Saying the Wrong Thing (Vegan Edition)

My 19 year old niece recently spent a month trying on vegetarianism for size.  She even flirted with vegan meals a bit, as she shares my opposition to the murder of animals for our gustatory pleasure.

I took the opportunity to chat with her about nutrition and menus when we both attended a family event several weeks ago.  On that occasion, I shared a vegan “cheeseburger” with her (Boca burger with melted soy cheese) and left her with the remainder of my package of fake cheese.  My intent was to convey the message that one can enjoy many tasty dishes that do not include the rotting flesh of dead animals.  But I tried not to sugarcoat things.  Vegans do need to ensure that they are consuming sufficient protein rather than succumbing to the temptation to carbo-load all the time.  I also explained about the importance of including yellow and orange vegetables in one’s diet for Vitamin A, as well as citrus fruits for Vitamin C and leafy greens for iron.  I shared that I have a tendency to keep lists in my phone, both to ensure that the right items are purchased during our trips to the grocery store and to monitor my dietary balance.

I find it fairly easy to discuss the cruelty of factory farms, the horrors inflicted on chickens and the way that bulls are killed and butchered.  I have no problem holding forth on vegan food options, nutrition and menus.  But there are other things that I have a much more difficult time talking about.  I refer to the “social” aspects of veganism.  The truth is that, even at my age, I still have a lot to learn about human relations.  How should I say this?  Manners have never been my strong point; I tend to put things bluntly to the point that many find me inconsiderate and even downright rude.  I don’t believe that my coarse demeanor quite rises to the level of, say, Donald Trump, but I have had my moments.  I have been compelled to issue many apologies in the course of my life.  So when I became a vegan nearly three years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that the dangers of social gaffes lurk around every corner.

How do I refuse a cookie?  You’d think “no, thank you” would be sufficient, but some folks won’t let it alone.  Others think you’re just being a snob.  Yes, I know you’ve seen me eating cookies, but mine don’t contain animal products.

How do you tell someone that you are unable to eat a single thing that is being served?  Possible responses include:

  • “It looks lovely, but I’m really full. I just ate a little while ago.”
  • “I’m diabetic, so I have to be really careful. I’ve already maxed out my starches and fats for the day.”
  • Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t know that I’m kosher. I’d really enjoy a cup of tea, though.”

I find that successful vegan eating away from home is all in the planning.  You can check restaurant menus online in advance.  You can warn your hosts well before showing up at their homes.  You can make sure to eat before you go or after you leave, or you can prepare your own food and bring it along.  This last option, as convenient as it is, can be problematic as well.  I have learned through painful experience that some take offense when you show up with a Gladware container of tofu and broccoli and ask to use the microwave.  It’s a minefield even for the socially savvy.  For someone like myself, however, eating with others is clearly a losing proposition.  What I must do is try to keep my mouth shut, and not just because of the food being served.  I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that whatever I say is likely to be the wrong thing.  And no matter how disgusting I find the food being consumed by others, I am nearly always better off keeping my opinions to myself.

Vegans remain a tiny minority in the United States, a situation that is not likely to change for the foreseeable future.  My dad, now in his 80s, admits that he never heard the word “vegan” until about ten years ago.  Fortunately, awareness of the vegan movement is increasing.  While this is, overall, a positive development, it has also given rise to an increase in deprecatory comments.  For example, my wife recently showed me a meme on Facebook that asked whether the mouth-watering sensation one gets upon smelling steak on the grill is similar to the sensation experienced by vegans upon smelling a freshly mowed lawn.  So excuse me for a moment while I head outside to graze.

Okay, I’m back.  Baaaa.  I mean, “yummy!”

