Oldie that Speaks for Itself

Road Songs, June 2004 

Here are my emailings from the June motorcycle trip.  My addressing was spotty, and my spelling atrocious, so I've edited it.  It's probably much too long.   

 #1 On the Road Again (Jacksonville, Thursday May 27) 

·        Sorry for the mass mailing, but I'm "On the Road Again" (A song by Canned Heat, from about 1969) and don't know how often I'll get near a computer to do email. I know, get with the new technology, right?  Where's my laptop with wireless Ethernet and built-in cell phone?  My Palm Pilot? My digital camera?  Anyway, I’m off on the highways and I’ll send you more “road songs” when I can.

·        The bike is all packed up (And boy, does that involve some compromises: How many pairs of socks do you really need?  Two pair of jeans or one and a pair of shorts?  Do I put the rain gear in the saddlebag or the duffel bag across the back?

·        I'm off to Oviedo in a bit. Carola is selling her mother's house and we'll spend Friday in Sarasota dealing with that.  Saturday (my birthday) I'll leave Oviedo and travel up I75 and across on I10 to maybe Pensacola, probably arriving in Baton Rouge, at Joanna (Carola's sister) and David's house Sunday afternoon.

·        After visiting there, David and I will probably ride together to Houston to visit Linda Forsell (an old Cocoa Beach friend from my Hippie days).  I'll be meeting her daughter, Sara, for the first time. I believe David has a foundry to visit there and I'll certainly want to see the Johnson Space Center, which had so much to do with my Apollo career.  After that?  I’ve marked a lot of interesting places and neat roads which would take me all the way to San Francisco, but who knows?


#2 Louisiana Sunday Afternoon (Baton Rouge, Sunday May 30)


·        It’s a jazz standard by Noel Friedline Quintet I’ve had running around in my head since I arrived.  I got to Baton Rouge in the early afternoon and I’m visiting with Carola's sister Joanna and David. We're planning on a day exploring Baton Rouge and a day in New Orleans before I head on for Houston.

·        Getting out of Florida was hectic. Carola's mother's house inspection was Friday, and now the buyer is "negotiating". We got home late that evening, a little discouraged, and found Jesica's daughter, Phoenix Blue ill, running a high fever.  We ended up at the emergency room. She is OK--a minor infection. Scared us though!

·        I got off to a kind of late start Saturday morning as you'd guess, but rode clear through to Pensacola (470 mi), and came on in to Baton Rouge this morning. Hot!  Dodged the rain clouds.  Interstates are pretty boring.  856 miles out of Jacksonville.

·        Jo Jo made me a birthday cake and special dinner.  It's my 63rd.  , so I've got to run.

 #3 Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans (Baton Rouge, June 2)

 ·        It's an old Dixieland Jazz tune that has special meaning to me today.

·        Yesterday Joanna and I visited New Orleans.  We were there with David and Carola last
fall, but they were party poopers.  She and I wanted to go back.

·        Saw a riverboat above the city on the Mississippi.  Spooky--the city is below water!

·        We had Cajun food, visited museums, art galleries, tourist traps and motorcycle stores,
listened to Zydeco(?), rock, country, street musicians, watched interesting people, ate more Cajun food and went to the Preservation Hall for authentic Dixieland jazz. Wonderful day!

·        The Voodoo museum tour was conducted by a young fellow who was an ordained (?) voodoo minister (?). Learned a lot about African pagan religions as preserved by the Cubans. Fascinating!

·        Memorial Day we toured the destroyer Kidd, moored on the bank of the Mississippi in Baton Rouge and had authentic Poor Boy sandwiches at a local student hangout.

·        Tomorrow David and I will ride on to Houston.


#4 Born to Be Wild (Houston, Friday June 4)


·        David and I rode into Houston Thursday.  Hot! Heavy rain clouds, but only sprinkles. A black construction worker in a gas station grinned and asked me if David and I were "born to be wild" and, even if he was being sarcastic, I had Steppenwolf's tune from the movie Easy Rider music in my head until we hit Houston.

·        Houston at near-rush-hour! Don't do it!  Houston's roads make Jacksonville roads look really smooth.  Everything is under construction.  Linda was happy to see us. 

