Friday, July 31, 2009

Lots and Lots of the Same the Same

We're still in Montana ... man, oh man. Wheat fields, wheat fields,
antelope, antelope, deer, deer, wheat fields. Oh, look! What is that?
Oh. Farm machinery. Cows, cows, hay bales, hay bales.

We hitch our wagon to the WalMart in Havre for the night. The store
clerk says it gets to 40 below here.

In the morning, we drive into town for coffee. We find some California
dreaming instead: The Arctic Hamburger joint sits right next to the
Maui Nites Casino.

Seems like a few others are looking for something a little different,

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Artist Transforms Rez Wrecks

I'm looking up and out.

Because we're in Big Sky country and I've never seen anything like it.

Imagine you are a tiny, tiny dot inside a Montana snow globe, but it's
not snowing, and the sun's shining. Look ahead, to your left, right
and behind you. Seas of golden wheat flitter and wave. Now look up,
and around and around.

Sky. Sky. Sky. On my. Brilliant blue sky. Everywhere.

Now and then, a stupendous mountain range, called the Rockies, juts
into the endless sky.

Because of my up-and-out looking, I almost miss what occupies me for
the rest of the day. Two warriors. Metal warriors. Atop horses. Metal

It takes a minute for my brain to register what my eyes see. By the
time I get it, and decide I want to see more of it, we've zipped past
it. We're just about to enter the the town of Browning on Route 2 in
northwest Montana when I plead with Allen (who's driving), "Go back!
Go back!"

"WHY?" He missed it, too.

I explain, and we turn around. Nearly a mile later we find our life-
sized warriors silently welcoming visitors to the 1.4 million acre
Blackfeet Nation.

I stand; I stare. I sense power from these silent metal men riding
their welded steeds. Obviously, the artist used discarded pieces of
metal to craft this amazing work. Look at the pictures. See the way
discarded auto parts are transformed into arms, legs, bodies, eyes,
headdresses, staffs and armor?

But why?

The story is lost because there is no sign, no label, nothing that
speaks about why these sculptures are here and how they came to be.

I take pictures, then load myself back into the motor home and
continue into Browning.

We need fuel, so we stop at the nearest gas station, a Cenex. I go
inside and ask the clerk, "Do you know who made the warriors?"

"My cousin, Jay Laber" she say, casually. HER COUSIN??? "He lives over
in Polson."

What she didn't tell me and the Internet did is Jay Polite Laber, 47,
is a self-taught Blackfeet artist, art teacher and amazing reclamation
man. He turns old junk cars (he calls them Rez Wrecks) and barbed
wire into art (he calls it Trash Art) that defines the life of Native

About five years ago, Laber was commissioned by the National Assembly
of State Art Assemblies
to create his warriors. The idea was the art
would identify native lands to drivers otherwise consumed by the
magnificence of nature.

As we leave the Blackfeet Nation, about 35 miles later, we repeat the
drive-by process, only this time Allen sees the warriors and I miss
them. We still have to turn around.

It makes me wonder how many other drivers catch sight of these
treasures and know, therefore, that they've entered native lands.

And how many others drive right on by, because they are too busy
looking up and out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Making Lemonade

Failing to make plans sometimes means plans fail.

Today we leap off the main highway and climb higher and higher into
the great expanse of Montana's northwest, aiming for Glacier National

What a glorious day, unbelievable vistas (I took no pictures ... can
you believe it?) and air so delicious it's lunch itself. An opaque
curtain of mist opens into rain showers, leaving behind that sweet
smell of ozone.

A huge lake, Lake Flathead, accompanies us on our right for more than
30 miles, Starving Horse, a painful name for a little town, titillates
tourists. Miles upon miles of ranch land feeds cattle, wild horses
and hares so big, we mistake one for a coyote. Or a fox. We aren't
sure. (It's roadkill, so I guess it really doesn't matter ...)

The ever-present Rockies loom large and luscious.

Finally, after six hours of this back-roads travel, we arrive at the
park, tired, but excited about the adventure to come. We see a deer.

We then learn there's no room. All the campgrounds are filled (except
for one at the end of a 30-mile really dirty dirt road). And Otto, our
motor home, is three feet too long to travel the road that crosses the
park. And that road is under construction anyway with delays of up to
four hours, or did the sign say six?