I have no clue how to fairly address this conundrum with my niece.  I do want her to know what to expect, but I don’t want her to run away screaming.  She’s already experienced a bit of vegan social woe when she clearly expressed her expectation that her family provide her with vegetarian meals. Umm…

I hate to say this, dear one, but this is not how to ingratiate yourself to those closest to you.  It’s a cruel, hard world and it’s every vegan for herself.  You have a job, you draw a paycheck, so you can get what you need when you visit the grocery store.  Make lists.  Plan menus.  It’s really not that hard.

For such things to come out of my mouth is very much in keeping with the rudeness that seems to have become my personal hallmark.  I need to heed the adage about not judging until I walk a mile in another’s moccasins.  It’s easy to say “take care of your own needs and don’t expect anything of others” when you earn a good salary and have a wife who is willing to do the shopping.  It’s not so easy when you work part-time making FA wages and have a three year old to take care of.  Not to mention the fact that, when you’re 19, you want to eat fast food like the rest of your friends do and you don’t want to have to think about your upcoming meals.  You want to enjoy the convenience of eating what’s readily available, what’s cheap, what everyone else is eating.  You don’t want to have to explain your food choices and your philosophy to anyone.  You want to fit in.

The other day my wife told me about a phone call she received from my niece.  “I did a bad thing,” my niece prefaced her remarks, before admitting that she was unable to resist an egg sandwich at Starbucks.  My kind, gentle wife very patiently explained that it’s not the end of the world and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating an egg once in a while.  “Yes, but there was bacon on top of it,” my niece added.

I had to laugh.  If I’m to be honest, I have to admit that I was more relieved than disappointed.  Being a vegan is a tough row to hoe, and all the more so when you’ve been raised eating meat at almost every meal.  I had a head start in that I grew up with a mother who kept kosher and have never tasted bacon.  Kosher meat is expensive and it just wasn’t a big thing with us.  So when I stopped eating meat 26 years ago, it wasn’t the type of sea change that it would be for my niece.

A few nights ago, my niece and her little one were visiting us in our tiny rented house at dinnertime.  I was chopping onions and tomatoes to prepare vegan nachos while everyone else was enjoying microwaved pepperoni Hot Pockets.

“I didn’t like the way eating vegetarian made me feel,” my niece told me as she was heading home.

“It’s not about eating meat,” I reminded her.  “It’s about getting enough protein.”

Leave it to me to say the wrong thing again.  It’s the story of my life.

 

Small Town Life in California #1

Although we live in the Sacramento area, our location is quite rural, as is made obvious by the horse paddock on the corner, the sheep baaing across the street and the chickens running around everywhere as if they owned the neighborhood.  It’s quite the antidote to working in the concrete jungle downtown every day.

As one who was born and raised in New York City and environs, I’ll be the first to say that small towns, while soothing in their own way, are rather dull and predictable.  Well, at least that’s what I thought until I recently took a look at a newspaper from over in the next county.  Apparently, the country life can be truly hilarious.  To prove my point, I present for your entertainment a few entries from the police blotter:

Grin and bear it

A caller on Jackson Street in Quincy reported seeing a bear walking on his property for the second time in a week.  He said he would like it to be on file that there is a bear problem in his area.

Uncle Guac sez:  Duly noted.  Better break out the “No Trespassing” signs, dude!

Oh, is that all?

A caller said her soon to be ex-husband called her and then she heard a gunshot on the other end of the line.  Attempts to call the man were met with a busy signal.  A 911 dispatcher was eventually able to reach the man who said everything was fine.  He said the gunshot sound was from him shooting at a coyote.

Uncle Guac sez:  Hang on, honey, I gotta go kill something.  (Sometimes divorce can be a good thing!)

That’s no way to treat your husband!

A caller on County Road A23 near Beckwourth reported being a victim of a hit and run.  He said he was riding an ATV when he was hit by a truck that left the scene.  The caller added that the truck was driven by his wife.

Uncle Guac sez:  Think this one might be heading to divorce court, too?

How’d he get in here?!

An ER nurse reported that a nurse was bitten by a dog in the emergency room.

Uncle Guac sez:  The nerve of some canines!  Didn’t he read the “No Animals Allowed” sign?  (At least you didn’t need to call for an ambulance.)

Typo?

A 2001 Dodge truck swerved, ascended an embankment and rolled over.  According to the driver, they were on Long Valley Road, west of Green Gulch Road, when a deer dumped directly in front of the truck.

Uncle Guac sez:  Pee-ew!  Dis-gusting!  I bet that stank!  Can’t blame you for wrecking your ride, man.

Three strikes, you’re out

A caller at Butt Lake’s Cool Springs Campground said an intoxicated male had driven his truck into a ditch on the side of the road and was spinning his wheels and cussing.  The caller said the intoxicated man had a gash on his head from falling down earlier.  The Highway Patrol responded and the man was arrested on a charge of DUI.

Uncle Guac sez:  Talk about a horrible, terrible, very bad day!  (I’d be cussing, too.  At least the guy wasn’t on crack, which has been a really bad problem lately, and right in the middle of Butt Lake, too!)

Hey, keep your eyes on the road!

A caller who was located about six miles north of La Porte reported that three people were injured in ATV accidents.  The caller said two juveniles were injured when they drove their quad over a cliff.  When their father went over the cliff to help them, he was injured, too.

Uncle Guac sez:  You can’t tell me there’s no such thing as paternal instinct!

They were just singing harmony

A caller said she could hear her neighbor’s dog barking and her neighbor’s pig was squealing a lot.  The caller said it sounded like the dog was harassing the pig.  An officer responded to check on the dog and the pig.  Both animals appeared to be fine.

Uncle Guac sez:  Geez!  Can’t we even have a friendly conversation without someone calling the cops?

 

If you think I’m making this stuff up, you’re giving me a lot more credit for creativity than I deserve.  You can check it out yourself at http://por.stparchive.com/Archive/POR/POR07012015P13.php.

 

 

A Lesson in Democracy

I was wrong, and I’m thrilled about it.

As I explained earlier this week, I am always wrong about my political predictions.  I am as shocked at everyone else that Great Britain chose to leave the European Union and take back its nation.  And today I raise a cheer for democracy.

The word “democracy” hails from the Greek root demos, meaning “people.”  That is what’s so great about national referenda like the one that occurred in Britain on Thursday.  The people, not the politicos, get to decide.

Here in California, on every Election Day you can count on a series of referenda (known locally as “propositions”) will be on the ballot.  Everything from term limits to new taxes to environmental measures is put to the will of the people.  We rarely, if ever, see this on a national basis, however (due largely to the federalist compromises made by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution).  Instead, in the U.S. our government operates on a system of representative democracy.  We choose our members of Congress and our president and we place our trust in them to do our will.  That’s supposed to be the price of our votes.  Of course, it often doesn’t work out that way, if for no other reason than any legislator, even the one whom you most ardently support, will have a contrary view to your own on something.

That’s why referenda are so refreshing.  It is as if our representatives are saying “you tell us what you want to do about this and we will make it happen.”  Instead of the representative democracy to which we are so accustomed, this moves down the spectrum toward the New England town meeting, perhaps the ultimate form of direct democracy.  You count up the votes and majority rules.

The problem, of course, is that this is a tough gig for the losers, particularly when the vote is more or less split down the middle, as it was in Britain on Thursday.  It is a far cry from the consensus so prized by the Japanese.  But sometimes it makes sense to acknowledge that there simply is no consensus.  (The first issue this brings to mind is abortion in the United States.)  Opponents of direct democracy point out that there is little gained by alienating nearly half the electorate in such cases.  And yet, short of kindergarten-style sharing (we’ll do it my way today and your way tomorrow), it seems like the fairest way to run a society.

Of course, once the populace votes on an issue, you’re stuck with the outcome.  There are times when the decision made by the people is not so irretrievable that it’s possible to put it up for a vote again later to determine whether public opinion has changed (which it may if the decision fails to yield the desired results).  There are often opportunities for the people to rethink the situation, back up and change their minds.  Many times, however, you’re really stuck with your decision.  In some circumstances, there is no going back.  The Brexit appears to be one of these, and I put it to you that this is a good thing.  Britons must accept the consequences of their decision, which involves both good and bad.  I believe that the former far outweighs the latter.

By the way, the “fear” campaign waged by the Remain faction did not help matters.  Many Britons saw the scare tactics for what they were.

So now there’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on.  The “leave” camp won due to the voting power of the working class.  The vote to leave the E.U. was all about England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wanted no part of it.  Not enough young people, who treasure the ability to roam throughout Europe free of border controls, showed up at the polls.  It was a rainy day with flash floods so many potential voters stayed home.  There’s no end to the second guessing.

The bottom line, however, is that now the people of Great Britain can cut the apron strings to Mother Europe and forge their own destiny.  Their money is better spent at home rather than being forcibly sent out to 27 other member nations.  Britain is a proud nation that will once again be able to make its own rules.  Britain has declared its independence of Europe, much as the American colonies once declared their independence of Britain.  ‘Tis a wondrous day, indeed.

As for those who persist in gloom and doom, dwelling on the crash of the pound and the steep drop in stock markets worldwide, I say to you:  Get over it.  It takes a while for markets to correct and for people to get used to new realities.  I have no doubt that there will be sacrifices to be made, but they seem a small price for the sweet taste of self-rule.  I just hope it won’t be long until the will of the people is consummated by Britain’s invocation of Article 50 of the E.U. compact.  Now that the people have spoken, let’s do this thing.

Thank you, Great Britain, for going to the ballot boxes in droves to let your voices be heard.  Thank you, Great Britain, for standing up for what you believe in.  And most of all, thank you for giving the entire world a lesson in democracy.

 

A Brexit, You Say? Fat Chance!

I don’t usually make political predictions because I’m generally wrong (and who likes to be wrong?).  Today, however, I will go out on a limb and predict that Clinton will win the U.S. presidential election and that Britain will elect to remain in the European Union.  I am willing to take the chance of making such predictions not only because I believe them to be true, but also because, this time, I will raise a cheer if I’m wrong on either count.

The U.S. presidential election is still more than four months off, but the Brits vote on Thursday.  The “remain” and “leave” factions have each waged active campaigns, complete with rhetoric, bombast and hand-wringing that even went so far as to encompass the murder of a British politician.

While I do not believe that there is much in it for Britain to remain in the E.U., I am disappointed that the “leave” faction has descended to making the issue about immigration, perhaps the most hot button item for Britons these days.  With Britain as a member of the E.U., citizens of any sister nation can live and work in Britain legally.  This, of course, is also true for Brits who wish to try their fortunes on the Continent, say, in a bit less cold and rainy locale such as Portugal or Italy.  No one really knows whether a Brexit would mean that the expats in Britain would have to go home and the British retirees on the beaches of southern Europe would have to do the same.  It really is a matter of “details to be worked out later.”  The “leave” faction just wants to take back control of Britain’s immigration policies.  That would include saving the costs spent by the socialized health care system in caring for the medical needs of immigrants.  Oh, and the “be-leave-ers” want to take the billions that Britain is forced to send the European Union and instead use it for worthy causes at home.  Also, they want to send their own representatives to international commissions rather than having to settle for representation by Mother Hen E.U.

All of this makes perfect sense to me.  Everyone wants to be (or at least to think they are) in control of their own destiny rather than relying, childlike, on others to make their most important decisions.

Of course, the “remain” faction insists that all this is hogwash and poppycock.  Why should they leave the Union, they ask, when they have it so good?  After all, Britain has a special deal with the E.U. that exempts the Brits from many of the onerous rules and red tape imposed on the rest of the Union nations.  Heck, Britain isn’t even saddled with the euro; they got to keep their pound sterling, so what more do they want?

