A rookie no more

OLive

A few of the notebooks and other items, including a pica pole, that I used to keep at my desk in The Oregonian newsroom.

As the month of June comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the good fortune that has come my way since I began teaching as an adjunct college instructor last fall.

In the nine-plus months that have passed since I walked into a classroom on the Portland State University campus and faced my first group of students, one opportunity after another has presented itself. I’ve said yes to one thing, only to have another thing come my way, and then another and another.

Never could I have imagined I’d be in this place so soon after making the transition from veteran journalist to rookie college instructor. But I’m grateful, even if I have to pinch myself from time to time.

***

I taught a single class at PSU during the fall, winter and spring quarters, each one lasting 12 weeks. This summer I’m teaching two four-week sessions back-to-back. The first class began this week. The second one starts in late July.

Meanwhile, I taught two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver during the spring semester from January to mid-May. Combined with the single PSU class, that meant I was managing three courses at once for most of the 16-week term. It was a stretch, requiring two days a week on each campus, but I managed.

This summer I’m teaching a single class in Vancouver.  Yesterday marked the halfway point of the eight-week course. I gave the midterm exam, welcomed a guest speaker, and met with each student individually after class in the fresh air outside the classroom.

PSU shirt

You can’t teach at Portland State without a branded T-shirt, right?

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 academic year, both campuses want me back. WSUV has me lined up to teach one class in the fall and one in the spring.

PSU wants me to teach a single class during the fall and winter quarters (nothing in the spring) and become the internship coordinator for the Department of Communication.

On top of that, a key contact in PSU’s Education Abroad program is encouraging me to pitch a course that would enable me to teach overseas sometime next year.

Can you believe it?

Those of you familiar with my journalism career know that I spent a decade at The Oregonian as the newsroom recruitment director and internship coordinator. So here I am, 18 months removed from leaving the newsroom, and I’m being given the opportunity to essentially build another internship program for a different employer and a different set of students.

What a perfect fit of my skills and background with the department’s need and desire to do a better job of helping students secure internships in public relations, advertising and communications. A primary goal is to ensure that they and their employers both benefit from the experience.

Starting in the fall, I will likely have no more than a handful of students to supervise, as the onus is on them to find and arrange an internship. Once I’m in the new role, the expectation is that I’ll be able to help place students with a variety of employers and provide ongoing support to ensure they are successful and doing meaningful work that relates to their academic major and career aspirations.

This vision no doubt will require lots of networking with internship coordinators already doing similar work for other campus departments, as well as with area employers who’ve had interns or are interested in having them. By adapting best practices to the Communication Department program and tapping the experiences of recent interns, I hope we’ll be able to develop a robust program that serves everyone’s needs — student, employer, university — and lays a foundation for a sustainable program.

I look forward to the challenge, confident that much of the work I did 20 years ago — advocating for students, building partnerships and strategic networking — will still be relevant and useful in a 21st century media environment.

***

None of what has transpired — and, certainly, none of what lies ahead — would have been possible without the help of key individuals on both campuses. So here let me express my gratitude to a handful of folks:

cindy coleman

PSU Professor Cynthia-Lou (Cindy) Coleman.

Cynthia-Lou Coleman. Cindy is a tenured professor and former chair of the Communication Department and she was the one who encouraged me to apply as an adjunct. She’s provided valuable counsel at every step of the way as I’ve gotten my foot in the door and become more established at PSU.

Jeffrey Robinson.  Jeff succeeded Cindy as the department chair. He’s the one who brought me aboard last fall and asked me to teach again during the winter, spring and summer. He approved a teaching assistant for me for an unexpectedly large class during one term. Most recently, he surprised with me with the proposal for 2017-18 that includes the internship piece.

Ky Tran. Ky is the all-purpose finance and administrative specialist who welcomed me to the department. She has been indispensable as an all-purpose resource, helping me figure out which campus buildings were located where; providing support for guest speakers; answering questions about payroll, student evaluations and other mundane matters. She’s moving on to a new job next month in the private sector and I know everyone in the department will miss her.

Ky Tran

Ky Tran greeted me warmly and was an invaluable resource during the past year at PSU.

Becky Kearny. Becky was a lifesaver during the winter term. As my teaching assistant, she helped grade certain assignments, kept track of student scores, did a lot of photocopying and provided useful feedback on my teaching methods and lesson plans. Becky was a straight-A student herself who excelled while managing a blended household of five girls, including three who were in college at the same time as her.

Narayanan Iyer. Nanu is program director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV. He’s the one who brought me aboard in January and since Day One has provided encouragement, positive feedback and continuous opportunities to teach. He also has filled in for me as a guest lecturer when I’ve had to miss a couple of classes.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. 

Last but not least, my wife, Lori. She encouraged me initially as I set out on this new path but undoubtedly had second thoughts as our evenings and weekends were gobbled up by the workload associated with my classes. For each one, I had to create a syllabus and a weekly schedule, then develop lesson plans and lectures. I also had to assign, read and grade assorted papers;  put together midterm and final exams; and keep in touch with students, faculty and guest speakers.

No one sacrificed more than Lori during these first few months of 2017 and I am deeply appreciative. The workload has slackened a bit during summer and I’m confident I can manage it effectively when the new school year begins this fall.

Next: The joy of teaching

 

 

Orcas on my mind

OI.sunrise3

Daybreak on Orcas Island. Nothing more peaceful.

I’ve been home less than 24 hours and already I’m missing the place where I just came from: Orcas Island.

