I was in South Carolina to haul a 1968 22-foot Airstream back to California behind my Ford 350 one-ton truck. Interstate 40 would have been a logical route west, but out of respect for the late Patton, the bulldog martyr to cop violence, I headed north from Knoxville, Tenn., into Kentucky. Rolling out of Lexington, Ky., toward St. Louis at dusk, I could see graceful horses nibbling at the snow-covered pastures as the sunset turned the western sky red.

All the way across the Great Plains I listened to radio reports of the cold about to roll down out of Canada. There's nothing between you and the North Pole out there on the prairie. "Not even a tree to hide behind," as one 19th-century pioneer homemaker plaintively wrote home to her European mother as she and her family cowered in their sod cabin amidst the terrible blizzards of 1886 and 1887 that finished off the cattle boom and sent Teddy Roosevelt scuttling east from his ranch on the Little Missouri.

The snow and ice finally caught up with me 100 miles east of Denver, where I sat in the lobby of a Comfort Inn listening to a Cherokee Christian denounce the mean-spirited arrogance of the millionaires of Jackson Hole, Wyo., whence he had just driven as he headed home to Atlanta. His main business was the mass production of diapers, but as an expert die maker he was also producing high-end western chandeliers, the metal cut with water jet and ruby dust, and selling them at $45,000 a pop.

I ground my way up into the Rockies in low gear and burst into sunshine somewhere just short of the Eisenhower tunnel, at 10,000 feet. A few miles further on, I caught sight of a dejected human settlement south of the interstate that at first glance resembled miners' houses in some old photo of coal country in Appalachia. Then I realized that these were the condominia of Vail, Colo., where huddled but well-fed masses of ski people and snow-boarders were praying for snow.

Downtown Salt Lake City reminds me of Moscow: big, Fifties-style buildings, wide boulevards (as stipulated by Brigham Young, who said a wagon should be able to turn round on one), and at the heart, SLC's answer to the Kremlin in the form of the Mormons' Temple. SLC's substantial gay and lesbian population was up in arms about legal threats to the status of their civil marriages. The next day, amid the bare expanses of the Great Salt Lake, a taxi with a For Hire sign bowled by, followed shortly thereafter by a white stretch limo. The answer to the puzzle came a few miles later at the Nevada line and the gambling town of Wendover, Nev., with the first slots and blackjack tables available for gamblers since they left Colorado.

The weather gods stayed kind. I left Winnemucca, Nev., at 5 a.m., and five hours later, I went over the Donner Pass in 60-degree weather. I stopped at the summit and was gazing down on Donner Lake wondering whether the cannibals had seasoned their ribeyes, when a woman climbed out of her pick-up, said she was a hippy, liked Airstreams and asked if I would I care to share "a bowl" with her. She didn't look like a narc, and anyway, why would a narc bother with an Airstream type? But it seemed early in the day for marijuana, which I don't greatly care for anyway. Besides, I still had a couple of hundred miles of northern California mountains to get across.

The bowl-offerer pointed out the Blue Star memorial put up at the Donner Summit by some California garden clubs in honor of America's fallen warriors. She added a few uncomplimentary words about G. Bush. I was home by midnight, a week after leaving South Carolina. Along the way, two people offered to buy the Airstream. No one I met was keen on war with Iraq. The mayor of Salt Lake City said publicly it's a lousy idea, as did the entire city council of Chicago with one dissenting voice. Mostly the local papers were filled with stories about state budget crises. After all, only two states are solvent: New Mexico and Wyoming, courtesy of their natural gas. Texas has a deficit of around $10 billion.

The night after I got home, my friend and neighbor Joe Paff strongly recommended an amazing poem by Walt Whitman, written just after the Civil War, titled "Respondez!" It makes Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" sound like some uplifting jingle on the back of a cornflakes packet: "Respondez! Respondez!/ (The war is completed -- the price is paid -- the title is settled beyond recall;)./ Let there be money, business, imports, exports, custom, authority, precedents, pallor, dyspepsia, smut, ignorance, unbelief!/ Let judges and criminals be transposed! . / Let the slaves be masters! Let the masters become slaves! . / Let all the men of These States stand aside for a few smouchers! Let the few seize on what they choose! Let the rest, gawk, giggle, starve, obey!/ Let shadows be furnished with genitals! Let substances be deprived of their genitals! ."

Also in the poem is the line "Let him who is without my poems be assassinated!" Luck for Whitman he didn't live in the dawn of the 21st century. Most likely the Feds would lock him up as an Enemy Combatant. The First Lady certainly wouldn't ask Walt to that jamboree of loyal poets she's currently organizing. He was outside the pale, like all sensible people these days.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.