·        We had Tex-Mex with Linda's delightful daughter Sara, whom I was anxious to meet. (She was about two feet long last when I last saw her, and she got married last Thanksgiving.)  Linda told us she'd done everything to raise Sara as a "straight person" but she turned out a hippie like her mom!  The art talent also came through.

·        Today we toured the Johnson Space Center and saw the actual Mission Control room, flight control for the Apollo flights, and site of the drama of the lunar landings and Apollo 13's near loss all.  The training facility had full-scale mock-ups of all the International Space Station's modules, The Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the shuttle, and more.  I think I babbled about space stuff to David for the rest of the afternoon (or maybe he was just sleepy).

·        Tonight we had barbecue in a little country farmhouse with memorable Kariokee(?) music(?).  Tomorrow we'll have a Spanish breakfast, visit a junk-metal artist, etc. What a great trip!  I'll leave for western Texas Sunday morning and David will return to Baton Rouge.


#5 Back in the Saddle Again (Roswell, NM, Tuesday June 8)


·        Got to be a Roy Rogers tune, right?

·        The west really seems to begin around San Antonio. The clouds disappear. Some hills start to appear.  The grass is now golden...  West Texas is hot and dry. 

·        Five hundred miles in 9 hours seems to be about my limit on the bike. 

·        The KOA campground at Fort Stockton had a little "Kamping Kabin" which let me stay outside of town and see more of the sky.

·        Monday I rode on to Carlsbad Monday after Huevos e Chrisso(?) at a little Mexican restaurant.  Got into the cavern around noon and walked a total of 3 miles down 800 feet into the ground and around the "big room" with its 1.6-mile foot path. What an awesome and beautiful experience!  The KOA north of Carlsbad is nearly new and friendly.

·        Today I'm in Roswell, home of the famous UFO Museum to see some real space artifacts at the Dr. Robert Goddard museum.  They have many of his rocket developments including a replica of his workshop.  The UFO Museum people are very serious, but the small UFO stores are more tongue in cheek.  I have a photograph of myself with a small, green flying saucer pilot named A. Leon. 

·        Goddard clearly pioneered a lot of liquid fueled rocket technology--engines, tanks, cooling, pumps, control methods--you name it.  Wow!  Von Braun is supposed to have said "why are you asking me all these questions, I just learned from Goddard."

·        Everything out here is 100 miles away, and I can only get about 120 miles on a tank of gas!


#6 Bobby McGee (Tucson, Friday June 11)


·        Why Bobby McGee?  Later. 

·        Wednesday I sat in with the McDonald's coffee bunch in Artesia at 7AM.  It's the same all over.  We discussed oil reserves, the new Wal-Mart, High school teaching, Wind farms, care for elderly relatives, town growth, Yates Oil, and a bit of politics. They allowed as to how they have a Democrat friend, so I wasn't the only one. 

·        After breakfast, highway 82 W out of Artesia toward Alamogordo was "boring for the first 60 miles" as I was told.  It's flat and nearly desert. But at about 60 miles the road began a gradual climb, some hills appeared, the vegetation began green, the hills got steeper, some trees began to appear and the road commenced to wander. Watching the changes was wonderful, and this was the first true motorcycle road of the whole trip. Coming into Cloudcroft at the mountain pass a chilly ride in a pine forest.  I passed a (closed) ski lodge.  Then the road dropped through a series of switchbacks toward Alamogordo with the floor of the White Sands dessert in the distance.

·        The missile museum in Alamogordo was well worth the stop.

·        I'm kind of out of touch.  I saw an old newspaper in a restaurant.  Ronald Regan died a few days ago.  It's surprising how little you miss TV! 

·        Thursday morning I left the dirty, industrial city of El Paso (and the much dirtier and squalid Juarez) behind about 7AM. The NM welcome station sign said "free coffee and internet access" and I had a short conversation with a battered looking woman sipping free coffee in her misused pickup truck with California plates parked by the bike.  A lot of miles on a face that young.  I couldn't get Janice to quit singing in my head for many miles.

