from Out West by Dayton Duncan

[Out West is the story of the author's journey retracing Lewis and Clark's route in a borrowed VW bus. He does more than just drive - he takes time to stop and actually do things along the way. Scattered throughout the book are Duncan's (sometimes painfully learned) Road Rules and other bits of wisdom. Most stand alone quite well, but to get the complete picture, or to understand the names of some of the corollaries, read the book.]

Road Rule 1: Never stop to ask directions, unless you are completely defeated; never stop to look at a map, unless you have to stop for something else. [Looking at a map is not prohibited, but don't stop to do it.]

First Corollary: The more uncertain you are about where you're headed, the faster you go to get there.

Road Rule 2: Never buy highly perishable items from a store that's doing poorly or in an area built around the sale of history.

Road Rule 3: Never drive on the interstate unless there is no alternative.

First Corollary: Stop at all historic markers. Also stop at interesting sites, unusual places or tranquil settings. Stop at all stop signs and stoplights. Stop often. (but don't violate Road Rule 1.)

Second Corollary: Never drive at night. It's too dangerous, and you miss too much in the darkness. If you must break this corollary, then you must also break this Road Rule and its First Corollary; it's safer on the interstate at night, and you can't see anything worth stopping for anyway.

Road Rule 4: Never eat at a nationally franchised restaurant; there's no sense of adventure, no diversity, no risk involved in patronizing them. They're uniformly bland.

First Corollary: You can stop at nationally franchised restaurants to use their restrooms; there's no sense of adventure, no diversity, no risk involved in using them. They're uniformly clean.

Road Rule 5: Never retrace your route, unless you are completely defeated or at a dead end. Keep moving forward. And don't forget, you can't stop to ask directions or check your map.

Road Rule 6: Never call the bluff of an eighteen-wheeler, a Greyhound bus, a highway grader, a Buick or Cadillac with heavy chrome bumpers, a teenager driving any motorized vehicle, or a tractor pulling a wagon loaded with manure.

First Corollary: The road of history is littered with facts that ignored Road Rule 6; whenever myth and reality collide, myth rolls on.

Where to eat: "Cafe" is better than "restaurant" and much better than "family restaurant". More important than "cafe" or "restaurant" is what goes in front of them to form the name. There are four categories, in order of preference:

1. First-name cafes. John Doe opens a Cafe in Anytown and names it "John's Cafe" (or just "John's). Given the name, you can usually assume John is still around and in charge. His name's up there in front of the public, so he's more likely to make sure they're satisfied. Joint-name or initial cafes are in this category: John and his wife, Louann, call their business "Lu-John's Cafe" or "L and J Cafe".

2. Last-name cafes. "Doe's Cafe" or, more likely, "Doe's Restaurant". A little more formal. The other problem is the possibility that John and Louann may have retired years ago, leaving John Jr., who never liked the restaurant trade to begin with, but is holding onto the business until he can sell it and move out of town.

3. Place-name cafes. "Anytown Cafe" or "Anytown Restaurant". It can be as good as the first category, and a certain sense of pride and place is carried in its name; or again, it may have gone through a series of owners and be hanging on more by tradition than menu.

4. Generic-name cafes. "Sunrise Cafe", "Oxyoke Restaurant", "The Chuckwagon", etc. Take your chances. At least it isn't a franchise.

[Dayton Duncan has a fifth group of small-town restaurants that he refuses to patronize. He calls them the Ks, places that use a "K" in their name when they should use a "C"; Korner Kafe, etc. He avoids them on principle.]

Other things to watch for when looking for a place to eat:

Bad Signs

  1. An empty parking lot
  2. A parking lot full of out-of-state cars
  3. A billboard promoting the salad bar
  4. An aged HELP WANTED sign in the window
  5. A video game instead of a jukebox
  6. A "microwave oven in use" notice
  7. A menu that tries to be cute or artistic, instead of straightforward and legible
  8. Nametags on the waitresses
  9. No toothpicks near the cash register
  10. Watery ketchup in the bottle

Good Signs

  1. Pickups in the parking lot
  2. Police cars in the parking lot
  3. Softball trophies behind the counter
  4. A view into the kitchen through the order window
  5. A separate handwritten and photocopied note on the menu with the day's special
  6. A list of the pies available, written with chalk on a slate
  7. A lot of calendars
  8. Older, rather than younger, waitresses
  9. The first dollar bill the cafe earned, in a frame on the wall behind the cash register
  10. A big clock with rotating advertisements for local insurance agencies, banks, hair stylists, and auto body shops

Road Rule 7: Devise your own system or theory on choosing where to eat. It's less important what the theory is (as long as it rules out national franchises) than it is that you have one and that you follow it.

First Corollary: You don't have to follow your theory in towns that have only one place to eat.

Road Rule 8: If you're at all famous, don't let them bury you on the banks of the Missouri River. [Sergeant Charles Floyd, the only casualty of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was buried on Floyd's Bluff, near present-day Sioux City, Iowa, in 1804. For various reasons, including the river undermining the bluff, resulting in the loss of portions of Floyd's skeleton, his remains were interred a total of six times, the last in 1900.]

