DAILY BRIEFINGCross Country
Jun. 9 - I've driven across America several times.
The first was a four-day, amphetamine-fueled, solo act of lunacy in the spring of 1986. I was living in Boston and had flown out to visit some friends in Los Angeles. I decided I wanted to see the country, so I traded in my return ticket and signed up with a drive-away company to transport a Mazda GLC without air-conditioning back to Boston. I stopped in Carbondale, Colorado, and Columbus, Ohio—where I paid a visit to my sister, then attending Denison College, that will live for ever in family infamy. Those were the only overnight stops I made. Did I mention the trip had been amphetamine-fueled? (Prescription amphetamines obtained without a prescription from my friends' neighbor, some kind of renegade pharmacist or something. "Driving cross country? You'll want these.")
Los Angeles having appealed to me, I decided to move there. My next cross-country drive straddled the '87-'88 New Year and took me from Boston to L.A. I drove my own car this time, and a friend and his girlfriend came along for the ride. We made four stops: Memphis, a little hotel in the Sangria de Christo mountains of New Mexico, Carbondale, and Las Vegas. We encountered torrential rains in Virginia and eastern Tennessee, Graceland was closed, West Memphis had been ravaged by flooding and tornadoes, a mass-murderer had gone beserk in Russellville, Arkansas, the day before we passed through, and we nearly plunged to our deaths off the snow-mucked Rocky Mountains several times. Then in Vegas, after an enjoyable evening of drinking and gambling, my friend's girlfriend, who was supposed to be our designated driver, drove straight out of our parking spot into a concrete pillar, caving in the front of my car. For a reprise, she locked us out of my car the next morning and had to call a locksmith. (The lockout occurred while I was asleep, and I didn't even hear the story until years later.)
In 1991 my then-wife and I moved from L.A. to Connecticut. We hitched a trailer to our somewhat battered old Mazda 626, loaded all our earthly possession into it, and took what might have been a leisurely trip if the transmission hadn't dropped out of us in Oklahoma City. We made it to Hannibal, Missouri, before finally seeking a mechanic willing to work on foreign cars. We told him of our troubles and he just shook his head. "Car like that can't hardly pull its own self," he explained. He said he could get the necessary parts in about a week. We decided we could make it up to Chicago then out to Connecticut in first and fifth gears—and we did.
Most recently I drove from New York to Portland, Oregon on my 2000 book tour. That was the longest trip of all, but despite the pressure of all those book readings and radio and television appearances it was also the least stressful. I didn't even run out of washer fluid.
So when I say "I love America," I'm not speaking in the abstract. I'm saying I love the rocky little harbors of New England; the urban frenzy of New York; the smooth-shaven cheek of the southern plains; the jagged continental shoulders of the Rocky Mountains; the Road-Runner landscape of the Southwest; the verdant Pacific coast; the other-worldly appearance of the Northwest; the rolling green hills of the Mississippi Valley—the Mississippi itself! All the rivers and mountains and deserts and valleys—the splendor and banality and variety and monotony of our magnificent demi-continent.
So I became very excited when the DMG suggested we combine a couple of long-deferred trips into a five-day exploration of Denmark early next month. Five days—that's longer than two of my trans-American journeys, and Denmark's apparently smaller than the U.S. (even without Alaska or Hawaii), so it seemed we wouldn't have to maintain such a violent pace.
Finally—a chance to revel in all the glory that is Denmark! Her towering mountains! Her mighty rivers! Her inland seas!
My rhapsodies seemed to alarm my wife. She pointed out that driving from Copenhagen to Skagen, the northernmost point on Jutland (Jylland) takes about six hours—that's roughly the equivalent of driving from LA to San Francisco, something I've done about thirty or forty times.
She pointed out that the country's highest elevation, the peak of "Yding Skovhøj," is exactly 173 meters (567 feet) above sea level. Coincidentally (or is it?), that happens to be the exact height of the Eagleton Federal Courthouse, the fourth-tallest structure in St. Louis.
She reminded me that Denmark has no inland lakes of great size, nor any rivers on the scale of the Mississippi. It's mostly flat. It's been settled by more or less the same people for about a thousand years.
Denmark is only about the quarter of Wisconsin's landmass (twice Massachusetts's), but check it out: the population of Wisconsin is 5.36 million; the population of Denmark is 5.38 million. Wisconsin's largest city is Milwaukee, with a metro population of 1.6 million. Denmark's largest city is Copenhagen, with a poplation of 1.7 million. Wisconsin was admitted to the union in 1848. Denmark's constitutional monarchy was established in 1849. Wisconsin and Denmark both produce a lot of dairy and pork products. Both have bigger, more populous, more powerful neighbors to the south, and inoffensive, slightly comical neighbors to the north. Both produce and consume an enormous amount of beer. The U.S. Census reports that Wisconsin's population is 88.9% white, 5.7% black, 3.6% Hispanic or Latino, and 1.7% Asian. Denmark's population is also mostly white.
So it won't be the sprawling odyssey that the words "cross-country" always suggest to me, but I'm still looking forward to it—not only will it be my most comprehensive look at Denmark to date: it'll almost certainly be our last unaccompanied road trip for a long, long time.
Seventy years ago today, an American legend made his first appearance on the silver screen. Since then, he has appeared in over 450 films in more than 200 languages, held lead roles in dozens of television serials and hundreds of specials, and has been featured in books and magazines in every language. He has done all of this without wearing pants. He is, of course, the world's favorite lazy, hot-headed, bare-assed mallard: Donald Duck. Probably no coincidence that he's got a new movie out ("Real Ducks Don't Fly").
Michael J. Fox turns 43 today. He shares his birthday with Jackie Mason (1934) and Cole Porter (1892), who was so pathetic at words poetic that he always thought it best, instead of getting them off his chest, to let 'em rest unexpressed.
It's Arab Revolt and Army Day in Jordan. It's Luis de Camoes Day in Portugal.
Happy Hump Day!
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac