Thursday, May 22, 2008

one of those cinderella days

Theresa Disney was waiting patiently for us all day in St. Louis, before we finally worked our way to her and the fabulous art she makes.   But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day started with gray skies and rainy streets in Jefferson City, though we did manage to snag some Starbucks without a lightning strike.  That was a positive development.  And finding Chris Akers at his barbershop in Madison, MO near Moberly was another.  Chris cuts hair, like any small town barber.  But he also plays music, repairs instruments and gives guitar lessons onsite as well.  He's a motormouth with a hearty laugh and an uncanny knack for giving farm folk what they need in the way of grooming.  Make that for giving TV Weasels what they need. For  just ten bucks I'm sporting an Akers do myself, and pretty darned happy about it.  I forgot to get a receipt, so I guess this one's on me!

Along the way toward St. Lou, we sought out (and found with sketchy instructions) a yard full of metal dinosaurs northeast of Centralia.  However, the combination of wet grass, no shoulder whatsoever and gnawing hunger made this one a very short stop.  We may regret it later.

The rain kept ebbing and flowing, and even looked for a moment like it might wash us out completely in Wright City.  But the gods were with us, allowing a good look at what's recently happened to Elvis.  You may recall that the Graceland-defying Elvis Is Alive Museum has stood alongside I-70 there for many years. Not any more.  Now the big figure of the King is carrying a cross, and the sign says something about Baptist missions!  His momma might have been proud, but the rest of us are pretty shook up.

The traffic migraine that is St. Louis wasn't as brutal as usual, so we were only half an hour late to Ms. Disney's house on the Hill.  Well, not so much a house as an old dry cleaners that's filled to the gills with art.  Angels and devils play a big part in Theresa's work (she's built them into an amazing chess set among other things) but the main message seems to be "just create." It gives her a reason to get up everyday, find raw materials in neighborhood dumpsters, and figure out ways to make something that often calls for new adventuresin problem-solving.

The chance to wander about in Theresa's "private" spaces, the ones that no one usually sees was really quite an honor.  And time-consuming too, since almost everything in them was photo worthy!   If it was, as she put it,  a "Cinderella Day" for her, we too had a truly fine time pretending to be Three Princes Charming.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

hair and there without a care

What are we doing with these cosmetologists in training?  

As much as we can, of course.  They're taking a break from studies at the Independence School of Cosmetology, which also serves as the headquarters of Leila's Hair Museum.   That's her on the right.  She's "beyond obsessed with hair" she told us.  Back in 1956 she bought her first hair wreath.  Now the walls are filled with examples of this obscure Victorian era practice of memorializing loved ones with hair art.  Using their actual hair, which some folks think is a bit creepy.  But not Leila.  

It's a one-of-a-kind history lesson, a tribute to the types of work that women were allowed to pursue in those days, and a way for Leila to spend a whole lotta money on e-bay.  She's got hair from the stars too--Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr, Ronald Reagan's on the way... as is (you heard it hear first) Mary, the Mother of Jesus!  Like Don told her, "you're gonna need a bigger parking lot."

From  Independence, we headed south, then east to follow up on a couple of viewer tips, the first one about some yard art near Holden.  And indeed, a few sizable sculptures are standing in what the sign calls the Holden Art Yard, which also claimed to be closed.  But since the work was outside and easy to see, we decided it was still open, for a few minutes anyway.

 Our other investigation took us to Sedalia.  We'd heard that a TV Repair Shop there had "a lot of bird houses out back."  We're not sure what constitutes a whole lot of purple martin houses, but we've been to Griggsville, Illinois, and this sir, is no Griggsville.  But that's OK, while in Sedalia we were able to verify that the Wheel Drive-In, forced out of its long-time  location for highway improvements, is now up and running a mile or so south. Peanut butter slathered on a burger...I called it "an acquired taste" 12 years ago.  I think that still fits.

Even with my belly full of guber, we made tracks for Tipton, to play catch in the shadow of the World's Largest 8 Ball, which once served as the water tower for the Fisher Pool Table Co.  
Sure it was a stretch, but I still think my mention of former Royal Tom Poquette was the best billiards/baseball link of the day.  Think about it...

