July 30, 2010

The Bizarre Laws of Travel Destinations

As a law student, I have profound respect for the judicial system and the laws it strives to uphold. However, as a law student, I am also aware of just how many ridiculous and bizarre laws are actually still on the books. In my landlocked home state of Oklahoma, it is illegal to go whaling. When I moved to Evanston, Illinois, I learned it was illegal to skip because skipping was a sign of drunkness. (Of course, that meant the first time my friends and I got drunk we attempted to skip and found it surprisingly difficult to do so while under the influence.)

The more I travel and the more places I go, the more weird and inexplicable laws I encounter. I recently read “I’m Under Arrest for What? 50 Bizarre Laws U.S. Laws” and got to thinking about some of the weird laws I’ve learned about my travel destinations.

Here is a sampling of some bizarre laws in the states I have written about in this blog:

  • It is illegal to speak English. Only "American" may be spoken in Illinois.
  • It is also illegal to have less than one dollar on your person. If you don't have at least one dollar, you may be arrested for vagrancy.
  • In Chicago it is illegal to eat in a place that is on fire. Because apparently common sense needs to be legislated.
  • In Chicago, it is also illegal to fish while sitting on a giraffe's neck. No really. That is explicitly forbidden.
  • It is illegal to shoot rabbits from a motorboat.
  • It is illegal to catch a fish with your bare hands.
  • It is illegal for restaurants to sell cherry pie à la mode on Sundays.
  • A law in Kansas requires that if two trains meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed. Think about that for a second.
  • Children are permitted to buy shotguns, but not toy capped guns.
  • Any single man between the ages of 18 and 50 is required by law to pay a tax of one dollar.
  • Any city in Missouri can levy a tax to support a band, as long as the mayor plays piccolo and each band member can eat peas with a knife.
  • It is illegal to take a bite out of another person’s hamburger.
  • It's illegal to get a fish drunk.
  • It is illegal to wear your boots to bed.
  • Please note, these are the clean ones. If you want to know all the dirty things that are illegal in Oklahoma - and there are a lot of them! - click here.
  • It is illegal to shoot a buffalo out of a second story hotel. I guess that means its okay to shoot one out of the first story.
  • It is illegal to take more than three sips of beer while standing. But I would pay money to see the police attempt to enforce this one.
  • A recently passed anticrime law requires criminals to give their victims 24 hours notice, either orally or in writing, and to explain the nature of the crime to be committed. Once again, I would pay money to see the police attempt to enforce this one.

July 28, 2010

Oversized Suit of Armor – Thayer, KS

After a wonderful weekend with my friends, it was time to head back to Kansas and my real life. It was not a particularly pleasant journey. To get from Tulsa to Lawrence requires taking Highway 169, a one lane highway through cornfields and small towns. It is a beautiful drive in good weather, but I did not have good weather. I had storms that made it difficult and occasionally impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me through the wall of water pouring down my windshield.

The highway did offer one pleasant surprise. Around Thayer, I was getting tired and really needed to stretch my legs. Thayer is an extremely small town off of Highway 169. The town is one square mile and has a population of about 500 people (to put that in context, Lawrence is a little less than 30 square miles and has a population of about 92,000). But small towns do have their appeal. In this case, the appeal was an odd oversized suit of armor by the side of the road.

As I pulled into the parking lot of a market, I saw a sign for Wholesale Imports offering wrought iron works, pottery and antiques. In a small gated area, I could see hundreds of different unique items from wrought iron decorations to a suit of armor almost as big as the building. I tried to go inside but the shop was closed that day, leaving me out in the drizzling rain to wonder just why the hell anyone in a town of 500 people would have this huge, medieval contraption?

I left without an answer but continued to search for one after my return home. Despite a thorough online search, I couldn’t find the shop listed anywhere. I know it was on Galvenston Street (also known as Highway 169) and was next to Mama C’s Grocery, a little store kind enough to let a weary traveler use their restroom and purchase some refreshments. I was going to have to be a little cleverer, instead of just relying on the internet to tell me what I wanted to know.

Using a street view on Google maps, I was able to find the building again and figure out an approximate address. The address proved to be of little use however, it was not actually listed anywhere. I continued by searching through every yellow pages I could find for Thayer, but still to no avail.

I have come to the conclusion that the only way I may ever answer where the suit of arms came from is by driving back to Thayer and hoping the shop is open this time. It is about 120 miles away, so maybe sometime when the weather is nice I will make another trip along highway 169 and solve the mystery of the Oversized Suit of Armor.

