I Take My Leave

From parched Oklahoma City, Oklahoma northeast through the Laurel Highlands of the Allegheny Mountains in the Appalachians and finally over the spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains, I arrive back in the Connecticut River’s Upper Valley: my home and the home of TomTom’s North American headquarters.

US Crossing

64,500 miles (103,803 kilometers.) That’s how far I drove my 2006 Toyota Sienna van (#23) this past year: as far south as Brownsville, Texas and as far north as the Arctic Circle in Alaska. (In truth, 20 miles shy of the circle.) Much driving, I’m tired.

Hometown Green in Autumn

I’m taking a leave of absence from highway data collection and going on a new adventure. In December I’m flying to New Zealand. I’ve been there before several decades ago, on a bicycle sojourn. This time I’m renting an RV. The pace will be low and slow. I’ve scheduled time at a Buddhist reteat on the north island. More low and slow.


Thank you for following along here at Mile Post 2.0.  Cheers – John


Sleeping Buddha


Cowboys & Bricks – It’s OK

Ten days in the Oklahoma City metro area mapping streets. Now I am on my way back to New Hampshire. Oklahoma is in drought. It’s dry and flat. No photos. I saw many cowboys–real cowboys/men–spurs and all, at the Fair Grounds. They were stoic to the point of catatonia. Horses and cattle are the backbone of Oklahoma, but bricks are its face. Oklahoma City has as many brick buildings as Virginia, a minor surprise.

A change is in the air and it’s not winter. More when I get back to the Granite State.

Canteen Lunch In the Alley

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Des Moines
With the Ottumwa blues again

Iowa Plains

There are places we’ve always wanted to visit, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Fiji, Machu Picchu. One of mine is Ottumwa, Iowa, a kinder gentler Altamont, Catawba or so I fantasied. It is the hometown of Radar O’Reilly, not Eugene Gant.

Broken Window

The word Ottumwa periodically drifted into my consciousness like a summer night on a waterbed. [Whoa, where did that simile come from?] Anyway, I knew I would visit the city when my traveling orbit came close. Now, as I finish my Iowa work order, I find myself in the southeastern corner of the state, and it’s raining. A stone, a leaf, a door? No, Ottumwa.

Fidelity Savings Bank

The city is much smaller than I thought. It’s a large town actually. It is also a major link on railroad lines between Chicago and Omaha. Amtrak’s cross country train the Zephyr stops here too. I know this because my third floor hotel room looks out on the tracks. Trains roll by blowing their whistles every thirty minutes all day and night.

Under Surveillance

Downtown buildings look like they’ve imploded. Most are vacant and broken. I assumed Ottumwa’s original wealth came from agriculture, but instead, it came from coal. Coal trains roll through all day long, the wealth rolls along with them.

Fidelity Bank Side Entrance

An astounding number of surveillance cameras loom over the rundown downtown. NewYork’s diamond district has less. In a town of 25,000 its 40 officer police force spends a lion’s share of its time on theft. Other crimes, more and less serious, occur less than state or national averages.

Canteen Lunch

What remains of old Ottumwa are its stone and brick churches. They are large magnificent reminders of a more productive time. There are too few people left here to support these institutions. It’s a matter of time before they begin to noticeably crumble.

Canteen Lunch Inside 1

One institution persevering since the Depression is Canteen Lunch In the Alley. It’s a 17 stool horseshoe shaped counter inside a concrete block building. They had to close for two days in 2003 when the floor of the parking garage was built above them. They primarily serve one thing, the Canteen Sandwich, a sloppy-joe-like concoction served on a white bun. If you get cheese on it, they call it a cheese burger. For vegetarians like me they serve an egg sandwich, also on a white bun. You can have it with onions and ketchup, that’s it. For desert there are 14 kinds of pie. Vanilla ice cream is available. Coffee cups are constantly refilled. I loved this place and the two women who worked the front.

Canteen Lunch Inside 2

Only two other customers wandered in while I was there. The cooks had a tank of ground beef steaming hot, ready to be plated in white buns. The women told me in an hour all the stools would be full and a line of people would stand along the wall waiting their turn. I believed them.

Canteenn Lunch Menu

Ottumwa is a city being passed by, (no lounging loafing or loitering) like indigenous people in the rain forest. I’m glad I got to see it before it all disappears. Can this really be the end?

Canteen Lunch Crew

Canteen Lunch Map

The Industrialization of Oatmeal

Corn Sculpture

Iowa is corn, corn is Iowa. The fields lay shorn as trucks and trains loaded with grain make their way to Cedar Rapids, where it is turned into high fructose corn syrup, ethanol, and cereal.

Quaker Oats 1

Cedar Rapids, agrarian/industrial, hard working, and alive, is a throwback to an earlier era. You see this in its institutions and architecture. Factories and federal buildings are grand, schools majestic, middle-class neighborhoods are in human scale, small, clean, and dignified, parks and play fields abound.

Cedar Rapids Freeway

It, along with the capital city of Des Moines, is thinning. People are leaving, streets are empty, parking spaces are easy to find, there are few pedestrians. Train-loads of grain roll in, more corn syrup and ethanol are produced. You can buy 85% ethanol fuel at gas stations.

