Derek Johnson Muses

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Road Notes: Far From Home

Oh, those early mornings

Oh, those 6 A.M starts. In a filter no less.

Even on familiar roads, I set a personal record, hitting over 15 fields in five days. There were plenty of Subway sandwiches, coffees, lunches in the truck, and desperate map checks in between. Praise the Lord for my iPhone’s map app. The longer I check fields, the more my time on the road becomes simple directions rather than complex thinking. Gives me time to reflect on things.

The highlights:

Southeast Iowa has a bunch of towns (Pella, Burlington, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Washington and Fairfield) that I can’t tell apart. I spent 15 minutes driving around Fairfield looking for a Subway that was really in Oskaloosa. I think.

Fairfield, Iowa. Passed this very same light in September of 2009.

Fairfield, Iowa. Passed this very same light in September of 2009, and photographed the diamond store on the corner.

In an odd juxtaposition, Shelton Fireworks has locations off I-29 at the Iowa-Missouri border, and off Highway 27 in the eastern part of the state.

St. Louis seems to have a need to keep all of its office buildings close to the interstate. You rarely even see shopping centers there or even just houses, just miles of glass windows. It’s as if St. Louis has to keep reminding itself that it’s a major city for influence, even though it’s fallen down a few rungs over the past 100 years or so.

I have no hope of finding a better place to eat lunch or dinner than Subway or Culver’s. It’s always Subway and Culver’s. I know everything on their menus. At least Culver’s has variety; my final meal at Subway I searched for a special I hadn’t tried before.

My grower in southeast Missouri is suffering from what he calls the worst rainfall he’s ever had in his life (he has grown daughters, by the way.) The beans are up, but they have a ways to go. Tuesday afternoon, it rained on me for three hours, and one crossing of the Mississippi River.

Tear Drops

Tear Drops

Cairo, Illinois is a dead city. Everyone there has to have moved to either Kentucky or Missouri to get away from paying high taxes for the pensions of lazy government workers.

I’ve had two bad experiences with Wal-Mart oil changes, one in Dubuque where I was rejected and another in Kingdom City, Missouri which took forever when I was in a rush. One guy named Dean at the Wal-Mart in Mount Vernon, Illinois salvaged their reputation.

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Empty Street in Cairo, Illinois

The Wisconsin-Illinois border should be shaded in gray between the small towns on either side of it. The land and farmhouses between the two states are indistinguishable. But the run-down houses of Dakota, Illinois are nothing compared to the brightly-slanted houses just across the border in Brodhead, Wisconsin. The difference in pride is so obvious.

I found a favorite new restaurant just north of Madison called The Pine Cone, a bakery/dinner. I had all the signs: a menu I couldn’t put down, employees who helped each other and were always communicating, and shelves full of beautiful pastries, all of which I wanted to try. I’ll be going back.

Wisconsin Woods

Wisconsin Woods

Tomah, Wisconsin needs a coffee shop. Like, four years ago.

The biggest challenge I have in making these trips is discernment. When do I need to stop for the day? When can I keep going? There was one night when I stopped sooner than I would have liked, but I got my oil changed, rested, read, and started out that morning at six A.M.

Every night but the one I mentioned above, I worked until 9. One night I got an early motel room and took a leisurely dinner, but I still went to my field that night. Thought I would have time to get a Huskermax post up sometime that week, and that pipe dream went out the window.

I missed my garden.

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Promise

Road Notes: Full of Surprises and Joy

Back to the Future

Back to the Future. I was there.

I spent three days last week trucking around the four awkward fitting corners of Nebraska-Missouri-Iowa-Kansas delivering and picking up seed. Couple of long days and short nights, but it was a lot of fun to be back in the truck, getting caught up on podcasts while watching the entire world wake up to spring.

It all started Tuesday, when the owner of the lab space I rent asked me to run some seed to his dealer in Graham, Missouri, a 200-size town roughly 20 miles east of I-29 off the Mound City exit. It’s the fourth time since December that I’ve driven down or across the I-29/Missouri River Valley, and the hills still roll like an endless wave. At least I-29 is better than I-35 between Des Moines and KC. On my way home, I grabbed dinner at Crave in Lincoln, thinking I’d spend Wednesday dutifully catching up.