Maybe it’s because we returned home to 100-degree weather — 25 degrees warmer than what we left. More likely it’s because the past week was so relaxing — again.

Lori and I visited from Saturday to Saturday, marking the second time this year we’ve visited our humble log cabin in the woods at the far east end of the island.

The first time, in late March, was bittersweet. We began our stay by sharing the cabin for a couple of days with our son, Jordan, his wife, Jamie, and our granddaughter, Emalyn. We ended it by heading back to the ferry with the knowledge that my dad had died the day before at age 91.

This time, it was just us and our little dog, Charlotte.

(Click on images to view captions.)

***

Our first two days on the island were damp and wet. At one point, a thick fog rolled in worthy of San Francisco, making it impossible to see very far down the hill, let alone all the way down to the water.

No worries, though, because we had some settling in to do in order to transition from the everyday stresses of urban life. We each started a new book and I kept the wood stove going. We did some light maintenance around the property and waited for the weather to clear.

When it did, it reminded us of what a lovely place this is. It’s not just the view of Mount Baker and of nearby islands that we enjoy from our porch. Nor is it the ability to walk up the road above our house and see deer and a forest panorama of cool green hues.

No, it’s simpler than that. It is the utter stillness of the place.

Morning brings the welcome sound of grosbeaks, juncos and finches flocking to the bird feeders. A stiff wind might rustle the trees. But for most of the day, and certainly when evening comes, it’s nothing but silence.

OI.deer

Morning visitor visible from the dining room window.

***

On Sunday, despite the drizzle, we headed out to the Orcas Island Artworks Gallery to attend an annual ice cream social and view the latest creations by some 50 artists. A line of volunteers crowded onto on the porch to dish up sundaes while others huddled under a lawn tent to do face-painting.

We walked around Eagle Lake one afternoon, anticipating a leisurely outing. Charlotte was overwhelmed by the scents of wildlife, however, and I wound up carrying her two or three times just so she wouldn’t overdo it straining to pull ahead on her leash.

We left her home the next day while we hiked around Cascade Lake on a picture-perfect morning. We’ve done that hike several times and it never gets old. We came upon a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away at a fallen log, and enjoyed the variety of lake views as we circled the water.

As we passed through the concessions stand at one end of the lake, we “bought” a scoop of locally made Rocky Road ice cream to share on the back end of the route. I say “bought” because I left my wallet in the car and had no money to pay. The teenage server said, “Just pay later today. We’re open until 6.”

And so we did. We’d planned to have dinner out anyway, so we stopped in and paid before continuing on to the Inn at Ship Bay, a marvelous place that’s the equal of any in Portland. We ate at an outdoor table with a magnificent view of the water. Before the food arrived, we joined other diners in wandering down to the water’s edge to see an enormous bald eagle perched in a tree. How many times does that happen in the city?

I got up early the next morning and ran around the perimeter of Mountain Lake. I arrived in time to snap a few photos of the sun glinting like a diamond on the water’s surface. Until the last half-mile, when I encountered a young couple coming toward me, I had the nearly 4-mile-long trail to myself.

We ventured into Eastsound on Friday. I hit a bucket of balls at the driving range (I still suck) while Lori did some light shopping. We went to lunch at The Kitchen, a local institution that serves “fast (enough) Asian food” featuring organic vegetables and other local ingredients. Jordan worked there for part of one summer long ago, so we’re especially fond of the place.

On the way back home, we stopped in to visit our longtime friend, Juliana, at her place overlooking Buck Bay. Her husband, Carl, was away in Montana for a few days, but we hope to see them soon if a planned trip to Oregon’s wine country materializes this summer.

Before we knew it, it was time to close our books, pack up the Scrabble game, and clean up the cabin in preparation for Saturday morning and the trip back home. We left reluctantly, knowing the mainland would bring triple-digit weather and the usual handful of testosterone-fueled drivers who make I-5 an uncomfortable place to be.

Seated now at the window looking out at my urban neighborhood, I can’t complain.

No. 1: If you’re going to live a city, they don’t come much better than Portland.

No. 2: This year’s World Naked Bike Ride took place in Southeast Portland, miles away from our home. For those 10,000 people who biked in the buff, more power to you. All the same time, I’ll keep my clothes on.

 

OI.cascade dream
Look closely. Can you see what an inspired hiker left on the Cascade Lake trail?

 

Don’t forget about Idaho

ID.trail

Waiting for a rear truck tire to be replaced on our moving van, we found ourselves next to  the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

My recent storytelling about the Road Trip From Hell probably was unfair to Idaho. So let’s set the record straight.

On Day One of our four-day drive from Washington to Missouri, Jordan and I were slowed down by a flat tire in a mountainous area of northern Idaho as we were traveling eastbound toward the Montana border.

We had to wait three hours for a two-man crew to arrive with a spare tire for our U-Haul moving van. That gave us plenty of time to kill while we waited just off Interstate 90 somewhere in between the towns of Kellogg and Wallace.

The delay set us back significantly on our goal of reaching Missoula, Montana, that same evening. We made it — nearly 500 miles — but we arrived just before midnight rather than at 8 or 9 pm as I had envisioned.

The flat tire experience, resulting in another three-hour delay, was repeated on Day Two as we made our way from Missoula to Billings.

In looking back over the four-day diary, I realized I’d mentioned Idaho just the one time — and obviously not in the most favorable light.

So here goes…

***

It was still early afternoon when we cruised through Spokane, in eastern Washington, and crossed over into Idaho. We knew we wouldn’t be here very long, as I-90 covers only 75 miles of the Idaho Panhandle before continuing into Montana.

