Friday, 31 October 2008

Emporia – Burlington (October 30)

Day 46

A nasty, straight, uphill stretch into a headwind to start the day. If only Burlington could have been situated halfway towards Kansas City, but no, I was making another crazy detour in a south easterly direction. No signs in Olpe, where the woman in the post office told me to go to the end of a street and then turn south. When I got there, the reliable sources of sun and wind informed me the only options were east and west. An old man stared at me long and hard here, walked a few steps, stared some more, a few steps more and stared again. Got to Hartford; again no signs. I reckon it's a ploy by the store-holders to get you to stop. Made more wrong turnings, before somehow stumbling upon Burlington, another small well-to-do town in the Hillsboro mould, where I made for the high school, to meet a teacher there. Kelly had also seen the ad in the Emporia Gazette and had arranged a four-hander with three of her 'gifted' students; identical twins Nate & Nick, and Michaelyn. Kelly travels between Coffey County high schools assisting the brightest handful in each. The twins had impressive vocabularies for all of their 16 years and one of them bingoed with VITALLY right at the end of the first game. I think he and his brother had been communicating telepathically. In the second game I managed a slender victory, partly due to QATS/ZITS (46) with the Q on a triple. It was a lot of fun being in these children's company, especially when the bell rang and all the other kids who had been watching us, went home. To start with a pupil filmed us and a teacher taking notes for the school paper. While we were playing (in the school library) a group of children came in dressed up like cadavers with white faces. This was in connection with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions – particularly drink-driving) and there's a grim reaper character who plucks children out of classes to dress up for this purpose. I couldn't help thinking that they would be more effective by going into bars in these get-ups. Children drive here too of course. You can be the sole occupant of a car from the age of 15, for school trips alone. If you have a farmer's permit you can drive anywhere, supposedly on farm business, at 14. All those present had their own cars and drove to school. They could hardly think of one child or teacher who walks to school. Something else I learned today was that the reason counties are so small is because when they were set up it was felt important for any outlying part of a county to be less than a day's horse-ride to the county town. Coffey County has less than 5,000 people with a whole raft of administration and bureaucracy. Maybe time to update that rule? Kelly's husband worked at the nearby nuclear power plant, which explained why the facilities in this small town, including the school, were so good.

After this most enjoyable afternoon, I spent the evening and night at the house of Joel & Becky (along with six cats including a Manx called Li'l Bit) a few minutes ride away. What a beautiful house it was too. Before this trip I had it in my head that Americans didn't have much taste; but so many times I've stayed in pretty homes, with daring colour schemes like this one. The sitting room was a mid green, one of the restrooms mid grey and the dining room had a loud, leafy wallpaper in red and yellow, Every nook and cranny was stuffed to the gills with cabinets of dolls and toys, Gone With The Wind ephemera, antique furniture and framed adverts from yesteryear. Becky loved seasonal decorations too, and hundreds of Hallowe'en novelties littered any remaining square inch. Next week these will all be changed for Thanksgiving knick knacks and soon after, xmas stuff – including separate sets of lights for each celebration. Upstairs, I was permitted to enter Joel's ' man cave', with its aeroplane models, replica firearms and other boys' toys. For tonight's feast of sensational salmon, pork, ice cream and room temperature Newcastle Brown Ale, we were joined by a family friend, and a daughter, with her two small children. I found the gender cliches amusing, as the tough-looking boy played with a gun and the girl flounced about in her dress and gazed at her bejeweled self in the mirror. For Hallowe'en the boy would be dressing up as Spiderman and the girl, whose prettiness was oft repeated, would be a princess.

The next day I was woken by a cat nuzzling my face and felt a little fuzzy. Breakfast consisted of sausages and French Toast (dried bread dipped in egg) apple juice and coffee. I didn't realise that you can actually walk the streets here with a loaded gun here – as long as it isn't concealed. However, there are some places, like schools and libraries where guns are prohibited. As with quite a few other people I have met so far, Joel & Becky have said they will pay me a visit and I wonder if they will?

No comments: