850s. I learned that over the years the fair had been touched by the Civil War (there were loyalists on both sides), the construction of the Pacific Railroad through town (the fair had to relocate a few blocks away), as well as local politics and public taste.

What a lovely all-American story and event…200 miles away in Cass County, Missouri. Check it out.

The next Cass County Fair I fell in love with I soon discovered occurs in Cassopolis, Michigan — celebrating 168 years! Check out this neat program.

Turns out there is also a Cass County Fair in Weeping Water, Nebraska; Pine River, Minnesota; and Logansport, Indiana. (There are nine counties in the country named Cass, all of them after Lewis Cass, the losing candidate for president in 1848.)

But I digress.

Image result for cass county fair, iowa

Finally I found my virtual way to the Cass County Fair in Atlantic, Iowa. Once I confirmed I was in the right place, I felt a pang of disappointed that the Iowa version doesn’t match the scale and significance of the others. Here’s the Facebook page for Iowa’s version of the Cass County Fair. Claim to fame: “largest free fair in all of Iowa.”

According to the Atlantic News Telegraph website, this Cass County Fair includes an early morning Beef Show, followed “one hour later” by the “beef fitting contest.” Color me curious.

Fairs vs Carnivals

Growing up in Vienna, Virginia we had an annual summer carnival — not a fair — housed in the parking lot of the Giant and Peoples Drug stores. When Bob’s Big Boy got built (where the Outback Steakhouse is now), the carnies moved to a plot of scrubby land off Church Street (now a proper park). Vienna’s carnival had a midway of food and games and the latest rides like the Scrambler, Tilt-a-Whirl, a Ferris wheel, swings. Here’s a wiki of some of those wicked carny rides through history.

Cows at a 1960s Cass County Fair — in Missouri

My wife knows the difference between a carnival and a fair. The woman I believed to be a Chardonnay-sipping sophisticate was a closet county fair fan all along. She grew up in Missouri (but never heard of Cass County) and was involved with the 4H Club. I’ve learned that a proper fair might have a carnival component, but the heart and soul are the animals. I’ve spent more time around pigs and cows in the past 10 years than I did in my first 44. Quality fairs also celebrate local lore and culture, like food, art and photo competitions, tractor pulls and demolition derbies, and campy (and big name) entertainment of all kinds.

We have at least two county fairs to visit this summer — here in California and in Michigan.

And someday, maybe, we’ll roadtrip to all those Cass County Fairs throughout the midwest, starting in Missouri.

August 3, 1969: Bulldogging and more

Packed up and drove across Colorado and Nebraska. Stopped at Gothenburg and Mike swam in the municipal pool. Tim fished. He is breaking out with poison something again. Watched men practicing bull dogging.

Marge Binder, August 3, 1969

Mike swam. Tim fished and got “poison something” again. I’m not accounted for, so I’ll assume I was sold to the rodeo to become a bulldogging master. I guess that didn’t work out.

Bulldogging is steer wrestling; duh. If you’d like to learn more about the sport, or even how to become a bulldogger, click here.

Roadtrip Movies, Part 4

The bulldogging got me thinking about roadtrip movies again. Both are very American institutions. This correlation reminded me of the rodeo scene from “Borat…” but I’m not making that part of the official record. It is one funny movie though.

Let’s consider a few of the most fun roadtrip films out there. Sure, movies like “The Blues Brothers” and “Smokey…” are really fun, but I cited them for (auto) body count a few days ago. I also considered “Beavis and Butthead Do America” and “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.” Both fun, in their way, but…

Herewith…

Honorable Mentions: Fun Roadtrip Films

Do yourself a favor: Watch the accompanying trailers and clips.

“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” 1963

Screwball comedy meets American greed meets the splendor of the open road as an ensemble cast from the 50s and 60s races to find hidden treasure (350 large!) in the desert. Spencer Tracy surrounds himself with the likes of Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman and so many other legends; that alone is worth your time. (Speaking of time, the original cut was three and a half hours long!)