With out two-vehicle caravan, we zipped through Post Falls on the western end of the state and stopped to refuel and get lunch in Coeur d’Alene, population 44,000. Lake Coeur d’Alene is gorgeous, even when you’re passing by on the freeway.

Lori and I had stayed here one night during our honeymoon in the mid-70s, but I’m not sure I’d ever been back. Pulling off the freeway, Jordan and I parked the U-Haul van and the Honda Fit and let the dogs out for an extended walk on the grassy area just off a freeway exit near the city center.

There was a fair amount of public art here in this park adjacent to the Idaho Centennial Trail, a 900-mile scenic trail that traverses the state. We enjoyed the shade for a bit, then went to get gas and a quick meal.

ID-dawg-sled

Next road trip, I may be taking Charlotte along in a Dawg Sled.

We wound up at Roger’s Ice Cream & Burgers, an old-school place that’s been around since 1940 and offers more than three dozen milkshake flavors. We took our orders to go and ate in the shade of some leafy trees on a residential street.

Quick story: I had to use the public restroom two blocks away on a four-lane commercial street. As I stood on a corner of an intersection with no stoplights, no stop signs and no crosswalk, not one but two drivers stopped to let me cross. Nothing like small-town politeness.

With full bellies, we took off again toward Missoula. Forty miles later, a rear tire gave out on the U-Haul and I feared we’be stranded, not knowing whether we’d even get cell phone reception in that remote an area.

Fortunately, I was wrong. While help was on its way, I took a walk in the area and found it to be quite lovely.

ID-mtn creek

Waiting for the road service crew to arrive, I could at least appreciate the clean, free-flowing Coeur d’Alene River outside Wallace, Idaho.

Turns out we had broken down near the Coeur d’Alene River and the paved trail I was walking along was part of the Trail of the Coeur’ d’Alenes,  a 73-mile trail that follows a former railroad right-of-way from Mullan, a mountain mining town near the Montana border, to Plummer, a town on the prairie near the Washington border.

Idaho is among our country’s most conservative states, so there’s no way I’d even think of living here. But this part of Idaho is undeniably beautiful, with its clear mountain streams and lush forests.

I’ve traveled through southern Idaho a few times on Interstate 84 and that dry, high-desert landscape has no appeal, believe me. If and when there is next time I’m traveling I-90, I hope circumstances will be far different. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in Coeur d’Alene again for a couple of days.

 

Two tributes to a great dad

SC.ring-watch

I inherited two prize possessions after my dad’s death. The watch is linked to his long service as a union member. The ring, with a ruby stone, honors his service during World War II.

 

George and C.A

Son and father during a 2014 visit to Silver City, New Mexico.

On this Father’s Day 2017, I’m sharing two tributes to my late father, each of which was read aloud at his funeral two months ago.

My wife, Lori, couldn’t be there with me in Silver City, New Mexico, when we buried my 91-year-old dad. But she did share memories of her father-in-law, which I was proud to share with family and friends who attended the April 6th funeral Mass at the Catholic parish that Dad and my stepmother Ora attended.

Separately, I offered my take as the son of an extraordinary ordinary man.

Here they are:

***

Words For Dad | Lori Rede

I have had the privilege of being the only daughter-in-law to a gentle man named Catarino.

I proudly called you “Dad” for some 42 years because you were like a father to me in every sense of the word. You always warmed my heart when you called me “mija.”

I lost my own father twenty-five years ago. Having you in my life was a joy for me.

You were a hard-working soul, a man of integrity who took great pride in all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sincerely interested in all of our endeavors.

I know you were especially proud of your grandsons who served in the Armed Forces. That pride gave me comfort when our youngest son, Jordan, was deployed to Afghanistan.

Always supportive, always understanding, you watched as your family moved around the country and pursued our interests. You instilled the values of independence, responsibility and self-reliance in all of us.

Wherever we lived, you and Ora always made it a priority to visit us and we appreciated that.

dad and lori gift

Lori, a native San Franciscan, watches as the birthday boy shows off his 49ers license plate in March 2016..

One of my fondest memories was watching you garden and enjoy the fruits of your labors. Not only would you grow a variety of peppers, but you would can them and cook with them, remembering to save a jar or two for me.

Up in Oregon it’s almost time to plant some peppers, and I will think of you when I garden.

There will be much to miss about you, Dad. We are the individuals we are because you had a hand in shaping us. This is a part of the legacy you leave behind.

A couple of others are:
Your silly jokes that George continues to repeat.
Your funny pronunciations of Spanish words. I think I will forever call “tortillas” “torpeders.”

Farewell, Catarino.

I know my parents are happy to see you again up beyond those pearly gates.

 ***

A son’s remembrance | George Rede

A father holds a special place in a son’s life. He can be a positive influence or a negative influence. A role model of what it means to be a man. Or an example of how not to be.

I am fortunate, so fortunate, that my father was someone I could look up to and learn from and love.

I could talk for 30 minutes about Catarino Rede but I’ll try to take just three minutes.

First, the short version: My dad was perhaps my biggest supporter. As someone with a grade school education who made his living with his hands in a variety of blue-collar jobs, he provided an example of taking pride in his work, in showing up on time, in performing at a level that he could be proud of. Likewise, he encouraged me to push myself and aim for opportunities he never had himself. He supported me in every job I took, in every move I made (in a geographic sense and in a career sense), and as fellow parent and husband.

