Cartoonish experiences

Several times a week I find myself driving east on Church Street here in Marshall, beginning at A Street. Just past the First Lutheran Church property on the north side of the street is a sign that never fails to bring a smile to my face as I remember a particular cartoon out of the past. The sign has one word: DIP.

What pops into my mind is a two panel cartoon I believe to have been created by one of my favorite childhood cartoonists, Al Capp. In the first panel is just such a sign only, as I recall, it had a second word below DIP, namely: AHEAD. The dip on Church Street occurs as Church crosses the drainage gulley onto Whitney. The second panel of the cartoon then showed Capp’s sketch of Joe Btfspik in the depression of the roadway.

Hopefully many of you out there will remember Joe, a sad, skinny, bedraggled misfit with a perpetual rain cloud above his head constantly raining on him. Back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Capp published comics in about 900 newspapers in the U.S. with a readership approaching 60 million so I hope some of you out there might still have a mental image of that character and the next time you drive on Church Street, I hope a smile will come to your face as well. Capp’s Joe Btfspik at one time was used in TV commercials for Head and Shoulders shampoo.

I have been an inveterate reader of comic strips for as long as I can remember. Even though I have not had regular comic books for many years, I do read almost all the comics in the newspapers when I see them.


Several times in the past I have tried to describe the tortured path my mind has traveled as I tried to decide what this column might be about. For today’s column, it all started because I stayed at the Center Inn (motel) last Wednesday evening. It had been some time since I had been “on the road.” That meant that I had not looked carefully at my shaving kit bag to see what was in it and had not really been to any motels for quite some time.

The Center Inn is on the north side of Avera McKennan hospital in Sioux Falls and my appointment was for 6 a.m. at the hospital so I had to be in the lobby to be picked up at about 5:30. That meant getting up about 5:15 — I wasn’t allowed food or water since the evening before, but I thought I should take a quick shower.

The problem was that I started looking around the sink for some soap and could not find any. I didn’t want to get dressed and go to the desk to get some, so I thought I would check my shaving kit where I often had one of those little bars of soap they hand out at motels.

Nope. Lots of other old stuff in the bottom of my shaving kit, but no soap. However, I thought I could just use a bit of my toothpaste (its sort of soapy, isn’t it?) So I put some toothpaste in the palm of my hand and tried squishing it around into a sort of soapy paste and stepped into the shower. It was then I found the soap which was a dispenser fastened to the wall in the shower. DUH!

I wasn’t used to such a device but did remember other motels that used those even though other motels still had soap by the sink, not just in the shower.

All of that got me to thinking about some of the strange accommodations that I have had over many years of national and international travel. Forgive me if I relate just a couple of related, short stories.


I believe I reported in a column about 15 years ago about a 1980s trip to China where we were the first “western-type” visitors to a small town in the mountains and were told by our local guide just before we were about to head to dinner in the evening that we should be sure to wash.

That was repeated several times and we didn’t really think much about that until the following morning when we went to have a shower. There was no hot water.

The warning had been that hot water really was only available in the evening. My wife and I showered and survived that freezing experience.

On a trip through Scandinavia we ended up one night staying at a university dormitory where the rooms were totally bare including just a mattess and pillow with no covering. We purchased a set of paper sheets and of course there were no towels or wash cloths the next morning. Answer?

Those paper sheets also became our towels that day.


One last experience that also had a sort of cartoon character similar to Joe Btfspik. For at least two years back in the 1960s, two fellow professors and I fished Lake Athapapuskow in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The “resort” was really just an old cabin reachable by boat only. No running water, no heat, but at least there were blankets albeit on a thin mattress on one of those old beds that just had wire stretched across the bottom — sort of like ending up in a hammock in that you could not sleep on the edge, but rolled to the center and you could not sleep on side or stomach as it dipped too much in the middle.

Fishing, however, for lake trout was a spectacular experience even for me who is not a great lover of fish (but we never took any meat on such fishing trips and so it was fish or nothing.)

The lake was a short distance from a town named after a character from an old book written back in 1905, “The Sunless City.”

The character: Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. The town was an old mining town called: Flin Flon — look it up — you can actually drive to get there — but the road ended there as well.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!


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