Sunday, December 15, 2013

Roadside Attracting

Have You Ever Stopped?

Road trip participants typically fall into two categories: travels where the driver stops at all the quirky roadside attractions, or vacations where the driver powers through to the final destination with only minimal breaks when urgently necessary.  Anyone who has voyaged up Interstate 95 through the Carolinas has been beckoned by the innumerable billboards for South of the Border located in the most obvious of locations on the North and South Carolina state line.  When exiting Florida via Interstate 75, and with five more states to traverse, Frankenmuth, Michigan beckons visitors to celebrate the holiday season at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.  Driving the opposite direction the need for mile markers could be obsolete in thanks to the barrage of billboards for Ron Jon’s Surf Shop.

Through Georgia and Tennessee, passersby are encouraged to visit Rock City, which may be as well known for its red barn used to prompt travelers than the site itself.  For tourists crossing the northern tier enroute to Mount Rushmore, while the Corn Palace may tempt travelers across a portion of the state, Wall Drug applies a heavy-handed bombardment to see the most famous of all drug stores doubling as a tourist attraction.  Imagine how overwhelmed Dakota drivers would be if the four faces carved in granite campaigned so ferociously for visitors.  No doubt every length of open highway features its own roadside attraction, and its survival depends heavily on those stretches of signs egging and inviting passersby to not pass them by.

We Stopped

Florida may be known for its world-renowned theme parks, but for those seeking an alternative to the higher price tags and dense crowds, a variety of kitschy spots show the older, smaller, sillier side of Central Florida.  Marineland, the original sea-themed home to ocean mammals, still opens its doors to the travelers headed to Miami.  Weeki Wachee Springs State Park boasts the only city in America with mermaids, and Silver Springs State Park showcases its waters via glass-bottom boats.  Baseball World and Cypress Gardens have faded into history while Gatorland and Dinosaur World still stay in business with as much local traffic as tourism dollars.

When a weekend allows, I make a point to take Son Number One and Son Number Two to the low-end Jurassic Park near Plant City, Florida.  The signs for Dinosaur World, as well as the life-size sculptures along the interstate, target young boys and mine had begged me to stop for years.  We prepare for a close encounter by packing a picnic lunch, venturing into the colorful world of fake prehistoric creatures.  Like all who have come before us, and all who have yet to visit, the boys stick their faces through the back access point of a tyrannosaurus rex’s mouth and appear to be at the end of the viscous creature’s snack time.  While it doesn’t compare to the natural grandeur of the Grand Canyon or the crafted architecture of the National Mall, or the inspirational, historical reach of the Statue of Liberty, two little boys enjoy the simple detour.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sweet Home Alabama

Little Planes

Son number two’s first flight in a private aircraft began with the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles flight experience, which led to several classes at the small executive airport near our home.  The final class ended with the youngsters riding shotgun in the co-pilots seat of a private, four-seat aircraft, flying and landing at three different airstrips in the region.  Small aircrafts do not frighten me, but I also rarely travel in them.  In fact, his two flights (technically four flights counting each taxi and landing) are two times (or is it four times) more small-scale aircraft flights than I have experienced.
In fact, for all my travels, I have only flown upon two aircraft that could even remotely be considered “puddle jumpers.”  The first one, on Christmas Day, counted the shorter of two flights to get to Minnesota for the holiday.  In my personal opinion, any airplane that still operates with the assistance of propellers, regardless of how many passengers occupy the aircraft, is a small plane.  The flight wasn’t terribly long, but nonetheless, when the ground crew at Hartsfield International Airport wheeled steps up to our plane, I knew that counts as either a small plane or a small airport.  And anyone who has flown through the Georgia capital knows, the airport does not qualify as petite.
One By Two
I consider myself quite knowledgeable about my home airport.  I know where the best parking is, I dine where I can grab the tastiest or fastest food, and I tend to move through security swiftly without much delay.  Knowing the busy season and the hectic times, and by avoiding them whenever possible, certainly helps my travel routine.  But on one occasion, I arrive near my departing gate only to discover that the number I need is not down any of the three hallways to my right, my left, or straight ahead.  Instead, an elevator descends to a hallway tucked under the tramway guiding me to the smallest of planes to take me to the largest of cities in Alabama.
My assigned seat, while being the most forward on the plane of any other passengers, by no means lands me in first class, however, on the upside, my seat offers me both a window seat and an aisle seat.  Yes, the Embraer plane features one seat wide on the pilot’s side of the plane, and two seats wide on the co-pilot’s side of the plane.  A southern gentleman greets me as I board; he’s a one-man service crew, literally.  But as we land in Birmingham, he welcomes us to our destination, he rises to begin the deplaning, and he places a compact disc into a mini music player. The entire cabin fills with the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd singing proudly about “Sweet Home, Alabama,” providing entertainment all the way to the gate.  Sometimes smaller is sweeter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Change Of Plans