Flying Wienie

I’m not sure what it all means as I drive through the cities and across the rolling prairie.

Help Wanted 1

Corn Harvest 2


UU Madison Peace

You never know where you are on a journey in the Joseph Campbell sense. I am in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the most centrally located out of the way place in America.

US Map to Iowa

Just over one half way across the country I received a call and some emails telling me to stop, do not pass go, do not drive to New Hampshire. I’ve been redirected to Iowa. After Iowa comes Ohio, then maybe Kentucky. Such are the challenges of the Driver. When will the final threshold be crossed?

UU Madison Front 3

Before the redirect I stopped in Madison, Wisconsin to visit the Unitarian-Universalist Church, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

UU Madison Front 1

Before Wisconsin I had to stop in Mitchell, Minnesota and visit the Corn Palace. It was undergoing a facelift.

Corn Palace Mitchell Minnesota

Return of the Driver

Hero's Journey

I sat in the Robin Hood Motel in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, awaiting my newest work order from headquarters. Finally it arrived in an email: “Proceed to Saskatoon, Manitoba.” The lyricism of the place rolled over my tongue like an ancient mantra. I started packing.

Camerman with Lens

It is a 1,500 mile journey from Victoria to Saskatoon. Given the lateness of the hour and the need to take a two hour ferry ride back to the mainland, I decided to leave early the next morning. My phone rang.

Inner Passage Islands & Homes

Boat thru Rainy Window

Change of plans. Higher-ups in the organization, the European connection I assumed, decreed I return to Lebanon, New Hampshire and turn in Sienna 23, the Toyota van I drove 60,000 miles over the last year, for a new Ford, filled with the latest mapping technology.

Woman At Window

Man At Bow

My Canadian visa allowed me to continue working in the Far North until November 5. I assumed that would be the case, but the winds of corporate commerce shifted, so I turned south, “Back to the land of Coca—Cola.”

Western Montana

Crossing the border took fifteen minutes: ten in line and five with the border guard. Then I headed to a gas station for two reasons: yes, because I needed gasoline, but more importantly, to use my fleet card again and experience low gas prices.

Overcast Red Rock River Valley

Gasoline in Canada, at its cheapest is $5.05 a gallon. Even though TomTom picks up the tab, paying that much when you are not used to it is irritating. Additionally, I could return to paying for gasoline and vehicle maintenance with the corporate fleet card, a system that pays for the gasoline without my intervention. In Canada, the fleet card did not work, so I had to pay for gasoline with an American Express card. Oh what an ironic hardship you think. But American Express is accepted only at national chains in the Vancouver metro area. Otherwise I had to pay for gas with my own Visa card or cash, which always necessitated getting a receipt, photographing it, attaching it to an electronic finance sheet, and submitting it for bi-weekly reimbursement. A hassle in which I never felt confident in my accuracy.

Wyoming Sign

Lodge Poles

Now all that is behind me. I am on I-90 heading east, first to Ellensburg, Washington, a town I last visited several summers ago after my beloved motorbike, Moto Fabini blew its engine in the Scablands. I was hauled to town in the back of a pickup.

Great Faces Great Places

After Ellensburg I crossed the wheat fields of Washington, through the lovely named city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, up over a tree covered pass in the Rockies, through the rolling volcanic hills of central Montana, down into the softer rolling hills of central Wyoming and east into the Badlands of South Dakota; there to the towns of Deadwood, Sturgis, and Wall.

Deadwood South Dakota

Moto Fabini Found

I visited all three towns once before on the ill-fated Moto Fabini journey dubbed The Coulee. This time, as I approached Wall, I realized I achieved the American Tourist Trifecta: visiting South of the Border, South Carolina, The Thing, Arizona, and now, Wall Drug in South Dakota, all within one year. ‘Look on my travels, ye Mighty, and despair!’ (Ken Burns should do a documentary.)

Wall Drug

So now after Ellensburg, Washington, Butte, Montana, and Gillette, Wyoming, I write this in Oacoma, South Dakota, on the banks of the Missouri River, where Lewis and Clark passed by 209 years ago on their Journey of Discovery. Today, shotgun shells are sold in the village supermarket.

Return Map

And so the Driver returns from his yearlong journey, not quite as a mythic hero, but chaste and somewhat austere from the adventure. Let’s see what the future holds.

All the Tired Horses

Victoria – No Secrets

Rock Point Victoria

The Empress Hotel Victoria

Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, sits on the southern shore of Vancouver Island, away from the rest of the province. A local fellow told me the capital was moved here to lay claim to the entire island while the USA was moving in to claim everything south of the 49th parallel. That would consume about one-fourth of the island and give the United States control of the protected inland water routes. Canada won. The US settled for a long strip of land to extend Alaska’s southern shore.

Beacon Hill Park Victoria

Holland Point Park Victoria

Victoria is filled with parks that its 350,000 residents gleefully run and walk through when they are not out sailing or flying. It seems like a lively, laid back place. Tourists flock here. I drove the major highways on my first visit. This time I drove major streets all through the city. It took two days.

Inner Harbour Victoria

Near Clover Point Victoria

Ross Bay Cemetery Victoria

Clover Point to Beacon Hill