As dark clouds gathered, we wondered if we might get rained out at Boathenge.  But the skies cleared nicely as we reached Cooper's Landing on the Missouri River.  It's a stop on the Katy Trail between Rocheport and Jeff City.  A fellow named Catfish who helped erect the Henge said it could be explained as "beer, backhoes and boats" coming together.  We admired its eloquent self, and the 3D painting of it made by 82 year old Columbia folk artist Rex Bandy. Rex wants more color in the world, and paints accordingly.  He also shared some useful tips on picking up women in grocery stores, laundromats and pool halls.  We took a turn on some borrowed bikes, then chased it all with Thai food from Chim's  at the Landing.  All true, I swear, but don't ask me about Sparky, the grumpy guy on the houseboat where some equally tasty music was being made.  I just might tell you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

so close, so cool

So here's what happens when we start to shoot a "Missouri" episode to accompany last fall's "Kansas" show.  We get about 6 blocks from the station and stumble onto a backyard garden that's growing in all kinds of ways.  Laurie and Linda are urban pioneers living in an old porn store on Troost ("old guys with gold chains still pull up occasionally"), growing tomatoes, potatoes, corn and even cotton.  Did we mention the chickens?  And Bighead, the lovely, slobbering mastiff of the house?

From an art standpoint, the sizable walls made from discarded pallets, accented with blue bottle windows, and old letters from the Osco in Westport are the most engaging.  Reuse is rampant here at what we called the "Or-house" thanks to frequent visits to the Recycling center, or as the ladies called it "the trash exchange."

Our impromptu stop made us late for lunch at Waldo Pizza, which some viewers may recall as the home of the World's Only Memorial Restroom.  The J. Stephen O'Laughlin Memorial Restroom is also the employee bathroom at the WP, and we toured it some years back while Mr. O was living (and running for mayor in San Diego.)  He's back, and working again at the 'ol pizza joint-- sporting a jazzy new mullet at that, the better to get in touch with his "inner 816."  We all squeezed in to admire his clever self-tribute, and watched him get schooled in some rock paper scissors action back in the kitchen.

Joel was appropriately excited about meetingThe Big Ball, which was about to see one of its spiritual cousins up in Weston.   Mike took us up the scenic way through his old Parkville haunts, and for a brief recreational stretch we soaked up some laid-back Weston vibe.  Not much going on in the mid-afternoon, until we rolled up to O'Malley's.  The old brewery is getting a major facelift, and here's the best thing of all.  They "found" The World's Largest Ball of String (not twine) which had been sitting in a crowded storeroom since the late 70s.   Finley Stephens wound it (quite roundly) and got Guinness' blessing.  No easy task!  Then it sat forgotten for decades.  Kudos to the Corey and the O'Malley guys for getting it where folks can see and touch greatness.

And thanks for the Irish Ales!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

yes there is a mountain

Did you know that Winnemucca has more Basque restaurants per capita than any town in the country?  And the Buckaroo Hall of Fame too, whatever that is.  But we were spending the night there because of its proximity to an outsider art site that we've ogled from afar for years and years--Rolling Thunder Mountain just off I-80 in Imlay, Nevada.

Chief Rolling Thunder started life as Frank Van Zandt, a youth pastor, forest ranger and law enforcement professional, who started building his monument to the Native American spirit in 1968.  The core of what seems to me to be a cross between The Garden of Eden, Nittwit Ridge and the Coral Castle began with a small trailer, around which Thunder (as he preferred to be called) added rocks and concrete, bottles and statuary.  Its central tower with the eagle on top rises up some five or six stories above the ground-- the whole thing his son Dan estimates covering perhaps 4000 square feet.

Dan says that he'd go away for a couple of months during his dad's prime, and return to find whole new sections of the house, which also served as a kind of museum.  Not so much artifacts displayed within, but by the structure itself, which he said was guided by "the great spirit."   Thunder mostly worked alone, or with the assistance of hippie types who would stop by to see what the heck was going on.  And Dan remembers, as much as his father liked to tell stories, he was always on the move, finding rocks and new pieces to add to his "monument."

