Category Archives: Social Commentary

Corona Chronicles: Ghost Train-Part 6

Part Six – “Essential Services

“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm,” Colette

Heading South on Route 191 in Montana

Malta, Montana got its name from the spin of a globe and a finger that landed on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, or so they say.  Daphne and Clay swung south out of town on to Route 191.  If they had kept going west on Route 2, they would continue on what is called the Hi-Line.  It pretty much follows the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad across northern Montana just south of the Canadian border.  Daphne thought it might be nice someday to drive the Hi-Line west of here to Glacier National Park; but not today.  This was not a road trip.  They weren’t sightseeing. This was a hauling-ass-back-to-the-ranch-to-outrun-the-virus kind of trip. 

Clay had filled up at the one gas station open in Malta so they could make it back with ease. But was she at ease? Was Clay? There were still a lot of unknowns.  Could she be carrying the virus and give it to Clay.  Highly unlikely, but she did come in contact with some people along the way.  But they all looked pretty healthy, weren’t old, didn’t cough or sneeze once, and didn’t shout or whisper both of which would have spewed flu. And Clay had been quarantined for three weeks on the ranch; just him and the cows and the cat.  He just went to the grocery store and didn’t see any strangers except for the gas station guy in Malta and the cashier at the Truck Stop where he got the sandwiches and water.  Nobody coughed or sneezed or even spoke a word.  No spew.  No flu.

Early that morning at Devils Lake, Daphne had definitely felt like she was in an episode of “The Twilight Zone”. “Imagine you are on a road somewhere between science and superstition; things and ideas; reality and fantasy. Unlock this door to another dimension with the key of imagination…Nee, nee, nee, nee;  nee, nee, nee, nee…”

But as they had pulled out of the rail station that afternoon, Daphne had thought about the last shot of “The Graduate”.   And now another movie crept into Daphne’s malleable mind.  Was she running away like Hoffman in “Marathon Man”?  “Is it safe?” said the evil Nazi character played by Larry Olivier. “Would it really be safe here in Montana from the virus?” she worried.  Montana, the fourth largest state in the Union with around a million people, had the fewest cases in the country and Phillips County, that they were leaving, had none and Sweet Grass County, where they were headed, had none. (For perspective, Sweet Grass County is about the size of Rhode Island and has about 3700 people and not one stoplight.) Yes, it was as safe a bet as one could make nowadays where every day felt like every other day and every night brought nightmares.  Where a cough filled her with anxiety.  Every sniffle brought fear.  “It’s all in your head,” Clay would say if he knew she was ricocheting between fear and the thrill of freedom.

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Corona Chronicles – Ghost Train Part 5 – Is it Safe?

Sleeper bed on Empire Builder
Night on The Empire Builder

Fro…to and fro…and… Daphne slowly opened her eyes.  She felt for her phone. It was 6:05 AM.  She turned over and opened the curtains.  The train had stopped at a station.  It was still night but she could make out some one story buildings and little houses in a row.  The houses were covered in ice and the ground with snow.  Siberia? No, the sign read “Devils Lake, ND” with no apostrophe.  Cold place for devils, she thought.  Bet they leave for the winter and head south.

She laid back down and decided to wait until sunrise to get up and at ‘em.  She had slept well and felt good.  She took a deep breath and the air smelled… fresh.  She remembered being sick the day before, but feeling better when she went to sleep. She remembered waking up around 10 PM and peering out at a city that must have been Minneapolis.  She had tried to stay awake long enough to say a silent “Hello” to all her relatives both alive and buried there.  Almost all her father’s family had lived, worked, and died in the Twin Cities. All except Aunt Hannah.  And many summers were spent at the lakes north of the city with these aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  It’s where she learned to fish and to water ski a bit.  She remembers the leeches that attached to her legs and her uncle burning them off with a cigarette lighter.  That was when everybody carried a cigarette lighter.   They ate a lot of hot dogs and hamburgers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  They got lots of mosquito bites.

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Posting Ghost Train Chapters

Dear Friends,

I will be posting the final chapter of my/Daphne’s train ride from Albany, NY to Malta, Montana in a few.  I’ve gone back and made some adjustments in the timeline so as to make this diary a bit less confusing.  I’ve never really written this way before; in installments and especially using multiple personalities in installments. Made it much harder to keep track of who was talking or who was in my head from one day to the next.  But I also realized that except for my essays, I have never completed anything in my life.  And discovering that I am an ENTP and that psychological type, indeed, does not complete much, I am relieved that there is some sort of explanation.  But still, a bit unrewarding.  So my goal was to get this thing done and out of the way before I forgot it.  Although the surreal aspect of being alone on a train is not easy to forget.  The details are.  So it isn’t perfect because I hurried.  But it did get done.

