Archive for November, 2015


#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 8
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

Brent and I are in Kansas, heading west, as I scroll through our itinerary of roadside attractions. We’ve been adding stops as we go and occasionally ruling out other stops, but when Brent suddenly asks, “What’s next?” I tell him it’s a place called Truckhenge. “We’re definitely going there,” he says, with a weird smile on his face.

I plug the coordinates into my map app, which I’ve named Sally—don’t ask why—but she’s busy yelling at me, as usual, that we’re doing something wrong, or that there is no such location. “Oh, yes there is,” Brent says. I ask him what Truckhenge is, and he says, “I don’t know. But it’s there.”

TruckhengeIt’s about a half hour drive from Lawrence to just outside Topeka, under a blue sky and rising August temperature. We navigate our way to a dirt road that turns sharply to the right and leads us to a Quonset building tucked behind the treeline. The place is silent. Brent stops the car and we look at each other. We suddenly realize we have no idea what we’re doing.

So, Brent gets out, and I stay put, hanging out the car window and lazily saying things like, “Is there a doorbell? Knock again. Try the handle. Do you see anyone inside?” After each quip, Brent shoots me a knock-it-off look. He gets back in the car. We sit and stare at the building. There’s a fading phone number painted on the garage door. I call it and a man answers. “Hi,” I say. “We’re at Truckhenge…”

“I’ll be right down,” the man says.

Moments later, the owner, Ron Lessman, walks out with a dog or two in tow. He introduces himself and begins talking, and man, he talks fast. In the first two minutes, we learn his name, that he built this Quonset house, and that he put gargoyles on it to keep the County away. We share a laugh and he explains his philosophy on life, which is all about common sense and is not so keen on bureaucratic rules. But just when I think he’s anti-establishment, he tells a quick story about the local police force and mentions the officers with respect and by name–because he knows them all by name–and his story is about appreciation for their quick thinking on a matter at his property and the work they do. Somewhere in the fast and funny story, he begins to mention the wood carvings around the property that he’s made himself, the art of the Quonset house, he casually points out an old boxcar to our left that he says is full of bones, and he makes mention of a pond beyond the trees.

To myself, I think: Bones? Human?

Ron is a wiry, tan man with long, graying beard, a bandana on his head, and he’s wearing a red t-shirt that bears the words Truck You. “We’re just trying to have fun here,” he says. “Would you like to come in the house?”

“Sure,” we say happily and immediately. We follow Ron and I make eye contact with Brent. I widen my eyes to ask him silently, “Think we’re gonna die?” He mirrors my look and I read him saying, “Not sure. Let’s find out.”

I take a final look around the front of the building, the trees, the blue sky, and the boxcar, thinking we’ve dropped in to a strange new land. “Kansas,” I think to myself and I think about life, death, and journeys, all in the blink of an eye. As we follow Ron, he tells us that William Shatner was at Truckhenge just a few weeks ago. It’s apt because right at this moment, I can’t help but picture the characters from Star Trek beaming in with their recorders (by the way, Brent owns one of those recorders) to learn about a new place with a sense of adventure and a sense of “anything can happen.” This sentiment is precisely why, wordlessly, we knew we’d go inside, because anything can happen, anywhere, anytime, so we can get back in the car and drive away or we can boldly go forward. We choose forward, knowing we rejected outright any other choice. (Don’t try this at home, kids. Don’t risk everything unless you’re willing to lose it all.)

TruckhengeInside the Quonset house, Ron shows us more of his art—it’s on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, painted on the floor, and I’m drawn to the reverse side of the smiley face window he’s made from wine bottles. The house is spacious, and everything in it, and of it, has been repurposed. Pieces from cars and boats have been rebuilt into a staircase with a chest of drawers and signage made into railings. As sunlight streams in from windows on the second floor, fencing creates hallways, fruit hangs from a coat hanger, a series of boarded up windows serves as shelving. Everywhere you look is art in progress, and objects reimagined to new purposes. It’s nothing short of astounding. Brent and I realize we’re safe as kittens, and just as curious.

Ron shows us his art, lets us take pictures, and takes us through the back of the house to the expansive farmland that is dotted with his wood carvings—each with its own character story—areas for bands to play, boats, bottles and cement, the pond beyond the trees, and the word Truckhenge spelled out on the ground with bricks to be visible from planes above. TruckhengeAlong the way, Ron tells us about his struggles with bureaucracy, he tells us about the many bones they found in the large pond that experts from the university have deemed to be camel bones (they mystery deepens), and he tells us of the great concerts that go on at this property.