Second, we shared a love of baseball, too. I will always appreciate that my dad volunteered to be a coach, and then a manager, of my Little League and Pony League teams. While other dads sat in the stands or maybe didn’t attend the games at all, my dad was one of those who stepped up to be there not just for the games but for the twice-a-week practices. We played catch in the backyard — a timeless pastime enjoyed by fathers and sons throughout the ages — and it paid off when I became a pretty successful pitcher as a 15-year-old.

Third, let me tell you a simple story that illustrates how a gesture can mean so much more than money. I must have been 8 or 9 at most when my dad took me to a weekend flea market. We strolled between the aisles of used merchandise, much of it worthless, much of second-hand, much of it forgettable. But it was there I got my first baseball bat. It bore the signature of Willie Keeler, a turn-of-the-century player who played for the New York Highlanders and was known as one of the best hitters of his time.

The bat was long and heavy, so much so that a skinny kid like me had trouble swinging it. It had black tape around the handle and, if I remember correctly, a small nail embedded in the lower end of the bat. My dad paid 50 cents for it. And though it was used and endorsed by a player who had died in 1923, some 40 years earlier, that bat occupied a special place in the corner of our garage. Much like my father occupied a special place in my heart.

***

If your dad is still alive, give him a hearty hug or at least a phone call to offer your thanks. (Texts don’t count.) If you are a dad, embrace the responsibility. Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.

Road warriors diary: Day four

MO jordan-george2

Jordan and George celebrate the end of the journey with burgers, ribs and brewskis at T.G.I. Friday’s on, yes, a Friday night.

Friday, June 2:

After three days of driving across the Northwest states and the Great Plains, plans for our final day on the road called for a straight shot to the eastern border of South Dakota, a sharp turn to the south through Iowa and western Missouri, and then another straight shot east to our final destination: Columbia, Missouri.

Jordan and I were eager to get this Road Trip From Hell over, knowing we had to arrive on time so that we could spend the next day unloading the 20-foot U-Haul trailer we were driving.

Jordan took the Honda Fit with the two dogs and cat, and I hopped up into the cab of the U-Haul truck.

We hadn’t done any sightseeing and today would be no different. Except for breaks to get fuel, use the rest area bathrooms, and grab a caffeinated drink every so often, we were moving.

That meant no stopping at the George McGovern Legacy Museum in Mitchell. (The former U.S. senator was a decent man who was trounced by Nixon in ’72, and he was the first candidate to receive my presidential vote.)

Likewise, no stopping in Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, as we turned off I-90 and picked up I-29 South.  Originally, I’d hoped to at least go on a quick drive around town, as that’s where my lifelong best friend, Al Rodriguez, attended his first two years of college on a track scholarship before transferring back to a state college in our home state of California.

Not a chance.

We cruised right on past the sign to the University of Sioux Falls and did the same when we passed Vermilion, home of the University of South Dakota.

IA jordan-dogs

Brandi, Jordan and Jax take a walk at a rest stop in Brule, South Dakota.

Before long, we were crossing the state border into Iowa. No offense, Hawkeyes, but Sioux City is one ugly city. Reminded me of what my Texas friend Mike Granberry used to say about Waco, Texas. “If you were going to give the United States an enema, you’d do it in Waco.”

Things got better as we zipped through one small town after another, the names meaning nothing and the scenery failing to hold my attention. That’s a shame because I’ve driven across Iowa a few times and I mostly remember it as pretty — even the endless fields of corn.

Click on images to view captions.

 

 

After three days of burgers and other greasy foods, we opted for something “healthy.” Best thing we could do was pop into a truck stop that had a Subway franchise. Didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled at the guy next to me who ordered a Cu-BAN-o sandwich with Chipotle dressing.

***

Refreshed and recharged, we did our best long-haul trucker impressions and kept on keeping on.

Soon enough, we were in Missouri. And the first thing we both noticed was the preponderance of giant fireworks stands, like those you see along I-5 just north of Vancouver. Are folks in this state unusually patriotic? Or just fascinated with fireworks?

(The Fourth of July is my least favorite holiday, owing to what I consider the ridiculousness of setting off these loud devices that serve no purpose other than to cause someone to clean ’em up afterwards.)

We passed a sign for Oregon, Missouri (population 857, according to the 2010 U.S. Census) and made a point of stopping at the last rest area before approaching Kansas City, a Portland-sized city that straddles the Kansas-Missouri border.

MT water break

Coming or going? Both. Jax (foreground) and Brandi take a water break.

As I feared, we entered the city from the northern end just as Friday evening rush hour was materializing. I was in the lead as we snaked our way through the city (try it in a 20-foot moving van), zigging and zagging from one lane of the interstate, and keeping an eye on the rear view mirror to be sure Jordan was staying close behind.

We managed to exit onto Interstate 70, the route between K.C.  in the west and St. Louis at the opposite end of the state. Columbia was 125 miles, just a couple of hours under normal freeway conditions.

But were these conditions “normal”?

Of course not.

There were fender-benders, work zones and reduced speed limits that together added another hour to this final stage of our trip. True confession: Traffic was at such a standstill that I pulled out my phone and made an online reservation for a motel room right there on I-70.

We pulled off the freeway one last time for fuel and a nature break. We were so ready to be done with driving.

MO jordan-george1

Tired (actually, exhausted) and a little punchy after completing our four-day road trip.

Finally, we crossed into the city limits. Of course, our motel wasn’t located off the first or second exit, but the last one, which extended our trip just a few miles more.