We turn around and leave.

So now, we're parked overnight in a WalMart parking lot in Kalispell,
MT, after an hour of backtracking through back country roads. So
what? We might not be out in the wilds, but the Rockies loom large and
luscious here, too.

The air is crisp. The night is cool. What a glorious end to a
glorious day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whirligigs, Windmills, Teapots, Hard Hats and Me

Is this art?

My 11-year-old niece asked me this once about a pinball
machine sitting by itself in the center of a small, eclectic art

I repeat the question today. To myself. I'm alone as I patrol the
chain-linked perimeter of a crowded, jumbled and decaying mish-mash of
aging whirligigs on Highway 155,  near Grand Coulee Dam in northeast Washington.

The signs say this is the Gehrke Windmill Garden. And, indeed, the
things are "planted" like a garden, inside a fence, in rows, close to
each other. Too close, however, to let each piece breath.
Can the wind even wind its way through?

Each "windmill" is stuck to a long pole that's "planted"
in a garish orange (it looks like plastic) tub. Some tubs have cheap plastic flowers "planted" around the poles. 

Weeds, neglect and disrepair overrun the whole "garden." It looks

I shake my head. Is this art?

I close my eyes. I want to see this work as intended, not as it ended
up, in a crowded square plot next to a dusty main highway.

So, I do a little research and open my mind to a time maybe 50 years
ago, when the artist, Emil Gehrke (1882-1979) and his wife, Veva,
(1902-1980) moved to this little corner of Washington from Nebraska,
where he was an ironworker. Together, however, they were artists.

They'd spend their weekends collecting items others tossed out (lots of kitchen goods, some auto parts, a few farm items).  Emil would craft them into whirligigs; Veva would paint them.

They "planted" the art on their hilly, treed lot  near Grand Coulee Dam,  and let people walk through to enjoy the results.

When Emil grew too old to care for the items, he offered them to the
city, hoping they'd be set up in a park for all to enjoy. Apparently,
the notion appalled the town leaders; they considered the whirligigs   
eyesores, not artwork and wanted to get rid of them, not display them.

What a shame. The Gehrkes, even after death, continue to enjoy
artistic renown in Seattle, where their wind sculptures decorate the
northwest corner of an electric substation (it's called public works
art). But in their own hometown, they have no fame.

So, friends, years ago, came to the rescue and had the works installed
on the land they now occupy.

I open my eyes, and LOOK! How lovely!

I now see a field of enigmatic windmills and can imagine a delicate clattering of tin against tin as the wind catches and moves the bowls, helmets, oil funnels, pie plates, funnel molds, tea cuts, saucers and sundry other lost-and- found items.

Perhaps the friends who started this project have been busy and plan
to return to straighten the tilting poles, plant real flowers not
plastic ones, replace weeds with grass and then open the gates to
let people like me mingle with the art.

And, yes, this is art.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ultimate in Customer Service

A simple kindness made my day today. And, it made me a fan of Safeway Inc., the third largest grocery store chain in North America.

A little history:
We don't have Safeway where I live, so I have no special customer
card, which means I'm not allowed to benefit from the in-store
advertised specials.
The other day while shopping at a Safeway near Seattle, WA, , I "forgot" my unfavored shopper status and fell for
one of those promotions -- buy two boxes of candy and get the third
one free (and save all of $1.59.) Gleefully, I pluck two Mike and Ikes
and one Hot Tamale from the shelf. At the cash register, reality
bites as I'm punished into paying full price because I'm not a card-
carrying shopper.
Rats! "Don't you have a guest card you can swipe for me?" I plead
with the cashier. "So I can get the special price?"
"Oh, NO!" she darn near roars. "Why, the other day," she says, "A man
who has worked here for 30 years nearly lost his job because he used
his card for one of the customers. Had to get the union involved to
save his neck."
What kind of company fires someone for good customer service?
Well, I thought to myself, I'll NEVER shop here again!

OK. I break my vow and run into the store today for pet food, bread
and doughnuts (always doughnuts). The cashier, a different one this
time, asks if I was one of those, you know, the special people who
carry Safeway ID cards.

No, I hang my head low. I live back East. There are no Safeways there.
Just hit me with the full price. Ca-Ching!

"Well then," Mr. Perky Cashier beams. "I'll bet this fellow right
behind you (a man I never met) will let you use his!"