TruckhengeWe stop at the trucks at the corner of the farm. The County said because of the flood plain, Ron had to “pick up” the trucks. So Ron had them raised off the ground onto girders of concrete and the County conceded that the trucks were no longer a mobile threat. Thus, Truckhenge was born.

TruckhengeWe round the corner, listening to Ron’s stories and sharing some of our own—where we’re going and how far we’ve come. At this point, we know we’ll never make it to Colorado before dark, but we can’t help ourselves from exploring more with Ron. The temperature continues to climb as we make our way back around to the boxcar of bones. Ron invites us in, and we happily follow. The boxcar is in bad shape, but you can still move around in it, carefully, and we find that Ron has separated and sorted the various animal bones he’s found in the pond.

We suddenly hear the ring of a telephone and the sound is so foreign to us. Outside the boxcar, we see a small group of people walking the property as if they live there. We have no idea where they’ve come from or how long they’ve been there, out of sight, but Ron and his dogs are completely at ease with their presence, so we are, too.

Back inside the house, Ron invites us to sign the guestbook, and we do. Brent turns a page in the book and shows me what he finds: William Shatner’s signature. Brent gets a Truck You t-shirt, and Ron gives me a peacock feather. He hugs us goodbye.Truckhenge

The heat of the day has caused my Missouri bug bites to flare up in fiery itch, so once back inside the car I scratch and scratch as we drive down the road. For an hour, all we say to each other is, “I… I…” and shake our heads. We are forever different and there are no words anymore. Truckhenge is an experience that you have to have for yourself, because you’ll enter as one thing and emerge as something completely changed.

Eventually this day we will reach the Mushroom Rocks State Park, where we’ll wander around saying things like, “We’re just trying to have fun here,” and, “Well, Ron says…”

Until then, we drive in quiet awe of what just happened toward a town that’s not real.

Our deepest thanks go to Ron Lessman for inviting us in.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.


Time Before Time

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 7
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

Time Before TimeBrent and I arrive at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City at 11 a.m., ready for some breakfast beer, rather than bypass the brewery altogether due to timing because there’s no concept of time when you’re on a road trip, anyway. Okay, there is, but we stopped living by time a couple states ago.

Time Before TimeIn the Boulevard tasting room, we share a flight of mini beers of our choice, deciding the Black Pale Ale (my choice) and the Farmhouse Ale (Brent’s) to be the best, and then we hit the gift shop for t-shirts and magnets and how-do-I-look-in-this-hat time.

When we get back in the car, we cross from Kansas City, Missouri into Kansas City, Kansas, and drive west toward lunch with dinosaurs—truly, a restaurant in the suburbs dedicated to giant food portions and animatronic dinosaurs. Time Before Time(For you Mall of America Minnesotans out there, think Rainforest Café but with dinosaurs and an erupting volcano.) We feast, take pictures of ourselves hanging in prehistoria (mostly of Brent trying to get eaten by every dinosaur we approach–you can imagine the people who came today merely to eat lunch are glad to get out of our way), Time Before Timeand stealthily follow the dino footprints through the T-Rex Café gift shop trying to sneak up on each other. I’m not super sneaky at this point—I nicked my foot with the glass door on the way in and have developed a bit of a limp. Time Before TimeRemembering the O’Malley’s girls in Weston who gave me a napkin of gin to rub on my numerous bug bite welts, I tell Brent that I need some emergency gin for my toe. He laughs at me. There’s no gin in the gift shop, so I opt instead for a dinosaur backpack for my nephew.

Back on the road again, we head toward a giant teepee (isn’t everyone who’s on the road these days??), and we find it—though we have no idea why it’s here. Time Before TimeA side door along the fence has a sign with a phone number on it should we want to rent it out—that door is locked. The front door to the teepee itself has a curtain pulled across it so you can’t see in too well. Clearly they don’t want people looking in, so we approach the teepee and try. The best we can see is a case of Pepsi on the floor a few inches from the front door. We back away to discuss getting in to this teepee.

Time Before TimeMeanwhile, cars stop and gawk at the teepee as they turn around in its dirt parking lot, and Brent and I stand there goading each other to try the door. We’re the only ones standing there—no one else even gets out of their cars.

“Just open the door,” I tell Brent.

“You do it,” he says. “I think someone lives there.”

“That’s why you should do it,” I say. Minutes of reasons and excuses later, a plan is set as to how to apologize if we walk in on someone’s living room. It’s my plan, set for Brent to act out, but somehow the plan gets twisted and now I have to do it. I set my face and start marching toward the front door of the teepee. Halfway there, I turn around and stick my tongue out at Brent, but he’s cued and ready with his camera phone to get the footage of my awkward apology. Great. YouTube and a police station, here I come.

I continue to the glass door that looks like it belongs on a gas station rather than a teepee, slowly reach out my hand, grasp the metal handle, and pull. It’s locked. Brent laughs.

Thus, we take more pictures and hop back in the car. “Who locks a teepee?” I ask as we head back onto the road toward our next adventure.

We laugh and realize we’re both starting to like Kansas. And we’re only just getting started. Where we’re headed next, we’ll be invited inside. And we won’t emerge the same again.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 6
(Click here for Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

It’s late when we leave O’Malley’s Pub, and Brent has found us a hotel that’s just north of Kansas City. We consider, for a split second, hitting up some Kansas City nightlife before turning in. I consult the Googs and the first thing that pops up is Applebee’s. For nightlife?? I scroll down and I find Boulevard. Boulevard! But, it’s been an awesome day that started in St. Paul, meandered by a giant gnome in Iowa, a haunted phone booth, Mother Mary in a tree, sliced bread in Missouri, a giant ball of string, and a triple underground pub and brewery. The truth is, we’re a little tired. But Boulevard’s tasting room opens at 11 a.m. Hmm…

“Breakfast beer?” I ask Brent. He makes a face. Then his face becomes unreadable and serene–which means he’s thinking. “We’ll be on the road by then and long past Boulevard. No breakfast beer.” Bummer. Perhaps it would have been weird, anyway.Mid-America Sea Change

We head out from O’Malley’s and drive down the center of Weston so we can get one last view of the historic businesses and streetlights along the river. We’re the only ones around, so Brent stops in the middle of the street and we just take it in.

It’s a 40-minute drive to the hotel, all in the pitch darkness. (At least, what I know to this point as pitch darkness. I’m about to get schooled in that, but today is not the day.) I study our list of roadside attractions with the handy dandy use of my flashlight app, but it seems that finding a Bonnie and Clyde marker in the dark is the equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack, blindfolded.

By the time we reach the hotel, we’re pretty much wiped out for the day.

In the morning, Brent drives us from our hotel parking lot to another lot across the street.

“What are we doing?” I ask.

“Look for the marker,” he says.

“Bonnie and Clyde?” I ask, and get excited about it. We’d ruled it out, miles ago. But in the corner of this parking lot across the street from the random hotel Brent happened to book while I got bug-eaten on O’Malley’s patio was the veritable haystack needle.

“How did you know this was here?” I ask.

“I recognized the name of the street over there, when we got in last night,” he says.

I look to where he’s pointing. “Ambassador?” I ask, and then it hits me. “Oh, you’re right.” (His memory astounds me. Maybe this is how brains work when they’re not absorbing the world, sponge-like—okay, hoarder-like–and working to sort it all out into writing. He doesn’t leave his house in wrinkled clothes with a pen stuck in his hair, trying to remember, not what day today is, but rather what we call the days of the week. Incidentally, I’m calling today William.)

Mid-America Sea ChangeBack to the parking lot: This is the scene of a Bonnie and Clyde shootout. (“A” shootout, not “the.” That one’s in Louisiana. From here, they got away.) We are standing at the former site of the Red Crown Tavern and Tourist Cabins where in 1933, Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow gang rented two cabins, were surrounded by lawmen, a shootout erupted, and Bonnie and Clyde escaped–but not without consequences. Clyde’s brother Buck was fatally wounded, and Buck’s wife, Blanche, sustained an injury that blinded her and she was caught.

This happened at a time when, during America’s Great Depression, many were stealing to survive. At first glance, that sounds kinda cool. We’re all in love with the thought of being renegades, thanks to the X Ambassadors song. (The Styx song, “Renegade,” shows the more sinister side.) The truth is, a renegade is a traitor. Not just a person with a rebellious spirit, but rather a turncoat, a deserter. That’s a different tale, indeed.

The stories, true and legend, of Bonnie and Clyde are fascinating, yet, everywhere that they went they lived on the run, sustained injuries, withstood the deaths of family, and stole–mainly from Mom-and-Pop shops.

Law enforcement doesn’t buy in to the fascination and lore of outlaw crime. They outright hunted Bonnie and Clyde and ultimately caught them in a hail of gunfire in Louisiana. This plaque is a testament to that manhunt, as it says on the bottom, “In tribute to the lawmen.”

“Indeed,” I think.

“I’ve been thinking,” Brent says and I look at him. “Breakfast beer,” he says. “We’ve come this far.”

I smile. We hop in the car and head toward Boulevard Brewing Company at 10:30 in the morning on William, realizing suddenly that this isn’t weird at all.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

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