We finally reached the exit and pulled off; tried to follow Google’s directions in a confusing jumble of local and state roads; and at last found the driveway into the asphalt lot where we could finally park, shut off the engines, and declare victory with a father-and-son hug.

We’d logged 625 miles — the most of any of the three days — and nearly 2,000 miles total.

It was time for a treat: a sit-down dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s and a couple of frosty mugs of beer. Jordan had yet another burger and fries, while I opted for a half-rack of ribs, mashed potatoes and cole slaw. It was so good.

***

Postscript: Saturday, June 3:

A full day of unpacking the truck and car lay ahead, and I wanted to start the day off right with a hearty breakfast. On the recommendation of our waiter from the night before (a chill dude from Seattle), we found ourselves at a sidewalk table at Ernie’s Cafe & Steak House, a local institution since 1934.

Nothing fancy, but it hit the spot.

 

 

We checked out of our motel room, picked up the keys to the apartment where Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn would be living a few miles northwest of the University of Missouri campus, and got to work.

It had taken three of us (thank you, Lori) to load everything on the other end. Now it was just two of us unloading it all.

Miraculously, nothing had broken despite the sudden jerking and stopping caused by the first two days’ flat tires. We kept at it, filling every room on two floors and a small patio with furniture, bicycles, endless boxes and other stuff.

I was running low on energy and we still had the heaviest pieces to unload. That’s when a fellow resident of the apartment complex showed up and offered his help. He was a thin but fit guy in his mid-to-late 20s, in a nondescript T-shirt and jeans, and his name was Michael. He pitched in and, within 30 minutes, we were done around 6 pm.

MO jordan-george done

Whew! Done!

We invited him to join us for takeout pizza but Michael had a better alternative. He’d just made a pot roast, with spices and carrots, and had plenty left over. Would we be interested? And did we drink beer?

Yeah. And, hell yeah.

Michael brought over a crock pot, plastic bowls and utensils, and three bottles of Blue Moon. We stood around in the kitchen (of course, there was nowhere to sit and no utensils, either) and learned a little more about our helper. He’d grown up in a small community in south-central Kansas. He’d recently gotten his A.A. and was transferring this fall to Columbia College, an independent liberal arts college there in town, with plans to study Information Technology.

You’ve heard of Midwest hospitality, right? It’s a real thing. I’ll offer up Michael as proof of that.

Jordan and I went back inside the apartment. By midnight, he was sound asleep on the couch — the only piece of usable furniture — with Jax, the pit bull, curled up on his lap. I went upstairs, laid on the carpeted floor for an hour of sleep, and pulled an all-nighter.

MO-goodnight

Everything was unloaded and the temperature had cooled to the mid-70s by nightfall Saturday.

My return flight to Portland would depart at 6 am Sunday and that meant we had to leave the apartment around 4:30 to get to the regional airport on time to check in. I would catch naps on the two legs of the journey and be back home at PDX by 11 am.

Lori was there to greet me in the airport, with a fresh haircut and a bear hug. She had just hosted Jamie and Emalyn during the entire time Jordan and I were gone. Lori had just driven mother and daughter to the airport so they could fly to Missouri to reunite with our son, while I was in the air going the opposite direction.

It felt so, so good to be back home again.

In the passenger seat.

Road warriors diary: Day three

SD sunset

Spectacular sunset neat East Lyman, South Dakota.

Thursday, June 1:

As we braced for another day of pounding the asphalt, I realized in frustration that we were still in Montana. We’d ended our first day in Missoula, in the western part of the state, and driven several hours the second day, only to get as far as Billings, in the southeastern corner.

And yet here we were, on our third day, and we were looking at another 260 miles of driving — four hours-plus – just to cross the state line into South Dakota.

After the previous day’s fiasco with a second flat tire in two days on our moving van, we went directly to a U-Haul dealer in Billings to have the lug nuts tightened on the replacement tire. The guy who’d changed the tire didn’t have his power socket wrench with him and suggested a safety check.

The service technician inspected our tires and said not to worry about the log nuts. He had a bigger concern. He said he was sending us to another U-Haul location in town to have three tires replaced.

“Really?”

We appreciated his concern for our safety but we knew the job was going to delay our departure from Billings. We hoped to reach Sioux Falls in easternmost South Dakota by nightfall but I knew there was no way that would happen.

By the time we got back onto I-90, it was already 9 am.

Our slow start was compounded by slow travel on a portion of the route that AAA had recommended to us as a shortcut.  The marginally shorter route took us off the four-lane interstate and onto a two-lane federal highway through Indian Country – specifically, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.

Intermittent road repairs and construction meant we had to slow down as we traveled through work zones. Passing slower vehicles also was a bit of a challenge at times on the narrower highway.

Travel was beginning to resemble a blur.

As before, we had no time to dilly-dally, so we passed by the sign pointing to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where Lt. Col. George Custer and his band of U.S. soldiers died fighting died fighting thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Likewise, after we cut through a tiny section of Wyoming and finally crossed into South Dakota, we had to pass on the opportunity to see the Badlands.

***

We stopped for lunch, gas in both vehicles, and a water break for the animals in Broadus, population 451.

Talk about the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t exactly a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing down the middle of the street. There was a municipal building and a small park, a couple of gas stations, a grocery store, a bowling alley and a Western-themed business district consisting of a handful of shops and a tired, old motel.

But, still, with the midday sun beating down and nearly 100 miles more to the state border, it felt like the end of the Earth.