Total Distance Traveled: 230 miles (From Tulsa to Thayer, then Thayer to Lawrence)
Total Time Traveled: 5 hours
Soundtrack: “Canon” Ani DiFranco and Country Radio


July 26, 2010

The Golden Driller - Tulsa, OK

Back in my hometown of Tulsa, I decided to pay a visit to the very memorable roadside attraction of the Golden Driller. The Golden Driller commemorates the city’s standing as the oil capital of the world. At 76-feet tall and weighing nearly 22 tons, he is the third tallest free-standing statute in the United States. (Fun Facts: The Golden Driller is surpassed only by the Statute of Liberty and Our Lady of the Rockies. He is taller than Tribute to Courage, the large statute of Sam Houston in Huntsville, Texas. You can read about my visit to see Sam Houston here.)

The Golden Driller was originally built in 1953 by the Mid-Continent Supply Company for the International Petroleum Exposition and then erected again for the 1959 exposition. The statute was so popular that the company ultimately donated it to Tulsa. It was permanently installed at the Tulsa Expo Center in 1966. In 1979, it was named the state monument by the Oklahoma Legislature.

The sturdy iron and concrete man rests his hand on a real oil derrick that was moved from a depleted oil field in Seminole, Oklahoma; and an inscription at the base of the statue reads: "The Golden Driller, a symbol of the International Petroleum Exposition. Dedicated to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God's abundance a better life for mankind."

I do have to make one teeny, tiny observation about the Golden Driller. It is one of the gayest things I have ever seen. And I don’t mean “gay” as in stupid, I mean “gay” as in
blatantly homoerotic. It is a bare-chested man wearing a hard hat, jeans, and a large belt buckle – attire that would be quite suitable on stage with the Village People or at a leather bar. The oil derrick is one large phallic symbol and the whole display is not helped by the rainbow lights on the Expo Center behind the Golden Driller.

This is, of course, not disparaging the Golden Driller. Rather it is oddly fitting for a Tulsa landmark. While Oklahoma is not known for it’s tolerance of the LGBT community (just ask Sally Kern), there is a large gay population in Tulsa. Some have even claimed Tulsa has the third-largest gay population per capita in the United States (although I have yet to find any statistical proof). It is just very discrete. As soon as someone makes a public statement about homosexuality in Oklahoma, there tends to be consequences.

Keith Kimmel, a 28-year-old gay man from Norman, sued the Oklahoma Tax Commission to be allowed to have a vanity license plate that said, “IM GAY.” Later, Kimmel filed a complaint against Tulsa police. He alleged police officer had come to a local gay bar to break up a fight. He claims the officers then “beat him” and made “several derogatory remarks were made with regard to my sexual orientation and the entertainers and/or patrons of the bar.” We may never know whether it really happened though, two days later Kimmel died from a drug overdose.

I am not suggesting Oklahoma police officers beat anyone who is openly gay. I’m just saying it’s not too hard to believe that an openly gay person in Oklahoma would be beaten for his sexuality, even by someone wearing a uniform.

And yet here is the Golden Driller – the official statute of the state and yet so very…well…gay. It seems like the Golden Driller is a monument to the state’s pride and history as the oil capital of the world but it is also a symbol of Oklahoma’s sexual identity crisis. Oklahoma is willing to accept an allusion to homosexuality – even at 76 feet tall – so long as no one actually says anything about it.

Total Distance Traveled: 7.5 miles
Total Time Traveled: 20 minutes
Soundtrack: “Carnival Ride” Carrie Underwood


July 23, 2010

World's Largest Praying Hands - Tulsa, OK

In front of Oral Roberts University, passersby can see one of the largest monuments to religious devotion in the world – the world’s largest praying hands. The hands reach 60 feet into the air and weigh 30 tons, making them the largest bronze sculpture in the world.

At the base of the sculpture is a plaque commemorating Oral Robert’s vision from God to build the university. God said: “Build me a University. Build it on my authority and the Holy Spirit.” (Of course, this isn’t the only thing God allegedly commanded Roberts to do. But more on that later.)

The hands were originally called “The Healing Hands,” and stood in front of “The City of Faith," a faith healing medical center. But the City of Faith declared bankruptcy in 1989 and so the hands were moved to the entrance of Oral Roberts University.

I’ll admit this now – I am terrified of Oral Roberts University. Part of this has to do with the founder, Oral Roberts. Some may remember Roberts as the televangelist who extorted $9 million from his viewers when he claimed that if he did not receive $8 million in donations, then God would “call him home.” Essential Roberts made a ransom demand with the Almighty as his greedy captor. The school has been plagued by similarly sketchy financial practices – from exorbitant debt to claims that the school’s administrators use school funds to finance lavish lifestyles.

Another fear has to do with the teachings of the school. Oral Roberts University takes Pentecostal religious fundamentalism to the extreme and enforces strict religious codes on the students. Students must sign an honor code, promising not to lie, curse, smoke, drink, gamble or engage in sexual activities outside of marriage. This last restriction also includes homosexuality – that’s right, Oral Roberts University does not allow openly gay students.