Thanks for reading,

The Montana Maven

aka Daphne

aka Grand Dutchess Olya

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aka The Catskill Cassandra

Corona Chronicles: Ghost Train Part 4 – Dinner is Served

Daphne fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her iPhone and IPad and was pleased that this newer car had an electric outlet near the door and across from the sink with it’s own little shelf.

Just then, Marilyn’s head appeared from around the corner and handed her a menu, “You’re getting off in Montana, right?

“Yes, Daphne smiled, “My husband’s picking me up in Havre. He’s got a long drive from the ranch. About 4 hours.”

“I heard from the crew coming from Seattle that the Montana National Guard is checking people’s temperatures at the station when they get off the train,” she said with a shrug.

“Ah, smart of them. The governor seems pretty serious about this flu. But, as I said, I’ve been self quarantined for 3 weeks, so I should be Okay.” Daphne said with as much confidence as she could muster with this bit of news. And then I’m just going to the ranch and self-quarantining again. So should work out just fine.”

Marilyn nodded and smiled and disappeared back around the corner.

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Corona Chronicles – Ghost Train Pt 2. – “Things that go Bump…”

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Sleeper Car on The Lakeshore Limited

Bump…Bump…Sway and Bump…Rumble…Bump!  That last bump was a doozy, Daphne thought.  It made her open her eyes.  She was in the dark, but she could feel a blanket wrapped around her neck and upper body.  Her stocking feet were sticking out of the sheets.  She was in a box.  No, as she lifted her head.  It’s a small room. Ah, she was starting to remember.  She was pretty sure that she was on a train.   Yes, I’m not dreaming, she said to herself.  I’m on my way home! Home? It always surprised her to say that word. What and where is home really?

Enough of that and she shook her head to clear out the thoughts. She disentangled herself from the blanket and sheets; then yanked open the window curtains only to see nothing but dark shapes.  The day too was pulling back the night’s shades but at a more leisurely pace more like gauze than the thick blue folded train curtains. She had slept okay. She remembers getting up at 12:40 am because the connecting door to the next room was rattling again. Sounded like a crazed woodpecker. Before going to bed, she had folded the Welcome to Amtrak safety brochure and stuck it in the door and the rattling had stopped. She felt very can-do gal at the time. Very proud of herself. But it had fallen to the ground, so she folded it once more and wedged it back in. She had woken up again at 2:40 am. But, by and large, it had been a good sleep albeit a rough one. The only thing that went “bump in the night” were the actual bumps of the rails on the tracks. If there were any ghosts, they must have been the friendly kind.

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Boxes

Since Education is back in the news because of the appointment of a Dutch Calvinist from my neck of the woods, I thought it might be a good time for people to examine just what is an “education”. John Taylor Gatto makes the distinction between ‘”education” and “schooling”. I have read his book “The Underground History of American Education”. He wrote an article in 2003 in Harper’s called “Against Education”. You have to subscribe to Harper’s to read the essay, but there are excerpts available on line. I’m not sure of some of his ideas about but definitely like some of his observations about how awful and mind numbing school can be.

You are made to sit in BOXES and are taught to behave so that when you graduate you can sit in another BOX all day long. And at the end of your life you end up in a hospital BOX and then a real BOX. Every four years, in preparation for the ballot BOX, for 18 months we were being herded into two awful BOXES called political parties.  The whole process looked more like that cartoon of the cow staring at a meat packing plant with a sign that said “Enter Left” and “Enter Right”.
My 2¢ is that we need shorter work weeks with one parent working so they have more time to spend with their kids. I learned more from helping my Dad build a barn than I did from awful Miss Bloemendal who kicked me out in the hall every week. As an educator himself, he said, “Children should be hand made and not mass produced.”  I read a lot of books. And I spent a lot of time in the woods making up stories of elves and other mythical creatures.

We hear an awful lot of yapping about “freedom”, but we imprison our children and literally imprision lots of teenagers.  We imprison in prisons around 2.3 million people, more than any other nation.  However, we are a big country.  Proportionately though, we still imprison more than any other nation except maybe North Korea and Cuba.  But according to Politofact, we don’t have accurate information on prison populations in those 2 countries, but they could be ahead of us.  The point is whether we are first or third, it’s a disgrace.