·        Thursday with the rising sun behind, westbound in light traffic rolling 75-85 mph, Yucca beside the road both in bloom and drying, mountains in the distance--even Interstate 10 can be a very beautiful ride.  Also a “three-WOW” rating for “Texas Canyon” riding into Tucson on I 10.  The canyon is scattered with piles of house-sized boulders like a giant kid’s playground.

·        Sign in Deming, NM restroom: "Please put gum with trash on your back".  The Deming museum is an all-volunteer project and a fun stop. 

·        How spacious the West is! The streets here are half-a-block wide, and have 5 or 6 pickups parked on them.



#7 Get Your Kicks on Route 66 (Wednesday June 16)


·        Sorry, this is going to be a long email--I finally got to a computer!

·        I had a wonderful two days at Sue Trinacty's 1918 home in an old section of Tucson. She and husband Mick were in Pasadena on my VW beetle sojourn in 1975 and I had seen her only once since.  After her divorce and a car wreck twenty years ago she courageously started her preschool, the “Sunshine School”, which has 20 employees and 100 students today.  It's a very happy space with colored handprints from all the children on the walls.  Two MD interns showed up the other day to check for their handprints from nearly 20 years ago!

·        The Tucson desert is so beautiful after your eyes tune into the subtlety.  Next to the school was unused property--landscaped by nature.  What a wonderful variety of cacti, succulents, and scattered stone--artistry by mother earth.

·        The color palette for homes here includes all of the earth tones with trim of turquoise and all the shades of sky available.

·        North and East out of Tucson into the desert on Saturday was another really beautiful ride.  Up into the Apache Mountains and across the reservation, through the spectacular Salt River Canyon, back down onto the hot desert floor and climbing again into the Coconino National Forrest around an almost chilly Flagstaff.

·        When you’re outside of town all the bikers wave.  It’s nice to have company when you're far away from home!  Only in towns do a few of the Harley riders (the bike polishers) act a bit snotty.

·        Now you do remember the song?  “Flagstaff Arizona, don’t forget Winona, Kingston, Barstow…?” Sunday, I was on old Route 66 for about 80 miles.  Almost no traffic.  Red sun rising behind me.  Leather jacket for the chill. This is it! (Two WOW rating.) Stop for late breakfast on Hualapai reservation.  Sign in window: “Information”. “Anything about the history of the tribe?” “No.  This is for Grand Canyon tours.”  I had eggs, potatoes and sausage rolled in tortillas.  Ask the Indian lady, “Is this authentic Indian food?” “Well, a lot of people eat it.”

·        I finally got some information in the men’s room. Old Indian coming in says, “I gotta do a big dump and go to church”. I’m trying not to read too much into that.

·        The dam tour (Hoover, that is): I was very hot and perhaps a bit dehydrated, and so more than usually cranky.  They went on and on about the benefits of the water, electricity, flood control, etc.  It all began to seem like one big commercial leaving out anything on environmental impact and our relations with Mexico. (We built the “All American Canal” just north of the Mexican border to divvy up the whole river amongst ourselves.  Mexicans not Americans?) On the other hand, it is one of the most awesome engineering projects I have ever seen.  It reminds me of building and transporting the huge Saturn V Moon Rocket thirty some years later.

·        Hot, tired, and needing a shower, I rode on into Las Vegas, and promptly got lost. I rode the entire width of the city on Tropicana Blvd., finally thought I was in the Motel 6, drug my duffle across the whole gaming floor, and discovered I was actually at the famous Tropicana! Yeah, pretty funny.  I checked in--beat.  I never did find my way around the hotel—it is all mirrors, lights, trick angles, and flash. You keep finding yourself back in front of a gaming tables and slot machines.

·        That evening when it (and I) got cooler, I went to the MGM Grand, the Excalibur, the New York-New York, etc., and watched people. I tried to figure out how the slots work by watching someone, but it’s still a mystery. The crowds are indistinguishable from Disneyland. I sure wished I had company!

·        Monday.  Leisurely breakfast.  Visited with a Korean War vet who had last been in Las Vegas in 1950.  Well, he was lost too! 