When not restricting the students’ behaviors, the school is restricting how they are allowed to look. Up until 2006, women were required to wear skirts on campus while the men wore button down shirts and ties. The students are also known for engaging in some controversial religious practices. In 1997, some students disrupted services at a Tulsa mosque by praying loudly for the conversion of the worshipping Muslims inside. I have also heard stories from ORU students about trips to Mexico to perform exorcisms and speaking in tongues.

I want to emphasize I’m not trying to disparage ORU. I’m just saying the extreme practices of the school administrators and the students really, really creeps me out. In this context, the hands have developed an ominous, almost malevolent feeling for me. When I see them, I don’t see a beautiful sculpture. I see a man using God as a justification for his practices, for good or for bad.

Total Distance Traveled: 5 miles
Total Time Traveled: 11 minutes
Soundtrack: "Carnival Ride" Carrie Underwood


July 21, 2010

Full Moon Cafe - Tulsa, OK

Though I have not been back to Oklahoma in three years, my sister has been happily living and going to school in Tulsa all her life. In my absence, the city has changed immensely and my sister told me repeatedly that when I went back I would not recognize my hometown. She was definitely right.

After we arrive in Tulsa for the Fourth of July, I went with Joel and Aubrae to Cherry Street in search of a restaurant open on a holiday. The street was completely different. I had friends who lived on Cherry Street so I spent a lot of time there. But this street was different. While there were still some of my favorite old haunts – like Kilkenny’s, the best Irish pub in town – there were also plenty of new additions. There were new restaurants, new businesses, even a large new mural on the side of a building. My sister had a point, Tulsa did not look like it used to.

Luckily, one place was still there and was open on the Fourth of July – Full Moon Café. I hadn’t been there in a long time but I could still remember their great burgers and legendary tortilla soup. I ordered the Okie Burger, figuring it would be appropriate for the occasion, while Joel ordered the Veggie Burger and Aubrae ordered the Fish and Chips.

The food was amazing and heart stopping (literally heart stopping, I think it has enough grease to induce a coronary). The Okie Burger is an amazing ground beef patty, grilled to perfection and topped with all the usual fixings like lettuce and tomato. But an Okie Burger also comes with thick slices of hickory smoked bacon and onion straws, which are little strands of onion fried into the most gloriously delicate bits of goodness. One bite into the decadent burger and you know this thing is going to be bad for you, but it tastes too good to care.

The experience wasn’t all perfect though. When we first arrived, we used almost an entire container of sugar packets to get our tables to stop wobbling and spilling our beers. Of course, then we discovered the roof was leaking onto Aubrae and had to move around again. The service was also disappointing. We managed to order and never saw our server again. To get a cup of water or a refill on a beer required the laborious task of finding someone who worked there and then getting her attention. Once you had placed your request, you had to settle in for the ten to twenty minute wait it would actually take to get a glass of water.

I’d go for the burger (or the epic tortilla soup, which I didn’t have on this trip but still can’t recommend enough) but be prepared for the wait.

Total Distance Traveled: 106 miles
Total Time Traveled: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Soundtrack: "Snakehouse" The Cliks


July 19, 2010

Catching Up with an Old Friend - Oklahoma City, OK

I finally arrived in Oklahoma City just in time for a barbeque. One of Joel’s friends was hosting a barbeque of good food and plenty of beer and he was gracious enough to invite me along. Joel and I spent a lot of the time catching up on what is going on in our lives – it has been a long time since we’ve been able to sit down face to face and really talk.

Joel and I also spent a lot of time reminiscing. We talked about our old high school and our friends from the church youth group. We also talked about New Life Ranch (shudder). Joel and I both spent many summers at that Christian camp named for 2 Corinthians 5:17 (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.) But our experiences differ significantly.

He tells stories about late nights of skinny dipping at the lake, naked wrestling, and one cabin mate’s attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest amount of time spent…um…enjoying himself. Yes, he remembers weeks in the woods engaging in the rather homoerotic activities of healthy young men.

My experience was very, very different. While he remembers counselors who encouraged rough housing but did try and get the guys to keep their shorts on, I remember Christian teachings and strictly enforced Bible study time, during which there was to be absolute silence. I remember being lectured about the dangers of premarital sex, how good girls did not even kiss until their wedding days, and how anyone with a different religion was not to be trusted. (One counselor believed the Chinese worshipped Buddha and would torture and kill any Christian who entered the country.)

That is not to say I never enjoyed myself at New Life Ranch. I was a rambunctious girl, so a camp in the woods was perfect for me. I insisted on learning everything I could. I spent weeks horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, and even learning to shoot a gun. (I’m from Oklahoma – you think my childhood camp would arm me with a Bible and not a firearm?) I made great friends and together we would spend hours in the lake or camping. Hell, if it weren’t for the religious fundamentalism and scare tactics – I could easily say New Life Ranch was one of the happiest places of my childhood.

