Russ Ringsak

A Remarkable Collection of Subcultures

July 8, 2004

It is a remarkable collection of subcultures, this nation, and our Jersey show was done in yet another that this driver hadnít seen; the subculture of those who are doing their best to live in long-gone teetotaling Victorian America. Itís not easy to maintain a wooden house under any circumstance, but to have one that has been pummeled by the Atlantic Ocean for well over a century and which is not only intricate and ornate but looks beautifully new speaks to the monumental persistence of man's will. There is also the ongoing celebration of the two-story porch, and one supposes that to occupy one would be like living inside a well-aged wooden instrument.

There are a lot of them there on the Jersey shore in Ocean Grove, sitting together in a cozy shady square mile that looks like someoneís carefully done model village. Most of us are in some subculture or another, but few of our obsessions are as visible as these delicate old houses. There are also 120 tent platforms there, a carryover from their Methodist camp beginnings and leased out from May through September. The waiting list for a lease is years and years, like trying to live long enough to get season tickets to the Green Bay Packers.

Other subcultures hang on to the past with old cars and railroads; with photographs, stamps, quilts, signs, ornate porcelain stoves; with books and buildings, enactments of battles, with ships and buggies and lamps and muzzleloading rifles. Some keep steam tractors and others plow with horses. Yet others of us donít think about history that much and absorb ourselves in baseball, NASCAR racing, golf, fine food and wine, opera, bluegrass, bowling. Some sail boats, some ride bicycles or sail skateboards down handrails. We jump from airplanes, crawl into caves, climb vertical cliffs. We rock and roll, we build hotrods, ride motorcycles, play beach volleyball, lift weights, raise horses; some watch television all day and some just sit and drink beer and sling old stories around. Some gamble, some get covered with tattoos, some drive big campers all over the country, some hunt, some fish and some sit in front of computer screens and chat.

I donít guess thereís such an animal as a typical American but we do have a lot in common. And if most of us donít overly concern ourselves with the Old World itís probably in our genes, because our ancestors were the kind who could tell their relatives they had had it up to here and they were getting the hell out. The risk of drowning in that big angry ocean loomed not as large as their desire to just Get Out. And some no doubt were sent packing and told not to come back. You think about these sorts of things when you come across some new bunch of nonconformists you never knew about.

The trip from the ocean on the east to the mountainside on the western coast was uneventful, which is remarkable in itself. Tom Gohman flew out to ease the drive to Los Angeles, and two guys and a truckful of gear can leave the Atlantic beach at 1:30 AM Saturday night and, switching from sleeper to steering wheel every five hours, be in western Arizona Tuesday morning. On the way they pass the old straight-gabled barns in the Blue Ridge Mountain country, cross the James River and Narrow Passage Road, and Mount Joy Road, Gravel Hill Road, Trinity Road; drive through Pulaski County, ďA Certified Business Location;Ē past Buck Snort, Tennessee, and Toad Suck Park in Arkansas, and on through the Cherokee Nation, past Little Skin Bayou, the Tenkiller Recreational Area, Dirty Creek, Lottawattah Road, Gar Creek and Peebly Road in Oklahoma.

Interstate 40 skirts Oklahoma City, runs straight through Amarillo, skins Tucumcari, splits cleanly through Albuquerque and rises to 7000 feet at Flagstaff. The trail back to Jersey - on Interstates 40, 81, 66, and 95 - is marked with the panicked skid tracks of hundreds of close calls and a good many full-blown calamities. These tracks of terror are readily visible from the high seat of a truck. They help the driver maintain his focus on the job at hand, a big part of which is about leaving no dramatic slabs of rubber on the paving.

We could have easily made Los Angeles that Tuesday afternoon but we took a liking to Williams and stayed for a day. I had lived there when I worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the sixties and it hasnít changed much, choosing to remain a relic on old Highway 66. Steam engines still pull heavy trains of gold-lettered dark green Pullman coaches from the old Harvey House depot to the Grand Canyon; nothing like the sound of a live steam whistle in the early morning to bring a guy back to childhood. I could buy a steam-whistle CD and a player with a clock in it and wake up to that every day. Maybe I should.

When heís at home my capable long-haul co-driver wakes to the sound of donkeys braying in his back yard, and so does the rest of his neighborhood. The donkeys serve the triple purpose of alarm clock, security system, and social suppression, meaning that the neighbors donít drop by casually to drink all the beer in his fridge like they used to in the days before the donkeys. The Gohmans belong to the subcultures of donkey owners and restorers of early John Deere tractors. Their latest score is a 1950 Model G, but I canít give out the e-mail address because I donít think he has one. People without e-mail are probably a subculture as well, along with people who park their semis in their driveways, putting him in two more categories. There could be others, for all I know. Iím in about four or five myself. You might like to know what they are or you might not. Iíll spare you.

We left after the show in the Greek Theater and drove through the night and following day to Seattle, parked the rig and flew back to Minnesota for a couple of days. Tom went back for the show that weekend at Marymoor while I went up to northeastern North Dakota for a significant high school reunion. Without trotting out the inside details, I will say that I recommend to anyone to go to your reunion. Whatever it is, Iíd say go. Unless you graduated in a class full of incurable predators and psychopaths, I say go. I had a heck of a good time, but of course my class was one of incurable jokers and optimists. Probably a result of all those 40-below winters up there. There were 52 of us in the class, of which 41 are still walking around, and an engineer among us offered the calculation that even with the eleven gone our class is larger than it was at graduation.

I did hear some stories, one of them from a favorite neighbor girl. We were talking about the first off-color stories we had heard from our mothers, back when we were about thirteen years old; I canít tell you about mine but hers was of her mother talking with a couple of older ladies, mothers of many children, grandmothers to even more. One said, ďWell, I did have eight kids, but I canít really take responsibility for the last two, because I was asleep when it happened.Ē The other lady was focused on her knitting, her hands up close to her face. There was a long pause; she finally looked up from the moving needles and said, quietly and primly, ďIf it would have been my husband, I would have noticed.Ē

Tom made it to Minnesota in good order and on Tuesday we met at the truck shop in Roseville, where they scrubbed the rig clean of its five weeksí slathering of spring bugs and road grime, filled the tanks, checked the fluids and sent us on our way to the last show of the season. Tanglewood, in western Massachusetts. The trip home will begin the minute the trailer doors are closed Saturday night and will be driven in a safe and legal manner. But I donít think weíll be wasting a lot of time along the way, either.

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