For this article, Mike Starling and Gene Purcell were tasked (perhaps by themselves) with writing an A to Z guide to the Mississippi River for visitors to La Crosse, Wisconsin.
A is for Algae: You know, that green slimy stuff that lives on the top of the water; allegedly fish food.
B is for Barge: Like a slow boat to China, except they only go to St. Louis.
C is for Catfish Cheeks: Just like it says. You eat them. They taste good. Really.
D is for Dredging: Take sand from the river. Place it on shore. Watch it go back into the river. Mix well. Repeat.
E is for Encephalitis: We’re famous for our own disease, La Crosse Encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain inflammation caused by a certain species of mosquito; in layman’s terms, ouch.
F is for Fecal Count: Or, coliform bacteria count, to be exact. Measures bacteria content of the river; more fun to watch than the changes on the New York Stock Exchange. Not as much fun to be in though.
G is for Goose Island: Personally, we’ve never seen any geese there. Maybe they should call it Duck Island, or Egret Island, or RV Island County Park.
H is for Houseboat: Not to be confused with “boat house,” which is an entirely different thing. Trust us.
I is for Islands: A.K.A. “sand bars.” Sort of like a big beach in the middle of the river. You can tie your boat there, and grill there, and party there, and sleep there. Free. Cool.
J is for Jacket: The second word in “life jacket.” Sure, they look uncool, but consider the alternatives. See “U.”
K is for Kelp: Or is that an ocean thing?
L is for Landings: Like an airport runway for motorboats; the deal is to get the boat either on or off the trailer in less than six hours. Helpful hint: The hood of the car should not be covered by water during the landing procedure.
M is for Mayflies: A healthy population of these insects is an indicator of a clean river; usually arrive in mid-July, hence the name.
N is for Nimitz: A giant aircraft carrier that would probably not fit on the Mississippi.
O is for Onalaska: No, not a misspelling of our 50th state; the name of our neighboring city and the lake that makes the widest stretch of the Upper Mississippi south of Lake Pepin.
P is for Propeller, Paddle-wheeler: Federal law decrees all motorized water propulsion methods must begin with the letter “P.”
Q is for Questionable Attire: Seen everywhere on the river (hey, you try to come up with something for “Q”).
R is for Rain: Water on its way to the river from the sky; also, what is sure to happen the next time you plan a river outing.
S is for Slough: Pronounced sloo; as in, “I think we got lost when you took that turn into Peat Moss Slough”; the river’s idea of a county trunk road.
T is for Twain, Mark: Without whom there would be no Tom Sawyer, no Huck Finn, no Becky Thatcher, and basically no reason to get so gosh durn romantic about this “Old Man River” thing.
U is for Undercurrent: Like, you know, the other current, not the top current, not the middle current, but the undercurrent, it’s way on the bottom and it’s bad; also, device often used in murder mysteries.
V is for V-Bottom Boats: As opposed to glass-bottom boats, and flat-bottom boats, they make the rockin’ world go ‘round.
W is for Wing Dams: Dams that fly, whaddya think?
X is for Xebec: A three-masted ship found mostly on the Mediterranean Sea; historically used by corsairs, but we think we saw one once near Trempealeau.
Y is for Yacht Club: Something we’ll never belong to; also, a bar on the river here where the waitresses wear bikinis (to be fair, we think the waiters should too).
Z is for Zebra Mussels, the Attack of the Killer: They’re small, they’re sneaky, they’re Scandinavian, and they’re coming to clog up a wastewater treatment center near you.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m posting this in memory of my friend Gene Purcell, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in July. Gene and I met in college working at the UW-La Crosse student newspaper, The Racquet. We remained close friends after graduation, worked together in radio for many years and collaborated on numerous and often snarky stories for a now-defunct publication called LAX, where this story was originally published sometime in the 1980s. Gene was one of those naturally funny storytellers who, as the Irish say, could really "put a skin on it.” I will miss him immensely. RIP my friend.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in a small Wisconsin blue-collar town, Mike Starling ditched the assembly line for a long, sometimes circuitous career working with words, sound and images. His original music is heard on numerous recordings and soundtracks, and his stories and photos have been featured in books, films, mags and other media. Among his other interesting career moves, he has edited a beer magazine, played bass in a reggae band and sold potato chips door-to-door. Inspired by the life-altering events of 2020, he launched a year-long web-based project called I Remember Travel in January 2021.
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I REMEMBER TRAVEL
Journeys in sight and sound by Mike Starling
All text, images and music in the I Remember Travel weblog ©Mike Starling unless otherwise noted. Music published by Bean Hoy Music (BMI). All rights reserved.