Whether thanks to or in spite of New Life Ranch, Joel and I both turned out pretty well. He is doing well in medical school and happily engaged to Aubrae, a woman so perfect for him I couldn’t have picked a better one out of a catalogue. And they already have a nice little family. Together they have a dog named Momma, an adorable mutt who wants constant affection and endless games of fetch. They also recently adopted a kitten, tentatively named Is. She is a little ball of black fur with two huge, cobalt blue eyes and is so tiny she can fit in the palm of your hand. I say “her,” but no one is quite sure yet. So until then, it is called “Is,” short for either Isabella or Isaiah.

We had a great night and then a great morning – the culinary genius Aubrae made the most amazing French Toast I’ve ever had. And then we decided to head to Tulsa for the Fourth of July. Joel’s father still lives in town so we would stay at his house, swim in the pool, and check out the fireworks. So it was back in the car and back on the road for drive to Tulsa.


July 16, 2010

Kansas Information Center - Wellington, Kansas

Just before you cross the border from Kansas to Oklahoma on I-35, you will see the Kansas Visitor Information Center in a small town called Wellington, just outside of Wichita. I love information centers because they are the best place to find out about all the weird tourist attractions of a place. In a desperate bid for tourist dollars, states and cities will fill their information centers to the brim with every single possible site of interest - no matter how big or small.

The Kansas Information Center focuses primarily on two points of pride: the Chisholm Trail and the aviation industry. Wichita was along the Chisholm Trail and so cattle drives headed north to the railroads would pass through. As a result of the Chisholm trail, Wichita became a cattle drive destination from Southwest points throughout the country, especially Texas. (Fun Fact: This is how Wichita became known as "Cowtown.") However, along with cattle drives comes cowboys and cowboys were not exactly known for their decorum when on the trail. Wichita developed a wild reputation where cowboys could let loose in Cowtown. The city employed a number of famous lawmen to try and control the rambunctious cowboys - including Wyatt Earp.

Just outside of Wichita is the little town Wellington, where the actual information center is. Wellington was also part of the Chisholm trail and while Wichita was the cattle destination, Wellington was a stopping point for settlers. Located just along the Oklahoma border, eager settlers would wait in Wellington for the landruns in Oklahoma to begin. Or they would wait until they could sneak across and stake their claims a little early. (Fun Fact: The Oklahoma University "Sooners" are named after the "sooners" who cheated during the landruns and staked their claims before the runs actually had begun.)

The second point of pride is Wichita and Kansas' participation in the aviation industry. Amelia Earhart, one of the country's most famous aviators, is a native Kansan. (You can see my visit to her birthplace museum in Atchison, Kansas here.) But Kansas continues to be a huge part of the aviation industry. Wichita's nickname - the Air Capital of the World - is well earned. Multiple aviation companies are based in Wichita, including: Learjet, Cessna, and Hawker Beechcraft. Spirit AeroSystems, Airbus and Boeing all maintain workforces in Wichita.

While at the information center, I grabbed a few brochures about roadside attractions I hadn't heard about. But then I had to hit the road. I still had a couple hours to go before I would get to Oklahoma City and the weather was not cooperating.

Total Distance Traveled: 190 miles
Total Time Traveled: 3 hours
Soundtrack: "Live and Loud" Cross Canadian Ragweed, "Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions" Shannon Curfman


July 14, 2010

Road Trip Memories - Hail to the Truck Driver!

For the July 4th weekend, I took a trip down to Oklahoma to see my friend and brother from another mother, Joel. I have known Joel over ten years when we were growing up together in Oklahoma and that is both a wonderful and frightening thing. He’s an amazing friend but I’m also pretty sure he has amassed a significant amount of blackmail material on me over the years.

Much of this blackmail material was probably gathered during church trips. Joel and I both went to the same school but didn’t actually meet until I joined our church youth group. Initially, we hated each other. Or rather, he hated me and I responded in kind. He hated me because I tore up a picture of a 99.9% germ free toilet. Really, that is how we met. We spent the next year disliking each other pretty intensely until we became friends during a church lock-in. We bonded over our love of rule breaking. The group had been given a list of contraband materials so Joel and I bonded over how many we actually had with us. He won by a landslide, but what do you expect from a guy with a gun rack on his truck?

One of the regular church trips Joel and I went on was a ski trip to Wolf Creek in Colorado over Christmas break. We would pass the long ride in the bus by playing games like poker and what-can-Kris-fit-into. (In high school I was barely 5’ 3” and weighed around a hundred pounds so we liked to see what I could squeeze into. For example, we discovered I can fit in most storage spaces on a bus, including the overhead bins.) Joel would also teach us raunchy songs to sing on the slopes.

