Russ Ringsak

Wolf Trap

June 9, 2005

We did a couple of easy trips to Mitchell and to Madison, and then leaped out to Wolf Trap in Washington DC. It is about as good as an outdoor amphitheater can get, at least from the viewpoint of the casual traveler. I donít know if it makes money or if it has roof leaks or foundation cracks, or any of that inside stuff, but the place is beautiful. Sits low in the woods and is itself wood, big and friendly, impressive but casual, sounds great, looks great. Conveniently placed between the Belt Line and Dulles Airport. It was an outright gift from a woman to the government and has a heck of story, easily found on the Internet. As you might expect, the wolves, theyíve all been trapped, but a stagehand said there are copperheads in the near forest — a reminder that nature will maintain her right to be a menace. One way or another.

I thought I was being clever when I planned the trip out there: Run south to Bloomington-Normal (great name), sleep in the truck at the Crazy D Truck Stop in Indiana, head east through Indianapolis, cruise easy through Ohio on I-70 now that theyíve raised the speed limit, donít take the wild Pennsylvania Turnpike but instead drop south on I-79 to I-68 and cruise the scenic route into Washington.

Avoiding Chicago and the tolls, this would be fine in a car. But it turns out the speed limit in Ohio for trucks was lifted only on the turnpike, I-80; the rest is still antiquityís 55. And the new truck engines, after this latest refinement, will not pull the Appalachians worth a damn. I understand Caterpillar just added a second turbocharger to meet the new specs without losing power, but the catalytic Detroit in our truck is not what they used to be. So I crawled across Ohio and then groaned up and down the beautiful mountains of West Virginia and Maryland and promised myself to never again think I was going to have an easy truck ride and also enjoy the scenery, and what could I have been thinking?

Well of course I was wrong about that. Saturday afternoon my long-range co-driver, Tom Gohman, flew in from Minnesota and the show was loaded by 9:40 PM, and we rolled smartly west and southward past Mint Spring and Stuartís Draft in dark Virginia, on westerly through green Tennessee in the morning, crossed the Mississippi at noon Sunday, blew through Arkansas and Oklahoma and that night stopped in the parking lot of the Big Texan steak house at Amarillo. By Monday afternoon we were perched high in the Rockies at Williams, Arizona; 2250 miles down the road in a day and three-quarters. As a born flatlander, I get out there in those open spaces and everything feels better. Itís not that open land itself is so satisfying. Itís the moving through it, seeing those hazy far-off mountains and those Union Pacific and Santa Fe trains snaking along in the middle distance. And all that stone and sand.

What you give up for a quick continental crossing is three-quarters of the scenery, getting only your half of the daytime view. The rest of the time is spent driving at night or absorbing punishment in the rock-tumbler sleeper. Teams running refrigerated trailers coast-to-coast nonstop are a hardy breed.

And for all the drama of the great western landscape, Wolf Trap — over there in the East Coast traffic — has become your driverís favorite stop. It sits not far from Arlington Cemetery, where my parents and my favorite aunt and uncle rest, and it is part of that most American of all cities. And while itís true that the obsessive political stewing inside the Beltway is not the reality the rest of us see, it is infinitely more like us bumpkins than is New York City, which somehow regards itself as the nationís highest achievement. Not meaning to put on the cheap shot here, because NYC is dramatic, but itís just not us. Itís like our odd cousin. Itís not how we see things. To a working guy the Wall in Washington is a far more meaningful experience than anything up there in Gotham.

And Wolf Trap itself seems to always bring on something personal. Last year I met the bugler who had played Taps at my uncleís funeral at Arlington; he was on our show with part of the Army Band. This time I met the Samuelsen siblings, a brother and sister from Norway who in fact live in Ringsaker, the town my grandfather Martin Ringsaker left in the late 19th century. They played with such passion and finesse that our audience uncharacteristically leapt from their seats in the middle of the show. And this year I also got to read on the air a poem Iíd written; it didnít make anyone leap out of their seat of course, but it was a lot of fun anyway. And on top of all that, my lawyer happened to be in the crowd and came up to see me. (I do have a lawyer, and he occasionally goes to Washington. Just in case.)

And now that I have maneuvered this piece onto my own self, I would be remiss not to mention that my crowning literary work so far, the book Semi True, has been nominated for an award by the MBA. Sounds impressive, I know (or I wouldnít have brought it up), but itís only a nomination and they didnít say for what kind of an award, and the initials stand for Midwest Booksellers Association and I know for sure its not for the blockbusting sales it brought to them. I think Iíve had direct contact with every single person who ever bought a copy and it hasnít kept me very busy, either. Itís still available on the Internet, Amazon etc., at greatly reduced prices; from a bargain rate of 4600 words per dollar all the way down to 16,000 per.

It did get some good reviews, including from Overdrive magazine and the Washington Post, but the New York Times didnít give it a mention. If they had ballyhooed the heck out of it I might be sitting on Easy Street right now, having eggs Benedict for breakfast and raving about how great is New York. So thatís probably why I take a gratuitous shot at the place now and again. And they never bother to shoot back either, which makes it all the worse.

Anyway. Here we sit in California, poised now in Barstow, ready to swoop over Cajon Pass and down into the great city tomorrow morning. Our L.A. show this year will come from the Hollywood Bowl, so itíll be a season where we hit all the Big Four: Times Square, Washington DC, Hollywood Bowl and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. So will the grandkidsí eyes get big when I tell íem about it? Probably not.

Something I learned in the last few months is that if you put your e-mail address in text, even in an obscure column like this one, you will be flooded with unwanted mail and a lot of it will be sorely infected, some to the point of oozing pus. I have a great server, which lets none of that stuff through, so my only inconvenience is the hitting of the Delete box. But if youíre considering passing your address to a friend and you want to hide it from the relentless and cunning search microbes, you should word it something like this: R dot Ringsak at visi dot com, and donít underline it or wrap it in arrowheads. That should keep your mailbox pristine, and if I get a new offer from an Asian person who needs to hide their huge fortune until they can get to America when they will give me a million in cold cash, if I send them only five hundred dollars earnest money now, then I will know that even this clever dodge doesnít work.

And for the rest of you — our innocent, everyday, fun-loving and uninfected readers, go for it — itís always good to hear from you.


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