A COVID vaccine with my name on it is due to be injected sometime in the next few weeks, and the wife and teenager should soon follow. As far as I can tell, that’s license for renewing our annual road trip this summer—a dream shared by a zillion other middle-class families in the country, so I imagine, but we’re going for it anyway.
The interested parties (myself, my wife, the teenager) have been discussing the road trip, while the fourth member of the household (the almost-4-year old) seems blissfully unaware, although he has expressed a strong interest in seeing penguins. So I expect we’ll go to a zoo and see penguins. We also will be attending Minneapolis to visit family and friends. The other definitive destination so far is Godfrey, Illinois, at the insistence of my wife. The reason: to buy donuts and coffee at the last remaining outlet of Mister Donut.
I had stumbled onto the story of Mister Donut—raging success followed by spectacular collapse—along with the intelligence about the sole surviving location, which I shared with my wife. Her response, unexpectedly, was neither a dismissive “Who cares?” nor a sarcastic “I suppose you’ll want to drag us there,” but rather a startling and definitive “We are going to that donut store!” Turns out she is a huge fan, thanks to the franchise’s presence near her childhood home of Secaucus, New Jersey.
I can sing the theme song.
“Hey, mister, that’s a donut.
Hey mister that’s a Mister Donut doughhhh-nut.”
Godfrey is located just north of Alton, Illinois, home of a well-known dam on the Mississippi River. Nearby is St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Gateway Arch and some pretty good barbecue and the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and maybe we’ll partake in all three. Oh but heavens, avoid St. Louis pizza. They use cheddar cheese, for some reason. To be avoided at all costs. Seriously, it’s terrible.
Of course the vaccination is arriving just in time to be too late for the ski season. Which means I must scheme for next season.
According to various Internet sources, 37 of the 50 U.S. states are home to ski areas. However, this number is both suspect and fungible. Texas, for example, is represented by an installation called Mt. Aggie, located in College Station, home of Texas A&M University. A little digging shows that Mt. Aggie is an artificial hill, height 35 feet, generally covered in ice chips and water. The University uses it to teach beginning skiing, and graduates generally high-tail it to Colorado for winter break.
I’m not sure Mt. Aggie counts.
Alabama is home to the Cloudmont Ski & Golf Resort, vertical rise 150 feet. The official website boasts “quality machine-made snow” and “two pony lifts.”
I think Cloudmont counts, but I’m not sure what a pony lift is.
Hawaii’s tallest mountain gets a dusting of snow every winter, and locals organize their own expeditions. Not really a ski area, though.
At the other end of the spectrum is Vail Mountain, in Colorado. Vertical drop 3,450 feet, skiable area covering 5,289 acres and serviced by 31 modern, high-speed lifts including 2 gondolas, and a base area with hotels, condos, restaurants, overpriced clothing stores, and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, where they hold free concerts in the summer.
Not much is free in Vail, Colorado.
Why skiing? This is the question that has crowded my mind on numerous occasions, such as when I am stuck in mid-air on a stuck chairlift in a blizzard, or when the lunch bill for two at the cafeteria comes to $45 for a couple of cheeseburgers, or when I can find the gloves and the long underwear and the ski hat and the face warmer and the thermal socks in the ski bag, but not the goggles. Where are the goggles? Where are the &*(^@#* GOGGLES??!!
Downhill skiing might make sense for the people of the Swiss Alps, but everywhere else? If skiing hadn’t developed gradually and in fits and starts over the past couple hundred years, then the sport would be the sort of nonsense that some cockamamie entitled white dude might dream up. “Let’s bulldoze trees to smooth out the mountain. We’ll put up poles, string pulleys between them, tie chairs to the pulleys. Everyone gets boots that fit over the feet and into the bindings on these specially-crafted narrow boards made of a variety of elaborately-designed metals and/or plastics. Everything will be very, very expensive, but lookie-lookie, gravity pulls you down really FAST!!! Which is FUN!!!
Beneath the superficial appeal of skiing, tucked somewhere in the conscious or subconscious, must be our spiritual connection with mountains. Moses, you know, didn’t pick up the Ten Commandments at Sinai Beach. He didn’t spend the week at Lake Sinai Lodge and Cabins, holed up in #7 overlooking the pontoon dock, nor at the Sinai Oasis Spa and Golf Resort, where Margaritas flow from the ersatz tiki bar and package deals are available. Nope, Moses ascended a mountain. He removed himself from the unwashed Israelites and their daily fracas to breathe the thin air and bask in the peace and tranquility—all quite necessary, or at least helpful, for communing with the Almighty. We assume that God maintains His official residence elsewhere, but when He deems the time necessary to check on the handiwork, the mountains are the closest He wants to come.
I can’t imagine anyone in the flatter states—Ohio, Indiana, Iowa—venturing to the local 250-foot ski hill and imagining a sacred pilgrimage of any kind. But even at Trollhaugen (to pick a small-potatoes resort more or less at random) and Buck Hill (ditto) the trappings and rituals are always followed, as followed they must be. The donning of the gear, the hauling up the lift, the sliding down the snowy slopes—the order and procession is the same at St. Moritz and Heavenly Valley and Lost Trail Powder Mountain, the latter of which hugs the border of Montana and Idaho and looks to be as forlorn and magnificent an installation as the country has to offer. Call skiing a sport, call it recreation, but an unbiased observer just might, in theory, call it a….religion? Hmmm…what do you think?
Next year, I need to make the pilgrimage once again. I might not do so in all 37 states—although that would be quite the ridiculous feat, wouldn’t it?—but the number shall be greater than zero.
What else am I looking forward to? Baseball games. The almost-4-year-old getting out of the house and hanging out with other children. Dining indoors at restaurants. Seeing friends, like you, wherever we might run into each other. So continue staying safe, get vaccinated when you can, and let’s keep dreaming big, people. The clock is ticking.