\ NOTICES: Notices from the campaign - HAMSTER FOR PRESIDENT 2012

HAMSTERS ON THE MOVE

The Cross-Country Hamster Chase


RodentMobile: Hitting the highway with hamsters

It's likely you noticed in our hamster biographies that we have family members in several states. How did a litter born here get to such distant places as Virginia and Ohio? Well, they did it the usual way - not on four paws or on little hamster wheels, but by flying and driving.

That's not to say that hamsters actually do the driving like the ones in the television commercials. They don't pilot planes, either.

But there are ways to fly hamsters across the country. Many airlines have pet tickets. And hamsters are welcome to board. It's more complicated in some ways than human transportation. They have to have a special certificate signed by a veterinarian saying they are in good health. And they have to go on board in approved containers. But their accommodations are good. They're in pressurized, climate controlled cabins - and they even have flight attendants whose duty it is to check on their welfare and offer them water and food at appropriate times. The government has rules about things like that.

And a plane ticket for a hamster (or two or more if they're young enough to travel together) is less than it is for a human. Best of all, they don't have to get electonically strip-searched. About a dozen hamsters in the family have flown to Washington, DC's Dulles Airport. And at least as many have gone by car to Ohio.

Driving is a lot different than flying. It's a five or six day adventure. The distance from Denver to Cincinnati is a little less than 1,200 miles. So two cars ("rodentmobiles") make the journey, one headed east from Denver, the other driving west from Cincinnati. And they meet at a predetermined destination for transfer of the precious travelers - and for a leisurely meal with the rodents carefully smuggled into the steak house and under the table in shopping bags big enough for their cages.

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The latest hamster ride took place in February. Two young adult hamsters (each in a separate cage) left Denver at 3:00 on a Sunday morning in a pre-warmed car, hoping to make it well into Kansas before the sun rose. That was a bit optimistic, but they did make it to the state line before daylight. Driving through Kansas, for anyone who has never done it, is unlike a trip through any other state. There's something about the vast, flat emptiness of the state - or at least the western half - that makes the highway seem endless and gives the impression that even if driving 75 miles an hour, you'll still be in the same place for hours to come.

That's not to say there's nothing at all to see. At one exit not very far from the Colorado state line there's a an oasis-themed truck stop with huge fake palm trees. It's a rather spectacular sight, especially at sunset. But in general the exits off Interstate 70 in the western half of Kansas are few and far between. And many of them are without services of any kind.

A driver also has to make regular stops with hamsters. Colby, Kansas truck stop Though they sleep in the daytime, it's still good to take a few minutes to offer the hamsters some food and water from time to time. The water bottles can't be attached to the cages in a moving car (or airplane, for that matter) because the motion makes the water drip and flood the cage - bad idea.

Often the best place to take a break is at the state-run rest stops that are located along the highway - those, too, spaced a fair distance apart. Those rest stops are another world - especially in the summer when the temperature can rise to 115 or even 120 for much of the day (as measured by the Park Service out here as opposed the Weather Bureau). At times like that, the traffic thins out to almost nothing except the big rigs that are a constant presence along that route. And the rest stops - deserted except for a ring of Western Kansas deisel trucks parked all around, motors running, drivers sleeping - offer an erie refuge.

Little radio speakers perched on the walls constantly spew out a stream of weather information, delivered in a flat, automated fashion by a monotonous male voice and played in unending cycles. There, a person can stop for a smoke in a tree-lined enclosure with watered green grass and stare just past the hedges over a landscape of flat, pale, unadorned beige that seems to blend into a faraway sky. And all the while in the background that male voice drones on and on about barometric pressure and sunset times Deadbeat town on old Route 40 and drought conditions. It's like stepping out of the real world and walking straight into the surrealism of a David Lynch movie.

By evening on that Sunday, we're at our first destimation - a one-night stay at a motel in Missouri. First floor, please. After 13 hours on the road, who wants to carry two bulky, heavy hamster cages upstairs? Besides, some motels aren't crazy about "pets." (It's never been definitively determined whether the hamsters are the "pets" of the humans or whether, more likely, it's the other way around).

From the first night's sleep-over, we're in striking distance of the transfer point. The hamsters each get a piece of banana bought along the way while the driver eats the rest, showers, turns on the television and, after a phone call home to check with the hamsitters, quickly goes to sleep.

In the morning, the Ohio and Colorado parties connect via cell phone and determine when they'll get to the steak house. Then and now: The old Lay's Motor Lodge on Route 40 in Kingdom City, Missouri And it's back on the road.

Altogether, it took a day and a few hours. And, after a some social time and a meal at the steak house, one rodentmobile heads makes the return trip to Ohio with the hamsters in their permanent Ohio cages, bound for a new home where they will be pampered and spoiled rotten. The other will turn back toward Colorado.

