Oh the bluffs. The magnificent bluffs on this 35-mile scenic drive along the Mississippi River are beguiling, calming, entrancing. Peaceful, smoky gray mammoths slumber silently on the rippling riverbed. A pale purple sky accentuates the large, gentle shapes of these benevolent sleeping giants. It's a soul-soothing welcome to Minnesota.
Arrive at the Treasure Island Campground & Casino in Red Wing about 5PM. But it looks more like 9PM with that horribly threatening, black & blue sky. The dark sky and the pink casino present a weird mix of danger and frivolity. The casino is designed to look like a tropical island. The building is a flirtatious pink flanked by tall, bright green, illuminating palm trees towering above the roof. It projects a feeling of fun, games and lightheartedness, teasing the storm that is rapidly gaining ground. Perhaps the storm will pass over. But, as usual, the wind picks up as we park the RV. Once again Ken races to unhitch the RV before the violent storm unleashes its anger. Again, Ken dashes into the RV just as the pelting rain squeals after him. "Here we go again." He jokes as he shakes water from his wind-ravaged clothes. "Another campground, another thunderstorm."
Prepare a hot meal in our cozy cabin as the wind and rain howl hysterically outside. The trailer shakes and shimmies, but we are not rattled. Thunder booms and lightening lights up the cabin like frenzied fireworks. Big deal. We yawn. We've seen this act before. Another summer rerun we joke. Enjoy our meal and are about to snuggle up with a good book when a truck rides through the campground with a yellow flashing light and a loud siren. Instantly people leave their RVs like mice following the Pied Piper. It's an evacuation. A tornado is coming and we must all board a bus to the casino. For our own safety.The bus is full of vacationing passengers all abuzz about the impending danger and unexpected excitement. At least the casino is a fun place to be stranded, it is unanimously decided. Inside the casino, far from the maddening storm, are brightly flowered shirts, multi-colored drinks, island-themed restaurants, palm trees, tropical plants, waterfalls, slot machines, bars, entertainment, music. Young security guards posted at every door allow anyone to come in, but no one can go out. Some people try to sneak past the guards and are quickly snatched from the danger they pretend not to see. Watching the young guards hold their ground against bloated men emboldened by liquor is amusing. And admirable. The guards win every time. The people coming into the casino from outdoors are horrified. Fear-stricken. Terrified. Their eyes are wide with fright. Their clothes are soaked and all awry. Their wet hair is twisted and knotted in storm-created dread locks. Beyond them, the storm rages at everything remaining in the parking lot. Articles soar through the suctioning air. Unbelievable. (Kinda fun, though, too.) An hour later, we are released. The tornado tears off elsewhere. The sky is as pink as the casino.The RVers return to the campground a few coins lighter.
Birds-eye view not good enough
Meet our RV neighbors today, a retired airline pilot and his wife. They are traveling because he wants see the all the places that previously he had only seen from the sky. Both he and his wife are thoroughly enjoyable. Easy to talk to. In fact, I met them as I was carrying my garbage to the dumpster. Sat right down with my trash bag beside me and talked for an hour. Easily. Breezily. Forgot all about my garbage. Forgot all about Ken waiting for me. It's infrequent to meet people who are so interesting that one forgets time. A bewildered Ken comes out of the RV looking for his dumpster-destined wife who never returned. He sees the party and the four of us talk until sunset.
Stop in a thrift store today and get some nifty thrifty things. Buy a wide-brimmed old straw sun hat (looks handmade) and three old books from the 1960s: one is an Alfred Hitchcock book called "Stories NOT for the Nervous." Another book is on enzymes. The third book is on spirituality. The "Not for the Nervous" book tells a story of a man who only has four months to live. He decides that before he dies, he will rid the world of rude people. He goes up to brutes after they have verbally attacked some innocent victim and calmly asks, at gunpoint, "How old are you?" When the person tells his age, the killer responds, "Imagine how much longer you could have lived if you had decided to be polite instead of rude." And kills 'em, leaving a note saying what offense the person committed. After several killings, people in town start being nice to each other because "ya never know if it might be that nut." Sounds like a gruesome story but it was funny and quirky like old Hitchcock himself.The name of the story is "For all the Rude People." But I think it should have been named, "You don't Hafta Be Rude."
The spiritual book tells the story of an explorer in the jungle who has natives carrying his burdens. Everyday he pushes farther and farther into the dense jungle while the natives lug his baggage in the oppressive heat. On the third day, the explorer is ready to resume the trek but the natives won't budge. Nothing he does can get them to move. The head of the tribe explains, "They are resting until their souls can catch up to them." I often feel like that. Like my soul is left behind in my haste to get ahead.
The enzyme book, "Helping Your Health with Enzymes" was written in the 60s, so the author's theory may have been disproved for all I know. Basically, the message is CHEW FOOD BEFORE SWALLOWING.The human body has more than 20,000 enzymes. Some in the mouth, some in the stomach, some in the intestines, some in the bloodstream. Each has a job to do. When we don't chew our food, the mouth enzyme can't do its job. The burden falls on the stomach enzyme to "catch up" and so on through the digestive process. There are all other factors, too, like don't eat starches and proteins together cuz they nullify the enzymatic process and the food putrefies in your belly, causing bloating, gas and general unpleasantness. If you do nothing else, the book warns, at least chew your food. The best way to do that is to eliminate beverages at mealtime.We try it out. We chew our food and eschew the beverage. It's almost impossible to do. But will keep trying.
Ken bought the Jules Verne book "Around the World in 80 Days." It was written in the late 1800s. The protagonist goes through horrendous experiences, but being a "phlegmatic Englishman," he never unravels and proves the old adage, "Composure allays all opposition." Nice message for us.
The spy who came to our picnic table
Having our afternoon tea at the picnic table when an elderly man walks by. He's using a cane, but is not bent over. His posture is erect. Dignified. He begins telling us about WWII. He was a spy during the war in the Pacific. Said he was just a young boy and they made him a spy! In recalling the events, his voice takes on a puzzled note. Fifty-five years later and he still seems surprised that he actually did this at so young an age. I get the feeling that while he was spying he kept thinking to himself, 'I can't believe I'm doing this." And now recalling it, he thinks "I can't believe I did it. And lived."
At the laundromat a couple of weeks ago I met a woman whose husband is a traveling pipe fitter. They go wherever the work takes them. Last week I met a woman, also in the laundry room, whose husband is a traveling construction worker. One of the women has grown children, the other has no children. Both claim it would be impossible to have this lifestyle with young children. Both say they like the traveling and the variety of this itinerant life. Tonight, our last night here, I meet a man in the laundry room who is a pipe fitter. He's been doing this for 15 years and loves it. Says his wife might be getting tired of it now, but he could do this forever. He asks me why we're staying here so long and I explain that we had damage from the storm and we were waiting for parts. "Damage from what?" He asks. "The storm," I say. He stares at me, puzzled. Then laughs, "The stohhhm?" (chuckle) "You mean the storrrrm." Note to self: correct the Bostonian accent or no one will understand me the rest of the journey.