One song Joel invented to commemorate our church bus run-in with a very angry trucker. Our bus was plodding along the road through a snowstorm, when we seem to have swiped the side mirror of a semi-truck. The trucker was not too happy with us, so he got some buddies to box us in on the side of the road. Suddenly, the bus came to a complete stop. There was a semi in front of us, a semi behind us, and a very angry trucker beside us. With a metal baseball bat, he started bashing the doors and side of the bus. He screamed obscenities and demanded the bus driver come out and face him like a man.

Chaperones began calling the police, some girls squeeled with terror, and a few guys pulled out their pocket knives (I think just in case the truck driver wanted to reenact a fight scene from “West Side Story.”) I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. Meanwhile, Joel wrote a song.

We eventually got on the road again when the other two semis took off, probably when they realized we had called the police. The angry truck driver followed us for a while until we all pulled over to a truck stop where a police officer told the trucker to get over it. Interestingly, we later spent the night in a Love’s truck stop because the snow had made the roads impassable. It crossed my mind several times during the night that our belligerent trucker could be sleeping in his rig somewhere in the same parking lot.

We never did see the angry trucker again, but we kept his memory alive on the slopes. Joel wrote a song we sang all the way down the snowy mountain that weekend. And a song we still sing after a few beers.

Hail to the Truck Driver! Lyrics
(sung to the tune of Hail to the Bus Driver)

Hail to the truck driver, truck driver, truck driver!
Hail to the truck driver, truck driver man!
He drinks and he cusses,
He threatens church buses,
Hail to the truck driver, truck driver man!
He beats on the door,
With a big two-by-four,
Hail to the truck driver, truck driver man!

July 12, 2010

Langston Hughes Childhood Home – Lawrence, KS

For a small city in Kansas, Lawrence has some famous residents. One such resident is famous poet, novelist, playwright, columnist and short story writer Langston Hughes.

Though Hughes is best known as one of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry and for his work during the Harlem Renaissance, the writer had some early roots in Kansas soil. After his parents divorced when he was young, Hughes was raised mostly by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, at 732 Alabama Street in Lawrence. It was in that house that he received his first education.

Langston inspired Hughes as an artist and also an activist. His grandmother educated him in the oral tradition of black American story telling. Hughes once said of his grandmother’s stories: "Through my grandmother’s stories life always moved, moved heroically toward an end. Nobody ever cried in my grandmother’s stories. They worked, schemed, or fought. But no crying.” (From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes on pg.620)

She also drew from the activism experiences of her generation to inspire the young Hughes for racial change. It is said that she instilled within Hughes a duty to help his race and because of that he identified with neglected and downtrodden blacks all his life and glorified them in his work. (From "The Darker Brother" in New York Times on Oct. 12, 1986).

When Hughes was thirteen, he left Lawrence to go live with his mother Lincoln, Illinois. But in his works, it is clear he did not forget what he learned in his childhood home in Lawrence. The themes his grandmother taught him are prominent and the poem “Aunt Sues’s Stories” is a tribute to his grandmother and his Auntie Mary Reed. (Rampersad.vol.1, 1986, p.43)

While Lawrence has been proud to call Hughes one of its own and made several commemorative gestures, such as the Lawrence Hughes Elementary School, the actual childhood home of Hughes is long gone. The numbers on the homes jump from 730 to 736, with only a tree between the two seeming to signify that there used to be something else there.

Supposedly, there is a plaque to commemorate Hughes' former home but it was far too hot to look for it. When I went out searching for Hughes' home, it was over 100 degrees and climbing. I managed to find where it would have been and snap a few pictures before the searing heat forced me back into the safe air conditioning of my car. Perhaps I'll try again...when its not 100 degrees.

Travel Time: 25 minutes
Travel Distance: 9 miles
Soundtrack: "Common Reaction" Uh Huh Her


July 9, 2010

Dempsey’s Irish Pub – Lawrence, KS

Food, for me, has always defined a city. When I write about Chicago, I write about where I eat. When I write about Texas, I writer about where I eat. And so it goes without saying that one of my first posts since rejuvenating The Yellow Brick Road Trip must be about my favorite place to eat in Lawrence: Dempsey’s Irish Pub.

Well not exactly Dempsey’s Irish Pub – it is really The Burger Stand inside Dempsey’s Irish Pub. A few years ago, Dempsey’s had a small kitchen they weren’t using. So in February 2009, the Burger Stand opened the kitchen for business to serve gourmet burgers. The menu is heart stopping and includes such mouth-watering temptations as the Fromage Burger – a perfectly cooked beef patty topped with cheddar, maytag blue, mozzarella, goat, and gouda cheeses with rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage and oregano.

For vegetarians, I have heard great things about the Romesco Lentil Burger – a lentil patty with Feta cheese, Marcona Almonds, green beans and a roasted red pepper sauce. There are regular specials that delight and challenge the palates of customers. But you might have to hurry because some particularly amazing specials – such as the veal burger – have a tendency to sell out early. And for those who believe a good burger deserves a good beer will also be in luck because Dempsey’s is a full service pub with a wide variety of alcoholic beverages to help wash down your meal.