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

On actual Wednesday, those tidy plans were disrupted when I was asked to go to Belle Plaine, Iowa and pick up a bulk load of seed. I gratefully threw my plans for the day out the window and left promptly because, as sudden as it was, too many ordinary days lead to too many ordinary thoughts. Besides I got to eat at the Corn Crib. 

Thankfully, I pressed hard to get to Belle Plaine and arrived at the processing plant just before the secretary I had to bother was about to leave for the day. I was loaded quickly and peacefully traversed to my parents’ apartment in Ames, along the tight hills-corridor of US Highway 30, until it opens up to four lanes around Marshalltown.

Thankfully, I slept poorly and woke up at 3:18 A.M. After 45 minutes of kidding myself, I got up, showered, and was out the door by 5 A.M., eager to beat rush hour traffic around Des Moines. So giddy, I celebrated with Starbucks breakfast: oatmeal with a vanilla latte, things I always want to get at Starbucks, but never do because I’m never there that early.

I glided cheerily through lighter traffic and the world waking up, even as my energy inconveniently burned off around 7:45, forcing me to crush a Starbucks Refresher. I still dragged, but clung to the thought that I would be back to Seward before noon and who knows what the afternoon would hold.

And upon my return to office, I was asked to take one more delivery to Kansas that afternoon! I eagerly said yes. After all, I could go home for lunch and crash for ten minutes and be back to normal. If I didn’t have another delivery, I would be on pins and needles from the Refresher all afternoon. Imagine the waste.

I went home, ate, started a load of laundry, and repeated the delivery cycle. This particular delivery was just across the Nebraska-Kansas border, south of Odell, Nebraska. The familiar turns on I-80 east to Lincoln, them south to Beatrice whizzed by me, almost as if it were happening to someone else. I crossed the border on an obscure country road (miss the welcome-to-Nebraska signs!), and after a bit of searching, found the farm. Then it was back up the highway, and another special dinner (Culver’s this time around), rushing back to Seward in time for church. A delightful day indeed.

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Border Signs

Road Notes: Quick Trip in Semi-Winter

It was a wee bit nippy outside...

It was a wee bit nippy outside…

Sometimes my world gets rocked a bit. Take last Tuesday afternoon, when my dad called me and asked me to go to Eastern Iowa the next day to pick up seed inoculant to take to northeast Kansas because it had to stay above freezing and couldn’t be sent  via UPS. I had fourteen hours notice before I was to leave, so I prioritized quickly. I got a hold on my mail, found out where I was supposed to go, and called my friend Tom to let him know I’d be stopping over the next night. The goals were simple: get the inoculant and get to Dubuque Wednesday, then deliver the inoculant and possibly get home Thursday night, if it didn’t get too late.

I woke at five on Wednesday morning and drove furiously. Tom had the day off, so I wanted to get to Dubuque as soon as I could. Other than the Crane Coffee in Omaha and the Culver’s in Des Moines, I managed not to stop for food or gas. The adrenaline rush was so strong, I didn’t even drink one of the two Starbucks refreshers I had brought.

I don’t have to drive in winter very often. But if there is no snow, January interstate traffic is blissfully light. Up until I got to Cedar Rapids, only light scattered flurries intruded on my drive. At Cedar Rapids, I stopped to get gas at the the Casey’s on the east side of town, and when I got back in the truck, this is what it looked like outside.

Not great.

Not great.

Mercifully, the dark clouds plagued me for only a short distance, although snow had drifted over parts of US 151 between Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, and  I took appropriate caution. Still, it could have been worse

The innoculant resided at Naylor Seed in Scotch Grove, Iowa, a town with a total of about 20 buildings sitting around a square, several of them empty. But for all the snow and decay, the town seemed pleasant, like it was a place people wanted to live. It was a quick in-and-out and back on the road, and I reached Dubuque close to my goal of 4 P.M.

Bright Winter's Day...

