I thought about burying the lede here, keeping the awful news behind other bad news, but then I thought I would never do that if I were getting paid to write this blog, So here is the awful news: Both Kathy and I have COVID, and we have canceled our 15-day trip rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
The trip started like all trips do: Why do these bad things happen now. And here comes the other bad news. We got to the U-Haul place to pick up the van we used to move Kathy’s grandson and girlfriend to California now that they have completed Seattle University. They said we have your reservation but you have to go to West Seattle to pick up the van. Since the West Seattle bridge cracked, West Seattle is in a place far, far away. The GPS route looks like red spaghetti with touches of gold and yellow. But we arrived, got the van and reversed the spaghetti route back for the first load of furniture.
We also discovered that the canopy latch on my truck was no longer latching. Why do these things happen on the first day of a trip.
Then came the call from the security system that the alarm had gone off at our house. That happens when you leave the front door wide open. Our son is staying at the house and corrected our hurried exit fallacies. We do this a thousand times and why did it have to happen now?
Kathy offered to buy us Dick’s hamburgers and left order them. We drove to Dick’s, and found Kathy complaining that the automatic truck key would no longer open the truck. Why do these things happen now? I dug out the old-fashioned metal key ensconced in the modern key, climbed into the unlocked canopy to dig out the extra key I had packed just in case a bunch of stuff might happen now. I can get the bad key fixed in Petaluma at a Ram dealership I have used before.
Off to Portland, loaded the second set of furniture and headed for Eugene. We went somewhere to eat, I ordered too much food but did not collapse into it. I ended up in the truck snoozing until others got done eating and drinking. Long drive in a big, unfamiliar van, but should that make me that tired?
Woke up Tuesday with a river pouring out of my head. Sneezing, dripping. Where did that all come from? A cold, I thought, let’s push on.
On to our regular lunch stop on our way to Sebastopol, CA — The Olive Pit in Corning, CA. You can tell the muffuletta sandwiches were good by the olive oil that dripped all over my cell phone camera lens. On to Forestville, CA, and the delivery of the furniture.
Great dinner by Grandpa and Grandma, and this may have been where I infected five people with COVID. Tried to get some social distance, but we were inside and I was still under some delusion that this was a cold, and nothing more.
A cold until I took a COVID test that night and the T strip came on, blinking and in enlarged red type saying, “What were you thinking?”
This is Day Four since I started symptoms. All five of us are in different rooms in three houses trying to isolate ourselves. Joe, who had COVID before, is delivering food and medicine to our doors. My meds are not Paxlovid, which reacts with Warfarin — doesn’t everything? I will not be getting a new key for the truck any time soon.
Canyon Explorations offered us three options: 1. Get to Flagstaff with no COVID symptoms and a negative COVID test on Aug. 15. That will not happen now. 2. Hike in on the Bright Angel trail with all your equipment and enjoy the rest of the trip down the river. A chance to infect another 16 people. Hiking now when I can barely walk to the bathroom six feet away does not sound like something we could do 10 days from now. 3. Reschedule.
We chose option 3. We are on the waiting list for 2023 and on board for 2024.
This has been a huge disappointment. I learned of this trip in 2010 while working for the Census Bureau. Raft down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon with a string quartet aboard to play each night. We got on the waiting list for 2018. Nothing available. Same in 2019. Yes, for 2020, which is when COVID first happened. Same with 2021. But on for 2022, if COVID did not happen now, which it did.
“Fellow citizens: Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to me? . . .
“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.
“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival . . .”
— Frederick Douglass, on July Fourth 1852, quoted in “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.
Carol writes a better blog than I do. She rides her bike a lot better than I do. And she is doing it again — probably at the instigation of my sister. As Carol says in the first entry on her new blog:
“So, we’re riding again. Close to 1,500 miles over 21 days of riding. We will ride around Cape Breton Island on the Cabot Trail. We will then head along the coast of Nova Scotia and make our way to Prince Edward Island. We will cross the island and head back to the mainland of New Brunswick, where we will trace the coast northward. When we reach Quebec, we will wind around the Gaspe Peninsula, and then end our adventure in Quebec City.”
My sister assures me that I was not invited on this trip because of my poor showing on last year’s ride. I am still dealing with that. But never mind. My therapist has it covered.
Instead, I will be following Carol’s blog, and I invite you to do the same.
And Carol, Mary Jo, Don and Kurt, be careful. Ride and drive safely.
As we head west, we have been keeping track of the weather report for the Yellowstone National Park. It has not been good for two days of hiking we had planned, and the final report today was for snow and a high of 38 degrees. We talked to a couple from Minneapolis in the dining room at the Crazy Horse Memorial, where we had stopped to check on the carving’s progress. They said they walked the boardwalk among geysers in horizontal snow.
Then we received this email from the park: “As we are faced with workforce shortages, we are modifying our food service as well as operating dates and times at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. . . . Considering the fluid situation in the park, you may wish to travel with some extra food items and snacks.”
We do carry food, but the prospect of being in an area of food insecurity was frightening to two people who have gained a pound for every day on the road.
We canceled our Yellowstone reservations and headed north to Billings. Drove through lots of rain, but no snow.
Some progress on Crazy Horse’s face since we visited 30 years ago, but it will still take another 100 years to finish carving the mountain into the chief’s head, hair, body and his horse’s head. We’ll check back in another 30 years.
Today’s bad weather was the first on this trip. It rained at the Kentucky Derby, but the mostly winning bets there have made that bad-weather memory fade away. Here’s what it’s been like as we traveled West:
When Rich Strike read what the pundits had written about him Saturday morning, it made him so mad he’d run like hell to prove them wrong.
That’s how Steve, my horse-race betting partner for years before he died in 2010, would explain how Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby on May 7, 2022.