My personal favorite burger is the Kobe Burger, American Kobe beef with pickled red onion and truffle butter, best when ordered medium rare to medium with a side of truffle fries. The truffle fries alone are legendary. While McDonalds may be content to reheat some frozen potatoes, throw on some salt and call them french fries, Dempsey’s has made french fries an art form. I personally love the truffle fries and don’t think any meal at Dempsey’s is complete without them. My mother is particularly fond of the sweet potato fries. For those who love rich and decadent treats, there are the duck fat fries. They are amazing but are incredibly rich so I would suggest sharing an order.

Dempsey’s is not just a burger joint in Lawrence. For some foodies, it is a house of worship. I have a friend who always orders the Kobe Burger every time he goes to Dempsey’s, which is usually about once a week. I once asked him why he always ordered the same thing and didn’t he think he was missing out on trying some of the other great menu items? He told me, “If I didn’t order the Kobe today and I died tomorrow, my one dying regret would be that I hadn’t eaten the Kobe one last time.”

He was not exaggerating. That is the kind of devotion that a Dempsey’s burger will inspire.

Travel Time: 20 minutes
Travel Distance: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Volume One" She & Him


July 7, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Caution! Woman Behind the Wheel!

I have been known to complain about bad drivers. And now that I am commuting a half hour to and from work every day in addition to my road trips, I have started complaining a lot more about bad drivers. But I’ve never really thought that the inability to use a turn signal (my biggest pet peeve) has anything to do with chromosomes.

But apparently, I’m wrong and a bad driver because I’m a woman behind the wheel. I recently read this letter in Ask Amy:

Dear Amy: My wife and I recently returned from a 1,700-mile driving vacation. We traveled dirt roads, back roads, paved roads and freeways. One constant through the trip was that female drivers follow too closely! More than 20 times I pulled off the road to let a female driver pass me because I was afraid of a rear-end accident. Not one time was it a man driving.

I am convinced that women do not understand the physics, the dynamics or the technologies related to automobile operations and all the things that can go wrong to a vehicle while driving. Deer, an accident ahead, a sudden stop or a look away — and there is no time left to react.

My wife drove for 50 miles, and I was afraid for my life. I constantly asked her to slow down or give the car ahead more room. After 50 years of marriage, this is the only thing we argue about. Why won't she change? She is quite intelligent in most other matters. I know this sounds chauvinistic (I also have three daughters), but I don't mean to be. I need your help. — Worried

I have thought about itemizing every obnoxious and sexist statement in this letter, but then I realized that it was easier to post it in its entirety and let you see for yourself. I also want to include Amy’s very polite response:

Dear Worried: There is no question that following too closely to the vehicle in front of you doesn't leave a driver enough time to react, but in terms of your gender-based observations, national highway accident statistics show that male drivers are more than twice as likely to die in an auto crash than female drivers. Women are catching up, however — their fatality rate is rising, while that of men is falling. You and your wife could both benefit from taking a safe driving course. You can check AARP.org for details.

Well isn’t that nice. Amy does a good job using the facts to disprove Worried’s sexist assumption that women cause all car crashes. But I think she could have used a little more sarcasm. And so I have crafted my own response:

Dear Worried: While I understand a world where women are permitted to drive and even travel without a chaperone is frightening, I must remind you that this is 21st century America. Women are now allowed to vote, have careers, and drive a car. It’s brave new world, sir.

Secondly, because you have been married for 50 years, it is obvious you are at least 65 years old. While you seem quick to blame the women driving behind you for dangerous conditions on the road, you have completely forgotten that you, sir, are a much more dangerous driver. Drivers over 65, along with new teen-age drivers, have the highest accident rates per miles driven.

Statistics have shown that elderly drivers typically exhibit three behavioral factors that lead to more accidents and more fatalities: poor judgment in making left-hand turns; drifting within the traffic lane; and decreased ability to change behavior in response to an unexpected or rapidly changing situation.

Have you considered how you might have been driving? Was the driver behind you following too closely because you were driving 20 mph when the speed limit was 45mph? Was that a “rapidly changing situation” you found yourself unable to deal with so rather than confront your own driving capabilities you pulled over and blamed the nearest female?

Now I’m not suggesting the elderly shouldn’t drive if they are capable. I’m suggesting you shouldn’t drive. But don’t worry! I’m sure your wife will be happy to chaperone you around town. Heck, if she’s not going to be in the kitchen then the least she could do is cater to your transportation needs!

Signed, The Educated Vagabond

P.S. - I am intrigued by your theory women don’t understand physics. I have written to the estate of
Maria Goeppert Mayer to ask her family return her Nobel Prize for Physics. I mean, if a woman can’t understand how a car works then she obviously can’t contribute to the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus! I mean, who does she think she is? Marie Curie?