And just like that, I save a few pennies and Safeway gains a new

Mr. Perky Wonderful Cashier praises his employer as he bags my
goodies, saying Safeway likes to keep its employees and its customers

So why, then, (I'm thinking this in my head, not out loud) did some
other guy almost get canned over the same discount card?

"And you both win," Mr. PWC continues, talking about me and the
anonymous customer behind me in line. "You get your discount and this
customer gets cheaper gasoline."

Oh, I get it. Courtesy card users get cents off at the pump when they
shop at Safeway.

The first cashier (whose job was on the line) probably faced an
insane accusation of theft ("stealing" those cents off at the pump)
for his good deed. Mr. PWC figured out how
to avoid getting slammed while making the customer happy with the
same cents-off promotion.

Either way, I'd say Safeway has good people working the cash
registers. People who go out of their way to make me happy.

And THAT'S why I'm a big fan.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When A Girl's Gotta Go

I'm grocery shopping in Monroe, WA,  and want (well, need) to visit the restroom.

I see the big sign and breathe. Because I'm close. I step up my step.

But wait. Why is there a teenage boy blocking the door? He's doing the
"Stop" thing with his hand.

"I HAVE to clean!" He says to me, without catching my eye. He doesn't
even smile. I do, though. Because I KNOW he's SO embarrassed he CAN'T
smile. Poor kid. I try to make it easier by not complaining. I walk
away, but I don't go far. Just up into the cereal aisle, where I can
see him leave when he's finished.

But he doesn't leave, and soon there's a line, well, just two others,
a teenage girl and an older women, maybe in her 70s, with a walker. I
know where there are two, there are two more. So I leave the cereal
boxes and go to stand in line.

Women become fast friends in familiar circumstances. And the three of
us become buddies immediately because the teenage boy is taking too
much time to clean.

The lady with the walker (she's second in line) says to the teen
(who's first in line), "Use the Men's room, it's empty."

The teen looks dubious.

I take the cue and say, "I'll watch the door. No one will come in."

She decides in an instant and scurries in.

"Reminds me of when I was in junior high," I say to the walker woman
as I block the door. "That's when I saw my first urinal."

The older woman smiles: "We have to pass the tradition on."

The teens finish as the same time, and both exit the bathrooms in
unison, he from the Women's room and she from the Men's.

They pass in the hall.

I say to the boy, "She couldn't wait."

That's when he finally smiled.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Kiss and a Pool Cue

We're in a bar. Playing pool. 

The crowd is drinking coffee, a few cans of Coke and a beer or two. It's 2009, so the smokers spill outside now and then.

I bank the two ball perfectly (YEAH!) and it drains into the side pocket.  The pressure's on to make  another clever shot (well, not necessarily clever, just successful) when the jukebox brings B.J. Thomas into the room. He's Hooked on a Feelin', just like he was in 1969. 

I close my eyes and smile. Because a wish I had back in '69 is coming true.  I was 15 back then, and when B.J. sang that song,  I wished, oh I wished hard, that I had someone to sing it to. The lyrics, "I-I-I, I'm hooked on a feeling', I'm high on believin', that you're in love with me" meant that someone loved me and, at 15, that was oh, so important.

I'm not 15 anymore, but I do have someone who loves me (l love him, too). And he's playing pool with me in  bar in Monroe, WA, just north of Seattle. So I sashay over to my husband, Al, and I sing, "I-I-I, I'm hooked on a feeling', I'm high on believin', that you're in love with me." It feels oh, so important.

Soon, B.J. leaves and in walks Freddie Mercury, followed by Jim Morrison and soon Pink Floyd. Fankie Valli pays a visit as well.

It's a memorable night all round.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sorrow, deep, deep sorrow

I awake to insistent small-town noise -- traffic, lawn movers,
trimmers. Irritated, I make coffee, clean a little, then sit down to

I read words posted online by a broken-hearted man whose mother
struggles with a dreadful disease from which she will not recover.

My chest pulls tight. I consciously breath deeply, slowly,
rhythmically. Still, the tears ... I'm helpless. I cannot bring
health back to the mother or lay a hand of comfort on the son.

So I pray: God, please comfort them both. Soften the edges of their

And, thank you, Jesus, for the small-town cacophony ...