Bright Winter’s Day…

For the evening, Tom planned that we drive up to Platteville, Wisconsin and attend a men’s basketball game UWP (against UW-Stevens Point), the former school of current Wisconsin Badgers coach Paul Ryan. One of Tom’s friends is UWP corporate sponsor who has tickets right off the court. It was a great experience-even though UWP lost, it was great to just watch some basketball that involved crisp shooting and passing, and not just guys looking to cut to the rim. (Like the last 12 years of Nebrasketball.)

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Big Name Court!

After the game, I remembered I would regret it if I didn’t bring back New Glarus beer, my favorite Wisconsin beer, or any local beer from anywhere. Hence, a Piggly Wiggly run.

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Main Reason Anyone goes to America’s Dairyland

Thursday started out with a 20-minute ordeal of trying to get my truck throw snow drifts out onto the narrow, ridge-top road that runs by the farm where Tom lives (thankfully, I had help.) The omen for the day got even worse when I realized, 30 minutes after leaving Dubuque, I had taken US 61 instead of US 151 and was twenty miles north of Davenport. I shrugged it off and found a crossing highway from Maquoketa to Anamosa, enjoying the unintended change of scenery. I still made it to the Culver’s by Newton, Iowa in time for lunch, so most of my goals where still intact.

I ate the pork tenderloin combo for lunch, as I’d been thinking of that big breaded piece of meat for the longest time. I’d only had a snack-pack for lunch the previous day, so I’d earned the reward. As I passed Des Moines on the south side (something I almost never do), I took time to find the Caribou Coffee off the interstate, and it took time. After consecutive nights of 6-hours of sleep, plus 15-hours of driving, I wasn’t at my sharpest and was questioning my ability to get back home that night.

In the past year, I’ve crossed the Iowa-Missouri border 3 times not on I-29, where most Nebraskans cross it. It’s the most nondescript college of modest size towns in this country.

Stick Gone By..

Stick Gone By..

I made hay through rush hour traffic in St. Joseph, cruising though the industrial district after yet another wrong turn and passing an accident in mess of on-raps before getting onto the Pony Express Bridge and crossing into Kansas. Finally, I was in the land of small spurs off the highway.

I delivered the innoculant to a grower in Robinson, Kansas, a hundeds-something town only a couple of miles from US 36. I dropped it off at 6, and by the time I was headed back to the highway, it was pitch black. Normally, I hate night driving, but at this point in the day, I could surprisingly bear it. I made hay down US 36, opting not to take the Google Maps-recommended rout of US 75 through Auburn and Nebraska City, and instead using US 77 through Beatrice. It may have taken more time, but the difference to me was negligible, given that I would not have to drive through south Lincoln.

In my final hours driving back, I kept one goal clear in my head: if I get back by 10, there would be a replay of PTI at 10:30. I made that goal.

End Day...

End Day…

Road Notes: Back in a Hurry

DSCN1139

Just flaunting Husker pride!

Last week, I went on a maddening, four-day circle through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and back to Iowa, revisiting all the soybean fields I had already been to. It had all typical aspects of a Derek Johnson-road trip: receiving field information right when arrived at the field itself, figuring out my route on the fly, lunches at Subway, dinners after 7 P.M., and pick-me-up lattes whenever a Starbucks fell out of the sky. It was so crazy that I didn’t share the blog post I uploaded on Tuesday morning in my Waupun, Wisconsin hotel until Thursday afternoon in the Washington, Iowa, public library. Most of the routes I’ve driven on before and have written about in detail, so I will simply share some of the highlights and lessons.

I made a valuable life-adjustment: I went to bed before 10:30 each night, the benefit of dumping my Netflix subscription and of not justifying an extra hour of cable I didn’t get at home. I can see how valuable that extra hour is during the day; that hour I would have spent watching TV was putting to better use, even if I just watched more TV. I am trying to adjust my life at home to the same schedule.

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The Wisconsin River east of Bridgeport

I met the dairy farmer who does our test plots near Spring Green plots on the banks of the Wisconsin River. (For Husker fans, it is five miles downriver from where Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst grew up in Lone Rock.) Jim also raises corn and potatoes. I asked him if anyone in the area raises cranberries, a crop which requires field flooding, but he said no, the geography isn’t conducive to it, although he never has water issues himself. (More cranberries are raised north of Spring Green, up by Tomah.)