It's just day two of the trip, Monday. While the hamsters will be settled that same night in their new home, the car bearing the empty cages won't arrive in Colorado until late Thursday night. And that's the other purpose of the cross-country hamster run. It's a rare opportunity to take the side roads and get some interesting pictures.

No more interstates, no more time schedules. It's onto old Highway 40, which is kind of like another Route 66, a tour through pre-Interstate 1950s Americana, but with the paint peeled off and the lights turned out. There are the dying little towns with empty Main Streets, the crumbling grain elevators, shuttered train stations, sagging storefronts, long-abandoned homes.

And then there are the old motels - right out of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, but with an added fifty years of neglect and decay. There's the venerable classic, Lay's Motor Lodge in Abandoned Prairie Lodge, Colorado Kingdom City, Missouri - shown above as it looked in its heyday and as it looks today. And there's the old Prairie Lodge in Colorado (right). There are long-forgotten tourist-trap sourvenir shops and cafes and big "iron tower" signs for places long gone and still more shabby buildings that sit empty with no names.

There's a purpose to this part of the trip that goes beyond curiosity or nostalgia. It's about Spencer's web site. Spencer, a long-haired black male hamster, is the father of the two young hamsters who are by now settled peacefully in Ohio. And Spencer (see his entry in the Candidates section) sells real estate with the motto "Ratholes are for people, too." The photos - or most of them - will end up on his website, RodentRealty.com, a collection of thousands of pictures taken on old highways like these and in ghost towns all over the country, especially the southwestern U.S.

The trip through eastern Kansas is less interesting, as most of the old highway is gone, replaced by a toll road that leads into Topeka. It's not until the western half of the state that things really get interesting. For miles east of Salina, old Route 40 runs parallel to I-70, usually just a few miles north and sometimes even closer. There are dozens of tiny towns along the road, former farming communities Dust Bowl, 1930s that thrived until the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Some were almost entirely depopulated by the end of the 1930. Others hung on and made a come-back as clusters of small businesses - cafes, motels, gas stations - all catering to the fast-growing automobile traffic along these highways in the 1940s and 1950s. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, they were established landmarks. But when the interestates opened, traffic was re-routed and the old places stayed there, frozen in time, rusting, peeling, slowly falling into ruin.

On Route 40, just north of I-70, there is Bunker Hill and then Walker, Ogallah, Collyer, Park, Grainfield, Page City, Kansas Levant, Brewster, and Edson. At Oakley, the old highway veers away from the Interstate, taking a southern route through Logan and Wallace Counties in far-west Kansas. First there's the town of Monument, a barely-alive remant of its former self, a few old businesses padlocked long ago, the facades seemingly being absorbed by the dusty ground. Spencer loves it!

A few miles west is the unincorporated town of Page City, literally a ghost in the high desert. You can tell it was once a prosperous commercial center, with the usual grain elevators and train station. An old house by the railroad tracks in Monument, Kansas But Page City is no more. The old downtown has been reduced over the years to a few battered, skeletonized buildings, scattered between weed lots, all in various stages of collapse. Since occupied residences are to be avoided, I look for signs of life. There are none. Still there are a very few houses that are shabby, partially boarded, and probably - but not certainly - vacant. Those are skipped, too, in favor of the hollow, broken houses whose windowless fronts seem to stare blankly at nothing. Those are most of the town.

Farther down the road toward Colorado is Winona, another place that that can be seen from the distance for its massive grain elevator and water tower. Here again the Cafe sign, Colorado town center consists almost entirely of vacant, abandoned storefronts, surrounded by several blocks of homes, most of them in disrepair, some obviously deserted years ago.

Twenty miles past Winona sits little Wallace, Kansas, another former commercial hub that today sits at the brink of ghost town status. Downtown Wallace looks like an old western movie set but virtually everything is shuttered and boarded up. A coke machine sits on the faded porch of what used to be a tiny grocery store or pharmacy. Instead of the sturdier concrete grain elevators, Wallace has an old wooden one covered with cheap metal siding. It's coming apart. Maybe Spencer can offer it for sale Here stood the old Last Chance Cafe in Colorado as a condo complex where you build your own unit.

This is a part of the country that few people see any more. The road along western Kansas and eastern Colorado, while still used as a truck route, goes from one dying community to another. They are boom-and-bust towns as much as any mining settlement in the mountains. And they are every bit as interesting - maybe more so because there are till people who remember the old places like the Lay's Motor Lodge and the old Last Chance Cafe and plain, Storefronts in Wallace, Kansas tiny shops with wide, welcoming porches like those so commonly seen on these routes.

Thursday finally comes and it's time to go home, back to the hamsters who have been diligently cared for by relatives during the road trip. But the hamster relocation is only half done. There are two young females to go to yet another home - this one in far-away Virginia. But they won't be going by car. Their veterinary certificates and plane tickets are waiting. And in a couple more days they're on their way, arriving safely at their new home later that evening.

The rodent run is finished for now. It'll be another year or two before it's time to do it again.





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