Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jefferson City, Missouri

I don't ordinarily stop for copper coins along the road, just the silver-colored ones.  But when I saw a huge heap of pennies not long after I entered Missouri, those I had to gather.

I had an immediate flashback to Brazil 1989 when I was wrapping up a six-month, ten thousand-mile ride about the continent.  The country was in the throes of an economic crisis that makes that of Europe seem insignificant.  I regularly saw piles of coins discarded along the road--cheap, aluminum coins made worthless by the latest huge devaluation.

The currency in Argentina had been in a free fall as well.  A State of Siege had been declared. All laws had been suspended for a month.  Mobs of the desperate and hungry stormed supermarkets.  Peru too was in anarchy.  The Maoist Shining Path guerrillas had a strangle-hold on the country.  They were holding up buses left and right on the Pan-American Highway that I biked for over 3,000 miles and were blowing up bridges and buildings.  They let me be, though I was mugged by a couple of feral young men in broad daylight in a small city when I was strolling about without my bike.

Though the political and economic situation was very unsettled, perhaps even more alarming and calamitous than what is going on presently in Europe and the Islamic world,  I was very little effected by it.  So it is hard to get riled up by all the right wing ranters (Limbaugh, Beck, Hucklebee, Hannity, Dr. Laura, Dennis Miller) that dominate the radio waves out in rural America, who maintain the world is collapsing all around us and only Romney can save it.  They've totally taken over.  There's hardly even any country or gospel stations left.  There's not a voice on the left to be heard, even though all these right-wingers maintain that the media is dominated by them.  With all the propagandizing it is a wonder that Romney isn't ahead in the polls by double digits.

As I scooped up the coins I was happy to have a South America revery to lose myself in.  Not long before a memory lane had taken me to Morocco, the memories triggered by a tin of tuna I had just eaten. I was possessed by the urge to pitch it off into the sun, as I had witnessed a Berber shepherd do in the Sahara Desert.  He was my escort on a week-long camel trek.  I was appalled that he so blatantly littered, until a while later when we came upon another tin laying in the sand.  He gave it a kick and it instantly disintegrated having baked to a crisp in the intense desert sun.  I resisted tossing my empty tin here in Missouri, but I was happy to be off on a prolonged Moroccan revery.  So I joyfully occupy myself some of the many hours I spend as I pedal along when I'm not distracted by the radio or looking forward to meeting up with Janina and Dwight in Bloomington this weekend.

I was somewhat regretting that I had stopped for the pennies, as I didn't realize how heavy a couple hundred of them could be.  I already had an extra pound or so of license plates I had gathered along the way for Dwight to add to his barn-wall collection.  I had four from Colorado, one for every 100 miles, but only one from Kansas in 400 miles.   There wasn't much litter at all to be seen in Kansas.  Maybe its related to tourists.  I was afraid I'd be shut out in the license plate department for Kansas as I didn't find the one I did until I had nearly crossed the state.  That was a happy moment but it wasn't the highlight of the day.  Rather it was coming upon a round-about a few miles later, eight miles west of Louisberg, the last town in Kansas on route 68 before crossing into Missouri. 

It is the only round-about I have encountered in 1,000 miles, quite a contrast to France where they are everywhere.  It is scandalous that American traffic engineers remain in the Dark Ages, refusing to recognize the practicality and sensibility of the round-about.  Telluride installed one about a decade ago.  It was highly controversial, but it is now widely celebrated and embraced. So much so the town was just breaking ground on another when I left, three miles before entry to the town.

It was a sign of hope that at least one round-about has been introduced to Kansas.  They are such a rarity in the US that there was a sign warning of the round-about ahead with a diagram of its five arteries.  If I hadn't been so pressed for time I would have plopped down in the middle of it to revel at its beauty and cheer each vehicle as it entered and give it a thumbs up, celebrating the constant flow of traffic, no one having to stop and having the pleasure of a having a bend to negotiate rather than piercing straight ahead after perhaps having to come to a halt at the intersection. 

Immediately upon entering Missouri two days ago the terrain turned hilly.    Its nice to have some variety, but I fear the twisting and turning and climbing rural roads may be adding mileage to my distance to Bloomington, which mapquest will only compute by putting me on the more direct interstates.  I am more than half way across the state.  I will be able to follow the Missouri River for the next day before crossing the Mississippi into Illinois north of St. Louis in Alton.  Then it will be 150 miles across Illinois and a final sprint of 50 miles to Bloomington.

Janina will have a copy of New City for me, a special edition naming the 50 top artists in Chicago.  She contributed the profiles of five of them, including one on Jeanne Gang, the world's only female architect to design a skyscraper.  If you're not in Chicago and can't find a copy check the New City website.

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