Back on the road, we pretty much pointed ourselves eastward and pushed ahead. We bore down in our separate vehicles, trying to chew up the miles and stopping only as needed for fuel, rest area breaks, and beverages (coffee, energy drinks, snacks) at gas station convenience stores.

We passed through Belle Fourche, a farming town of 5,600 I’d never even heard of, in western South Dakota. At some point, the monotony turned to surprisingly green and beautiful, with lots of gently rolling hills and generally flat landscape. We saw plenty of grain silos, old-school highway billboards at ground level, and, in my rearview mirror, a spectacular orange sunset.

Just before dusk, we pulled into Chamberlain, in the middle of the state, and caught our first glimpse of the fabled Missouri River. It was 8 pm. We’d covered more than 500 miles but had lost another hour due to the change to Central Time Zone. We were tired and hungry but thankful there hadn’t been an issue with the tires.

 

We checked into a motel, hauled our bags into the room, then watered, fed and walked the dogs. We put them in the room and walked across the street to an Arby’s for dinner. I pulled on the door but it was locked. They had closed at 9 pm. It was 9:05.

We returned to the front desk. The clerk made a couple of calls to restaurants she thought might still be open. Nope. Nope. Nope. Literally our only choice was McDonald’s.

Sigh.

SD chamberlain

Lake Francis Case, a large reservoir behind Fort Randall Dam on the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Thankfully, Jordan is not easily ruffled. We made light of the situation and agreed neither of us would ever want to live in such a small community (population: 2,400) so far from an ocean.

We watched some cartoons, I did some writing, and we crashed, knowing we’d need to cover 600 miles and three states the next day to make it to central Missouri as planned.

Up next: Road warriors diary: Day Four

Road warriors diary: Day two

MT window

Even through a rest area window, the Montana landscape is dazzling.

Wednesday, May 31:

Montana is a big and beautiful state.

So big that you can leave Missoula, in the western part of the state, and drive all day to Billings, in the eastern part, and still find yourself a couple hours short of the state border with South Dakota.

So beautiful that you can’t just drive through it. You’ve got to pull over to the roadside and snap at least a few photos that attempt to capture the rugged beauty of the place they call Big Sky Country.

On our trip, we saw pristine rivers; muscular peaks, still capped by snow; spacious blue skies, with white tufts of clouds; and, late in the afternoon, ominous storm clouds over the Crazy Mountains.

MT crazy mtns

Storm clouds gather over the Crazy Mountains near Livingston, Montana.

Montana is the fourth largest state after Alaska, Texas and California, measuring 630 miles across (roughly twice the length of Oregon) and 255 miles up and down. Even with a legal speed limit of 80 miles per hour, it still takes several hours to traverse the state.

On the second day of our trip, we aimed to get from Missoula to Billings by early evening and keep on going into South Dakota. It didn’t happen, though, because we got another flat on our moving van. We had to endure another three-hour wait for a service call and limped into town closer to 9 o’clock, well short of our 500-miles-a-day goal.

Here’s how it happened:

We got up early and left Missoula without even touring the town. It’s too bad because Jordan and I had visited the University of Montana campus when he was a high school senior, trying to decide where he wanted to enroll in an Army ROTC program. We both had good memories of our visit in 2006 but there was simply no time to dawdle.

All was going well as we passed by Butte, the former mining capital, and smaller towns like Deer Lodge en route to lunch in Bozeman, the home of Montana State University, about 200 miles from Missoula. We had our one sit-down lunch – burgers from Five Guys – and resumed our travels. We had gotten barely than 30 miles east of Bozeman when the front tire on the passenger’s side of the U-Haul truck came apart as Jordan was driving.

The same frustrating scenario from the day before repeated itself. We were just outside Livingston, a town of 7,000 residents nestled along the Yellowstone River, and just a half-hour from the college town, with ample services, that we’d just left. Yet, we had to wait three hours for service. Turns out the U-Haul dispatcher, based in Arizona, gave the repair guy a wrong location, so he was driving back and forth on Interstate 90 looking for us, when we were miles up the road.

MT blowout

Jordan was driving on I-90 just east of Livingston, Montana, when the second tire blew out. This time it was the front tire on the passenger’s side.

When he finally arrived, he replaced the tire in 15 minutes but also advised us to check the lug nuts the next morning because he’d forgotten to bring a special power tool to tighten them properly.

We hit the road again, drove a few hours, and checked into our motel in Billings, tired as heck. We ordered Chinese takeout to be delivered to the room, watched some mindless TV, and fell dead asleep.

Before we did, I reflected on the similarity of this experience with a solo road trip that I made on this same highway some 33 years earlier. In the spring of 1984, I had just finished a fellowship at the University of Michigan. I was traveling with our two cats in a U-Haul trailer, hauling our tired Volvo station wagon back to Oregon after 10 months in Ann Arbor. Lori was flying home with Nathan and Simone. (Jordan wouldn’t come along for four more years.)

Entering Montana from the east, the plains of North Dakota, I remember being numbed by the sameness of the barren landscape in eastern Montana and then dumbstruck by the awesomeness of western Montana, with its towering mountains, endless vistas of evergreen trees, and occasional waterfalls. I recall stopping several times just to admire the state’s beauty.

This time, driving eastbound on I-90, I felt cheated.

Because of the long delay caused by the second flat tire and bungled service call, we had no time to really appreciate what we were driving past. We had a schedule to keep and now we were looking at 600 miles a day for the next two days to arrive on time in Missouri.