Neither Van Zandt could be considered  much of a "permit" type, so even though the property's marked as a State Historic Site, that's about the extent of governmental help.  Dan lives in California, and does what he can to shore up the most "at risk" parts of this amazing construction, but it's a daunting task.  The many "no trespassing" signs are designed to keep people from crawling around it, while still making it possible to view.

Dan recalls that given the choice his dad would probably pick concrete over groceries, and ironically, that's the business he's in now.   But he says he still occasionally hears from some of those aging flower children that often populated the place, and from Native Americans who appreciate the passion that Thunder put into his mountain.  We do too.  Big time.

And we appreciate that our van is now heading back towards home base, eerily on schedule. We've been blessed with only one slight rain delay, and considering what's been rattling Reno lately, no earthquakes.  Now we head back, and see if any of it actually was recorded... 

Music In the Van--REM "Accelerate", Bob Dylan "Modern Times", Sufjain Stevens Come On Feel the Illinois"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

gettin' bugged at dooby's

All right, first things first.   This morning, while Don and I snoozed, Mike "I'm up at 6" Murphy took the van and got it washed.  And we didn't notice.  We're bad men, and we regret it.

On our awakening we drove that clean machine to Reno, saw a giant spider on a roof, drove downtown through its gaming hub, and learned you can't warm your coffee in gas stations' microwaves--"it's a health hazard."   Speaking of such, we also passed by Sierra Sid's Casino & Truckstop in nearby Sparks, where they have some of Elvis' guns and jewelry on display. Maybe even the infamous gun that shot out the TV, but we're not sure.  We didn't really stick around to find out.

The big event today was well north of Reno, on a scenic, isolated road that took us past a town called Nixon, which spurred  a certain camera guy to new heights.  The people at the general store wondered why we were taking so many pictures, but really, how could we resist?

Our destination, Gerlach is best known these days as home base for the Burning Man festival.   In case you don't know, it attracts some 50,000 people to the Black Rock desert each Labor Day weekend.  Art cars, impromptu creations, music and revelry (and not so much clothing) are its staples.  And Matthew Ebert is one of the folks who helps make it happen.  He's also the guy who took us out to Guru Lane, a "drive through art show" a few miles outside of town.  

The guru in question was a guy named Dewayne Williams, whose other moniker was "Dooby."
And yes, that's how he got his name.  This ex-Marine with a liberal bent would carve sayings and pithy wisdom into rocks that he sprinkled along a path that runs a mile or so.  Along the way, he also built installations, like an Elvis shrine, a womanly Aphrodite, and the Dooobyvision TV studio we're posed in front of.  It's really impressive, and surprisingly well-preserved (in part thanks to Matthew and his volunteers) but the bugs are something else! Apparently, the no-seeums start swarming just about now, and we were the perfect target for them.  At least, unlike some critters, the pain from their bites is short-lived.   Unless malaria or something else sets in, we're ready for our big finale tomorrow, Rolling Thunder Mountain, one of those "grandaddy" sites we've heard about for years.

Music In the Van--Bruce Springsteen "Magic Town",  Richard Thompson ""Live, the Chrono Show", Ringo Starr Liverpool"
Correction--The highest gas price from the other day was only supposed to be $4.69 for diesel, not $4.99 (though just give it time)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

lotsa drivin' and nobody's cryin'

The El Portal Motel in Beatty, NV isn't much on amenities--no clocks among other things!  But we all managed to get up on time and start the day at Eddie's Place, which calls itself The World's Most Beautiful Gas Station.  And it does have some pretty nice brickwork, roses and flowering shrubs to ease the stench of high gas prices!  Also lots of snacks and candies not found in your normal convenience store.  Wasabi peas and sour cherry gummies.  Yum!

Beatty's on US95, a road that's lined with casinos and bordellos, none of which got any of your public TV dollars.  Our destination was Goldfield, another of those mining towns that at one time was the largest city in Nevada. Til the gold ran out, and everyone left, leaving behind several crumbling bottle houses, and a few grand old buildings that we've seen in movies like "Vanishing Point" and "Cherry 2000."  Really, some of us have seen those, though no one saw "Butterfly" with Orson Welles and Pia Zadora, which also shot some of its scenes here.