The “remaIN” people point to strength in numbers, the clout that Britain currently enjoys with the E.U. and the advantages of mutual protection.  Plus, they are caterwauling about the economic catastrophe that would come with leaving the Union.  The stock markets would crash!  Worldwide financial panic would ensue!  Not only that, but the “remain” faction buys into the E.U.’s saber-rattling, the Union’s noisemaking machine that insists that Britain will pay dearly for destroying what could one day have become the United States of Europe!

And as for Scotland?  England’s neighbor to the north claims that, should Britain leave the E.U., Scotland will vote for independence so that the newly free nation can turn right around and join the Union.  To which I say ha, ha, ha!  Very funny, indeed.  Remember, Scotland tried that just a few months ago and the people of the kilt and haggis voted to remain securely within Great Britain.  If anyone believes the Glaswegians are going to change their minds now because they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, well, I have a bridge to sell you over here in California, chap.

The fact is that the “stiff upper lip” Brits are just too conservative and too stuck in their own bog to do anything as dramatic as vote to leave the European Union.  For heaven’s sake, even Greece, whose people did vote to leave the Union last summer (remember all those OXI! signs?) ended up staying, thanks to spineless Tspiras and “motorcycle Mac” Varoufakis.  If tiny Greece couldn’t pull off a Grexit despite the will of the people, I don’t think a nation as populous as Britain has a marshmallow’s chance in hell.

No one is saying that the E.U. would let Britain off easy if they do decide to leave.  The Union will undoubtedly use the two-year unwinding process as an opportunity to stick it to Britain any way they can.  But as far as the gloom-and-doom “remain” faction, they can quit peddling their disaster scenarios now.

Not that it matters.  The “remain” faction has effectively already won.  Even the financial panic that was gaining some momentum last week has died down as the “leave” faction has lost its momentum quicker than Bernie Sanders.

It’s really too bad.  As some articles in the media have pointed out, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Great Britain to cut the apron strings and forge a future on its own terms.  But with the vote less than two days away, I can see that Britain has already blown its chance.  Choked in the ninth inning.  Pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.

All that’s left is to pull out the chocolate bars and make some S’mores on Thursday.  And pass the hankie, please.  For I shall shed a tear at the incontrovertible evidence that a Britain that once lived up to its name is truly no longer Great.

 

Not My Idea of Religion

Church Demonstration

The scene outside Victory Baptist in Sacramento last night

The Sacramento Kings basketball team has unveiled its new purple jerseys, featuring the logo “Sacramento Proud.”  Today, however, I am not proud to be a Sacramentan.

Right on our doorstep, the minister of a purportedly Christian church delivered a mean-spirited, hate-filled sermon on Sunday, in which he insisted that we should not be “sad or upset” about the mass murder at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.  In his depraved mind, this horror was very much in line with Old and New Testament verses that prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals.  When the Sacramento Bee interviewed Verity Baptist Church Pastor Roger Jimenez at home, he confirmed his pulpit remarks stating “all I’m saying is that when people die who deserve to die, it’s not a tragedy.”  He cited passages in Leviticus and Romans to back up his claims.

I looked up the address of the church on our way home from work this evening so that we could drive by.  (I was horrified to discover that some miscreant who apparently believes that two eir wrongs make a right had changed the Google label to read “Verity Satan Church.”)  It was located in a boring, cookie-cutter industrial park, where we saw close to 100 protesters demonstrating in front of the church with rainbow and American flags.  News crews and sheriff’s deputies were on the scene.  While I do hope that the church’s service was not disrupted this evening, I was pleased to see that more than a few local residents took time out of their busy schedules to register their disapproval in a public manner.

While I remain incredulous that anyone characterizing himself as a man of God could suggest that we not mourn the loss of our fellow man, I am heartened by the fact that his warped dogma is a very minority view.  I simply cannot allow myself to believe that many others surreptitiously subscribe to this brand of hate.  I always thought that God = Love.  God approving of murder?  That’s certainly not my idea of religion.

