States of Mind – Part 6

For the past ten years I have been making an effort to visit all 50 states. As my personal quest nears its completion, I decided to write down recollections of the 46 I’ve seen so far, listed roughly in chronological order of my first visit. This multi-part series began on July 1.

It occurred to me while I was enjoying the beautiful scenery of Alaska that I had visited about half of the states, including the two hardest-to-reach ones. My mother and sister gave me a trip to Anchorage as a 40th birthday present. We took day trips south to the Kenai Fjords and north to Talkeetna. From there, my sister and I flew to a glacier-top with a great view of Mt. McKinley. Because we were there for the summer solstice, I never saw darkness. It was light out when I woke up and when I went to bed.

Rocky Allen, one of the best-liked and most-respected guys in radio, invited me to visit him in Detroit, Michigan. As I left the airport, I was astounded by the number of burned-out houses along the interstate. I stayed in a hotel in suburban Oakland, which made it easy for Rocky to pick me up on his way to work the next morning. The radio station was in a nice office building in downtown Detroit, above a restored theater. I vaguely recall somebody bringing in a large box of White Castle sliders for breakfast. The in-studio guest was John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting. He sang a live version of his then-new song “Superman” during the interview. After the show, Rocky’s producer Chris drove me to the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice so I could get a picture.

I had a few odd jobs around Hollywood and radio consulting gigs in Detroit and Phoenix during the year after the Comedy World Radio Network went bankrupt. When consultant Randy Lane helped me land a full-time job in Knoxville, I was thrilled. A few months later, the time came to move my family across the country. We ch0se a path that took us to some states that we hadn’t yet seen. After a night in Las Vegas, we drove through Utah, which was as beautiful as the Grand Canyon. We were in a gift shop at Zion National Park when I told the kids that I had come up with a code word for our pet tortoise. I couldn’t leave him in the hot car and some hotels might not welcome pets. If at any point during the long trip ahead someone asked me what was in the cardboard box, I was going to say “Grandma’s ashes,” figuring that nobody would want to look inside. When we got back to the car and were about to drive through the park, we saw a ranger running toward our car. She was yelling, “Stop!” At first, we didn’t think she meant us. She approached the car and asked if we had human remains in the vehicle. Apparently the gift shop clerk had overheard my conversation with the kids and had called the ranger station. She went on to say that we couldn’t scatter ashes in the park without a permit. Once I showed her the tortoise, we were free to go. Grandma, by the way, lived another nine years after that and was not cremated. In fact, she’s being buried today in the family plot in New York.

We covered a state a day on our move to Tennessee. The first half of Colorado was fantastic as we drove through the Rockies and along the Colorado River. We stopped for lunch at a random Chinese restaurant in Denver, not too far from Mile High Stadium. The second half of Colorado was flat and indistinguishable from Kansas.

The sunflowers were in bloom as we drove across Kansas. My wife still complains about the dust in the wind at Prairie Dog Town. I enjoyed seeing their six-legged cow and their collection of live rattlesnakes. Later that day, we drove 60 miles north of I-70 (and 60 miles back) to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City.

More states tomorrow!

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