·        Out on the dessert.  Pahrump.  Pass the famous (infamous?) Chicken Ranch.  A local at the gas station told me this story: The other famous Nevada brothel was the Mustang ranch up around Reno.  They went belly up (sorry) then the IRS took over the operation and actually operated it for a while.  He guessed it was just another case of the taxpayers getting screwed by the government!

·        Through Death Valley Junction. 115 degrees.  At Furnace Creek I’m close to heat prostration. Half an hour in A/C, 1 1/2 quarts of water, and more water dumped on my shirt and helmet and I press on to Stove Pipe Wells.  Same treatment.  Finally the road started climbing up toward Panamint Springs.  Ninety-five degrees felt like a cool breeze. Don’t do Death Valley on a bike in the summer!

·        Amazing how many German tourists were in Death Valley.  Anyway, in Long Pine, CA in the shadow of the awesome and snow-capped Mt. Whitney, I found a small motel with a great air conditioner! 

·        Tuesday.  Leisurely ride.  Forests and mountains.  Scattered lakes.  Log homes. Winding road and light traffic.  Life is (once more) good, and it gets better.  The ride across Yosemite was just beautiful!  There’s a rapid climb up the east face with lots of stone, naked granite, switchbacks, snow in the distance, cool air, and a good road. At the top it became intermittent pine forest, lakes, and beautiful mountain vistas. I had a hamburger in a tent-restaurant and found the perfect rock with a pine tree backrest, and read for an hour.  Down the gradual west side of the park through heavier forest and a lovely winding road.  People actually pull over to let you by.  Warmer and hotter down through the thousands of feet, but still pretty.  Rode on into Hayward last night and got here about 7 PM. Jim & Charlotte will have to put up with me for a few days—I’m beat. (But up-beat!)


#8 Alice's Restaurant (Hayward CA, Friday June 18)


·        Today I had a late breakfast of Huevos Rancheros in cool sunshine on a mountainous ridge between Silicon Valley and the Pacific. It's California's Alice's Restaurant.  It's a motorcycle hangout because the wonderfully winding roads are so much fun.  And maybe the air off the ocean makes the food taste better!

·        The road (Skyline Blvd.) straddles the San Andreas Fault.  Some day the left half will be maintained by Oregon while the right half will still California's problem.  I put about 90 miles into the shear pleasure of riding that road and the Pacific Highway between Half Moon Bay and La Honda and as far south as the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

·        It was in the park that I met an old soul.  I stood in the open heart of a being that was alive before humans knew the earth revolved around the sun.  Her days in the sun are numbered now, and she leans gently into the arms of her sisters.  I lay on my back and saw blue sunlight drifting down through the hundreds of feet to me. I dug my fingers into the warm red/brown of her furry bark and had tears in my eyes.

·        Visiting friends is certainly a joy, and Jim and Charlotte's son Eric has just arrived with wife Suzy and son Sam.  We're going to a Chinese restaurant tonight.


#9 We're Going Home (Hayward, Monday June 21)


·        I woke up with that tune by the Beatles playing in my head, and it's appropriate--I hope to be in Nevada tonight on my way home.

·        Saturday Bill and Vera took me to San Francisco's North Beach for a festival Saturday.  (Art, food, beatnik poetry, music, etc., and we had a great time, also having dinner in a gourmet Noe Valley restaurant.

·        Sunday Jim and I went to a car show and swap meet for British sports cars.  I drooled over several.  I ended up buying one!  Jim's Triumph TR7 (1980) will be my next project (after I figure out how to get it to Florida!)  Well, no one ever said I was practical.

·        I hope to get near a computer again before I'm back in Jacksonville, but I'll be trucking hard for the next few days. 


#10 Truckin (Jacksonville, Sunday June 27)


·        After 7065 miles and 30 days on the road, I'm home in Jacksonville.  Yesterday, Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) was singing "sometimes the light's all shining on me, other times I can hardly see, lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it's been" (in my mind).  But actually, the light was mostly all shining on me this whole trip. 

·        Friday, crossing Oklahoma and Arkansas through the construction zones on I 40 in heavy truck traffic was less fun, and Saturday coming down from my brother's in Memphis was light to heavy rain, gray skies, and wet pavement--with even the tail-end of a great fiery thunderstorm to greet me home.