Good ear? I think so.

Good ear? I think so.

I’m more cautious of the speed limit in Illinois than in any other state because of the ticket I received in Peoria last year. When I crossed the Wisconsin-Illinois border on I-39, I passed two speed patrols in the space of about twenty-five miles. Still chasing that out-of-state dollar. At least they must be generating some revenue with the road renovations in the southern part of the state.

Tuesday night, I stayed in El Paso, Illinois, and dinner at Monical’s Pizza just of I-39. It was a nostalgia place with all this stuff on the wall from the 1940’s and ’50’s, and even though the pasta dish was generic and the sauce cheap, I enjoyed it because it’s not something I make for myself. It felt a bit bizarre observing the teenagers working there, thinking back to time working for Valentino’s. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were dying to get out of El Paso.

I realized why Subway has the most locations of any restaurant in the United States: you can put one in a strip mall and don’t need to build a stand-alone building, you don’t need a fryer, and you need three or four employees to run one. Genius business.

Wednesday night, I could have received 20% off dinner if ate at the Iron Skillet off the Kingdom City, Missouri exit, but I didn’t because I worry truck stop food will upset my stomach. Okay, it’s because I’m too good for truck stops, but either way, I ate at Panhead’s, a Mizzou Tigers tavern. I’m such a snob, but at least I had a good pork barbecue.

I saw an Iowa State Cyclones flag on Iowa Highway 92 between Washington and Signourney. As I tweeted out on Thursday night, it was the first time that I had seen ISU house decoration closer to Iowa City than Ames. The ‘Hawks are trending down.

Little flower...

Little flower…

My biggest disappointment was that I didn’t patronize a local coffeehouse. I passed one in southwest Illinois in some town on Illinois Highway 16; it even had an used bookstore. But I didn’t stop, and on Thursday, I was too exhausted to even consider hitting up the coffeehouse in Washington, Iowa.

I was so exhausted on Thursday because I had been battling allergies the entire trip and had to pull off US Highway 24 by Mark Twain Lake in Missouri because my eyes had become so watery. The corn pollen, plus the weed pollen, proved to be too much.

Thursday afternoon, I burned through a stockpile of PTI podcast from July while I used minor highways to get from Peoria, Iowa to the I-80, then enjoyed the sight of rush hour traffic going the other way while I bolted to Ames. That night, I crushed a Culver’s chicken dinner while watching the NFL preseason.

I didn’t write anything down while I was driving, only because I wanted to see how things collected in my mind. Actually, I was forcing myself to take a break, although I should have worked on some of Husker writing. Now that weekly Husker writing is coming up, I need to find the right balance between writing and reading. And editing what I already have written.

More...

More…

Road Notes: Brush with the South and Dragging On

It started out "promising" (field in northern Missouri)...

It started out “promising” (field in northern Missouri)…

Last Sunday morning, I rolled out of bed at 10 A.M. and took three hours to pack and square things around the house before I left. The previous day, I had come up with a flawless plan of how I would leave around nine and get to Columbia, Missouri by four at the latest for an evening of enjoying Mizzou’s campustown. Instead, I ended up rolling into Moberly, Missouri at 8 P.M. and eating a Subway sub on my bed while watching Sunday Night Baseball.

On the hour drive from Moberly to Thompson in the morning, I realized it might have been just as efficient to have spent the night in Mexico, Missouri, from which Thompson was a much shorter drive. But I pressed on to the farm, where I met our dealer-grower. He was not able to plant until June 30, but his soybeans looked promising as they battled the weeds, coming up among the straw that was grown in the field over winter. In central Missouri, the earliest frost is usually late enough so that he will be fine.

From there, I drove down US Highway 54 toward I-70, only to pull over at a Wal-Mart in order to get an oil change that I had been putting off. I got out of my truck at the drop-off spot just outside the mechanic’s bay, but none of the three guys in the garage to came up of to help me I had to wander into the office to find someone, and if I hadn’t had to take the time to get lunch there, the stop would have been an utter waste. Do I even remember my own time-saving principals?

