Sleep comes like a drug
In God's country... --U2

Boise, Boise, Boise.... My life is now lived among strangers. Even the majority of my students are strangers. And when you go on the road, like I do every month, you live with, eat with, walk with, laugh with, drive with, count on, speak to, sign books for strangers. It's kind of disconcerting, I will confess. I'm like a possum or a marmot--I'm not sure I even like strangers! I don't like to come out of my tunnel or my rotten log in the forest. I like to be in my vehicle, though. Driving around my Big Back Yard, known otherwise as The USA. I'm teaching a course on The American Road this semester at UIC. We're reading Kerouac and William Least Heat Moon. And, amazingly enough, two students have already bailed out of school and taken off down Route 66. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's this relentless Chi-town winter. But my students have the wander-fever and they're going.

But anyway, you go to Idaho, and you find that strangers are friends and feel, even for a couple of days, like family.


It was snowing, as usual, at O'Hare the day I left. I was in the side terminal, where United has its regional jets. Apparently, Boise is not a major destination. The interesting thing about it, if there can be anything interesting about my 100th visit to the United terminal, was that I was sitting near the doors to the inter-terminal shuttle. Every time they opened these doors, snow blew upstairs and floated around over our heads. How weird is that? I was writing in my notebook, and I thought, No--a snowflake did not just land on my page inside the building! But it did.


Boise sleeps at the feet of holy mountains.

Paul Shaffer, from the great and famed (in the west) Log Cabin writing/literary center picked me up. We plowed through the holy light in his hybrid, and we drove down the street that was the old Oregon Trail. Ghost buffalo ran away from us. Shadow grizzlies humped through the coffee shops. The wraiths of settlers and pioneers coughed in the alleys.

The Log Cabin itself is a lovely...log cabin! It's old, and we prowled around looking at haunty things like axe and adze marks in the old timbers. How cool. If I lived in Boise, I'd try to weasel an office out of Paul. I'd run tape recorders all night to pick up EVP ghost voices, and I'd drink coffee all day looking out my window at the river and making believe I was writing. I picked up some lovely Limberlost books--Robert Wrigly, Jim Harrison, my crazy pal the apocalyptic prophet John Rember.

My name on the marquee in front, and even bigger on the marquee of the Egyptian Theater.

Paul took me to the Grove, my fancy-fancy hotel with a blue carving of a riverbed running down the facade and flowing with steam. I guess it's like a cloud-river. Room 926. Good bathtub. I made tea of myself immediately in hot water and read Least Heat Moon. Room service sandwich and coffee. Ah. I know why I love the hotel rooms: it's a very comfy rotten log in which the rabid possum can hide some more.

Paul came to get me for a Basque supper. Boise is a Basque town. We ate massive doses of Basque food, all kinds of stuff like fish and squid in ink and paella and lamb stew. Good lord. The Basque wine was blood red and "peppery." I met my new pals, the strangers Al, Janet, Al and the lovely Dunnia. After we ate, they took me out on the sidewalk in the Basque section and showed me "URREA" carved into the sidewalk. We stood around pondering this amazement.

Then I went back to the Grove and watched Hillary and O'Bama on CNN.


Breakfast at the Grove. Salt crepes made with salt, pepper, and a small sprinkling of more salt. It was so salty, I could taste salt in my coffee.

Being on the road, you do stuff to keep yourself busy, or to look busy so the waitress doesn't think you're a nerd-ball goober staring into the corner. Aha! The local paper! YES! The writing was direct, to say the least: a 16 year old hostage apparently "thought she was a goner."

"Everything all right, sir?"
"Yes, great. Thanks. How about a little more salt for my drinking water?"

Great moments in American Literature, #987:
Waitress: "Sir? Is that a Grateful Dead t-shirt?"
Writer: "Um. No. It's a pirate shirt."
Waitress: "I really like skulls."


At a loss, nothing on the schedule for ten hours, I stormed out of the hotel for my usual splendid walk. I like to pay my respects to the history, ruling landscape and defining water of a place. The mtns were to my left, jutting insanely behind the capitol dome. The river was behind me. I went for the mountains. I was on the Oregon Trail. It was a brisk 39 degrees.

I passed under my name of the Egyptian. The main marquee said: "Comedy Legend GALLAGHER!" I wondered if I should hit a watermelon with a hammer that night.

Hang a left at the dome and cruise town, block by block, going up and down side streets, looking in windows at chocolate and coffee, coffee and chocolate. My sodium crepes were sending up ghastly eruptions of yarch, and my hotel coffee sloshed in my haggis-bag like an ocean in a bottle.

A madwoman about 4 feet tall on the corner: "Hi. Hi. Yes you. Hi there. Talking to your backside. Hi. There's 5 in 7. (Mumble.) Hi!"

On down to the Record Exchange. My frozen nose was stinging and unleashing cascades of protest all over my lip. Inside: CD mania and incense. As soon as my nose and ear lobes stopped burning, I resumed my massive stride back toward the snowpack.

Walked for over an hour. Walked up a great sweat. Walked back to the room--too nose-froze to make it all the way down to the river. I was thinking about the Lewis and Clark statues by the dome. How you walk up the Oregon Trail and stumble on them, life-size, standing on the ground. Talking to an Indian guide. It makes the whole place seem like a haunted house.


Paul appeared for a quick run to the Snake River Gorge.

Boise so clean that seeing a dropped cigarette is a shock.

Out into the desert. The ground brown and gray. Free ranging cattle wandered by the road and watched us with bored expressions. Where there were shadows, there was old snow. White shadows.

Way out, no cars.

We pulled off at Birds of Prey. It sounds like an amusement ride or a zoo. There are two outhouses. Thirty miles in every direction of sheer silence. Intoxicating silence.

I DID NOT KNOW THAT: this area has the highest concentration of birds of prey in the country. As we walked away from the car, a thunderbird--well, a golden eagle--flapped above our heads in slow motion. Hoof prints. Claw marks. Paw prints. 10,000 gaping burrows. We walked along the ancient lava flows and suddenly, the world fell away and there was the deep black gorge with the green river curling below. Falcons shot up and down the faces of the cliffs. A big hawk flew along the river bank. A conglomeration of ravens looped lazily in the air, looking like a feathered atom with twelve electrons. They gossipped as they rose and drifted over to us to spy on us and shout a few insults.


That night, there were a few hundred people at the theater. They had a bar, so everybody was sipping beer and wine. They were selling popcorn.

It went well. I was happy. I got a long standing O at the end--it took me by surprise. And the signing line was very friendly and very warm and pretty long. I have become the king of long signing lines.

Afterward, my new friends took me to the Gernika bar. I hadn't eaten. The kind people in the bar made me a Basque tortilla--an omelette. Writers and pals gathered at our table. It was generally hilarious. Then, the oddest thing anyone has said to me in a long time sent me off to bed.

A very stylish woman who had attended the reading and who was sitting at a near-by table let me know that I was "yummy." And she wanted to lick me. Lick every part of me.

Gosh. Well! That's the spirit, my dear!

The next morning, I spent a sweet hour with college students, then dragged myself onto the plane to fly home to ice, ice, more ice. Thinking about joining my students on Route 66. Thinking about taking Cinderella to Barney's Beanery on Santa Monice Blvd. Hamburger omelette and sourdough. Coffee, and hold the salt.


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