Next up: Road warriors diary: Day Three

Road warriors diary: Day One

WA spanaway

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Tuesday, May 30:

Long before Jordan and I hit the road on our recent multi-state trip, there was much to do to get ready. Not just plan the route and calculate how much ground we needed to cover each day on the 2,000-mile trek, but actually rent a moving van and pack it.

That process began in earnest three days in advance of starting the trip. Jordan and Jamie had arranged to sell their split-level house and vacate the premises on Tuesday, May 30, the day after the holiday.

For that to happen, everything had to be packed, sold or given away, and then the entire house cleaned. We started in on Saturday, picked up a U-Haul truck Sunday, and finished packing it Monday. We were exhausted before even starting the trip.

WA em-jordan-jamie

Having sold their home in Washington state,  Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn looked forward to their Midwest move.

Come Tuesday morning, we were ready to roll. I hopped into the cab of the 20-foot truck trailer while Jordan took the Honda Fit and the three animals – Jax, an energetic pitbull terrier mix; Brandi, an aging chocolate Lab; and Sage, a thankfully mellow cat.

Leaving Spanaway, their suburban home just outside Tacoma, we headed for Interstate 90, our route for most of the first 1,500 eastbound miles.

Click on images to view captions.

 

I’d never been on this particular freeway, the main connector between Seattle and Spokane, so I looked forward to seeing new things. We drove over the Snoqualmie Pass in drizzle and fog. Crossing into the drier eastern side of the state, we passed by Moses Lake, the town where our daughter-in-law Kyndall grew up, and Spokane, where Jordan began his college career 11 years ago at Gonzaga University.

(He wasn’t ready for college then, he readily admits, and he has no regrets about withdrawing as a first-semester freshman so that someone more motivated could claim his four-year, full-ride scholarship in the Army ROTC program. Suffice to say things turned out just fine.)

We were cruising along in the early afternoon, admiring the splendor of Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho when things started to go wrong. About 40 miles east of the resort community, I heard a loud “pop” come from the back of the truck and pulled over.

The inside left back wheel had blown out. Here we were in the remote mountains of northern Idaho, somewhere in the 10-mile stretch between the towns of Kellogg and Wallace, and I wondered how long it would take to get help.

Two calls to the U-Haul “hotline” produced the same result: 10 minutes on hold and no answer. Jordan went online and, despite sketchy internet connection, managed to file a claim for road assistance. We wound up waiting for three hours for a crew to arrive from neighboring Montana. Yes, it’s that sparsely populated in that part of Idaho – services few and literally far between.

A burly guy with low-slung pants that looked like they’d last been washed 5 years ago got to work replacing the tire while his companion, an older guy wearing a baseball cap and a sleeveless shirt revealing sun-burned, tatted arms, periodically offered advice.

The younger guy had the word “redneck” inked on his neck. I found myself trying to remember if the movie “Deliverance” was filmed here in Idaho or somewhere in the South.

 

Turned out the guys were a father-son team who’d recently moved to Montana from Missouri, where we were headed.

While we were waiting for them to arrive, the most amazing coincidence occurred. Through Facebook, Jordan learned that one of his former Army buddies had just moved back to Wallace, Idaho, a couple weeks earlier. He texted him and in minutes, his friend, John Ramirez, was on his way. John’s ex-wife and daughter live in a small town 20 miles to the west. John himself had recently interviewed with the county sheriff’s office for an entry-level patrol position and was feeling good about his chances of getting hired in his old hometown.

The two ex-soldiers laughed and chatted and got caught up while I took a walk on a paved bicycle trail running parallel to the interstate. If we had to be stuck somewhere, this was a beautiful spot.

 

Finally, the replacement tire was put on. We thanked the rednecks (nice guys, by the way) and resumed our travel. We were too late to shop at the local market (it had closed a few minutes earlier at 8 pm) and so we braced for the remaining hours of driving through a national forest that took me, in the lead, down steep mountain grades and several S curves. Not the most fun thing to do in the dark of night.

We arrived in Missoula – 500 miles from our starting point – and checked into a motel just before midnight. We fell into bed knowing we’d have to be up at 6 am to grab breakfast and hit the road.

Next up: Road warriors diary: Day Two

Missouri or bust!

WA jordan-george

Father and son just before starting the four-day road trip.

Even under normal circumstances, a road trip covering 2,000 miles of asphalt across seven states and two time zones would be challenging.

But these weren’t normal circumstances. This was a no-nonsense, no-time-for-sightseeing trip with my youngest son, Jordan. Not a leisurely car trip at all.

We were hauling the contents of a three-bedroom house in a 20-foot trailer to Columbia, Missouri. We were leaving the Seattle-Tacoma area on May 30, the morning after Memorial Day, and we had exactly four days to get there, and one day to unload everything so that I could fly back home today (Sunday) and be back at work early Monday, June 5.

We were planning to put Jordan and Jamie’s compact car on a trailer and tow it. But when we made a last-minute decision to put their three family pets in the car so the animals could travel in relative air-conditioned comfort, that changed everything.

No. 1, it meant we would each drive 2,000 miles, taking turns with each vehicle.

No. 2, it meant we’d have no opportunity for casual conversation – or even sit-down meals – because we had to ensure the two dogs (a pit bull terrier mix and a Chocolate Lab) and an adult cat wouldn’t overheat.

ID blowout

A rear tire on the driver’s side came apart as I was going about 65 mph on I-90 east of Kellogg, Idaho.

We figured we could handle that.