My extra time gone, I made haste down the interstate. The next guy I had to met lived all the way down in Braggadoccio, Missouri, fourteen miles from the Arkansas border in the Missouri Bootheel. He had an appointment the next morning, but agreed to met me that afternoon, so I bolted through the St. Louis suburbs, by the bluffs of the Mississippi, until they rolled themselves into flatter country south of Cape Girardeau. I actually did see some corn, but I didn’t notice the crop I expected, cotton. I arrived in Braggadoccio just before 5, and met our grower by the tiny post office, and an old building that turned out to be his storefront.

Flooded Rice Field

Flooded Rice Field

Much of Braggadoccio was destroyed by a tornado several years ago, but our grower rebuilt his home and farming enterprise, and now is doing very well. He farms rice as a rotation crop, as it setups up the field with the nutrients that corn and soybeans need. Rice farming involves flooding the fields, a method that wouldn’t be possible without the abundance of water the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers provide. I asked our grower to point out a cotton field to me, and it turns out, a cotton field looks just like a soybean field.

To get a jump start on the next day, I drove back north, stopping first in New Madrid, Missouri to take some pictures of the Mississippi from the town’s long river access amidst the industrial villages lining. After soaking in humid river air, I drove to Sikeston, where I spent the night.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

There were four signs of the south I noted on this trip. First, the accents. Two, the abundance of mobile homes. Three, the rice and cotton fields. Four, how horrendously friendly everyone was. And fifth, when the hostess at Ruby Tuesday’s sat me for dinner, she said “Ms. Amber will be with you in a moment.” #outofmycomfortzone

Typical?

Typical?

Tuesday morning, I got up late and drove up through a small slip of the delta and crossed the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, right by the mouth of the Ohio River near some of the flattest ground I’ve ever seen. (BTW, the mouth of the Ohio is so much grander than the mouth of the Missouri for some reason.) Cairo, like many of the mid-sized towns in Illinois, is bleak and run-down, with one too many civic buildings downtown. Mass construction (undoubtedly to spend Obama stimulus dollars) slowed the traffic on I-57 as I passed turnoffs for Louisville and Nashville, and continued toward my destination of Pana, Illinois.

After my third meal at Subway in three days (coupon) at the Salem, Illinois exit, I drove up a gritty US Highway 51 to my field north of Pana. It had some weed issues, but the stand was good. Not wanting to drive too late into the night, I headed up towards Springfield. I had to share a couple of my posts on social media, but instead of doing the easy thing and stopping at a Starbucks I knew from last year, I bypassed Springfield and decided that I would happen upon WiFi connection elsewhere. Surprisingly, my brazen spirit was rewarded at a gas station west of Jacksonville, Illinois.

I spent the night at the Super 8 in Hannibal, Missouri. Dinner was my official trip splurge-pizza and wine at an Italian brick-oven bistro. The chicken alfredo pizza satiated my craving for fine food, but the wine made me really sleepy. Nevertheless, I went for dessert at Java Jive and hung around downtown until dusk.

Wednesday, my final day passed like a dream, as I whisked across a near anonymous section of the Iowa-Missouri border, then criss-crossed across southeast Iowa until I got to our grower in Pella. This guy had actually planted his beans May in spite, and they looked healthy. I made one fatal mistake-the best time to met the grower was at 12:30, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to put off lunch. By the time I finished going over the fields at two o’clock, I was in such a fowl mood it didn’t matter. (At least I got Culver’s.)

Even though I barely stopped, the drive back to Seward seemed to get so much longer when I reached Des Moines and began driving on the section of I-80 that I drive when I go to Ames. My mind has cataloged every stop and what’s at every stop, so now it always seems tedious and unnew. But I kept pressing on, and was never more relieved to arrive at home when I rolled in just before nine.

Looks promising...

Looks promising…

 

State of Too Much Prosperity: Will Oklahoma be the Epicenter the Next Realignment Earthquake?

It is admirable how they’ve stuck together. Or more precisely, how Oklahoma has stuck next to Oklahoma State. Throughout all the conference realignment poker, the Sooner Schooner and Pistol Pete have endeavored to stay together. Even though Oklahoma probably could have gone to the SEC with Texas A&M, the political leadership in the state of Oklahoma has kept the schools together.

