Of Coaches, The Dismal Science, and a Lesson from Eyore

July 2, Forest City, Iowa

Winnebago Factory
We had to arrive at 6am and so we slept in the parking lot of the customer service center. There were RVers already gathered at the door when we woke up at 5:45! so we didn’t get Turtle in the shop until noon.

The people ahead of us were all in “coaches”: The difference between a coach and a motorhome is, like most differences in America, defined by money. If it the owners paid over 100,000 dollars, they call it their coach, the rest of us po’folks call ours motorhomes (we consider ourselves extremely wealthy, by world standards). A very seasoned sailor we had the privilege of crewing for, said that the pleasure received from a boat was in inverse proportion to the size, i.e. the smaller the boat the more fun the owners have. From a decade of RVing, I think the same principle applies to RVs. Turtle is relatively small, but for us, compared to a bike packing tent, luxurious; we think we’ve found the perfect balance; the people with the $500,000 behemoth probably think the same thing.

Owning a coach is sort of like owning a very large home: do the people own the home, or does the home own the people. I remember feeling owned by our home, as much as we loved it. When it reached pre-teen age, it began to demand more and more attention and expense, and wasn’t very cute or fun anymore; some parents can probably relate to that. More RVers are getting the idea; Winnebago reported to financial analysts that their large coach sales, and bottom line, were being hurt by the sale of smaller units like our 23 footer. Sorry Winnebago; get accustomed to the new world of $70 plus per barrel oil.

July 3

We know we’ve arrived in the Midwest; hot, humid and mosquitoes. We have friends all over the Midwest, and I don’t mean to insult their homeland, formerly mine, but when people like us, so dependent on being outdoors in spectacularly beautiful surroundings, suddenly find themselves in the flatlands, and suffocating, the first week or so can be tough. I’ll get over it.

One of the first things I noticed was how dirty the rivers are here, beginning as soon as the prairie gives way to cultivated fields. We walked across the Winnebago River, here in Forest City, and it was a sad little brown/green sluggish thing, incapable of reflecting a bright blue sky. I wonder if there are any fish in it, and if the kids are allowed to eat what they catch? I wouldn’t.

One night in Western Minnesota we parked in a town park, and I could smell the surrounding fields, and memories flooded back of the chemicals we used on our small farm when I was a boy in West Virginia. My father worked in the C&O switching yards in the chemical plants of South Charleston, WV (highest cancer rates in the U.S.) and the workers gave him paper sacks of the latest thing in bug and week killers. He mixed them in an open 30-gallon drum balanced on the drawbar of our Farmall Cub; I perched below the rim and hand pumped the chemical mixture to a homemade (and clever) three-row sprayer he made. The chemicals sloshed on me regularly and he told me to be sure and not get any in my mouth. Those smells bring back fond memories of childhood summers working on the farm, but I am glad I haven’t died from those chemicals—yet.

Over a decade ago, when we crossed the Great Plains on Zippy, our tandem, we stopped in Nebraska at a Soil Conservation office, to ask about water quality. They said Nebraska farmers were just beginning to work on reducing the amount of chemical fertilizers on their fields, and had a ways to go. The impetus was an unusually large number of women having miscarriages in farm communities and a rapid degradation of the drinking water. I wonder what progress they have made? When the fields smell more of chemicals than plants, as they do around here, I doubt much has changed.

Economic values take precedence in America. I believe an honest accounting system would place a value on the degradation of the soil and water, and those miscarriages. A pristine Earth is a deposit made in a bank for us by the Creator. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to account for our withdrawals? That way we would realize that each withdrawal leaves less for future generations. Just because we didn’t put it in the bank ourselves doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for maintaining the balance. The balance we have to consider is: increased wealth for the present generation, against the permanent loss of life-quality to future generations. This is not wacko liberal thinking, it is simple conservative economics, and it’s time we began being honest and admit we’ve been stealing from the future. We are a smart people, we can have wealth and a healthy Earth.

How do you measure the economic value of poor health; perhaps you ask a woman who’s had a miscarriage, or the person who has a disease associated with the degraded environment. Someday the dismal science, as economics is sometimes called, will take account of quality of life issues, as well as wealth building. When people lose their health, they are willing to pay any amount of money (if they have it) to regain their health. Wouldn’t it be better for us all to have a little less money and a lot better health? We could if the science of economics would step up and count more than coins; your grandchildren’s lives depend on it.

Claire is finishing up here June deadlines and I’m helping with the pictures while we luxuriate in Turtle’s air conditioning courtesy the Earth Bank. We are making a withdrawal of Wyoming coal and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to your grandchildren’s future. “Oh well,” said Eyore, “Nothing to be done.”

The Winnebago folks are friendly, and hopefully fixing our relatively small issues. We’re enjoying free wi fi, and electricity, at Lichtsinn Motors, where we bought Turtle. I’m just hoping for some rain to lower the humidity. The dawn sky was that soft rose color I associate with humid summer mornings. It hasn’t gotten to the wring-it-out of my shirt level yet, but I can feel where it is heading.

July 4

Happy birthday! Read from Thomas Jefferson today in celebration.

It’s just another workday for us. This is new, working on the road. We used to gather pictures and notes for stories while we traveled and finish them when we settled down in Tucson or the Northwest. This year we won’t settle down, we’ll travel 10 out of 12 months, three or four months of it in South America, where we won’t be able to write and submit stories, just gather pictures and notes again. But Claire will find several stories to tell later, and I’ll provide the pictures.

Everybody around here is out crowding the lakes, drinking beer and trying to keep cool until the fireworks tonight at Spirit Lake. Hillary and Bill Clinton are appearing less than 20 miles from here, but it’s way too soon for Presidential politics. The way things are going, in 50 years the Presidential election season will be three and a half years long! Give us a break folks. I think I like the parliamentary system, where the party in power can call an election at anytime; in something like five weeks the election is held, and the whole thing is mercifully over. It’s not as if having a long time to decide on a President contributes to the quality of the choice. We have 16 months to go!

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