 

 

Wild Animals Do Not Belong in Captivity

Over the past week, there has been a great deal of media coverage of the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to kill a young resident of its Gorilla World exhibit, Harambe, after a four year old boy deliberately slipped past a fence and fell into a moat surrounding the great ape’s enclosure.  Many of the comments online are filled with emotion and invective (see Twitter hashtag #justiceforharambe if you don’t believe me), either supporting or castigating the zoo for its actions.  Some even lash out at the boy’s mother, criticizing her parenting abilities to the point of calling for social services to get involved.  Others go even further and would have the child’s parents prosecuted under the state’s criminal law (for what offense I have no idea).  The Cincinnati Police is supposedly investigating.  (I love this!  They can calm the fomenting rabble by agreeing to investigate while they know perfectly well that there is little they can do.)

I have no idea whether the zoo was right or wrong to kill Harambe.  After all, I wasn’t there.  Some of those who were on the scene describe Harambe dragging the child around and repeatedly banging his head on the concrete.  Others point out that the child was examined at a hospital and was found to have suffered no serious injuries.  So you can take your pick there.  All I know is that if a 420 pound gorilla were to drag me around and repeatedly bang my head on concrete, I wouldn’t be here to write these words.

Supporters of Harambe have suggested that the zoo should have used a tranquilizer dart or should have distracted the gorilla with treats such as pineapple.  Some say that the gorilla would have wreaked irreversible damage on the boy by the time a tranquilizer took effect, while others point out that the zoo allowed ten minutes to elapse before making its decision to use lethal force, time during which a tranquilizer could have been taking effect.

And, of course, there are those who insist that the zoo’s decision was a no-brainer, that “a human is always worth more than an animal.”  (Although not everyone agrees with this proposition.)

As you no doubt realize by this point, I am more than a bit amused by the forceful arguments in support of or in opposition to the Cincinnati Zoo’s action.  That’s the wonderful thing about a free press in the age of the internet:  Everyone gets to express his or her opinion, vastly enriching the marketplace of ideas.

We are all such good Monday morning quarterbacks, now aren’t we?  This is what my mother always referred to as “20/20 hindsight.”  Unfortunately, those faced with an emergency don’t have the luxury of time to allow the case to be argued in the court of public opinion.  We see this all too often when police make a split-second decision to use deadly force in order to protect themselves or others from being killed.  First walk a mile in that guy’s moccasins, then come talk to me.

As for the mother’s culpability, I cannot escape my legal training that has taught me to argue both sides of the question.

Legally, a non-human animal is considered chattel, mere property.  This has been the common law at least since Blackstone, Coke and the other great British legal commentators published their treatises centuries ago.  As a supporter of animal rights, I am not happy about this fact, but there it is.  Accordingly, if I were representing the Cincinnati Zoo in civil litigation against the mother, I would argue that her negligence resulted in the loss of valuable zoo property and would demand restitution forthwith.

Just think of the approbation and liability that the zoo would have suffered if it had allowed Harambe to kill the boy!  The lawyers would have descended, demanding millions of dollars in damages, far more than the property value of a gorilla.  One internet commenter pointed out that the value of a boy is so much more than that of a gorilla because the latter has such limited capabilities, while the former could be the discoverer of the next cure for a deadly disease.  That is certainly a possibility.  Typically, however, the courts greatly limit the value of a child’s life, as it cannot be known whether he would have been the next Einstein or a criminal in prison for life.  While a gorilla is unable to discover the cure for cancer, neither is it able to engage in genocide or embezzle the retirement funds of thousands.

Now, if I were representing the boy’s mother, I would argue that Harambe’s enclosure represented an attractive nuisance to a young child and that the zoo therefore has no one to blame for its losses but itself.  Think of it:  You’re four years old. Ooo!  A big gorilla to play with!  And water to splash in on the way!  Your mom is momentarily distracted with your brothers and sisters.  What would you do?  Uh-huh, thought so!

