It was a short ride to Detroit (you know you have reached the automobile capital of the world by the dozens of huge brightly-lit used car lots), and a long wait in the bus terminal there. I played a few tunes on the guitar because the man next to me was obviously going to dig it (and he did). I slept a little on the ride to Cleveland, but I wasn't yet in the habit of sleeping on Greyhounds. I was uncomfortable and the lights bothered me. Cleveland is very flat and is approached from a low ridge. Even at four in the morning it is a great illuminated plain or lake into which the traveller slowly sinks.
The wait at Cleveland was short, and soon we were off on the sunrise leg. The Ohio dawn came sliding up, snake-like. Against the growing illumination the little scrubby trees were printed, still very wintry-looking. A few filaments of grey cloud stood against the sky like the calligraphy on a Japanese print. As the sun came closer, these clouds were slowly and beautifully transformed by colour, and silhouetted a wonderful sequence of trees in the tilled lands for which we were leaving the scrubby wilderness. From rivers, lakes, ponds and fields rose a sheen of mist.
But the auspicious start to the trip was spoilt by my travelling companion, whom I had chosen (if "chosen" is the right word) on the crowded bus. One of the less silent of the Silent Majority, he stopped me from getting a wink of sleep on that stretch. He was a Great Traveller. I should visit Grand Island, Nebraska, an underestimated town on the Plains which everyone hurries past as quickly as possible. (He had lived there once, though he is a Chicagoan now.) He will soon be a grandfather for the tenth time, and is very proud of the fact that he is unfaithful to his wife twice a week. It is not merely pride in his physical prowess, though this plays a part; he is just as proud of his sons, one of whom is on his third wife, the other is playing the field after finishing one marriage; and he was encouraging me to do likewise. He is a materialist ("The ecologists have gone too far") and related that, in Wisconsin, there used to be Catholics and Protestants, but now they have abandoned religion for Materialism and are much happier. Worst of all is his friend, who picks a continent, picks four countries on that continent (they must be English-speaking, or enough so for the purpose), and has a seminar which has a week-long session in each country, addressed by local experts. Needless to say, my companion goes on these. He has been everywhere, even Australia (which he enjoyed, especially the big iron ore and bauxite mines in the west). I gave him the slip at Pittsburgh but made the mistake of sitting near him at Breezewood post house. He regaled me across two tables with the awfulness of Pittsburgh bus station and his intimate knowledge of the chairman of Greyhound. Needless to say, he has unshakable faith in the President, though some of his supporters have been a bit over-enthusiastic lately. (They should have bugged hotel rooms instead - they might really have learnt something that way.)
Even before Pittsburgh it had been light enough that landscapes rather than silhouettes confronted us. I had hoped that spring leaves would hide some of Pittsburgh's ugliness; they partly concealed the piles of litter but couldn't do anything for the smog, the grime, and the appalling slums. This town has a really beautiful setting and still manages to be one of the ugliest I know. A coat of paint and a clean-up in the back yard, and those little houses would really be charming. My companion had cognitive dissonance here - it was as if he wanted to believe it was beautiful but the facts didn't quite fit. No doubt he's made them fit by now. (Incidentally, I must record the one point I scored off him. Talking of his travels, he remarked that
"The world is so full of a number of things I think we should all be as happy as Kings."I remarked that I read a touch of irony into those lines. Of course, this really threw him.)
I slept most of the way to Breezewood, but I saw some of the more rugged mountains, without any fog this time. After Breezewood there were more mountains, and several long tunnels (two of them consecutive), but the country was gentler and more wooded, with Spring's bright touch on it. There were views over the plain, then travel through rolling country of Pennsylvania farms. The fields were meadows full of yellow flowers. Cool shallow rivers. Trees robed in blossom. All of it washed, soaked in warm sunshine. The Susquehenna River at Harrisburg was wide and shallow and full of islands, whereas the Ohio at Pittsburgh was narrow under towering banks.
After Harrisburg the country was consistently and almost uniformly pleasant. Minor diversions were a fleet of two dozen Army jeeps following one another in a line only occasionally broken by civilians; the biggest car graveyard I ever saw; and the many Dutch kitchens and such like, apparently less closely related to Netherlands Dutch than to other American.
Arrived in Bethlehem right on time. Ed was there with his family. Last (and first) time I met him, in Oberwolfach, my baggage had been lost in transit. Guess what?
The next day Ed drove me around the country. There are good views from the hills, the country is gentle, and the colours were muted by a slight haze. He got me onto the topic of what I call "scatters" in projective planes. If there is an extendable projective plane of order 10, it contains 925 hyperovals forming a quasi-symmetric design. The scatters dual to these form a quasi-symmetric design in the dual plane. Though block size, intersection numbers, etc. are very different, the strongly regular graphs belonging to the two designs would be identical.
Ed also talked of the problem of finding the dimension of the vector space mod p spanned by the lines of a plane of order n, where p divides n. If the space is V and its orthogonal complement V*, then the intersection has codimension 1 in V. Apparently if p2 doesn't divide n, then the dimension of V is (n2+n+2)/2, and so V contains V*. Note that a scatter with parameter k lies in V* if p divides k and in V if p divides n/k. For the plane of order 4, dim(V)=10 (I think) and hyperovals don't lie in V, but the three orbits of the little projective group on hyperovals are contained in the three cosets of V* mod (V intersection V*). For the planes of order 9, dim(V) is 37 for the Desarguesian plane and 41 for each of the others.
Another curious thing: the divisibility conditions show only that the affine plane of order 8 can be extended at most ten times!
My talk went reasonably well. After that we went home. That night Susan cooked gazpacho, ducks, ratatouille, and oranges in something very nice. Some interesting people came and we had a feast. Sadly, it played havoc with my insides. I lay awake convincing myself that there are only two biplanes with k=6, and the other one has automorphism group 28.3. (In fact I was wrong - there are three.)
In the morning, the good weather had deserted us completely, and I set out on a grey and raining day. Susan packed me a luxurious lunch - "iron rations" she said, but it seemed a little softer.
After two Disprin at Breezewood had begun to take effect, I felt up to tackling Susan's iron rations - carrot, celery, tomato, bread and salt was my lunch.