What do you think of Amy’s response and my response to Worried? What would you say to him?


July 5, 2010

William S. Burroughs Home – Lawrence, KS

While some famous lives began in Lawrence, other famous lives ended in this Kansas town. William S. Burroughs, the famous member of the Beat generation and post-modern author, spent his last years in Lawrence.

A brief aside on my love for the Beat generation...

I should say now I love the Beat generation. When I was sixteen I read “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac for the first time and like many young people before me, I was forever changed. As Bob Dylan said of the book, "It changed my life like it changed everyone else's.” I came to believe that there was more than my little world in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There was so much more and I was determined to see it all. Not just see it, experience it. I read that book so many times the damn thing fell apart. For the last couple years I held my first copy of “On the Road” together with rubber bands until I finally lost so many pages it became an exercise in futility. I finally bought a new copy about a year ago and have already read it twice.

As I have gotten older, I have lost much of my youthful naiveté but “On the Road” has remained one of my favorite and most inspirational books. I can honestly say that without reading it, I don’t know if I ever would have thought of doing something like this blog. However, my passion does not extend to all members of the Beat generation. Yes, I have CDs of Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg doing live readings and books by Kerouac, Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti on my bookshelf.

But I do not like William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.”

Perhaps I should be more generous. I could like it. Maybe I would like it. I’ve just never been able to finish it. “Naked Lunch” has no linear narrative and no real plot to speak of. Even Burroughs acknowledged the book could be read in any order because there was no progression from one chapter to the next. I have an English degree and like to think I can master some particularly difficult literary challenges. But I declare defeat after about twenty minutes of trying to read “Naked Lunch.” It is not surprising that Listserve.com named the book one of the top 10 most difficult literary works.

It is for that reason that my love and fondness for the Beat generation has never extended to Burroughs as a writer. But because Burroughs is part of the movement I love so dearly, I am happy and excited to chronicle some of the places Burroughs has been in my little corner of the Midwest.

And now back to Burroughs and his final years in Kansas…

In 1981, William S. Burroughs moved to 1927 Learnard Avenue and would live there until his death in 1997 from a heart attack. He was still a heroin addict when he came to Kansas and would be for the rest of his life. Burroughs' home was like most homes in Lawrence - picturesquely settled amongst the trees. Homes in Lawrence are not landscaped, nature isn't clear cut and paved home to create space for matching houses. The homes are nestled among the landscape, as though they are a natural part of their surroundings and the paved roads leading there are an apologetic but necessary intrusion.

As idyllic and lovely as the home is, Burroughs wasn't resting on his artistic laurels in Kansas. In 1984 - three years after moving into the cozy little red cottage - he signed a seven book deal with Viking Press. During that time, he was also inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His latter years also brought health troubles (and apparently a penchant for guns, there is one particular photo of him on the steps of the house holding a very intimidating shotgun). In 1997, Burroughs passed away and was buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

The home itself is not spectacular. It looks like any number of houses that line the streets of Lawrence. But I suppose it is worth driving by, if only to see where one of the founding members of the Beat generation spent his final days.

Travel Time: 15 minutes
Distance Traveled: 4 miles
Soundtrack: "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?" Amanda Palmer


July 2, 2010

Honk for Hemp – Lawrence, KS

Since moving to Lawrence, I have become familiar with many of its quirks. Lawrence is not your typical Kansas town. While Kansas is predominately a very Republican and very Christian state, Lawrence is town known for being liberal, idealistic and open-minded. I can honestly say the people I have met in Lawrence seem to be some of the most up-beat and optimistic people I have ever encountered. It is definitely a change from the caustic cynicism of Chicago.

No one symbolizes the heart-felt idealism of Lawrence more than Honk for Hemp, a self-described futile but symbolic gesture that occurs twice a week on Saturday from 9:00 to 10:00 pm and Sunday from 12:00 to 1:00 pm on Massachusetts Street. One Sunday after I had just moved to Lawrence, I was headed down Massachusetts Street when I saw a man on a street corner holding a large sign that said “Honk for Hemp.” I laughed and thought about how typical it was for this hippie town.

But imagine my surprise when he was there again next weekend, and the next weekend and the weekend after that. I realized that the man holding the “Honk for Hemp” sign was not just a man but a Lawrence landmark. After asking around, I learned that he has been holding that sign for over ten years and even has his own website to support his cause.

According to the Honk for Hemp website: “Honk for Hemp sees three main issues: industrial hemp (seed and fiber), medical hemp (marijuana), and recreational hemp (marijuana). All three are illegal. We believe all three should be legal (with some restrictions), but we encourage others to support us at whatever level they are comfortable with.”