In its defense, zoo director Thane Maynard claims that its fences at Gorilla World are more than adequate, that they have been approved by the relevant governing bodies, and that they have never experienced a problem before in the nearly forty years that the exhibit has been open.  Kind of what I would call an “innocent until proven guilty” defense.  But Maynard also admits that “the trouble with barriers is that, whatever the barrier is, some people can get past it.”  Uh-huh.  Little people, for example.  Like, uh, maybe a four year old?  And just what audience do zoos cater to anyway?  Families!  Children!  School groups!  It’s fun for all ages, it’s educational, bring the kids for a day out at the zoo!

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem.  Rather than second guessing the zoo’s on-the-spot decision, we need to step back and take a bigger picture approach.  Let’s admit that safety considerations are just one of many reasons that animals should not be maintained in captivity.  Wild animals belong in the wild.  And as long as the courts refuse to extend the writ of habeas corpus to non-humans, we will continue to experience unfortunate incidents involving the death of captive animals or the humans who come into contact with them.

After all, boy and gorilla were each doing what comes naturally.  The fault is not theirs, but ours.

 

Cattle Country

Interstate 40 sign

SHAMROCK, TEXAS

Just west of the Oklahoma line, we pull off Interstate 40 to find a room for the evening in this middle-of-nowhere town on the old Route 66. We are exhausted and I just want to crawl under the covers and commune with the backs of my eyelids. I am glad that the clerk is so matter of fact, as I don’t feel like chatting. Thank you, Mr. Desk Guy, for not asking about our entire itinerary like the clerk in Quincy, Florida did. There, at another nondescript crossroads in another state’s panhandle, the motel clerk’s desk, behind a Plexiglas window, contained a model of the hotel’s shower setup. I was treated to a demonstration of how to turn on the water and how to switch the spigot from tub to showerhead. I must have registered a look of disbelief, as the cheerful clerk asked “Should I show you again?”

Here in Texas, I am grateful that all I need to do is mumble the magic words “we need a room,” upon which the clerk takes care of the rest without fanfare or foofaraw. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate in the lobby in the morning. I try not to roll my eyes. (I don’t know about you, but what I need in the morning is food. Most hotels have at least a free continental breakfast, a bagel and juice or something. Haven’t you heard, Mr. Desk Guy?). No, we don’t have any children or pets. I grab the key and go.

As conscious as I am of animal welfare issues, I am glad that I don’t have a pet in this place. As soon as I pull up to the door of the room, I notice a gray and white cat, probably feral, sniffing around. And when I begin to unload the bags, I am greeted by a pair of black cats who walk right up to me as if this is their standard routine. In the gathering dusk, I almost don’t notice them in their pitch black fur, but the shining yellow-green eyes give them away. I hope they don’t end up running into our motel room and under the bed while we are unloading. Let’s just say that my wife does not care for cats. At all.

This is cattle country. Perhaps the most prominent feature on the featureless landscape of north Texas is the herds of beef cattle and the enormous feedlots filled with thousands of cows just off the freeway. “This is where the steaks and hamburgers of America come from,” I announce to my wife, the disdain in my voice totally obvious. Indeed, as we traverse western Oklahoma and then approach Amarillo in Texas, the billboards become more frequent, announcing a free 72 oz. steak to anyone who can eat all of it with the accoutrements and fixin’s within one hour. The perfect combination of excess consumption, gluttony and the murder of innocents without a second thought.

The plains stretch out before us, and in the orange glow of the 9 pm sunset, we can see so far out to the horizon that I feel as if I can almost discern the curvature of the earth. Back in Maine, the husband of my wife’s friend was recounting tall tales of his military service in Montana. The terrain was so flat, he boasted, that a soldier going AWOL could still be seen for three days.

I now think I understand what he meant.