But can the commitment between OU and OSU withstand further realignment storms?

Will the Pokes bolt their in-state rival?

Over the off-season, I’ve been pondering about what could be the catalyst for the next round of conference realignment. In the summer of 2010, it was the threat of Texas taking half the Big 12 west to form the Pac 16, pushing Nebraska and Colorado to bolt for more secure futures. Last year, the shifts that began with Texas A&M going to the SEC again centered around Austin, this time over the reach of the Longhorn Network. While the split between the Aggies and Longhorns may seem more obvious in retrospect, A&M’s bolt wasn’t as easily predicted as Nebraska’s was the year prior. Conference realignment is a huge game of liar’s poker, driven by the fear of successful regional programs being left out of the national mix, as half the Southwest Conference was twenty years ago.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying: I’m glad the Sooners and Cowboys have committed themselves to each other, at least publicly. Both teams  don’t need to go to other conferences. They’re not in danger of being left out of the realignment mix, at least not yet.  The Big 12 appears more stable now that it did at times over the last two years. But even with conferences forming their own networks and earning record numbers from TV, only so much financial growth can be sustained. Eventually, conferences will need to add schools to add revenue.

OK State has followed Oregon’s footsteps from good to great, and maybe the two haven’t seen the last of each other.

Consider that, with footprint in Oklahoma and Texas, Larry Scott can finally get Pac 12 games on TV at noon Eastern Standard Time, opening a new revenue window. Plus, the Pac 12 can finally have a shot in providing signature early game highlights for the rest of the day. What if, after a decade or more goes by, Scott decides not to wait on Texas and Oklahoma anymore and make an offer to Oklahoma State?

The Cowboys themselves could be a more prominent program by then. Like Oregon, OSU is turning to snazzy uniform combos to go with their funky offense. Mike Gundy is the perfect CEO for his Alma mater:  an innovative offensive mind, who, unlike Jimmie Johnson and Les Miles before him, could stay in Stillwater for twenty years. Coming off an outright Big 12 title, how many more will OSU win until they say “We don’t want to play in our little brother’s shadow. We aren’t just the program of Boone Pickens’ millions and Gundy’s post-game rant. We are a big name in our own right.”

New Battle of the Big Reds and Border War? Could the Arkansas River Rivalry come to replace the Red River Rivalry?

That is, after all, the logic which Texas A&M is taking into the SEC, and could be the logic that take either Oklahoma program to the nation’s premiere conference. With the SEC’s stranglehold on the National Title, it’s hard to imagine any other conference winning thee National Title any time soon. As fans keep demanding crystal balls, winning them may require playing an impossible eight conference games every year. If Texas A&M and Missouri eventually starts winning in the SEC (and Arkansas continues to win) and the SEC draw the best players in the state of Texas to their schools, Sooner and Cowboys fans will be tweeting to go the SEC.

Taking down Georgia in 2009 earned Okie State serious credibility; will they join the SEC to get more of it?

As a college football fan, I am sadden to write this, because I hate to see another good rivalry end. And this may be premature: at the moment, the Big 12 maybe in better position than the Big East to survive. But, after these next TV contracts run their course into the 2020’s, the conference realignment winds will swirl and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State relationship will be challenged. And who knows how much jealousy Oklahoma State’s success could bread.

(More Conference Realignment)

Which one of these men will lead his school on a new path?

Illinois, Issues Etc., and Missouri Road Notes: Part 2

Thursday

Morning coffee at Starbucks in Edwardsville, Illinois. At separate tables are sitting two identical girls: nerd glasses like mine, brown hair pulled back, studying. One wears running gear, the other wears average dull college class clothes. Then a third girl walks in who looks exactly the same except her hair is done and she’s wear black pants & a sleeveless vest with a white shirt underneath. Then I look around and realize… all the girls around here look like that.

Wish I would have gone to the place on the Missouri side where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi. I could have gotten a good view of it. Instead, I go up a tower where you can view the convergence, and view it from across the way, at Lewis and Clark’s winter camp before their expedition up the river. Love all things Lewis and Clark.