A folk artist and art car owner named Slim Sirnes also lived in Goldfield until his death a few years ago at age 75.  His wife Carol welcomed us in to see to what's left of his sculptures and recycled artwork, the most impressive being the pieces he made with beer cans on a loom.  That's right, a loom that wove with metallic strands!   Purses, flags, dogs, images of Burning Man (which he attended a few times) and other colorful creations, some of which departed with us.

The photo above is from Tonopah, previously known only to me as a reference in a Little Feat song.  The Clown Motel sign pretty much forced me to grab that Big Ball of Tape and whirl around until dizzy.  That outburst was followed by a serious haul through the mountains and onto the so-called Loneliest Highway in the World, US 50.  It definitely has its share of scenic diversions, but the one we came for was the Middlegate Shoe Tree.  We've seen shoe trees before, but never quite like this.  It's pretty much the only vertical thing around.  Since we'd brought no footwear of our own, we opted to play some catch in its shade.  Slapping leather of another kind, you might say.

The clouds were dipping lower and lower as we passed the salt flats and Sand Mountain, the singing sand dune that might be fun if you had the time to play that tune.  We didn't, and Fallon is where we're down for the night.  This place does have clocks...

Music In the Van--Loose Fur "Born Again In the USA", "Classic Voices In American Soul",
Eric Clapton "Unplugged", Ben Folds Five "Whatever and Ever Amen", The Kinks Greatest Hits
Highest Gas Price- $4.99 (diesel) wow!

Monday, May 5, 2008

death valley dazed

Leaving Las Vegas wasn't cinematic, but it was time consuming.  They just keep building strip malls and casinos in gas stations further and further away from town.  We stopped at one, re-iced, slathered on sunscreen and talked about "Death Valley Days" and Borateem in preparation for searching out stuff in the desert.

Stuff like Cathedral Canyon, a sculpture park built into a small natural canyon near the California-Nevada line.  Apparently a Vegas attorney named Roland Wiley spent years creating it as a tribute to his daughter, but then he passed away too, and the vandals have had their way with it.  The statue of Christ of the Andes was headless, the bridge was gone, and the small grottos in the canyon walls were crumbling away too.  

We said a small thank you once again to the preservationists out there who save sites like these, and headed toward Beatty to meet one.  Suzanne Hackett-Morgan worked with Seymour Rosen in California many years back, and is now helping the Goldwell Open Air Museum stay viable in its Death Valley domain.  Technically, the artists whose work is on display here were trained.  But they came from Belgium, and saw in this inhospitable terrain a great place to drink lots of beer and make whatever they wanted.  There's a large metal miner (with a penguin), a spooky Last Supper, a giant pink pixilated woman, and as the picture above shows, a new addition that fits right in.  Recently, Suzanne managed to corral a piece from the Las Vegas Children's Museum called "Sit Here", revamped and re-imagined it and voila, another piece for the park.

Why Goldwell, when it's actually in Rhyolite?  Apparently, Albert, the Belgian who started it all back in the 80s, said "gold was what people came here for, and Wellington was the name of the mine, so, Goldwell!"  And speaking of Rhyolite, except for the old train depot, it's nothing but ruins.  The depot and Tom Kelly's Bottle House, that is.  Built in 1908 utilizing the resource that thousands of miners who lived there at the time contributed--glass bottles.  It's been shored up with a new roof in the last few years, which is great.  However, it's behind barbed wire, and no one had a key.  Not so great.

Don did take a small spill on the rocks at Rhyolite, but his skinned knee isn't going to bench him.  Best of all, we left the park with great swag --T-Shirts, cards, books, and a real appreciation for the passion that someone like Suzanne can bring to places like these.  Did I mention she likes the Jayhawks too?

Music In the Van--John Hiatt "Best Of", Minus Five "Down With Wilco", Joni Mitchell "Shine"

Sunday, May 4, 2008

is there a doctor in the house(s)?

