Derek Johnson Muses

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Road Notes: Peacocks and Delivery to North Kansas

Yesterday was the first work trip since September, as I came out of hibernation and on to the asphalt. I went down to Kansas to take thirteen bags of corn seed to a customer who lived thirty miles north of Topeka by the town of Valley Falls, Kansas. It was a little more than three hours from Seward one way, the perfect day trip. I woke up at 5:30 and rolled out of the warehouse by 7:20. Everything was marvelous, until I hit rush hour traffic on Highway 2 in Lincoln and had to sit through two red lights at 14th Street.

After I got through Lincoln, it was more or less smooth sailing. I had taken the route to Topeka several times as we have a dealer in Sabetha, Kansas, although the last time I remember was back in 2010. I’ve done a lot of the photography along the way, particularly in Auburn, Nebraska but there was still plenty of spaces I hadn’t been. This time of year, a rainy early April, is a good time for finding contrasting colors, as the green grass has started to grow around the brown grass.

New beginnings...

New beginnings…

The road construction crews have also come out for the season. I ran into one as I arrived at the Kansas border on Highway 75. It facilitated a ten minute wait and a ten mile stretch of driving on de-surfaced road at forty-five miles per hour, an unpleasant stretch if you drive a hand-me down pickup with 200,000+ miles and a load. I took Highway 73 through Falls City on my way home and was also able to stop in Syracuse and return a Tupperware to one of my guest artists from February.

The farm that I delivered the seed to was on the west side of tree sanctuary. Four pet peacocks roamed the yard (?), along with a large black-and-white speckled dog the size of a St. Bernard. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to bother each other. The buyer was absent, so I unloaded the bags and left quickly. The dog didn’t bark much, but I was still nervous, based on past experiences.

Just one of the farm animals...

Just one of the farm animals…

On the way back, I stopped for lunch in Horton (not Holton, a few miles down the road-so confusing) at a burger-and-ice-cream drive-in and had a taco burger. Kansas and the other wasteland states (Nebraska, Wyoming, etc.) seems to have a high number of these little drive-in places, like Sonic but more basic. I always admire whoever it is who chooses to run a business like this in off-the-map America, because they do not make a lot of money considering the time they have to put in.

On the way back, I got tired, but I managed to make it back on a single energy drink (Starbucks Refesher-doesn’t leave me feeling dehydrated).  I listened to several Issues, Etc. 24 podcasts, on the work of Christ, sin, and justification, but still have most of that program left for the summer miles ahead. Finding the perfect tracks for these trips is important, because when I remember them later on, I remember what I was listening to at the time. Like when I drove this route three years ago listening to a call from Mike in Indy on the Jim Rome Show.

It sprinkled at a couple points, but it never really rained, a relief. The long, multi-day trips in my cab are still a few months ahead of me, but I was glad for yesterday. I got to take a route that was familiar, but that I wouldn’t take very often once summer starts, and some unique shots. Best of all, it kept me working.

Illinois Road Notes: Part 1

Last week, I left Dubuque and went on a trip that took me to my aunt’s house in Tinley Park, Illinois to Princeton, Illinois, down to the St. Louis suburbs, then back home. The following is the first half of some notes from my ride that I wrote on my IPod as I drove, or things that I was thinking along the way.


The road from Dubuque to Chicago is at first a frustrating two-laner over hills and curves, made even more frustrating by early morning fog and traffic. At points, I’m going 40-45. I’m gleeful when the road splits into four lanes by Freeport, and I happen upon a farm to photograph. I fill up at the oasis on I-88, just as a bus with high schoolers comes in. Chicago freeway traffic is light.

I exit I-294 and take Cicero down to where my aunt and uncle live. I drove this route several times when I would come down from Milwaukee seven years ago, and there are many more empty store fronts now then there was then. Not the roughest neighborhood I’ve ever been in, but it’s bleak nonetheless. Tinley Park, where they actually live, is much better. Seeing the bus stops with movie ads to me, is the hallmark of city life.

On the way out of Chicago, I get off at Joliet, Illinois, and find a minor highway that runs north of I-80 about ten miles. I have a fleeting thought about taking I-55 instead, but its raining, and I’d like to drive on a road less crowded.


After photographing a group of sheds, I pull into a driveway to turn around and have to wait for two vehicles to pass. While I sit there, someone watches from the doorstep of the house, probably the person who owns the sheds. I worry about him approaching me or yelling at me, but he doesn’t do either.

Spend the night in Princeton, Illinois.


There are days when the road turns in unexpected ways, and today’s one of them. After a commitment is canceled, I take it as a sign to go to Collinsville, Illinois and visit the Issues, Etc. studio.

Take a break from driving in the rain. I’m in the middle of a forest preserve by Tiskilwa, Illinois, which appears to be nothing more than a collection of bushes. Found several abandoned buildings to photograph, an extended shoot of the Illinois River by Lacon.

The Illinois

Get coffee at a Starbucks in Peoria, Illinois, answer e-mails, then get soup at Culver’s. Head out on the interstate, but get pulled over by a cop for going 70 in a 55 MPH zone. While the cop takes two full games of IPod Moxie to write my ticket, I see two other people pulled over in front of me and it dawns on me: the state of Illinois is broke. They’ve become Wyoming.

Stop at the Lincoln home in Springfield, decide not to tour it since I remember some of it from our family vacation twenty years ago. I get my national parks passport stamped and wander among the buildings, listening to an audio tour on my phone. Take a vanity photo for my facebook page. Springfield is a rugged town; it has a “historic” downtown, but it still looks more worn down than it should. On the way out of town, I stop at Starbucks and download my e-mail in the parking lot.

Our lives are defined by our actions.

Stay at the Congressional Motel, a $45 a night shop for a room that smells like drugs were used in it. The WiFi doesn’t work, so I have to go to Panera Bread, which for some reason is called the St. Louis Bread Company. Come back and watch the sad coverage of the Junior Seau suicide and see Marcellus Wiley crying on ESPN. Heartbreaking.


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