What we didn’t count on was having a rear tire blow out on the rental truck in the northern Idaho mountains the very first afternoon. That resulted in a 3-hour delay for a service call and ended with us driving through the night, with no dinner, to reach our motel in Missoula, Montana, just before midnight.

And what we certainly didn’t count on was another tire blow out the very next afternoon on a remote stretch of highway in eastern Montana that resulted in another 3-hour delay. This time it was a front tire on the U-Haul rig. We limped into Billings at around 9 pm, well short of our 500-miles-a-day target. Now we’d have to drive about 600 miles each of the next two days to get to Missouri on time.

MT blowout

Jordan was driving on I-90 just east of Livingston, Montana, when the second tire blew out. This time it was the front tire on the passenger’s side.

Day Three meant driving from Montana, across a slice of Wyoming, to a small town in central South Dakota, again arriving around 9 pm. It would have been 8 pm but for the change to Central Time. In the hour it took to check in and then walk, water and feed the dogs, all the town’s restaurants had closed but one — McDonald’s.

SD sunset

Spectacular sunset near East Lyman, South Dakota.

Day Four was pedal to the metal. We drove to Sioux Falls at the eastern end of the state and, after 1,500 miles of traveling east, finally turned south and powered down through western Iowa and Missouri. Naturally, we got caught in Friday’s outbound rush hour as we came upon Kansas City and the turn onto Interstate 70 eastbound. The extra traffic and a couple of construction work zones guaranteed the last leg of our trip would go slower than planned.

But, hey, we did it.

We found our motel, put the pets in the room, and headed out to T.G.I. Friday’s for the only sit-down dinner of the trip – and our only beers.

We raised a toast to ourselves, devoured our meal and agreed to “sleep in” until 6:30. After all, a truckload of furniture and other possessions awaited our attention and, first, we had to pick up keys to the apartment where all this was going.

In the end, the degree of difficulty made the feeling of accomplishment twice as satisfying for Jordan and me. Though we didn’t have the luxury of hours of conversation, we did have the shared experiences of white-knuckle driving, countless rest area stops, greasy food and energy drinks to fuel us mile after mile after mile.

There may not have been time to discuss politics, American culture and world events, but there was at least time to get a better sense of what awaits our youngest child, now 29, in Middle America.

He and Jamie will be in one of the country’s great college towns, far from family and all that is familiar. Just having received his B.S. in Biology from Saint Martin’s University, a small private college in Olympia, Jordan will be one of more than 30,000 students on the University of Missouri campus. He will be there for a year, possibly two, doing a Professional Research Experience Program fellowship (PREP for short) that’s designed to prepare students for graduate study in biomedical research.

He’ll be working in a lab with a faculty mentor, taking advantage of the ample resources offered by a leading research university that weren’t available at his comparatively tiny college.

MO jordan-george done

Whew! Done!

We will miss Jordan and Jamie and our 10-month-old granddaughter, Emalyn. But we will be rooting for his academic success, as well as a smooth transition to Columbia for him and his wife. When I return to Mizzou next year, I’ll have the satisfaction of seeing how they’ve decorated the place with the furnishings I helped haul across the country. That’s worth something, right? Another brewski, at the very least.

Be sure to check back in the coming days to read more about our Missouri-or-bust experiences.

Vancouver, U.S.A.

wsu2

A quiet morning on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

Until this year began, I’d spent amazingly little time in The Couv, the nickname for the city directly across the river from Portland. You’d think that after 30-plus years of living just a few miles away, I would have found reason to eat a meal or take in a cultural event there, but no.

Things are changing, though, thanks to my getting hired to teach two undergraduate courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

Since January, I’ve become a regular commuter, making the 25-minute trip two mornings a week. I’m lucky to be going north because drivers headed in the opposite direction toward Portland endure horrendous traffic that stretches for miles on Interstate 5.

I’ll be doing more of this, starting next week when the summer session begins, and again in the fall.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. He’s the one who hired me to teach there.

Some might complain about the road warrior aspect, but I honestly don’t mind the commute. It gives me time to mentally prepare for the day’s lesson plans, and more than once I’ve tweaked things based on last-minute inspiration.

The drive also makes me feel more like a resident of metro Portland than of the city itself.

Just as I gained perspective on the relationship between Portland and its suburbs during the time I worked in Hillsboro and Forest Grove for The Oregonian/OregonLive, so too am I gaining an appreciation for Vancouver, a sprawling city of nearly 175,000 residents.

Portlanders often make fun of the place, calling it “Vantucky,” as if it were a northern outpost of Kentucky. I haven’t spent enough time there to form any opinions, but I do know the city is more conservative than Portland and probably more diverse than many might think, with about one in four residents belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups.

wsu.strat com panel

Students, at left, moderated a panel discussion that featured six strategic communications professionals from the Portland-Vancouver area on May 5.

A recent panel discussion at WSUV that featured public relations and strategic communications professionals working in the Portland-Vancouver area reinforced that broader perspective. I felt very much like an undergraduate student listening to the perspectives and challenges described by these pros. I know the insights I gained that day will help me in preparing the syllabus for my summer class in Media Ethics.

Likewise, I anticipate another rich experience at a public forum at the Vancouver Community Library on a subject I know well. On Wednesday, June 14, I’ll be part of a panel discussing “News or Noise: Separating Fact from Fiction in Today’s Media.”

Here’s more on the program.

I look forward to questions and comments from members of the Vancouver community. I think it’s a given that this will be a boomer-heavy crowd, as opposed to the millennials who dominate my college classes.