Coming into Pittsburgh, the weather cleared (though the clouds seemed to be chasing us, and caught us there). The city turned a smiling face to me this time, and showed me a little of what it could be like - but it was still, to be charitable, hazy. I sent from there my second epistle to Sheila. While I was there, I twice heard the announcer tell of a Butlers or White Lines coach to somewhere ready for departure, and in the middle of the habitual "Welcome aboard, and thanks for going Greyhound", cut himself off abruptly.
I had carried the rucksack with me to Pittsburgh and was thankful to check it there. In fact they wouldn't send me to Green River but only as far as St. Louis, which meant no changes, hence minimal chance of its loss.
Leaving Pittsburgh, we had vistas of vast quarried and cut hillsides, somehow summing up this town's philosophy of mastering its terrain rather than harmonising with it. Daylight remained with us, pouring in under the edge of the clouds to the south, while heavy clouds blacked in the north. The mountains grew gentler and more productive as we crossed into the western panhandle of Wonderful West Virginia. Soon a belt of dark rain struck us and blocked the last light. Only a glimmer and several sheets of lightning showed me that I was missing some impressive country.
But nothing must interfere with the driver's schedule - he plunged through sheets of water (terrestrial and aerial) "like a stocky porpoise".
In Wheeling the rain eased, the clouds broke up into jagged fragments, and daylight came through to take us over the steep-sided Ohio River into beautiful Ohio. The mountains became hills, nursing pockets of mist after the deluge, and a burnt-out barn stared at us with empty sightless eyes. The hills became downs, but the last light had tiptoed out leaving the stage to night and cloud before we were down from the last rise. The Boron, Exxon, Gulf, Sohio, Sunoco signs, standing tall against the sky, gained in authority as the night closed in around them.
Already the simple mechanics of travelling has become a joyful thing to me. I have come to dread the too-frequent rest stops, and have even considered abandoning my Green River stop, not to reach Eugene the quicker, but to avoid losing the travelling state of consciousness. All this term I have been missing Four Quartets, and I've thought often on the commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita they contain. "Note farewell, but fare forward, voyager." I must admit though that buses are much more comfortable than bus stations.
As the last fire died in the sky the lights of Columbus enveloped us. Columbus bus station was bright and new. One of its innovations was a kiddie-size water fountain beside the grown-up water fountain.
Waking up coming into the next town, I thought how absolutely typical it was, how it might have been anywhere in America. I remember reading in the AAA Great Lakes Guide that Indiana is the "heartland", that is, where the most American Americans come from. I might possibly have deduced, how American this is, it is probably Indianapolis. A superficial glance unused to bright strip lighting in a bus station couldn't have told it from Columbus, though I would guess it was a little older. It had a machine to give you 95 cents change for your dollar bill. Is this how much the citizens value their town? Also you pay 100% more for 50% more locker space. On the other hand, the announcer said, "Thank you for travelling with Indiana Motor Company."
We came into St. Louis before it was light. I caught a glimpse of the arch as we crossed the Mississippi. With an hour to wait, I tried to find my way back to it for a closer look, but failed completely. But I had another glimpse of it, shining in the new daylight, as we left.
The light showed Missouri, the river and then the state. Not flat and covered with corn as I had expected, but undulating and quite heavily treed. At Kingdom City I spent money for the first time since Ann Arbor - twenty cents for a can of Seven-Up, since there was no drinking fountain and the water from the taps was full of black spots. Just after Columbia we encountered the river again. Now it was shallow and lazy, and most of the width between its banks was paddy fields; but it clearly could carry an impressive torrent.
Coming into Kansas City, the land continued to undulate, but every cutting revealed horizontal strata of rock buried in the earth. Maybe one day it will all be flat. Anyway, the country had a more open feel, as did KC itself. I liked it, and the sun shone on it too.
Something was worrying me at this point: arrival time in Denver, which was 3.30am, with departure half an hour later, that is, long before daylight. I would miss something that everyone had told me of, the first sight of the Rocky Mountains rising from the prairies. I asked everyone for information, but there seemed to be no other way that didn't entail a half-day break or a diversion to miss Denver altogether. At Kansas City I took a bunch of timetables to work out a hypothesis - I've found that you stand a much better chance of getting anything if you go to the Information desk with a nearly true hypothesis. (The risk is that they will take all parts of your half-baked plan as strict requirements and dismiss them as impossible.)
Just before Sheila's old stamping ground came the first, though very short, truly flat ground. Lawrence sprawled up and over what she had told me was a terminal moraine, the dominating land-point.
After Topeka, however, we reached some plainland. In places it was very like part of the Darling Downs, except that the trees were all wrong. They are the kind of deciduous tree that I can't help thinking of as English, and so they look somehow out of place in the middle of the prairie, as if they've been planted there.
We had a rest stop in Manhattan, Kansas. It was really warm! Everyone else sat in the cafe and tucked into hot meals. But I, adhering to the philosophy that I'm living on the bus (this includes eating) and stopping for other reasons, played my guitar in the sunshine in the middle of the parking lot. But the bus was making so much noise talking to itself that I was drowned out.
After this stop, the pace of the trip seemed to slow right down. We passed through a green park with the first capital of Kansas, a Union Pacific locomotive, thousands of military policemen, and lots of slow cars all hogging the centre line. After this we came to a town where a train was parked on the road in front of us. With all the sloth, boredom really began to get a hold of me. The redeeming feature was that we kept to small country roads almost all the time, and got much closer to the fields and farms, houses and railways, than if we had been on the remote expressways and turnpikes.
We came soon to a striking series of sculpted hills (and I don't mean in the Mt. Rushmore sense). I wondered if they were related to the hills of Nebraska which Somerset Maugham used as a dream substitute for breasts - a few of them fitted the bill well, but most resembled no concrete thing in particular. They didn't last long. Probably we crossed a range of them. In any case, wheat was giving way to cattle.
About the time the sun went down, we got into really flat country, and (so far as I could tell) stayed with it all night. After dark, when I had been reading a "true confessions" to pass the time, I suddenly became disoriented. It wasn't clear that I was on the right bus, or that (going along tiny roads through small towns and always turning corners) it was going in the right direction at all. This wasn't the "altered state of consciousness" but a lapse from it, a temporary loss of the great vision of America and the trip. But the sight of moonlight flooding the level prairie soon brought the whole thing back.
We came to Denver in the dark, so I saw nothing of the approach, but the lights of this sharp chunky city looked well enough in the clear mountain night. But the bus station, on the other hand, was appalling. No water! No timetables, a few cans of expensive rubbish to drink. I let myself be browbeaten into leaving on the 4am bus. Still I wished us to be late leaving that hole, that light might come sooner, and wished the sun up as hard as I could. There were spots on the road which surely would have given impressive views, and I had sat in a left window seat all the way from St. Louis just for this moment. But the sun seemed reluctant to appear. Only the faintest flush had appeared in the sky by Greeley. At this point I would happily have consigned the whole Greyhound organization to the flames. Taking a tourist right through Colorado in the pitch darkness, refusing to give information or be the least helpful though asked repeatedly ... I felt sad, defeated, and sick of it all as the bus rolled on. A twenty-minute stop in Greeley helped - I didn't begrudge the driver his time in the spudnut shop. But Greeley is a prairie town and the mountains are out of sight. The best I could do was pretend a little line of clouds was really snow-capped mountains emerging from the rich plain just at fading-point. Quite possibly they really were! But clouds came to obscure the dawn.
The prairie sunrise was pleasant orange rosiness suffusing the clouds and silhouetting farm and railway machinery. It came just in time to show me that my now-receding clouds were really mountains and would have been spectacular. By the time the sun was half up, the clouds caught it in a murky mess of fire. An overbridge showed up the undulating prairie in transmuted colour. But soon the clouds swallowed the sun whole.
Soon we were in a region of little bare hills and ridges eroded into strange shapes - much sharper and harsher than the Kansas equivalent. Snow lay - patches in some of the eroded faces and gullies. This was the start of big wonderful Wyoming, though it flattened again into Cheyenne. Snow fences indicated blizzard country.
Cheyenne provided very different first impressions from Denver, chiefly a sense of impermanence. It really had a frontier-town feel, in some funny unobvious way. The road in hacked unceremoniously through some tiny breast-shaped hills, then went through the middle of a huge car graveyard and an area where houses were built of every conceivable scrap material. Greyhound partly redeemed themselves by getting (at my insistence) my baggage off the other bus and onto an earlier bus out. In front of the bus station was Union Pacific Cheyenne Station - a pleasant blend of red and grey stone in Wyoming Medieval style, with a clock tower (the faces stopped at different times) disfigured by a neon sign and a fire escape.
Wyoming couldn't be a disappointment to me, since the only comments I had heard about it were disparaging. In fact the first hour out of Cheyenne quite made up for missing Denver. Far to the south, tantalizingly hiding behind a low ridge and then revealed in majesty, stood a great white mountain massif, flanked by a blue range with snow patches. It really was like a mirage above the brown ridgy short-grass country. Then the ridges became higher, sprouting little hills covered in short pine trees and snow, then huge crazy outcrops of bunched and twisted stone. Snow grew more plentiful, lying in stripes on the green-brown earth; it lay in deep drifts beside the road. From the higher ground, we had more glimpses of the mountains, now no longer remote, since we could see the snow-striped land sloping away from us and rising again to the foothills.
The character of the bus changed, too. There were less than a dozen passengers, and we wandered around chatting, in positive reaction to the beauty, I guess.
Soon we were in mountains (something Colorado and Greyhound couldn't do for me). Blue-grey bushes dotted the red slopes below the snowline, where pines took over. Soon we were across the range and descending into Laramie, almost surrounded now by high mountain faces.
The stage after Laramie was not so spectacular, but I got some favourable comments on Green River and my plan to stop there, and I was introduced to the Magic Window (hopefully there will be more about this later). The sun shone on a huge snowy mountain, and we passed lots of rock shops and "antique" shops in this beautifully open, sparsely-settled land. We saw strange-looking white cows and a herd of pretty deer. In Medicine Bow we passed and repassed a train with 105 pieces of rolling stock, the most I have ever counted. The terrain grew hilly as the low northern mountains began crowding in on us. Real cowboy country.
We crossed the Continental Divide at what must be one of the least spectacular points in the continent. No mountains at all, only a long gentle hill rising above the high flatlands. We stuck close to the railway, which seemed to carry far more traffic than the road - trains often followed as close as safety must allow, and the one I was able to count smashed my new record: 121. Most of the road traffic seemed to be long trucks as well; cars were very scarce. Off the road, there were ridges like sandhills in patches of colour from deep red through yellow to off-white, and a few of those flat-topped steep-sided table hills.
After we passed over what seemed a replica of the Continental Divide, it grew rougher again. The road felt its way down through a pass among the jumbled rocky hills. Small caves, overhangs, and honeycomb sculpture had been eroded from the rock. Even the faces of the cuttings had begun to erode.
I was excited coming into Green River - even by the road, the country was the most spectacular we had seen. The nice people on the bus congratulated me and wished me luck, and there I was on the kerb, clutching my luggage.
Fortunately I'd misread the map completely. I started off through a fenced-off area where the only tracks were made by workers laying a gas pipe line. I crossed a bridge over a creek, ducked under the railway line (where minutes later another long train passed), and started off up a hill. When I had done most of the climbing I found that the summit was much further away than it looked, so I set off down again, to cross a high ridge bounding the gorge proper.
The ridge must have been a thousand feet high, maybe more, I'm not a good judge. It was very steep, and made of flaked-off chips of rock, more or less loosely bound with clayey soil. Most of the plants offering handholds were very prickly. As well, there was a near-gale blowing near the top of the ridge. At one point, on a very slippery patch, I nearly gave up, but I made it over eventually.
I went on down a ridge and into a little gorge made by a now-dry stream. I followed this out to the river, where I explored for a bit, then I headed for home. The road back led directly into the wind and it was a real ordeal, especially when sand began blowing. I was parched with thirst as well. When I got back to town I found a shopping centre and bought a quart of chocolate milk, which I downed on the spot. Still I needed to pour water down my throat when I got home.
The hills around the gorge are made of very layered rock (so much so that any outcrop looks like a pile of slates). The soil seems to be made out of the chips of this rock, which are certainly plentiful enough, after the weather has broken them down. (Some white stuff is leached out in the process. It lines dry creek beds and plants seem a little unhappy about it. I think it must be soda - I'll explain soon.)
The curious feature of these hills is that each has a reddish core, which sticks out from at or near the top like a fortified castle. The core is also stratified, though to nowhere near the degree of the rest of the hill, and hardly so at all at their tops, which are reddest. Instead of coming away in sheets, large lumps break off, or they develop holes. On one summit of the ridge I climbed were two gigantic red rocks, looking from the bottom like giant cardboard cutouts with a narrow gap between. Most of the way down the mountain was a large boulder, perhaps 50' x 20' x 10', and a few fragments, exactly below the gap at the top. Even the hill above the town sheds pieces, though nobody seems worried.
On the slates grow many kinds of lichen, the commonest in shades of bright orange, the others green, grey or black, the shapes varying greatly as well. Other flora of the hills was prickly bush, a more innocuous woody bush, and tufts of grass, with the occasional cactus. Below, grass did well, and there were many wildflowers also. By the river grew trees and also stalky red things, with roses tangled among them.
I saw no animals, but birds were common. Mostly little brown birds I didn't know (often with pretty markings). Also I saw a hawk circling.
In the evening I met two Englishmen, who are setting up an operation for mining soda in the manner used for mining coal in England. Many of the workers are itinerant West Virginians (the same type of mining is used there, apparently). (Hence my deduction about soda.) After dinner I was very sleepy and wanted an early night. In fact, I was so tired that I was falling half-asleep while writing, dragging myself back to half-awakeness, and then finding that in the middle of an ordinary sentence I had started writing words from my dreams. But they took me out drinking with one of their West Virginian hillbilly miners. I suspect them of a patronising attitude towards these guys, and you could certainly see how this one earned it. He was so sweet! It was a very pleasant evening but meant I got to bed at midnight. They had tried very hard to talk me into staying, and I was tempted.
The next morning, I woke at 6am. Every time a train went past outside, my window would rattle, and trains were long and frequent. I dressed and went over for breakfast. The steak was the best I'd found in the USA (this doesn't say much) and I had it for dinner and breakfast. Then I went for a walk. I went up the hill behind the town. This was a small adventure. I alternated between torturing myself with vertigo on the steep loose shale, and sitting peacefully on a mountain in the early morning under a sky so deep I'd forgotten the colour existed. I counted two more trains (127 and 120) and at least four more went through in the space of fifteen minutes.
Coming down from the mountain, I did a little shopping. I wanted to look into the possibility of getting Sheila a piece of Wyoming jade, but all I could find of it were some awful cuff links and things in a drugstore. I posted a few postcards, bought some supplies, and went into the Sweetwater County Museum.
It seems this area was on a lot of communication routes - the Oregon and Mormon Trails, Indian trails, Pony Express and overland telegraph all went through the county. They had some of the original (barbed) wire, insulators and posts of the telegraph, as well as a section of the new underground cable. It and the I-80 highway also go through here. There were lots of old photographs of the town, including some very like news photographs of the first expedition to explore the Colorado River leaving Green River. There were lots of guns, and lots of Chinese artefacts "dug up" in Rock Springs Chinatown and all in very good condition. Another thing was a hymnal for Sioux and Dakota Indians.
Then I went back to the motel and checked out, and carried my gear to the bus stop, checked my bags, and sat in the glorious sunshine and sang for an hour. For a while I had an audience of schoolgirls, who bought me a cold drink. They say Wyoming is the friendliest State - maybe it's true.
Fifty-two hours on a Greyhound bus,
Heading west on Interstate 80,
Bound for LA by way of Eugene, Oregon.
The sky was blue and I was all alone
As we drove down through those hills of twisted stone
To Green River Wyoming
The hills around are fashioned by the Devil's hand
And the Pony Express still rides across the land.
Took my bag and my guitar,
Pulled my hat down over my eyes.
Two girls on Ameripass wished me lotsa luck.
I watched the bus till it climbed back on the highway,
Pushed back my hat and went to find a motel
In Green River Wyoming ...
Climbing a hill in Flaming Gorge,
Sun behind and wind before,
The white stone flakes away to dust in handfuls.
Nobody knows that this is where I'm staying;
If I fall, or if I ... am I praying?
Green River Wyoming ...
Green River is a mining town,
They dig out soda ash from the ground.
The miners go to drink in the motel dining room.
They told me country tales from West Virginia,
And told me I could stay right here for ever
In Green River Wyoming ...
Union Pacific railroad track
Runs right past, just out the back.
Big freight trains, 140 flatcars,
Shook the flimsy motel walls all night,
But I heard not a one - out like a light
In Green River Wyoming ...
Steak for breakfast, then up and out.
Sweetwater County Museum for an hour,
Then out to sit on the grass where the bus will pick me up.
Girls out of school bought me a soda pop,
And when I sang, they told me not to stop.
Green River Wyoming ...
Thirty more hours on a Greyhound bus,
Heading out through Salt Lake City,
Bound for LA by way of Eugene Oregon.
The same old bus, but I was one day older;
Twenty-four hours of my life I left behind
In Green River Wyoming:
The hills around are fashioned by the Devil's hand,
And the Pony Express still rides across the land.
Though I didn't have a window seat, I sat staring at the beauty southwards. We came closer to the mountains, and went through better country, that would be green in a good spring; then we came into hilly Western country of darker soil, where the mountains appeared through frequent gaps.
About this time my seatmate went away to sit with someone else. I didn't know if it was the salami I was eating he objected to. (That salami, incidentally, was an excellent standby for the trip, and had been very cheap as well.) I gladly took over his window.
We had a late lunch stop in Evanston. I met two retired ladies travelling on Ameripasses, who said their policy was to stay a week or two in a big city and make short trips to nearby towns. They said they were disappointed with Evanston, so I said they should have gone to Green River instead. A few minutes out of Evanston we left Wyoming and entered Utah, where smoking on buses is illegal. My former seatmate shifted again, right up the bus. Just the rambling kind, I guess.
In Utah we were really in the mountains. We went under great red cliffs on one side and grassy grey slopes on the other. Then they became white and rugged and sprinkled with pine trees. There was one beautiful green clearing with a farmhouse. Then the mountains ended and we were in a fertile green valley with higher mountains covered in snow all around. For a while we were in these mountains, until they stopped quite suddenly. Out of them, we turned and went down parallel to them, overlooking Great Salt Lake, into Salt Lake City, with wide streets and pleasant architecture.
We had a minor flurry coming in. We were stuck behind someone who had stalled at the lights. The driver had to reverse to get past him, and as he jerked across the intersection, a little boy (who had been making a nuisance of himself all the journey) fell and scratched his head. Lots of blood of course, cries of sympathy and swarms of Kleenex. A woman who had been talking loudly and vulgarly about marriage, reincarnation, and the astral plane was in the thick of it. (She had irritated me a great deal, but finally I put her down as one of a type that flourishes on the West Coast.)
I had two and a half hours to kill in Salt Lake City, so I went and looked at the Mormon HQ and then set off up the street towards the mountains. I didn't reach them, of course - mountains are like that - and I didn't even get a view of the city, but I got a good way up, as far as some university where girls were lying half-naked on the grass, boys were throwing a ball around, and someone was playing the guitar in the strong afternoon sun. Just as my allotted time and my upward momentum were both spent, I came on a group of small boys selling Kool-Aid. On the way back I walked on a different street, and passed a little corner park which gave a splendid view of a cathedral with a row of mountains behind. If I'd found it on the way up, I would have stopped right there.
Salt Lake City is on a grid starting from a corner of the Temple grounds. Each street has its coordinate on its sign, and house numbers between streets agree with the coordinates. Even with this, they had to name streets after letters and numbers - what imagination Americans have! After Main, no street crosses South Temple. Indeed, I swear one street deliberately bends to avoid forming a cross. Those going north are lettered, south are numbered.
The air feels full of rain, despite cloudless skies, because of all the sprinklers going. The town's self-image is definitely an oasis!
Coming out of Salt Lake City, we were treated to mountains in several different shades of ruggedness, and the setting sun reflected in water. It was dark before we reached Idaho and still dark when we left it. But we had moonlight most of the way. We crossed a couple of rivers in deep gorges.
I was sitting with a lady who believed that the cause of the country's problems is a Conspiracy (which began in 1934), and the solution to the world's problems is garlic, as food, medicine (you can get it in pills and capsules now - you don't taste it, your friends don't smell it), and insecticide. Otherwise she was a very nice person. Her legs were giving her trouble, and so she went away to sit on an empty seat to put them up.
In Oregon, the sunlight came up over jagged sawtooth mountains and showed a little plain with patches of rising mist and water in ponds and ditches, farmhouses and country towns, cattle and a tree-lined river. The valley narrowed until we came through a pass onto a wider plain of the same kind. We left this one through a narrow valley under timbered mountains, and climbing a little entered a national forest. Over the hill was a very wide treeless valley.
Our driver on this stage was a real old wit. He enlivened the journey with remarks like "If you want anything, you'll find the driver in this corner of the bus ... most of the time." After any really nasty witticism, he'd say "It would take a long time to explain that."
After leaving the breakfast stop of Pendleton, we rolled on down the shimmering road. The country continued treeless and open, much of it under wheat; that which wasn't grew large bushes of several colours. Irrigation sprays were common. Gradually the bushes displaced the wheat as the soil grew poorer, until we hit the Columbia River.
The river took us the two hundred miles into Portland, though with changes in mood. First, in the open country, it lay wide and full of pastel light. Gradually the banks grew higher, first on the Washington side, then on ours. Then they became precipitous, until we were looking down into a spectacular gorge field with blue water. An occasional splash of green on the other bask told of crops or, in one case, a small afforestation. Then the clifftops calmed a little and became orange and green painted hills, while the river widened and deepened because of a downstream dam, and we descended until it appeared brown. We rounded a bend and saw, in the far distance, Mt. Hood, solitary in its mantle of snow, framed by the steep banks, and floating above the water.
We passed the dam and climbed off the freeway to a stop, with a view as a bonus. Further down, an island alternated steep cliffs with sandy beaches. The cliffs grew higher again, and the westbound lanes of the freeway were forced into the river, while the eastbound lanes and the railway shared the narrow cliff foot. One break in the cliff wall was filled with a great sandhill. Round another bend Mt. Hood reappeared, dramatically larger, crowning a valley and mirrored vaguely in the water backed up by another dam. A fish ladder scaled the dam wall.
After the dam, the banks receded and The Dalles spread over them. Soon after, the rugged walls closed in again, but they were broken by more valleys filled with forests and villages. Trees were much more in evidence now, spreading over peninsulas and crawling up cliffs. Small orchards appeared. Wild flowers bloomed, gorse was everywhere. For the first time since Pennsylvania it was spring. Logs floated down to paper mills.
Soon the terrain, though little less rugged than before, was thickly wooded. The road ran higher, and bridges spanned little tree-filled ravines. A fine tall waterfall flashed past on the left, then a shorter fuller one. Stone pillars of all sizes stood by the road.
Finally the banks fell away. As the flat land began, so did the outskirts of Portland. The citizens of Portland seem to have a great need to cross the river - it is spanned literally by a network of bridges.
I had an hour and a half to change buses in Portland, so again I walked uphill. This time I did reach a summit but there was no view because expensive houses blocked it. Fortunately there were some places on the way down gave views. All around the city were blue mountains; above and behind them, at different points of the compass, towered the all-white Mt. Hood and (like an image of it in a mirror which softened the outline) Mt. St. Helens. One of the best viewpoints was in fact from where an expensive house had burnt down.
The country from Portland to Eugene was not so spectacular, but very pretty - rolling green country becoming flatter, always mountains in the distance, cattle and horses, trees and crops, little hills rising from the plain. Approaching Eugene was exciting as Green River had been - the outcome more certain maybe, but more depended on it.
Bill told me he'd enjoyed my theorem on biplanes more than anything else he'd read recently. Apart from this, he gave me lots to think about. He showed me his old definition of the symplectic designs and analysis of some of their properties: the symmetric difference of two blocks is an affine hyperplane, and the symmetric difference of three blocks is a block or the complement of one. Either of these properties, with the added assumption that the design admits the translation group of the affine space, characterises it. He was interested in the second property. If it holds then the first does also; if, furthermore, the collection of triples of blocks whose symmetric difference is really a block is a 2-graph then the design is the symplectic one. Also, the set of points in a line oval (set of n+1 lines, no two parallel, no three concurrent) is a difference set in the translation group, giving a design with the appropriate parameters. He had a contradiction in mathematics here - his line oval was not in fact the line conic. He, Luneberg and Shult had been unable to resolve this.
In return he improved my theorem about locally symmetric designs, by pointing out Buekenhout's result that a linear space with at least four points on a line in which all planes are affine is an affine geometry, and the Bruck-Hall result that a Steiner triple system in which all planes are affine has v=3^m points for some m. I learnt as well that Teirlinck has shown that in a linear space with all planes projective or affine, either all planes are projective or all planes are affine.
Bill told me about his work on geometric lattices. If the top sections of a geometric lattice are "most" of a projective geometry, then so is the whole lattice. Combined with Dembowski's result that an inversive plane of even order is egglike, this shows that the affine plane of order 8 is only once extendable (compare the comment in Bethlehem).
On Sunday, I went with them to a piano recital put on by the other Ameripass man, then had a vegetarian lunch. Between then and supper I was left to myself to recover from the bus, and in the evening Phyllis cooked a magnificent Chinese meal, more than we could all manage to eat.
Monday I went in to the Department and talked mathematics with Bill for a while. I tried to sell him regular 2-graphs, which he was resisting simply because he felt that Shult had been unfairly treated in the business. I can't share his feelings; he says that Shult only just noticed the business about a strongly closed subgroup of index 2 in the stabiliser of a point.
I was also introduced to Charlie Curtis, Gary Seitz, and lots of other people, and to the departmental atmosphere. I had been surprised that Bill, though quite young, seemed middle-aged in outlook. But it seems that bureaucracy is a constantly threatening and oppressive force on everyone. They were in the middle of a case of having selected someone for a position, only to have their choice rejected by some (female) bureaucrat for a woman several places further down the list. Her theory is that it is impossible to rank people, so you should form a "pool of qualified applicants" and select from that pool the woman or minority group member who inevitably occurs. Curtis as chairman was going spare, trying to fight this and do a hundred other jobs, and feelings ran high throughout the department. The applicant they had chosen was finishing a one-year appointment and seemed most acceptable to everyone.
On Monday night I fended for myself, since everyone had to go to some "meeting". I walked around the streets, at last having time to feel homesick and lonely and wish myself with Sheila.
Eugene is almost surrounded by hills - there is a little break where the Willamette River flows past. It is in the middle of the plain between the Coast and Cascade Ranges. In the city centre there is a well-designed mall with lots of trees and plants, concrete things for kids to play on, fountains, seats, and yet lots of walking room. The only problem is, it has almost no cafes or bars, mainly banks and cinemas. The university is close to the centre on a park-like site, where (in the warm weather we are having) sprinklers sprayed everyone within range and beautiful girls walked round with little on.
On Tuesday I talked to quite a large audience, only a few of them specialists in the area. From the comments I had afterwards, I pitched the talk at just the right level (starting with Robin Wilson's T-shirt). Several people made a point of coming up to me afterwards to say they'd enjoyed it.
We had dinner at a really good Mexican restaurant, and that really was something. Eugene has several chintzy or chromey Mexican restaurants, but this one is set back off the road in an old unpretentious house (in fact one of the oldest houses in town). They do only a few dishes but do them well. After guacamole dip I had something whose name I forget, meat and cactus, and it was unbelievably delicious. Not at all hot, either. Everyone was most impressed when I took most of the chilli sauce. We went to Bill's place and drank beer afterwards.
The next day I sent off lots of postcards, cashed my cheque, talked some more with Bill, and again was left on my own in the evening. I was accosted by a man who offered to give me some poetry, and then spent a long time telling me all the stories he had written, how he turned down the chance to marry Joan Baez, and how we all seek four people, one man and one woman on earth and Christ and Mary in Heaven. He looked into my eyes and squiggled on paper and tried to read my future - all he got was a picture of me with a breast on my head and a conviction that I have a thing about shoeshine boys. He was following me down the street telling me this. His last words were "Sorry I've disappointed you."
On Thursday another mathematician took me off on a hike with a few other people. We went north and then east into the Cascades, where sun shone on deciduous foliage and the dark pines, and walked up Iron Mountain. There was a beautiful selection of alpine flowers including, of all things, yellow violets; in dry places there were succulents as well. Near the top there was snow, which was more than knee deep if you went through. Each bend gave a new vista of blue ranges with jagged thumbs of rock or kinglike white mountains. We passed a black grouse nesting near the top of a scrubby fir tree, making its low hooting. At the top we saw swallow-like birds with bright green squares on their backs. We went on to nearby Coke Mountain. There was no trail. It was a little higher (5640 ft.), and quite a scramble to the top, but worth it: waterfalls on nearby Echo Mountain, distant ranges, space everywhere. Coming down we were less inhibited, and slid down the snow patches, but I cut my hand on a rock. We came home down the Mackenzie valley, stopping to have a beer and paddle in the icy river.
Back home I packed, phoned Bill, and grabbed a few hours sleep before leaving.
I had heard of a bus station which doubled as a health food restaurant; we stopped at one a little more weird: it was a shoe repair shop. (Talking of restaurants, it is much easier to get fish and chips here than in the East, and they don't feel obliged to describe it as "genuine English".)
In Coos Bay I walked up a hill, but the fog and the luxuriant vegetation prevented any chance of a view. The fog lifted a little while we were there, but seemed to thicken as we left. Once I thought I was looking directly at the sea, but there was only grey to see. Then it cleared slightly and there was a distant prospect of the sea. It was definitely coastal country: small trees and bushes covered the sandhills, the largest ones wind-torn, and rhododendrons bloomed in rank profusion.
Then we came suddenly out of the cloud. We were a few miles from the sea, and the feel was a bit like the coast road north of Brisbane: not many people, some farming rough, some selling things to tourists (here chiefly myrtlewood carvings), complete absence of glitter and glamour. In fact the whole State had a strange feel to it, something like Australia also: the progressives want more progress, more money, more industry, and of course more people, but there is a strong faction for keeping it as it is, uncrowded, a good place to live. Thus, I saw in the Eugene Chamber of Commerce office a neglected box of badges proclaiming "Profit is not a four-letter word", and I wondered which was the party whose members go to Sunset Hills Memorial Garden when they die.
Back to the trip - the next bus station was a barber's shop and art gallery, and immediately afterwards we hit the coast, the real Oregon coast I had heard about: a blue ocean full of rocks of all shapes, a little beach under high cliffs. High - shortly afterwards we were forced to detour away from the sea by the 1700ft. Mt. Humbug washing its toes - but not at all steep except for those isolated rocks. A temporary lull in the cliffs gave us a long stretch of grey sandy beach with very poor surf. Man's chief contribution to the littoral here was tons of waste lumber which had presumably drifted down the rivers and into the sea and been washed up. Fortunately there was very little building on the dunes.
Later we hit a light rising clifftop mist. In the middle of it we came suddenly on a deer standing in our lane. Fortunately nothing was coming. The deer bounded away towards the sea as we passed.
We crossed the state line. My immediate impression of California was that there was ten times as much lumber on the beach as before; it formed a wall right along every open section. Also there was perceptibly more pandering to tourists, more development, and Chicanos working in the fields. All this within the first couple of miles. More hitch-hikers, too.
Soon after Crescent City, we went through redwood country, which made a very different impression. The mist and cloud, drifting between the solid trunks high above, caught the shafts of sunlight, and gave an atmosphere of solemn beauty. Down to earth, the roadside was lined with broad-leaved trees and shrubs, with quite a bit of flowering rhododendron, more showy but all dark and shiny-leaved to play with the light and complement the effect. Now and again we came out on the cliff face, where through the cloud we could see waves breaking far below. A bit later we came to an area of grass and light undergrowth, bright bathed in filtered green light. The driver stopped for a smoke by a wild elk range, where a herd of the beasts were chewing their cuds in a meadow.
After leaving Eureka we turned inland and were soon in a big stand of redwoods. Here, though, the trees and undergrowth were thinner and the road much wider, and I missed the feeling of being surrounded by the redwoods and open to their aura. Instead, I was more aware of them as trees, sharp needles with small down-pointing branches, and as a forest stretching up the hills and down to the rivers. However, the magic returned in the dappled sunlight of the Avenue of the Giants, where we saw the feet of many fine trees.
As we went up river valleys, sometimes crossing from one to another, the hills grew higher and steeper, and we were often crawling around cliffs directly above rivers. The earth and tree colours shone clear and sharp in the afternoon sun. At our supper stop, Laytonville, where I walked up a hill, the land was flatter and drier and the forest thinning out. Over the hills we came into a valley of horses and fruit trees.
I noticed an interesting illusion with some pegged-out trees. If you look between rows, you see more bare earth, hence a dark strip that travels across the field as you pass. Of course, rows can be drawn in many directions, some more natural than others; so many ghosts, some darker than others, chased across the orchard.
The country continued the same for the rest of the way, getting more built-up. The sun went down and the moon didn't come up, and we came into San Francisco by manmade light.
I set off to see the town, knowing about it a little from Sheila's impressions. First I went to Chinatown, a curious mixture of Chinese and American Chinese. I wanted to buy a snack, but the cafes weren't yet open, and most of the places that were open sold hamburgers. Finally I got a spring egg roll in a chop suey bar. It took a long time and wasn't outstanding enough to warrant the wait. As well I bought some pretty Chinese panda stamps. I sat in the square overlooking the "thin Pharaoh's tomb" to eat the egg roll.
Then I walked to Telegraph Hill and went up the Coit Memorial Tower. It wasn't a spectacular view, I think mainly because of the weather (it was cool, windy, and mostly cloudy), but also because I was enclosed in glass and because I'd come up in the elevator and hadn't earned it. Later I was to get the feel of the city much better from Russian Hill.
I went to Fisherman's Wharf for lunch. I paid five dollars, and not in the swishest place; but I got a very good meal, one that for the rest of the day had me feeling I had slightly overeaten, despite a lot of walking. It was clam chowder and fried scallops with sourdough french bread and beer. The Fisherman's Wharf area was very commercialised, typical big city seaside, but still quite pleasant.
After lunch I headed for Golden Gate Park, going over Russian Hill. You can't take shortcuts in San Francisco; there are no winding or diagonal streets to speak of. I've mentioned the view and feel of the city showing off its far point on other hills; there was the tapping and singing of the cables under the streets, and the cable cars themselves going past, open to the street and to the air. In a park I saw some people with a kid playing with a balsa-wood rubber-band-powered aeroplane. He launched it into a crazy looping flight and was off after it, but the dog beat him to it. Despite the abuse the kid poured on it, the dog brought the plane back, gently and without damage so far as I could see.
I got to the Panhandle to one beautiful surprise: gum trees. The eucalyptus with their long vertical leaves, some all elbows, some straight and solid, dominated the park. They even smelt right. Apart from this, the Park was not as I expected. Where as I'd thought of something like King's Park or Hampstead Heath. it was much more Battersea Park: baseball fields, equitation field, arena, boating lake. "Portals of the Past" epitomised this side of it: some Greek-type masonry on the banks of an ornamental pond. Not even a view. The arboretum was the best part, though small.
I walked down through the park and past the sewage works to the sea. The sky was grey, the sand was grey, and the air smelt tired, but the water was cold and salty. I paddled and walked along the beach, then turned for home.
Sheila's memories include buying pastries at a Russian pastry shop and walking down to the sea to eat them. I didn't emulate her, but I found an Armenian and Middle Eastern bakery where I bought some delicious pastries, got chocolate milk at a grocery, and walked to the top of a hill. I sat on a rock under a gum tree, with good views for two-thirds of a circle and nearby hills the rest, and had "tea" there. Out to sea it was looking very like rain, but it managed to hold off.
I walked back skirting the hills south of the park, past the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, where I nearly got lost in a hospital, through lifeless Haight-Ashbury (another American dream that didn't make it) a much livelier black area, and down Market Street back to the hotel. I didn't need more food, so I wrote to Sheila and went to bed.
Sunday I spent in Berkeley, a nice place of trees and music. I snacked in the Egg Shop and Apple Press, with poetry all over the walls. I saw the campus, a confusion of styles but not a discord because there are so many trees that you never see more than two buildings at once. Then I walked for hours in the Ecological Study Area in the hills. This was full of beautiful birds and flowers, trees, butterflies, and in clear weather views across the Bay. (As it was, the sky cleared but there was a heavy haze.) There were just two sour notes. One was the high barbed-wire fence with incredibly fierce guards that surrounded the nuclear science area - this forced me to make a long detour through almost impassible scrub, until finally I found myself on the wrong side of a KEEP OUT sign in the chicken quarantine area. The other was the enormous number of dead eucalyptus trees on the high hills. A couple of passers-by told me that there were two million dead trees there, that they had been killed by the heavy December frosts, and that they would be a serious fire hazard come high summer. Actually, not many were completely dead, most were vigorously sprouting suckers. Descending the hill, the death-rate decreased; indeed I had seen that the beautiful trees in the Eucalyptus Grove on the campus had been unaffected. Descending, too, I passed some good examples of hillside architecture.
I tried, but failed, to get a ferry back. Returning to the bus stop, I came upon an electric guitar group playing nice improvisations in a public square, with a good crowd sitting round in the sunshine digging the music.
Coming back on the bus I was reading a Fred Hoyle book, a bad one, when I noticed a strange thing that had happened to me before. Having withdrawn my mind from the surroundings, I found that when they impinged on it I was completely taken aback with surprise that I was in an American bus in an American city, etc. The other experience was in western Kansas after sunset, and there I remarked that it was not the true travelling state - certainly these "strange" states are the only times when the surroundings do not appear completely natural.
Back in town, the place I had planned to eat was closed, so I walked to Chinatown and picked a restaurant, the third I came to. The winter melon soup was good, but the beef and ginger very plain. I went home, packed, and slept. The next morning everything disturbed me - one man being buzzed, another being sick, another playing a radio loudly.
After lunch we came to the sea, where dry grassy hills sloped down gently to token cliffs and three-inch waves broke on little beaches. Nothing grew or moved, but men had managed to build towns, resorts, and factories. We went inland through higher hills (across a peninsula) then back to a sea full of machines, nothing really changed. We went through a town with a row of houses hidden behind a dune to landward; from a few of them, splashes of bright flowers spilled.
I spent the journey reading two books. One, The Centre of the Cyclone, by John Lilley, which I believe is a trendy book now but which I found very disappointing. A man must be very arrogant to state so often and boldly that he has been to the highest levels of mystical experience, especially when his writings show how empty his claims are. The bright spot of the journey was Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle.
After Oxnade we turned inland and things started growing again - orange trees and strawberry plants covered with ripening fruit, lettuces and cauliflowers and Christmas trees, avenues of gum trees and palm trees, tanks and towns. Approaching Hollywood it grew hilly, and the hills were covered in trees.
Hollywood itself was devoid of magic - indeed I was just a little taken aback by just how like Anytown USA it was. But the man behind me was describing it all to his companion, and the reverence with which he said "Sunset Boulevard" just had to be heard. (The most impressive building on that street was a radio station.)
The whole time in Pasadena was an experience. I was continually meeting people, and finding myself able to communicate with them on a deep level about mathematics, a great difference from the usual.
The first morning I went to the group theory seminar, and caused minor confusion by finding my own way there. They were reading a difficult and apparently flawed paper by Bauman, about groups with nilpotent maximal subgroups.
After that I talked for a while with Marshall Hall and with David Wales, then Jonathan showed me around the campus before lunch in the Athenaeum with all the faculty. After lunch, I worked for a while and then talked with Herbert Ryser until tea. After tea I gave my seminar to quite a large audience. It was well received, and in fact seemed to take a little while to sink in (it was sometime later that several people made comments about it), but it wasn't quite the success that the Eugene talk was. That old permutation groups and graphs material is hard to beat for appeal.
Herbert Ryser took me to a very good restaurant, and after that we went to Marshall Hall's place for a party - a gentle, low-key party.
The next morning I spent basking in the sun by the ornamental pool watching a man in wading boots sweeping it. At lunchtime Bruce Rothschild came to take me to UCLA. The trip was not without incident. Bruce is LA born and bred and has worn a path between UCLA and Caltech, but he missed a freeway exit and couldn't get back to where he wanted to be, so ended up driving along an ordinary road. I saw something of typical LA suburbs, full of trees and very uncrowded. At UCLA I found I was competing with three other speakers; as a result I had an audience of four, so I talked in Bruce's office. He dined me afterwards at a good Mexican restaurant, then drove me home.
On Thursday I talked some more with Marshall Hall and had lunch with him, then gave my second seminar there in the afternoon. This one drew the comment that I have representations of groups at my fingertips. Afterwards Jonathan took me over. We went to the Huntingdon Library, a remarkable place in two hundred acres of gardens. Their prides are one Gutenberg Bible well preserved, and the Blue Boy and Pinkie facing one another across the main art gallery, all of which we dutifully saw; but the best thing in the place was the palm grove and desert garden. In the palm grove grew almost every species of palm that can withstand the winters here, though this is only a small proportion of the total. The desert garden is a mind-blowing jumble of cacti of every size and shape, many of them in flower when I saw them, with a few other plants for good measure. Then after dinner he took me to the ball game, Dodgers v Mets. That was really something, and I enjoyed it tremendously. In that totally strange atmosphere we drank lots of beer and he explained the game to me and we compared it with cricket. The Dodgers took an early lead but the Mets had caught them by the eighth and then it was deadlock. They were still at it in the fourteenth when we left at 1am.