“Cannonball Run” 1981

It’s an homage to the classic ensemble road films like the one above, with an all-star, odd-ball cast including Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Mel Tillis, Dean Martin and of course, Burt Reynolds and Dom D. What makes it extra-special: it opened on June 19, 1981 — the same day as “Superman II” – at Roth’s Tysons Corner 5 Theaters in Virginia. I was one proud usher/concessionaire whose 16th summer – armed with a shiny new driver’s license and the keys to the family’s green Buick station wagon — was about to go epic.

“The Hangover” 2009

The premise is shaky: four guys gin up a bachelor party in Vegas just two days before the wedding – instead of, say, three months out. Once you accept that, the rest of this movie falls right into place. Is this a roadtrip film? I say yes, because the drive to and from Vegas makes it so. And during their escapades in and around Vegas, cars of all kinds figure prominently. Leave that aside. This film is so incredibly clever, profane and unpredictable, you could stretch these gags out over 5,000 miles.

“Flirting with Disaster” 1996

With a cast including Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni, Patricia Arquette, Marty Tyler Moore and Alan Alda, and directed by David O. Russell, this has got to be good. It’s chock full of surprises, mistakes, misunderstandings and bad choices, but it doesn’t feel like a screwball comedy. It’s smart, and it just keeps going relentlessly to the heart of the story: finding one’s home. The fun never, ever stops.

“Dumb and Dumber” 1994

No matter how hard I try, I cannot deny that this is a roadtrip classic. Sometimes it’s okay to have no redeeming social value. Fun is fun.

August 2, 1969: “…head under water…”

Was going sightseeing but discovered a hunk of the trailer tire tread missing when I washed it so had to get a new one. Doug getting his head under water. Tim killed a scarlet king snake.

Marge Binder, August 2, 1969

In a place like this, I know Mom got us out and about on the adventure trail, especially on a Saturday. On this day, thought, it appears she had to first deal with a missing “hunk of trailer tire tread.” That sounds bad and I’m positive that I was of absolutely no use in righting the matter.

This picture appears to have been taken later than 1969. My eyebrows were finally started to fill out.

Maw also writes about me getting my head under water. I don’t know if she meant that this was the first time. My memory is that it happened much earlier in this trip, hence all the subsequent swimming. But I didn’t memorialize it in writing, so I guess I lose in the history books.

Here’s my take, corroborated (and much embellished) by Tim over the years: There was a boat ramp covered to turtle poop. We three were cavorting about in the shallow, as we did, and I was strutting along, chattering some smack. And then I stepped off the side of the ramp and “PLOOP!” I was under water. Tim recalled that when I went silent he turned to see only a little tuft of dark hair bobbing on the surface. Then I emerged, lungs gasping at full born-again vigor.

No matter when it actually occurred, I can still feel the sensation: frigid and foreign immersion. Because we glasses-wearing Binders were practically blind when we swam, all I saw was darkness and little bubbles. I wasn’t scared; I think I was more stunned by my atmosphere changing so completely and abruptly. At some point, probably about a second in, I chose to go back to the life I had above the surface, and so I flailed about in whatever madness might hasten my return.

Let’s do that again!

July 31, 1969: A Kid Drowned!

You can see (kind of) that much of the interstate construction was not complete in this area of the country.

Also, I spoke with Mom today, and she recalled that the “mountain stream” she describes here made her uneasy. She’d seen flooding before and she worried that, because we were perched on a bend, just a bit of a rise might wipe away our tent.

More Wyoming then Colorado—short day for a change. Set up on rocky ground next to a mountain stream at Eldorado Springs. Mike & Doug swam in a big pool there and saw a drowning.

Marge Binder, July 31, 1969
This appears to be a recent photo of the “nationally known swimming pool,” and it still has a diving board!

This episode I (think I) remember. Great pool, lots of kids, lots of activity, Mike and me splashing about. And then everything stopped. Silence. Something weird was going on.

It’s one of those memories, like the Redwoods and “Bomb Cambodia” a few weeks back, where I might be melding it with others. As I recall, this sad occasion is when Mom offered the advice: Don’t swim for an hour after eating. If it did happen like this, it was brilliant of her, because I still subscribe to that advice today.

