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Tom went on a road trip—but he avoided the Stinker Stores

There is a strange and wonderful world out there, and I almost never see any of it. Like salsa left in the trunk of a car on a hot summer day, I don't travel well. Quite frankly, I don't know how anybody travels well, although I have friends who claim to be able to do so.

It's like that old Richard Pryor routine where he says that he has friends who claim to be able to have sex "six, seven times a night," to which Pryor responds, "You a lyin' mother—!" He then goes on to explain, "I'm good for about three minutes of serious (sex) a night, after which I need eight hours of sleep and a bowl of Wheaties."

When I have to fly somewhere, I'm out of sorts for days afterward. I'm not afraid of flying; I just know that I'm never going to "friend" flying on Facebook. (Of course, that would require my being on Facebook and knowing how to "friend" something.)

Anyway, my daughter, Darlene, was playing in the USA Volleyball Open National Championships in Salt Lake City, so I flew to Utah. On the flight, I was reading a rather grim, warts-and-all biography of James Brown. The woman seated next to me was probably in her mid-60s. With a straight face, she said, "Excuse me, who is James Brown?" I thought the plane was going to fall from the sky.

I went through a list of the charter members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her; she had heard of all of them except the Godfather of Soul. If she hadn't been sitting next to me in an airplane, I would have had no choice but to conclude that she was Amish.

As I've mentioned before, back when Darlene was playing volleyball in college, she and one of her teammates came up with a contest to see who could buy Starbucks coffee in the greatest number of states. The rules were simple: She has to be in that state; she must purchase the coffee; and she has to keep the receipt. (In the more-recent states, she has begun taking pictures with the people who served her the coffee.)

When I visited Darlene at Cornell, she had a long weekend, so we hit Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire in two days. That got her out to a nice lead, which she has been holding on to ever since. She's hyper-competitive (as am I); when she had to travel to the East Coast recently, she scheduled a six-hour layover in Washington, D.C., so that she could rent a car and get coffee in West Virginia.

After the tournament was over, we got a rental car and drove to Pocatello, Idaho, which, for her, was state No. 42. On the way out of town, I noticed that Salt Lake City has streets named for Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks. Those Latter-day Saints folks have such a wicked sense of humor.

Other highlights of the trip included:

• In Idaho Falls, there is an all-you-can-eat place called Chuck-a-rama. Somebody had to have known what "chuck" means, but just kept quiet.

• On the outskirts of Idaho Falls, right in front of an RV park, there is a 20-foot-high carved tiki that looks just like Ron Paul.

• A couple of blocks down from the tiki is a roadside sign that reads: "Warning to Tourists: Don't Laugh at the Natives." Oh, sure, now you tell us.

• I didn't see any Circle K stores in Idaho, but they did have a string of convenience marts called Stinker Stores. I was thirsty, but not that thirsty.

• Upon leaving Idaho, we headed for the place where we would spend the night—Jackson Hole, Wyo. Out in the middle of nowhere between Idaho Falls and Jackson Hole, there is a roadside sign that announces Jake's Midnight Taxidermy. Those country people are even funnier than the big-city Mormons.

• In Jackson Hole, we stayed in this really nice cabin, which computer-whiz Darlene got for the off-season rate of only half of a leg and one-third of an arm. The Starbucks in Jackson Hole is inside an Albertsons, which, in turn, is inside a giant ski chalet. They sell bear spray at Albertsons.

• Across the street from the cabin was the visitors' center for Yellowstone, where they have souvenirs and stuff. The first book on the shelf was entitled Don't Get Eaten! I sure hope that wasn't the only book that person ever wrote; that would suck. Of course, the sequel probably would have been Don't Get Drunk!, but that would have been aimed at a totally different audience.

We spent a day in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. I've never been a nature guy, but the parks are truly quite magnificent. The fact that some Republicans want to close national parks to save a few bucks disqualifies them from ever trying to run this country. Those parks are America.

We spent the night in Bozeman, Mont., where Darlene got state No. 44. All she has left are the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Hawaii and Alaska. In Bozeman, it was 58 degrees with light showers ... in June.

When we got back to Tucson, it was 107 degrees, with heavy smoke from a fire in New Mexico. Home sweet home.

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