Russ Ringsak

Red Ant Rendezvous

September 6, 2011

A man who lives in Fort Collins Colorado wrote that he had seen the "ASPHALT -- THE WORLD'S BEST TATTOO REMOVER" billboard in Casper Wyoming. He thought it was for leathers from a biker supply house but not a specific jacket brand.

I've owned a terrific New York made Vanson jacket for 18 years. The leather is luxuriously supple and it's thick. The thing weighs about eighty pounds and that's with no whiskey, no billy club, no Colt no tequila no hundred silver dollars no phone and no hair dryer. That's just with a pair of earplugs in the pocket.

It's a best friend in the cold and the rain but the heat this year was calling for a lighter midsummer's piece. Lots of jackets out there but they all seem to come from China and I'm not in that market at least not as a volunteer. My computer found Fox Creek Leathers in Independence Virginia and this week they sent a new superfine jacket, high quality and handsome and handmade right here in the USA, and what a joy.

~ ~ ~ ~

Another fellow wrote me about The Dalles Dam across the Columbia River, named after the town of The Dalles which I'd failed to properly capitalize. By coincidence his parents live in The Woodlands, Texas: "The only two cities in America with a definite article in their name," he said. "In Europe there's the The Hague."

An amusing device, tossing stuffy old The Hague in there with the Columbia River and Texas, whether they like it or not. A quick check revealed that he was right about the US but that there is also The Bight in the Bahamas and The Pas in Manitoba.

~ ~ ~ ~

Found myself in another error by writing that you could see the blue waters of the Pacific from Interstate 5. The I-5 is quite some distance from the ocean, like over 80 miles, and the trucker's romantic notion of another ocean to ocean trip doesn't quite pass the map check.

A woman wrote that the crystal blue waters you see lapping there at the Seattle downtown, those waters are called Puget Sound. So I did some belated digging and learned that the Sound is an estuary, one of the two largest in the country, where salt and fresh waters meet and mix and send forth all manner of useful and interesting life forms. And they draw tourists.

The fresh waters don't just casually drift in there but are runoff from the Cascade Mountain Range behind you, on their stubborn outbound course to meet the salty stuff and then head out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. So that water isn't Pacific water, at least not yet.

It was real blue and it could look like Pacific water in the head of a passing-through driver, but it wasn't certified genuine Pacific. One could say well, ya, but Seattle is a west coast city so that makes it coast to coast. So would that be lame or what?

Letters like this keep one alert. It's common to get a bit oversure of oneself in the Social Security years (elderly smug) and most of one's remaining few friends may be equally as misinformed or just flat disinterested. Discreet nudges from alert young strangers help keep the geezer on the tracks.

~ ~ ~ ~

So here we are now back from the Boston to St Lawrence sea cruise, with our show's freewheeling core still on the Summer Love Tour but soon to land here at the Minnesota State Fair. The Summer Tour doesn't need broadcast equipment and they don't need the farmhouse, meaning they don't need the truck, which couldn't keep up even if they did need it. I have no idea how the cast and crew maintain such a schedule nor would I ask. When they finally show up I just stand there awestruck.

The traveling brings to mind the fellow in a pub in the outlands of Ireland who asks the bartender, "Can you tell me the best way to get to Dublin from here?"
"Are ye drivin' or are ye walkin'?"
"I'm driving."
"Aye. . . . That's the best way."

From the open deck way up there on our cruise ship we got a good look at Boston Harbor on our way out. The bay was churning with folks having fun in boats, running in all directions, some waving, some holding aloft cups. Writing their frothy signatures all around the big bay with their self-erasing graffiti. We were the dignified high-walled castle of the privileged, way up there, as if grandly presiding over some jolly spring festival. They could tag along but there was no way they could join us. We could join their group but only by way of a hundred-foot straight-down drop into the hardwater sea, a thought which causes the average cruise fan to ease back from the rail and look around for perhaps the Chardonnay tray.

Part of the fun of the big ship is the isolation and complete dependence. Once underway you are in with some folks you know and a whole lot of decent strangers you don't and that's it. I never was on line the whole time and my phone never worked. There were the port stops and new streets to walk but Big Momma anchored out in the bay was your only real way back. You could waltz around town a bit but you better get into scurry mode when the large boat starts getting restless. A brief affair with a mildly exotic port and then you're all Hank Snow and Movin' On.

Quebec was of course more than mildly exotic. Two historic downtowns connected by a steep tramway, remarkable buildings all around, an old fort at the top of the hill. Real cannon along the high wall overlooking the water, a bit of harsh reality nudging against all that romantic stone and brick.

Ship, Lowertown, Tram.

Streets alive with motion, sculpture, restaurants, bars, shops; more than you expected.

A hotel bigger than it looks.

In the across-downtown distance stands a huge long wall of grain elevators, a surface so straight they show movies on it. You can watch from blocks away.

New meaning to the term Big Screen

It's a working port. A lot of grain and oil and coal and general freight on the move in the harbor. Our pristine palace brings to mind a formal gown in a logger's chow line. We tourists are another commodity; we probably don't take as long to offload as one of the big tankers but our ship has a larger crew.

Not your everyday street mime.

Street Sculpture

On the last leg down to Montreal the word was out that the previous trip had to cancel that last run and bus the travelers down there. Or up there. Upstream, meaning southwest. The rains had raised the river level to where the stack and various antennae wouldn't clear the underside of the big bridges south of Quebec. So now we had suspense. Sort of. Everyone knew they wouldn't really risk hitting that thing but on the other hand we all also know dumb things happen to people who should know better.

So there was a good crowd up there on the top bow deck as we approached that high steel structure; you could see little cars and trucks zipping along and you see our stack and the radar rack and you tell this was going to be close. Our approach was ponderous but seemed to accelerate the closer we got, and then --- gasp --- point --- look look --- here it comes --- WOW --- !!! A gigantic near miss, made all the closer by the hugeness and the smoothness of the graceful ship and the immovable mathematical trusses carrying all the quietly gliding traffic. What was it like for the drivers up there in the sky? Did they even notice?

Excitement on the Top Deck

Landed in Montreal and then caught a plane to Boston. Our gear was taken quickly back to Quebec and shipped by private carrier to the warehouse of the Minneapolis Opera Company, and I took our rig and slipped back to Minnesota. From there we went by automobile to Montana for a week with friends.

~ ~ ~ ~

After that, the Minnesota State Fair, but first I had to split an aging woodpile and I got covered with a literal bazillion red ants and a lot of other critters that live in the darkness of a festering downed boxelder. They were mad and they knew who was wrecking their palace. It was a real red ant rendezvous. They went over the gauntlets and onto the hands, over the boots and up the legs. Feisty little guys. One even bit me on the eyelid. This was for a bonfire for a Wednesday Men's Crisis Night.

Two days later the hangover was gone but there was a large circular red dome on my right shin. I checked Lyme Disease in Wikipedia and one of the photos showed a dead ringer for my bite. I know people who have had that Lyme disease. The deer tick that carries is it is even smaller than the red ant.

At the hospital the doctor was skeptical. She told me they don't practice medicine from photos in Wikipedia. She talked me out of the antibiotics. The swelling is going down. I don't have a fever.

Good thing, too. It would have been too ironic to travel all those miles and then come home and get sick from a tick in a woodpile. Nobody needs that kind of corny drama.

© R.Ringsak 2011

russring at visi dot com

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