View from the top

Meet Pastor Wilken, Jeff, and Craig, the team behind Issues, Etc. They do the show in a small section of a strip mall in Collinsville because they want to be good stewards of the funds they receive. Such a blessing to come and encourage those who labor in the gospel. Great to see the operations of an actual radio station. Most intriguing thing I observed: Pastor Wilken looks at a poster of President Obama while he’s doing the show (I’m dead serious).

Lunch at Stake and Shake, one place I always try to eat at if I go far enough east. They overcharge me for my order (or get it wrong entirely), but it’s a good sandwich, even though thin. The fries are flimsy too.

Visit the Gateway Arch, which looks impressive, but when I get close to it, I realize it’s not the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bridge is massive, and looks the part of something huge. Maybe it’s because the Arch doesn’t serve a purpose of transportation or has no foreign tourists swarming it. I go into the Jefferson Western Expansion Museum, stamp my passport, and buy some novelty snack. I don’t ride to the top because I don’t like heights.

View from the ground.

Visit the U.S. Grant Home, where I complete the stamps for the Midwest part of passport. The roads down their make no sense to me; I have to stop at walking trails.

St. Louis is the lousiest piece of junk I’ve ever seen. Rotten railroads cross the river, whose banks team with unkept brush, and cracked buildings dot the streets. Even the high-end hotels aren’t kept up.The bad neighborhoods I observe from the interstate are what I imagine Detroit looks like, but this city has to be worse in places. The suburbs have so many empty sections in their strip malls, plus empty spots in the big malls, it’s embarrassing. St. Louis is a spralling city, but it doesn’t look that much more special than Omaha.

Get off the interstate just east of Jonesburg, Missouri and do my rural photographing thing. Going through Jonesburg, I pass over a dead turtle in the middle of the road. I hate driving around on the country roads, which are paved with golf-ball sized Missouri limestone.

Exit at Columbia, deciding  to eat at Steak and Shake again, then notice that Steak and Shake is next to Bob Evans. Remembering the time I had eating at Bob Evans in Lima, Ohio two and a half year when I was this tired, I head across the street. Chicken pot pie, with a roll and broccoli. I tip a solid twenty percent, good service. I mull which hotel to choose and call the Howard Johnson on my phone to see how much they are. Then I see a new Motel 6 as I cross the interstate, and decide to take my chances. It pays off: the room is clean and very respectable, and even has a couch.

I go to bed at 9:30 but I can’t sleep. I get up and drive to campustown, where I went once with Elizabeth when she went graduate school here in Columbia. The bars and clubs are abuzz, but the only coffee place open past eleven is Starbucks. I sit and type on my IPod while I watch the festivities of the students, girls trying to walk in high heels and dresses. I gradually make my way back to my car, hoping no one notices my red Husker shorts.

Friday

When I get back to Motel 6, it’s past midnight. I send an e-mail, take two pills, and hit the hay.

Have morning coffee at Kaldi’s: spiced maple coffee which surprises me. I expected it to be typical flavored coffee, basically food coloring with no body. Instead, it’s body with an apple-cinnamon accent, and I remember why I love food. I study a devotion over an egg and bacon bagel, enjoying the hip vibe of Kaldi’s. Take a pic of the sign for my sister.

I photograph a few barns, but not many. I want to get home.

Eating lunch at one of America’s northern-most Waffle Houses (Platte City, MO). I don’t know why this chain appeals to me. The last Waffle House I went to was in Florida and was a mess. This one is clean, but the vibe from the staff is lax, and don’t know how much I want to watch of my chicken being fried and my waffle being made. I know it’s part of the charming experience, but somethings are better left unknown. The meal is adequate and way too filling, and I don’t skimp on the tip.

I take one more photo detour in furthest northwest corner of Missouri, a state that’s unbelievably diverse. I bolt when I get onto Highway Two, and am equally relieved when I hear Unsportsmanlike Conduct on the radio. I arrive home at four, and head to bed.