Freedom should not be about the so-called free market of freedom to choose between 20 different cereals.  It should more appropriately be about freedom to think differently and being able to freely express those different thoughts.  But….(there is always a but), as much as we should respect individual freedom, with freedom comes responsibility to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Children should be free to have safe places to run and holler at the top of their lungs.  They should also have mutual respect for others and the good manners not to scream in other peoples spaces.  That goes for adults too!

Good manners and mutual respect for others opinions and cultures are great goals for an educated person.  Since education is a journey, there will be many stops and starts along the way.  So when you come across a different opinion, it is wise to take the PACE approach.  Be Playful, Accepting, Curious, and Empathetic.   Not an easy task especially the Playful part if it’s been knocked out of you due to years of being stuffed in boxes.

The Maven

Notes:  I got the boxes idea from the anthropologist and anarchist thinker David Graeber in his essay on “Revolutions in Reverse” and PACE from cognitive behavioral therapist Dorothy Dacar.

My Mother Made Me a Commie

My mother and I watched lots of old movies in the 1950s on a tiny TV screen in our tiny winterized screened in breezeway.  My mother knew all the supporting players by name.  Her own sisters had been MGM contract players.  She was never political and always voted Republican except for George McGovern.  But without her knowing it, the movies we watched left a deep impression on me.  They reinforced the idea of “getting in other people’s shoes whether they were worn out with holes in the bottom or velvet ones studded with pearls. I could feel for the “down and out” while coveting the lacy ball gowns, crystal goblets, and fox furs. It nurtured my love of contradiction that persists to this day.

The economist, Milton Friedman, was right in one respect. He once said, “When a crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas lying around.” This statement became the basis for Naomi Klein’s frightening book “The Shock Doctrine.” In it, she chronicles the ways his followers jammed his free market ideas down the throats of citizens in various countries when a crisis, man made or natural, occurred. Some of the ideas lying around during the 1930s and 1940s that produced movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) were often anti-capitalist, labor friendly and surprisingly saturated with feminism.  I watched “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947) this past Christmas. It’s about a hobo who occupies (YES, Occupies!) a rich man’s mansion every winter when the rich guy goes to his winter home in Virginia.   The hobo wears his clothes, smokes his cigars, and drinks his wine. Year after year nobody noticed anything awry.

One day on his daily stroll through Central Park. The hobo happens upon a homeless WWII vet (YES, veterans are always treated like crap even after [1]“the good war”.) Against his better judgment the hobo takes in the veteran. The daughter of the rich man runs away from her snooty college and decides to hide in her father’s mansion. She overhears the hobo confessing that he’s a hobo to the vet. She decides to pretend to be poor so she can stay there too and cuz the Vet is cute. Turns out that the vet has a bunch of ex GI buddies and their wives and kids who also need housing, so, somewhat reluctantly, the hobo takes in all of them. The vet and his buddies then hatch a plan to purchase an army barracks and turn it into communal housing. Well there are many more complications when the rich man (who started out poor) comes back to New York to look for his missing daughter. When they finally meet, the spunky girl confronts her father. She tells him that she doesn’t understand why they should have big empty houses when there are people who need them. Then she convinces him to disguise himself as a bum and join the merry band of people inhabiting his mansion. And soon her divorced socialite mother joins up disguised as a poor cook.

Other movies of that era also have spunky females like Barbara Stanwyck in “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) who writes a Martha Stewart-like column in a NY newspaper about her Connecticut stately farm. Truth is she’s a poorly paid journalist who lives in a one bedroom flat in NYC.  “Holiday Affair” (1949) is about a war widow raising her son and trying to find a good father while trying to maintain her dignity and independence. “My Man Godfrey” (1936) is my favorite film. Filmed at the height of the Depression, it opens with a bunch of rich people going on a scavenger hunt. One of the “items” they must find is a “forgotten man”. So they go to where all the homeless are shacked up tin order to find one. And audiences loved these stories of people struggling together in an often dog eat dog world. They still do if given the chance. “The Devil Wears Prada” is in this tradition, but not quite as subversive as the old movies.

Besides giving people work on sewer systems and dams in the 1930s, the WPA funded writers, artists and photographers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another WPA type deal in order to have writers and artists come up with other ideas.  Margaret Thatcher once famously said about financial capitalism  aka Milton Friedman’s“free market” that “there is no alternative,” referred to as TINA.  But there must be.  There were other ideas not so very long ago.  Time to dig them up and repot them.  We need to  “imagine” a better world that we can actually Occupy rather than watch on the TV.  I was lucky to watch old movies with my mother.  No, she didn’t make me a Commie, but she did help make me a Contrarian.

[1] “The Good War” was the name of the 1985 book by Studs Terkel. It is composed of first hand accounts of veterans of World War II.