Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Kone Across America Tour

I’ve decided that South Dakota is pretty much the most awesome state we have. Why? Two main reasons:

  1. The 75mph speed limit. That ratchets all the way down to 65 in construction zones. That right there would normally be enough, but as a bonus we also have…..
  2. It’s not southern Minnesota.

Good god, people, could that stretch of MN be any more boring? I think not. There’s a good indication that even MN itself recognizes how god-awful the southern part of the state is. You see, I think of MN as an “urban” state – it likes to think of itself as being more hoity-toity with its big cities and its standard 55mph speed limits. (This is as opposed to the rough-and-tumble yee-haw cowboy states of, say, South Dakota and Nebrahoma.)

So the fact that even Minnesota throws us a bone by making the speed limit on that stretch a full 70mph is basically conceding defeat on their end.

Of course, one quickly realizes that the key reason the speed limit is in fact 75 in the cowboy states is because otherwise it would take about 10 days to cross each state, starting with South Dakota. I mean what the hell, you folks couldn’t have subdivided the state a bit? West Dakota? Dakoteappolis? Something? As it is it took me about 3 days, or maybe I’m still driving. It’s kind of all a blur.

As for Wyoming, there’s a state that shouldn’t have any speed limits whatsoever. What’s the point? We’ve just spent 16 days driving across South Dakota, I think we’ve got the driving thing down pat.

And when you get to Montana, hell, they should just strap the rocket boosters on your car as soon as you cross the state line. Talk about another endless state, with a lot of scrub brush to not relieve the monotony, and not even a Corn Palace. Hmph.

Speaking of the Corn Palace (which I am happy to note is open “year-a-round”), we did make our pilgrimage there, and The Kone and I were the only people there on a blustery morning, along with a family from Wisconsin, of all places. So after I took the requisite picture of them by the Big Ear of Corn, and they did the same for us, we discovered something astonishing when they heard me call Kona. Their dog back home is also named Kona. What are the odds? I take that as a sign that The Kone and I are on the right path in our quest for kayaking greatness in the PNW.

Other random thoughts on this endless drive:

  • The 9th circle of hell clearly involves having to listen to political ads the entire length of the state of Montana. Consisting of back and forth like this:
    • “Jon Hastert has promised Montana that he will fell every tree in this state, and he will not rest until we are completely deforested. This is the kind of man Montana needs.”
    • “My opponent Jon Hastert has promised the good citizens of this state  complete and total logging of every tree in Montana. I promise the same.”
    • I’m not even making this stuff up.

  • Dick’s Garage in South Dakota: it’s been 3 years since I’ve passed this way en route to Idaho for (ahem) Ironman CDA – yet your sign STILL reads “24-hour Toe Service.” Seriously? It looks newly painted too. Next time I come through here I’m bringing a bucket of paint.

  • All through these endless states are barriers that will block off the highway, and signs that will flash yellow lights if 90 is closed. I repeat, if 90 is closed. Umm, does this happen that often, that you close down an entire major highway? It must, if you have these permanent structures in place. What’s the deal, blizzards, locusts, what? I find this rather fascinating.

  • To the good people who named the town of Plankinton, SD. Why, I ask you, why? Why this level of unpronounceability?

  • Another thing you realize while driving across state after state after endless state – the highway system in this country is pretty damn impressive. (In spite of the stretches of I-90 in Wyoming that are chip seal. What the hell, people?) Mile after mile of road, going god knows where. Who planned this out? How did it all come together? Why, it must have taken weeks to build, weeks!

  • Speaking of, there’s a hell of a lot of land out there. What, we couldn’t coexist with the buffalo and the Indians?

  • Construction. Endless road construction. I don’t get this. I don’t know how to put this nicely, but no one drives through your states. How can the roads deteriorate that quickly?

  • Speaking of the lack of vehicles on the road, such that at one point I worried I had taken a wrong turn like I once did in Death Valley and found myself in a battle with almost certain death. Okay, not really, but I did get lost. Anyway. Back to those speed limits. How are you going to dole out speeding tickets? Station a cop at a “speed trap” where he has to wait until that day’s car goes by? Just wondering.
  • The Big Sky Motel in Superior, Montana - you're lovely and all, but point #3 on your list of rules for people who have pets? The one that reads "Pets are not allowed on beds"? Yeah, kinda laughable.

I would write more, but I need to scrub my brain from the suffering of trying to find any kind of radio stations to listen to. Next up: Radio stations in Nebrahoma, the 10th circle of hell.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't cry for me, Chicago

--> I love Chicago. I really do. I was born and raised here, and I am a Midwesterner through and through. Chicago is in my soul, it’s part of who I am.

But I can’t live here anymore.

When I first moved back to Chicago after business school (ahem, Wharton), I was the most ardent evangelist for all this city had to offer. I scoffed when people asked if I would live anywhere else. Why would I ever leave Chicago? It’s livable! Manageable! Inexpensive!

It’s none of that anymore.

I’ve watched over the years as my property taxes have gone up to ridiculous levels (no, I can’t afford $9,500 a year, which would be more if I didn’t contest it every time), my water/sewer bill has shot up just this year from $700/yr to $1100/yr, we pay the highest sales tax in the country, the highest gas taxes – and yet we have the crappiest roads and the most broke state in the nation.

This is not my Chicago, not anymore. Not when I can’t use a simple quarter to park anywhere anymore, where we’ve been sold down the river by our former idiot mayor who just kept kicking the can down the road as he doled out hefty pensions and cushy deals to keep the peace. And now the bill is coming due. Yet, no one – or very few – seem to realize this. They don’t seem to get that this state is beyond broke, that we pay all this money yet the schools are no good, the streets are terrible, and things will get worse. Much, much worse. The pension crisis is coming to a head, and it will not be pretty. In fact, it’ll reach new depths of ugly that’ll make the Council Wars of old look like a Sunday in the park. We read in the papers daily about the cronyism and corruption and deals, and yet nothing ever changes. And everything is for sale to not even the highest bidder (hello, former Sears Tower!), but to those who have the most friends and family in high places. Or any place in government or politics, for that matter. It all reeks to high heaven.

And do people here really realize just how badly off the state is in terms of fiscal health?

Does anyone care?

I don’t know anymore. I know that I do, and have, and yet there are only so many letters that can be written, so many idiots voted against, so much yelling and ranting that one can do. And so I am finally leaving my once beloved Chicago. On some level it saddens me to be leaving, but then I always remind myself of the bottom line: I can’t afford to live here anymore.

That’s really what it comes down to.

That’s why my street, my little enclave of St. Ben’s, is becoming a haven for the rich, with almost every 2-flat being turned into an opulent single-family home.

That’s why those of us who can are leaving while we can, while there are still rich people who want to buy our houses, who can afford those insane property taxes.
That’s why early tomorrow morning I am leaving for a new life in Portland. My mom, who’s gotten on a mailing list for property in Portland, recently sent me an article about that city, where Portland was described as “livable, manageable, affordable.”

And I thought huh – it’s like I’m going back to Chicago. My Chicago of old.

And then when a dear friend told me that it was the end of an era, I thought huh, you know, it wasn’t all that great of an era.

I am hitting the reset button on my life.

A grand adventure awaits.

And Chicago will always, always have a place in my heart.