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By David Bond
There are times these walls just get to you. In my job you spend most of your hours on the phone or face-to-face with people, talking about Idaho. It could be the governor on the other end, or some griped-out citizen. Invariably its politics or policy, somebody screwing or unscrewing something or someone else. They should be (a) stopped, or (b) encouraged and better-funded.
Fingers fly on the plastic keys and phosphorescent characters collect to form words in the cathode-ray flicker of the computer screen. I gaze up at the artificial fluorescent lights, around at the bloody artificial potted plants. I am connected by wire and radio waves through a telephone switch.
Perspective shrinks. Bile rises. You start spelling like a cop and thinking like a cipher. Indoors, this might just as well be Newark or Seattle or Detroit.
It sure aint Idaho.
Time to blow out the pipes. Take the plunge. Stare danger, death and Gods beauty in the kisser.
It has a name, this acid-trip for spraddle-assed middle-aged desk jockeys. They call it Yew Ess Ninety Five.
Highway 95. That tenuous, tricky, treacherous stretch of sinew that connects us in the north with them down south.
No freeway, this road.
Thanks to the airlines, I had forgotten about Highway 95. Who finds the nine hours to drive to Boise when the same can be accomplished in under an hour in the sealed, pressurized comfort of a Fairchild or Boeing jet? Even the inhabitants of Highway 95 thought I was crazy.
Go back to Coeur dAlene, and take the new freeway down through Washington and Oregon, counseled the folks at Worley.
Youre driving? From Coeur dAlene? All the way to Boise? demanded a waitress in Riggins. You got hours to go.
Wow, thats a long drive, expounded the gas station attendant at New Meadows.
The check-in clerk at the Idanha Hotel in Boise also expressed amazement. Youve been on the road all day, havent you? she asked.
Ah, yes, but Ive been in Idaho all day, too.
The Coeur dAlene-to-Worley stretch is the worst of this otherwise challenging and rewarding drive. South of Worley the highway widens out and you can take your eyes from the road long enough to find a radio station.
You brake and slow for Moscow and its quaint architecture, then get an afterburner jolt on Lewistons freeway, where the mill vapors are so foul youll think something dead has become overheated in your engine compartment. Speed zones become small towns, their main streets the highway.
Yes, there are blind corners. But there is also the Salmon River, the stunning descent down White Bird. There is Lawyer Gulch, aptly named, at the conclusion of a series of hairpin turns.
Passing lanes come frequently, to heave yourself around plodding log and chip trucks. But the truckers share the road on 95; the highway contains none of those horrible three-trailer rigs youll find on the Interstate, pounding along at 75 miles per hour, creating their own weather systems in their wake.
At mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, the town of Riggins is packed, the bars overflowing, like a 1979 payday in Wallace. I stop, looking for a cheeseburger.
Whats the occasion? Elk season still open? I ask a harried waitress.
Oh, nothing, she says. Theyre just getting ready for the weekend.
On a Tuesday.
And in between these disparate towns, there is Idaho. Trees and mountains and critters, the Salmon and the Snake, and this slender ribbon of road.
By McCall it is dark, and I miss the beauty of the Payette. I creep into Boise at night, exhausted but exhilarated. My car slumbers in the Idanhas lot, its masses of steel and aluminum ticking as they cool from their long exertion.
Two weeks later I reflect on this trip. It gives the disembodied voice at the other end of the phone new meaning. We are not talking about the gray walls of government in Boise, or the Coeur dAlene Chamber of Commerce. We are talking about Idaho, about all this wonderful space a bare million of us share, for a short time, with a generous and bountiful nature.
And all of a sudden affirmative action for transvestite taxidermists, Clintons deranged sex life, Bushs assault on freedom and his promise for more cops, the death of the second and fourth amendmentsthey all roll into perspective. In Idaho there are still plenty of high places to hide.
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