Road Rule 9: If you want to meet people and learn about a town, the two best places to go are bars and churches. Bars are the only institutions in our society created for the specific purpose of conviviality; churches have a broader purpose, but doctrine requires the congregation to take in strangers.

First Corollary: Bars are open more days and longer hours than churches.

Road Rule 10: The theology of the road forms its own religion, combining bits and pieces of other beliefs. It relies on technology (a vehicle), yet respects the forces of nature. Its deity is the Road Spirit; its principal practice is the pilgrimage.

First Corollary: Don't disobey the Road Rules. In the theology of the road, as in most religions, sins bring down retribution.

Second Corollary: Confession is good for the soul and the only hope for forgiveness.

Third Corollary: Confession helps, but is not a substitute for atonement.

Fourth Corollary: Great are the rewards for those who have strayed but return to the Rules, were lost but now are found.

Fifth Corollary: Repeated obedience to the Road Rules is repeatedly rewarded.

Sixth Corollary: The theology of the road, like all others, contains many mysteries. Our role is to trust and obey.

Seventh Corollary: The theology of the road is a tolerant religion. Other beliefs can be observed, but should not be questioned or ridiculed. They should be treated with respect; they may work better than your own.

Eighth Corollary: With proper theological rationalizations, as in any religion, exceptions can be made for any Road Rule without paying penance.

Road Rule 11: The straighter the road you're on, the more your mind wanders a curving path. As your vehicle hurtles forward in space, your thoughts meander backward in time, often stopping to linger with a memory as if it were a historic marker on the roadside.

First Corollary: Each place you stop exists in layers of time as well as space. The present is merely an intersection of the winding roads of the past.

Road Rule 12: You can learn a lot from books, maps, and statistics, but the road is a better (and sterner) teacher.

First Corollary: The lessons of the road are taught by practical, workshop methods, not by lectures. They're more effective that way.

Second Corollary: The main course of study in the classrooms of the road is not romantic fiction.

Road Rule 13: A good explorer is able to adjust to new information and make the most out of the surroundings. One fork in the road or river may end in disappointment, but the other fork can get you back on track.

First Corollary: Sometimes the best fork to choose is the one next to a plate and a drink.

Road Rule 14: There are many strains of Road Fever, and an even greater number of folk remedies.

First Corollary: My most common treatment is a cold shower.

Road Rule 15: Trust your instincts. When they're wrong, you can blame it on bad luck. But when they're right, you can take the credit.

Road Rule 16: People are more willing to talk to travelers if you feign ignorance about their particular field of interest.

First Corollary: Feigning ignorance is easier if you don't know anything about the subject matter.

Trail Rule 1: Trust your horse.

Road Rule 17: Travelers and explorers in unfamiliar territory should expect conflicting advice from the natives about what direction to take, in fact about whether they should even proceed on.

Woodside's Corollary: Proceed on. You won't know anything unless you try.

Trail Rule 2: Never trust your horse.

Road Rule 18: One explorer's misery can be another's joy; one traveler's near defeat can be another's epiphany; one man's place to fear untimely death can be another's chosen spot to have his ashes spread.

Colt Killed Creek Corollary: One man's meat can be another man's horse.

Weippe Corollary: One man's delicacy can be another man's bellyache; one man's pet can be another man's påté.

Road Rule 19: Change is the only certainty. Whether it is measured in the life of a volcano, a nation, one person, or one split atom, the passage of time is change's passage.

Maryhill Corollary: This Road Rule is as sure as the sun's coming up in the morning.

Brigham's Corollary: The river of time is change's passage, but it doesn't always have to flow downhill.

Gorge Corollary: Resistance to change is as certain as change itself. Building dams across the river of time involves many construction crews, each with its own set of designs.

Bridge of the Gods Corollary: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Road Rule 20: Prejudices are like heavy furniture in a Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail. In order to keep moving forward, sometimes you have to toss them out, even if they are family heirlooms.

Road Rule 21: Always carry a first-aid kit in your vehicle. Indians and non-Indians often require "medicine" in their travels.

First Corollary: Sometimes your vehicle itself is a first-aid tool. This is called "Big Medicine".

Road Rule 22: The trip home is a reverse image of the outward journey, like looking at the negative of a photograph you took not too long ago. Looking forward is looking back; each new sight is something seen before only from the opposite direction; counting mileage is a subtraction, not an addition, of the distance from home; memory is an image fading in the rear-view mirror.

Road Rule 23: You know you've explored a state correctly when you start anticipating the historic markers.

Road Rule 24: Always save some adventure for your return trip. It takes your mind off your destination.

First Corollary: If you're going to dig for things on the way back, your chances for success are a lot higher if you're the one who buried the cache. [Dayton Duncan and some friends tried, without success, to find one of the promotional hidden cases of Canadian Club.]

Road Rule 25: Keep a journal of your travels. It is an invaluable tool to remind you of your trip, and the details within it are important for recounting history and the mark you leave on it.

Clark's Corollary: If traveling with other people, always volunteer to be the journal writer. That way, yours will be the version of history that is recorded.

Road Rule 26: The final value of any expedition is not what you failed to discover but what you found in its place; the important thing is not so much the dream you pursued but the fact that you pursued it. Looking back on your journey, what you remember most is not what you were searching for, but the search itself.