Here's an indication of just how exciting our lives are these days.  We hit Las Vegas before dark, and the main thing on our minds was that we could probably do some laundry!  
Actually, our hotel (which was being repainted as Don discovered outside his window this morning) technically is in North Las Vegas.  That's a ways from the Strip, but we did drive down it this morning on our way to a place that encapsulates the town's history and so much more.  And it does it all in a huge, rambling structure that began as a single ranch home, thanks to that man above, Dr. Lonnie Hammargren.

Lonnie is a neurosurgeon, musician and former lieutenant governor of Nevada.  He's also an amateur archaeo-astronomer, and a guy who can't resist yard sales.  Of course, the things he's acquired are sometimes quite large-- old casino signage, pieces of atomic and aerospace history, movie sets, vintage cars.  He's built a pyramid on the roof that helps him chart the stars, he's working on a Stonehenge up there too, and, oh did I mention there's an iron lung inside a sarcophagus in the basement in which he plans to be buried?

Lonnie's chums include American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, Vegas musicians and magicians, as well as high-profile politicians like Harry Reed, who he met when he was being sued some years ago.  He's also pretty popular at a nearby casino where he plays accordion most Sundays with the aptly named Dumkoffs.

For hours and hours we walked and listened, looked and learned.  We sat on Johnny Weismuller's old couch, heard Liberace's piano, talked about Teddy Roosevelt and Howard Hughes... it was a day to remember, and best of all, no brains needed surgery.

No music in the Van since we really didn't drive too far, but Don does report he's over the $2.00 mark in found money for the trip so far.  America rejoices!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

rockin' our way to chloride

OK, first things first, no ghost sightings from our night at the Jerome Hotel, though Don did report that one of the occupants of 402 was screaming with something other than fright.  For his sleep-related troubles, we treated him with a John Wayne lunchbox from the hotel gift shop.  On the way out o' town, we made friends with some bikers in the lot and Mike handed off our ostrich egg from the other day to someone who said they'd cook it.  I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.

After a scenic turn on 89A we hooked back up with I-40, then ducked off it at Seligman, which claimed (and we're not sure why) to be the birthplace of Route 66.  At any rate, it was hoppin' on this lovely Saturday morn, with overflow crowds flowing out of Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In and many other 66-tinged businesses.

We really wanted to see Kingman though, not the least reason being its full embrace of Andy Devine.  Who, you say?  (Mike does too.)  Andy was a squeaky voiced cowboy sidekick in movies and TV, and even though he's got a major street named after him, the people we asked were as clueless as Mike.  The streets were teeming with folks looking at classic cars in some kind of retrofest, so we played some catch at a stumpy pyramid honoring the only camel train in US history.  I'm not making this up!

We'd heard that Chloride, a tiny town 20 miles north of Kingman was full of junk sculptures, but details were sketchy.  We drove its deserted streets for awhile, saw a few token attempts at recycled art, including a place advertising "crap I make", and then hit the motherlode at Sharron Gidding's Shady Ladies Antique Store.  Sharron calls herself a Chloridiot, and says the bottle trees out front of the shop are her idea of a sign.  They're unlike any we've seen before--really more like bottle chollas, Don pointed out.

Sharron hauls rocks and driftwood up from the river in her kayak, and in doing so has lost 85 pounds in the last few years.  The inside of her house has been somewhat overtaken by odds and ends that she makes, sells, or is just impressed with.  She likes to build what she calls cowgirl fences along the edge of her land, more decorative than cowboys would likely choose to make.   She's one ball o' fire, and we're pretty sure the two r's in her name have something to do with rock & roll.

Music In the Van--Gram Parsons "GP and Grievous Angel", John Stewart "Fire In the Wind".
Simon & Garfunkel Live 1969

Friday, May 2, 2008

art that truly lives on

Woke up bright and early in Flagstaff (Mountain non-DST sun seems to show up fast) with Elifante on our mind.  Our guide to this jaw-dropping sculpture village and residence built by Michael and Leda Kahn wanted to meet in Sedona at 8 AM.  I want it on the record that we hit the Safeway parking lot at the exact moment!  A good omen, and we happily followed J.D. down to Cornville, a far less busy town off 89A. 