Steve always bet long shots, especially on horses with names that amused him or reminded him of his wife. As a steady reader of the Daily Racing Form and horses’ past performances, I would try to talk Steve out of his more “strange” bets, often by reading what the professional handicappers wrote. Kind of like they said about Rich Strike on Saturday:
“Poor speed figures. Best speed rating well below the average winning speed. Return to dirt might offer some hope for improvement.”
Steve would see such an assessment and say, “When the horse reads that, he’ll be so mad he’ll run like hell to show ’em.”
Nothing could persuade Steve to stop betting the looongest shots available, $2 to show on the least chalky choice. He didn’t hit often. But when he did, he’d signal “loo-ser” with an L to his forehead and wonder why I spent so much time with the racing form.
Nothing can persuade me to abandon the DRF. I can’t watch a race without an overnight session with the past performances. Leading up to the Derby, I had watched all the prep races, bet them, did OK and had a plan for the first Saturday in May: A Pick 3 with one horse in the first race (Jackie’s Warrior), four horses who might win in the second race (Shirl’s Speight, Cavalry Charge, Adhamo, Santin) and six horses who I thought could win the Derby (Mo Donegal, Epicenter, Messier, Tiz the Bomb, Zandon, White Abarrio) for a $24 bet. An Exacta boxed with Epicenter, Zandon and Tiz the Bomb for a $12 bet. And a graduated across the board bet on Epicenter, my fav: $5 to win, $10 to place and $15 to show.
Sixty-four dollars coming into the Derby. More than I usually bet on a race — or in a whole day at the races. But it’s the Derby, and I’m splitting my bets with Michael, my new horse-racing partner.
And things looked good coming into the Big Race. In the first race of my Pick 3, Jackie’s Warrior had gone wire to wire at even odds in the 10th race and in the 11th, Santin won by a neck at 7-1 odds, which would fatten up the payoff for my Pick 3.
Things looked even better when the horses were coming down the stretch in the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter was in the lead, holding off Zandon on the outside. A No. 3 (Epicenter) and No. 10 (Zandon) finish would complete my Pick 3, win my Exacta and pay off all three positions in my across-the-board bet. Just to win three bets on one race would be a first-ever accomplishment in my handicapping career.
My eyes were on Epicenter and not on what jockey Sonny Leon was doing with Rich Strike on the inside. Take a look at the great NBC overhead shot to see what a thread-the-needle ride Leon had on Rich Strike, which ended with 3 and 10 in second and third place. I tried to read the numbers of the winning horse. Was it No. 1, Mo Donegal? A possibility that Michael had bet because that was the hometown of his grandparents. Or No. 2, Happy Jack? A long shot but not out of the realm.
But No. 21? The horse that sneaked into the race at the last moment when Ethereal Road scratched? With odds at 81-1, ignored by betters even though he finished third behind Tiz the Bomb in his last race? This was the horse that destroyed all my carefully laid plans?
But who cared? Friends of Steve had kept his betting peculiarities going since he died. If we were ever at a track together, we’d place a bet in the last race on the horse with the longest odds. Just before Kathy and I left for the Derby, we had dinner with those friends and agreed to bet the longest odds in the Derby.
That would be No. 21. Rich Strike and Sonny Leon. We had placed a $10 show bet on the horse, which returned $147. Yeah, I lost all my well-planned bets (except for the place and show on Epicenter). But watching this race, having a bet on this uncertain winner and dancing around at the finish was the best race ever.
Chili served in Styrofoam bowls did not meet the standards of my wife, a former food writer. And that seemed to be the specialty of my favorite casino and hotel. We’d skipped supper there for a salad in town at a restaurant with five TVs tuned to News Max, Fox Views and other former state news stations with The Weather Channel doing their best to hold up the liberal side of political philosophy. We did not stop there for breakfast.
We drove on across Iowa until hunger forced us to turn at the first sign advertising food. That turned out to be a Subway advertisement on a signpost also directing us to the world’s largest popcorn ball. How could we resist?
The way to the world’s largest popcorn ball, located in Sac City, Iowa, was blocked by road construction (what isn’t?). So we had to park the car and walk in the direction of the world’s largest popcorn ball, hoping we would find a place to eat, Subway or otherwise. A block away, we came across a window in front of several tables laid out for a banquet. Back up to the nearest door and we saw the tiny sign: Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. In we went, and adjacent to the banquet room was a nice cafe with a counter and several tables, all filled with a luncheon crowd. A complete menu with this surprise: Boerewors, pap and sous (South African beef sausage made in Clarion, Iowa), polenta and spicy tomato stew. It was delicious as was Kathy’s chicken sandwich. The waitress told us that one of the owners was from South Africa as were the butchers in Clarion. Who cares that we never found the Subway? The restaurant displayed several historic pictures from Sac City and a very large cow head hanging over the table next to us.
After lunch, we retrieved the car and drove to the world’s largest popcorn ball, passing several large and elaborate houses. “As Sac City began to grow,” the Sac City website says, “local businesspersons erected beautiful stores and homes. The town is home to many wonderful examples of architecture. Queen Anne homes, Second Empire structures, buildings designed by noted architects, and striking public buildings continue to enrich the area. Sac City grew because of commerce, banking, and real estate investment.”
The population in the 1900 Census was 17,639. The 2020 Census counted only 2,059 and notes “Sac City is currently declining at a rate of -0.15% annually and its population has decreased by -7.25% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 2,220 in 2010.”
My research has not answered why it was so rich once that houses could be built by noted architects and why is has been in decline recently.
It could be the world’s largest popcorn ball, which was a disappointment. Enclosed in a building with windows so reflective you can’t fully see what is inside. The popcorn is encased in blue tarp and a fence with only the top part of the ball showing. This probably is not the full story of Sac City’s decline. Our research continues.