·        "Stau" is the short, ugly German word for sitting, creeping, stop and go traffic, often in Interstate construction zones or because of a "sport-utility" monster lying dead-bug like on its back in the road.  In the heat, on a bike, a stau is purgatory!  Give me two-lane highways and light traffic please!

·        I crossed Nevada on "The Loneliest Highway in America" (U.S. 50) which is also known as the Lincoln Highway--America's first transcontinental road, mapped out in 1913. Breakfast was in a Pony Express Station that sold gas out of a rusty 100-gallon drum.  But the bar tender's son knocked the pump over the night before, so no gas.

·        This road has the quiet beauty of huge spaces, distant ancient mountains, and the occasional weather-beaten mining town like Austin--it's worth it!  Riding across the desert at dawn is incomparable.  You roll down the slope through a mountain pass and see the road dropping hundreds of feet below you onto the desert floor and disappearing into the distance maybe thirty miles away at the next low mountain range still back-lit dusty violet by the sunrise.

·        In Utah, on I70 East of Salina, again at dawn, a sign announced "110 Miles to next service".  I nursed it through on fumes.  The road climbed and dove through dawn-lit gold and red cliffs and canyons with deep purple shadows.  Breathtaking.  Chilly, dry, mountain air.  You'll want to stop at every opportunity!  I'll be back.

·        A trucker advised me to get back on US 50 through Colorado, and what good advice!  A beautiful road with everything--winding roads, farming country, mountains, canyons with rivers flowing through them, and even an exciting (read scary) climb to 11,312 foot Monarch Pass, dodging cold mountain rain showers!  "America is out there, if you git off thu innerstate an' poke around"

·        The plains of Colorado and Kansas are flat, hot, and dry.  On the left side of the road I see an oil well sucking at the last juice in those near-dead oil-fields and on the right I see a drilling rig boring ever deeper to suck up the diminishing ground water for agri-business.  I think they call it "reaping the wealth" that mother earth provides.  Similar words, reaping and raping.  But mothers are very forgiving.

·        I finally left US 50, (surprisingly) making a right turn at Garden City to go through Liberal Kansas, and then a (more understandable) left turn to avoid GW's Texas.  The airfield and museum there are on a WWII army air corps training field where I could imagine a young George McGovern getting his wings. 

·        Sign on the interstate in Little Rock, "Toad Suck Park Next Right".  I'm still in the dark on that one.

·        In the end, the greatest highlights weren't the incredible desert, ocean, and mountain scenery, or the wonderful winding roads, nor the history, space and aircraft museums, but the friends I've visited.  Thank you so very much, Johanna and David in Baton Rouge, Linda and Sara in Houston, Sue in Tucson, Jim & Charlotte in Hayward, Vera and Bill in San Francisco, and my brother Jim and family in Memphis!    


…John Debo

John Debo

Highlights from memory--I'll have to update these later!
1963 Graduate Iowa State
1964-6 RCA telemetry at Cape Canaveral and on the Atlantic Missile Range
1967-1978 Federal Electric at launch pads 34, 37 and 39. Worked all Apollo, Apollo-Soyuz, and Space Lab launches.
1969 Entered Triumph TR-4 in 24 hours of Daytona.
1970 about six months wandering around Europe from Turkey to Norway.
1975 about six months wandering out west in a VW beetle--Mexico to Canada
1978-79 a year of exploration including a term at SanFrancisco State taking all liberal arts courses--what fun!
1979 began teaching Engineering Technology at University of Central Florida and working on two Masters degrees--Education and Computer Engineering. Became a Registered Engineer.
1987-88 A year teaching for University of Maryland in Europe. Berlin, Brindisi, and Bitburg. Probably the best teaching experience of my life!
Following that I taught about 12 years for Florida Community College Jacksonville and am now retired.
Carola and I met in 1985 and were married in 2001. (Maybe we're slow to make up our minds.) She has four daughters and 6 going on 7 grand children.



Blast of the Past


Ottumwa High School Class 1959, OHS Class 1959, Ottumwa High School,

Class 59 OHS, Class 1959 OHS, Class 1959 Ottumwa High School, Class 59 Ottumwa High School