Heading West — Day Three

« Photos from Day Three »

Rainy Again
Written @ 11:42 CST | Thursday 13-Jul-06 | Gothenberg, NE

We hit a small spot of rain, but it’s nothing like day one. We’re 36 miles from North Platte, NE, which will be our first stop of the day. Jeepy needs gas and beagle needs walkies.

I’ve been sleeping since Lincoln. Nebraska is flat and it is green and has some trees and that’s about it. The road is flat and straight and goes on and on. We’re about halfway to Cheyenne.

I’ve started some lesson planning for the first week of school, but it’s a bit hard to do, since I don’t know my schedule of classes or the curriculum. I know I want the first week to be relaxed and all about getting to know each other and learning the procedures and my expectations. So I’ll leave it at that and plan for activities that do that. I’ll ease into the language arts stuff during week two, if I can.

Rest Stop
Written @ 13:00 CST/12:00 MST | Thursday 13-Jul-06 | Sutherland, NE

After stopping at a Mirastar gas station (which turns out to be some sort of weird partnership between Texaco and Wal-Mart) in North Platte, NE, we made a brief lunch stop at Sonic then drove 20 miles west to a rest area so that beagles could do beagle things. They had a designated pet area with “pooch plugs,” which were fake fire hydrants. Bayley added his own mark to the vicinity of the plug. When Unca David came out of the restroom, I went inside while he held the beagle. When I came out, Bayley was waiting and began wiggling and howling like I had been gone for three years. The whole rest area stopped and looked at the commotion.

We’re back on I-80, with about 195 miles left today. Nebraska is pretty much what I expected … flat, farms, scrubby trees, low barren hills, never-ending. We just passed into Keith County and the Mountain Time Zone, so we gained an hour, which will help. Cheyenne is about three-and-a-half hours away, so we should be at the hotel by 16:00 Wyoming time.

At the rest area, I picked up three out of the plethora of ubiquitous tourist brochures (rack cards) which are in piles in places up and down the interstate highway system. One was for Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, where it is noted that, in addition to Father Flanagan’s house, the museum, the Garden of the Bible, Father’s grave and the chapel, you can see the “World’s Largest Ball of Stamps” in the Leon Myers Stamp Center, which includes exhibits on the history of postage stamps, a collector’s corner and, of course, the four-cent Father Flanagan Stamp. Don’t forget the gift shop and cafe on your way out and admission is free.

Let’s be clear, I’m not disparaging Boys Town, but the touristy aspects thereof. Just hope the proceeds go to make things better for the boys.

Coming up is Bridgeport, NE, where you can exit I-80 and venture 34 miles north to Alliance. The claim to fame of Alliance is … Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge created from vintage automobiles from the 50s and 60s. The cars are “planted trunk down and rise 15 to 17 feet … [and] are approximately 7 feet wide; the same size as the standings [sic] stones of Stonehenge … all 38 of the majors [sic] stones are cleverly represented at Carhenge.”

Carhenge is enthusiastically recommended by someone from Farmington, MN, who is quoted on the rack card as saying, “This place is incredible, I love it! We went 100 miles out of the way to see Carhenge and it was worth every mile and moan and groan from my children.”

We decided not to detour 68 miles out of our way to see it.

I went to sleep shortly after passing Lincoln, where I apparently missed the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The mission of said center is “to study, to collect, to preserve, and to exhibit quilts.” Pretty straightforward.

There are more than 1,650 quilts in the center, including the largest known collection of Amish and Mennonite quilts. Here’s some grad school language for ya: “… quilts are studied using an interdisciplinary approach in which the tradition is examined in its historical, social, artistic, technical, and spiritual environments. The … Department of Textiles, Clothing and Design, College of Education and Human Sciences, offers masters degree programs for students interested in analyzing the complex ways in which gender, class, ethnicity, aesthetics, politics, religion and technology find expression in the textile arts, especially quiltmaking traditions.”

Wow. Why doesn’t the University of Michigan School of Education have that? They suck.

Back to planning. I need to create a fun student information survey for the kids to work on in the first ten minutes of the first class.

Written @ 14:11 MST | Thursday 13-Jul-06 | Pinebluff, WY

We’ve reached the Wyoming border and are just a mere 36 miles from our stop. We’ll be at the hotel by 15:00 mountain time. Thank goodness. Also, we’re just passing the halfway point of the trip: 1,176 miles. Thank goodness, part II. We’re also out of Nebraska. Thank goodness, part III.

As we entered the panhandle of Nebraska and the I-76 split which heads for Denver, the land dramatically changed. No longer the rolling green farmland with trees, it has become the browner, flatter, wider open vistas of the true American west. You can see oil well pumping units dotting the landscape and the area is dotted with ranches, not farms. Union Pacific trains pass each other on double tracks, hauling cross-continent freight. It’s 93 degrees outside under a bright sun, with just a few high puffy clouds. Traffic has also thinned out; there aren’t as many cars on the road, leaving the interstate mostly to the long-haul truckers.

Watching the trucks and the trains makes you realize just how dependent on fossil fuels this country really is. Our entire lives are on those trains and trucks. 12,000 pounds of my own life is in a truck somewhere on this road. Everything we need (especially food) comes from far away. If that infrastructure of rail and road and train and truck is ever disrupted or destroyed, we’d be in deep doo-doo. We would see a retreat back to a civilization like it existed before the Civil War. Not that I’m an apocalyptic thinker, I’m just sayin’. We’re dependent on a thin thread that seems rather tenuous in the big picture of things.

I’ve been working up the first week’s lesson plans, creating two student surveys and an interview sheet, and working on the class syllabus. Yes, I plan to give seventh graders a syllabus. I want the expectations and what we’re doing clearly laid out. In the dim recesses of my age-addled memory, I seem to remember that a few of my junior high teachers gave them out and I know my high school teachers did. So, these kids should get used to them.

Because of my natural tendency to be easy-going and laid-back, the first week will be critical in terms of setting limits and expectations and procedures. It will make or break my entire first year as a teacher. Research indicates that there should be no more than 3-5 rules, and it’s also preferable if the students create and sign off on the rules themselves. I’ll think about that one. It worked well last year with 22 rather exceptional second graders; these 125 seventh graders I’m going to meet in less than three weeks are an unknown quantity. I like the three F’s: firm, fair, fun. The three KISses, too: Keep it simple, keep it safe, keep it sane.

I better get back to it. We’re 11 miles from the hotel.

Rest Stop
Written @ 15:55 MST | Thursday 13-Jul-06 | Cheyenne, WY

We arrived at the hotel an hour ago and unloaded the car. The dog had a long drink of water and a treat and watched the proceedings. He then had a scratch of the ear and settled down onto my bed. He is now loudly snoring away, a totally worn-out dog.

Cheyenne looks very small, smaller than Ann Arbor. I-80 skirts it on the south and looks down on it, so you get a pretty good view. I continue to be impressed by the speedy checkin/checkout and service at LaQuinta. The rooms have been good, the wireless internet connections great and there’s been no fuss at all about the dog or anything else.

The pool is inviting, since it’s over 90 degrees here, but it’s full of women and kids at the moment. I’ll have to wait, probably ‘til dinnertime to get some water therapy.

We’re not sure what we’ll do for dinner, but we need a nap first.

Later, y’all.