Honk for Hemp is hardly the only Lawrence-based movement for the legalization of hemp and marijuana. There are numerous activists and organizations throughout the city. In fact, a significant part of the recent K2 controversy occurred across the street from Honk for Hemp’s stand-ins. Kansas and Missouri lawmakers have been on a crusade over the last year to outlaw K2, a fake marijuana product that supposedly simulates the high of THC. Part of that crusade were two raids by federal agents on Sacred Journey, a store located at 11th and Massachusetts across the street from where Honk for Hemp can be seen every Sunday.

As I’ve always said, this is not a political blog so I am certainly not about to launch into my personal opinions on marijuana or K2. My fascination with Honk for Hemp is less about the actual issue and more about the dedication to the issue. To spend years of your life holding a sign on a street corner to voice your opinion must take enormous faith and optimism. I find that inspiring. I also find it very fitting that Honk for Hemp would choose my new home, Lawrence, as the place to stand and believe it will make a difference this weekend and every weekend after.

Travel Time: 12 minutes
Travel Distance: 4.4 miles
Soundtrack: “Boys from Oklahoma” Cross Canadian Ragweed


July 1, 2010

Culinary Center of Kansas City - Overland Park, KS

Welcome back to The Yellow Brick Road Trip! I’m excited to say my first post is an exciting one. I have an incredible passion for cooking, but I am not a particularly skilled chef. Yet. Though I have been known to make some spectacular snacks for study groups (my baked asparagus in rosemary and white truffle oil wrapped with smoked salmon has earned some rave reviews), I am eager to learn. So for my birthday my parents have given me a three-day hands-on cooking class at the Culinary Center of Kansas City. For three days I learned knife skills, braising, sautéing, sauces, vegetables, and desserts.

The Culinary Center of Kansas City is a well-known institute throughout the Midwest that offers over 450 classes on the culinary arts throughout the year. The name is slightly a misnomer. While very close to Kansas City, the culinary center is actually in Overland Park.

This weekend I was lucky to be learning from Chef Gary, a certified executive chef and great teacher. The first day, we learned a number of important basics. We learned how to sharpen knives properly and how to make a variety of essential cuts, such as how to dice, mince, and julian vegetables. We also learned how to make good chicken and beef stock. We also learned how to make Chicken Chasseur with a rice pilaf and properly sauteed fall vegetables. The vegetables were actually a bit of revelation. For years, I thought I didn't like zucchini. Every time I had it before, it was mushy and full of seeds. But when Chef Gary made properly sauteed zucchini, I discovered I love it! I think that says a lot about the importance of proper cooking technique.

The second day was equally brilliant. We started off with a southwest smoked turkey corn chowder. I love soups, especially in winter, so I was thrilled for a new recipe. Soup is one of my favorite things to cook as well because you can freeze it. So often when I make really good food I'm stuck eating it for days. And around the third day I don't think its so good anymore. But with soup, you can freeze individual portions and so I can enjoy it for a long time without being forced to eat it day after day after day. With the soup, we also made salad dressings, asian salmon, and a stunning barley salad. The barley salad was so brilliant, I have to share the recipe! So check it out at the bottom of this post.

On the second day, we also confronted my biggest fear: baking. I am terrified to bake. For as much fun as I have cooking, I am a disaster every time I try to bake. It cruel and unusual punishment of chocolate chip cookies. But we were going to make an apple walnut pie and I was determined to finally bake sometime well. And I did. With my team of fellow culinarians, we made an amazing apple walnut pie and I did not destroy it.

Finally, on the third day we made eggs benedict to start the morning. I learned some great tricks to properly poaching eggs and how to make a really amazing hollandaise sauce. We then went into a high speed culinary race - we learned two beef dishes, a pork dish, shrimp scampi, risotto, and received recipes for a great pasta dish we ran out of time for.

I can't tell you how absolutely great this weekend was. Anyone who has any interest in cooking should definitely check out a class at the Culinary Center of Kansas City. You have the option of a weekend cooking basics class like mine, a nine week more intensive cooking basics course, or one of the many, many single evening courses that can bring a smile to any foodie's face.

Roasted Barley Salad

1 cup pearl barley (do not buy the instant kind!)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup drained black beans
1 cup diced green bell peppers
1 cup sweet corn
1 cup diced seeded tomatoes
8 ounces of sliced mushrooms
6 green onions, diced
1/4 cup of jalapeno pepper slices
1/2 cup of fresh basil
6 cloves chopped, peeled garlic
Juice of a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Toasted pumpkin seeds

Place barley in a sauce pan with olive oil over medium heat and toast it lightly. Be sure to stir it regularly to prevent burning. Add stock and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and cover; simmer gently until liquid is absorbed (about 25 minutes). Allow to cool. Saute the mushrooms in olive oil and then add to the barley. Then add everything else to the cooked barley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Distance Traveled: About 150 miles (back and forth)
Soundtrack: "Good Health" Pretty Girls Make Graves