Michael, we knew, had passed away in March, after a battle with Pick's Disease. a form of Alazheimers that had reduced him to just two words, though he continued to paint right on up to the end.  Not surprising when you start seeing the scope of work that went into the place,  all the rocks that were moved, the beams that were raised and the painting that was done in the thirty years since the couple arrived.  Completely jaw-dropping in its diversity and its execution.   Michael wasn't a morning or evening person, Leda says, he was both.

Elifante encompasses a number of non-traditional structures, like the Hippodome, where they eventually lived, Pipe Dreams (a gallery for Michael's paintings), the Winter Palace, the Bath House and so on.   There are gardens, trees they've planted, even a nennis court.  That's tennis with no net, and definitely, she told us, no rules. 

It seems almost condescending to point out the hobbit-ness of the place, but the world Peter Jackson built for the movies is eerily close to Elifante in many ways.  It's shapes and passages, 
playfulness and functionality are magical.  We've seen nothing quite like it before, and that's something I don't say lightly.  We're sorry we couldn't meet Michael, but the work he made, and the look in Leda's eyes as she talked about him spoke volumes in his absence.

We're lucky guys. and we know it.

And just to top it off, we pulled the plug early, and headed for Jerome, an old mining town at the top of a hill that counter-culture types reclaimed in the 70s.  Of course, it's also a hotbed of the paranormal, and our night's lodging spot, the Grand Hotel is reputed to be ghost central. Who'll be Scully tonight?

Music In the Van--Regina Spektor (a favorite of Larry Harris', whose "endorsement" helped convince Leda to grant our request.  Thanks, Lar)
Highest Gas Price-- $4.39 (diesel) two days ago in New Mexico.  
And while we're playing the addendum game, the CD from yesterday I couldn't name was "Actual Size" which might be the title or it might be the artist, but it was funny and pretty darned good.  Gracias Joe Khron of Lawrence, Kansas.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

winding a windy way to flagstaff

We woke up  knowing that the day was going to be breezy, but the cold was a bit of a shock. Farmington was barely breaking 40 when we rolled past Sunny, its first rate Muffler Man, mounted atop the Sun Glass Store on West Main.  Sunny was rocking rather violently. leading us to hope that the show didn't end abruptly with a large fiberglass man crushing us.

It didn't, but we almost wished it had, standing with our teeth chattering at the famed 4 Corners monument northwest of Shiprock.  We'd dreamed of playing catch there, throwing to 4 states at once, but alas... It's a Navajo owned attraction, and they think that taping there should be worth $1500.  That's right, they've had crews pay it, the guy told us.  Not us, of course, and we left with a bad taste in the four corners of our mouths.  Bummer.

Long stretches of driving through more Navajo country followed, leading down to Adalamo, AZ.  At exit 303 on I-40, the signs all point to Stewart's Rock Shop.  And not just signs, but giant homemade dinosaurs with moving parts that light up and blink!  No problem shooting pictures here.  Along with rocks and petrified wood, the Stewarts (it's really Charles' wife Gazell who runs the place) have over 100 ostriches to see and feed.  We left with the promised petrified wood sample and postcard, along with a bonus parting gift from Gazell--an ostrich egg that we'll try to get cooked up tomorrow.  No cholesterol, you know...

And finally,  a few miles further west,  Holbrook helped us score the trifecta.  That is, we've now seen all three remaining Wigwam Village Motels.  The one here is operated by the son of the man who opened it back in 1950, when it also pumped a lot of Texaco to Route 66 travelers.  As Don pointed out, that's the same year he was built, and his wiring's starting to fritz.   But overall the 15 units appear to be doing quite well.  This Wigwam was the one that Oprah visited a year or two back, but there wasn't enough room for her 18 crew members, so she didn't actually stay.  She did send a chopper back later to get some aerial shots.  We told John we'd send ours someday too.  

Music In the Van--"Jayhawks "Live at the Women's Club", William Shatner "Has Been", Dire Straits "Making Movies", R. Crumb, Dirk Hamilton, and a CD someone gave Don that I can't remember now.  (We drove a lot.)