Betting Thought on Big 12 games

 

Oklahoma (-17) at Baylor: The Bear are still inflated for two reasons: their big win against TCU the first week of the season in a stand alone game and alleged Heisman candidate Robert Griffin. The Bears faded after they beat Texas last year. Unlike all the other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma can play defense, and should have no problem limiting the Bears. They’re also a team that likes to run it up, even though they’re only 6-4 ATS, they score at will. The Sooners lost wide receiver Ryan Broyles for the year, but they have enough playmakers to survive the loss. This is the Sooners last real hurdle before a showdown with possibly undefeated Oklahoma State. Oklahoma could also bring a substantial fan presence to Baylor. Good bet to swallow the points on.

 

Texas Tech (+18) at Missouri: The fact that this line has not moved in the last few days just signifies how bad the public thinks Texas Tech is. Almost always when there is bad news about a team during the week, the line will go in favor the other team. Last week, several lines moved a point in favor of Nebraska when news of Penn State’s scandal broke (and the subsequent coaching changes). When news came down that some of the suspended Ohio State players wouldn’t return against Nebraska, the line moved in favor of the Huskers (who at the time where 1-4 ATS). Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel gets arrested for DUI, and the line stays at 18. All the public remembers is Texas Tech getting blown out by Iowa State, Texas, and Oklahoma State. The Iowa State (which I bet up) came after an upset at to Oklahoma, but there’s no excuse for the other two.

This couldn’t be a better situational handicap. Texas Tech, having thumped three weeks in a row, goes on the road, where they can have an us against the world mentality. (One of the best bets you can make is to take a team that gets blown out at home and bet them if they go on the road the next week.) Missouri, on the other hand, is coming off their biggest win of the year against Texas, a team itself that was coming off a huge win against Texas Tech. Given how important the state of Texas is to Missouri in recruiting and that it’s the school’s last Big 12 matchup, it’s a huge win. After a slow start, the Tigers have worked their way back into the bowl picture. Both teams have five wins, making this a de facto play-in game for a bowl bid.

This game may come down to who needs it more. Texas Tech plays Baylor next week in Arlington, Missouri plays woeful Kansas in Kansas City. The urgency for Texas Tech is there, while it may be lacking for Missouri, with an easier opponent next week.

The weather will be 20 MPH winds with a small chance of rain. While this doesn’t bode well for Tech’s pass happy offense, it does bode well for a low scoring game. Missouri only scores 33 points a game, and is a run-oriented team. Even on a normal week, I would be taking Texas Tech, but Pinkel’s distraction and subsequent absence, I will definitely be taking Texas Tech.

 

Kansas State (+7) at Texas: Like Texas Tech-Missouri, here is another situational handicap. Kansas State is 8-2 and coming off an quadruple overtime win against Texas A&M. Texas is coming off a road loss at Missouri and the loss of their best running back Fozzy Whitaker. This is a spot where I would naturally favor Kansas State, but there are other variables to consider.

First, there is a revenge factor for the Longhorns. They were 5-7 last year, and four teams had what I would characterize as tear down the goalposts wins against Texas (UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State). In those rematches (Texas hasn’t played Baylor yet) Texas is 2-1 and covered in both wins. The loss was to 10-1 Oklahoma State.

While I don’t think Kansas State’s victory over Texas last year made their season like the other losses did for the other teams involved, it was significant for K-State nonetheless. Kansas State has won the last three against Texas, all in controlling fashion (Texas got a late score for a three point loss in 2006). While I don’t think Texas gets up for most games other than Oklahoma (the only school in the Big 12 they consider close to their level), I do think there will be some extra motivation. As far as motivation for the Wildcats, they’re playing with house money now. Many thought they’d be lucky to get to .500, but they’ve road a wave of momentum to 8-2, not even having a letdown after their first loss of the season to Oklahoma. Now, there are distinct possibilities that the Fiesta would take an 10-2 Kansas State over a 10-2 Oklahoma team, given how anxious Kansas State fans would be to go to a BCS bowl, so they should have the motivation.

Texas has made enough strides on defense, and should be able to limit Colin Klein. Kansas State has been the hardest school for me to figure out (before last week I was 0-6 betting Kansas State), and I almost hate to go against them. I lean slightly to Texas, but if the line gets inflated to Texas -8 or -8.5 I may go Kansas State.

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