Mom picked a great place to spend a few days (note the three Ws in the ad below; that’s Woodall’s highest rating!). I don’t remember anything else, but her diary lists out Mike’s allergy shots, shopping and some car maintenance. I have to think there was also plenty of hiking, playing and other things that make childhood childhood in a place like Colorado.

Sorry for that kid though.

I love that the ad for the campground welcomes “wagons.” I’m picturing a wagon train emerging Brigadoon-style from a dust storm on the prairie and finding this place most welcoming. Act II: Everyone is strung out on “modern restrooms” and “sanitary.” Act III: We’re staying.

Also, as I mentioned above, the place had a “nationally known pool.” Gotta say, the only other that can boast that is the Reflecting Pool in DC. I don’t recommend diving.

July 30, 1969: Pedal to the Metal

Drove across Wyoming all day and camped at a barren spot outside Rawlins. Took Mike to swim in the town pool. Found some more pine cones.

Marge Binder, July 30, 1969

Close observers might have noticed that Mom is hauling butt back east. 370 yesterday, 352 miles today.

What better time to revisit some roadtrip movie classics! We started all this back on July 25 with some introductory fluff and five roadtrip films that led nowhere. On the 27th, I rolled out a few of the crash-worthiest (in terms of body count, both human and auto). So far we’ve covered:

  • About Schmidt
  • Almost Famous
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Duel
  • The Great Race
  • The Hitcher
  • Sideways
  • Smokey & the Bandit
  • Thelma & Louise
  • Tommy Boy

Since Mom is driving us across Wyoming today, minus 50 years, how about we look at some roadtrip movies that are flat, dry and forgettable.

Okay, okay, there is some art in here, as well as some teenage angst, ribald college humor, forbidden romance, lepers and subtitles. Herewith…

Roadtrip Movies, Part 3: A Hodgepodge

“Little Miss Sunshine” 2006

I forgot all about this one. Greg Kinnear does that to me. It’s a fun little ditty that features Steve Carrell as a suicidal Proust scholar and Alan Arkin as an elderly heroin snorter. They, along with Tony Collette and Abigail Breslin, pilot a VW van to a kids’ beauty pageant. Some critics decried its undertones of child pornography and pedophilia. As I write this paragraph, I wonder how I could possibly have forgotten about this movie.

“O Brother, Where Art Thou” 2000

Is this really a roadtrip movie? I say yes. It’s a quest to get somewhere, loosely based on The Odyssey (which is not a roadtrip, per se). Updated for the 20th Century, the characters make their way across the South availing themselves of trains, trucks and cars, including one driven by Baby Face Nelson. Admittedly, I am biased to this Cohen Brothers’ opus; it’s one of those movies that I will watch any time, no matter where in the film I might tune in. Fun, smart, soulful, surprising and occasionally profane.

“Motorcycle Diaries” 2004

There are some nice moments in here, fueled by what makes a youthful roadtrip so thrilling — freedom, the open road, beauty and mystery. I know it centered on a young Che Guevara; that’s all I really, truly remember of it. And there were lepers.

“Y Tu Mamá También” 2001

NSFW

Another subtitled film that I mostly remember because I watched it in an air-conditioned art house in NYC that I frequented on many summer days. It’s rather saucy with an art-house-appropriate level of sexual tension and exploration. Still, it’s no “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“Road Trip” 2000

Tom Green is on the poster so I very nearly left it off the list. The title, though, made that hard to do. My advice: if this happens to come on your screen while you find yourself in traction, and the remote is out of reach, go ahead and give it a watch. It’s got some laughs.

“The Sure Thing” 1985

This epitomizes the 80s teen rom-com; interpret that for yourself. What’s at stake, initially, is unabashed prurience (in the visage of Nicolette Sheridan). That was aok back then. Of course we will grow and learn along the way, conveyed most acutely by a mirthful — and angst-sprinkled — three-minute montage, set to one of the decades most tender songs. (I actually don’t remember if that happens in this film, but how else would we have learned and grown?) Warning: John Cusack. Even so, it’s directed by Rob Reiner and the soundtrack is pure 80s bliss.