My first visit to British Columbia’s largest metropolis,  as a stepping-off point to my first Alaskan cruise, offered me the opportunity to taste unique cuisines, stroll through the port’s nearby architecture, and meet west-coast Canadians.  Arriving midday, midsummer, and midway through my marital separation, life in Vancouver offered a glimmering escape, a chance to window shop without children in tow, and  a long stretch of afternoon into evening as the sunlight lingered well into the evening.  Traveling with friends for the first time offered a vastly different view of travel than I had ever experienced.  No family, no car, and no planning on my part marked my second soiree into Canada and the opportunity of a lifetime.
Fifteen years later, when finally returning to the northern nation’s western shore, the early days of autumn may not have offered as late a sunset, but the spectacular city again would be the place where my cruise ship moored.  Despite the detailed planning for ninety-five percent of the vacation, Vancouver remained an open day of strolling and shopping.  Much like San Francisco, the city’s greatest growth straddled between its port and railway connection, so I knew I could find plenty of curious locations to visit in my post-cruise excursion.  At the very least, I did map out the nearest Tim Horton’s location  (see “Brock University,” January 2012) to our hotel.
The Mountain Is Calling And I Am Definitely Going To Go
Socked in by a summer haze of heat and eastern brush and forest fires, Seattle stretches its drought far past the one one-hundredths of an inch of rain received a few days prior.  As I drive south on Interstate 5 towards SeaTac, the effects of the fifty-three-day rainless stretch loom obviously as the horizon disappears into an off-color smog typically reserved for pollution-laden valleys, the industrial core beneath the Great Lakes, and the dense humidity of inland Florida.  In less than a day, I will be on my way to the clear vistas of tranquil and breathtaking Alaska as soon as I drop off this rental car and get back to my hotel for a last night of landlubber sleep.  Suddenly, with a gentle curve to the left, rising above the layer of smoky gunk, Mount Rainier appears like a massive spacecraft hovering and drifting towards Puget Sound. My jaw drops.

I walk from the rental car garage at the Seattle Airport towards the light rail station with an urgency not tapped since my vacation began more than two weeks ago.  From the time I arrive at the station until the train departs for my return trip towards the Space Needle, I busily dial the phone numbers necessary to alter my departure from the Great White North immediately upon stepping off the Norwegian Pearl.  I cancel one hotel night in Vancouver and add another night in Seattle for the following week.  I move my shuttle across the Blaine border crossing to twenty-four hours earlier.  I tap my smart phone for a one-day automobile rental for the following week, all without asking my travel companions.  I fully understand one of John Muir’s most famous quotes, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

Monday, November 25, 2013


The Red Earth of Tara
Atlanta sidewalks elude the average pedestrian, and those in existence could be considered an adventure in putting one foot in front of the other.  Along the few streets I have strolled on the outskirts of the southern city, wide swaths of uneven terrain serve as the only pedestrian thoroughfare.  One concrete walkway that I attempted to navigate banked at nearly thirty degrees and my ability to stay on the path took on more challenges that the alternative rugged version.  Stairs would serve as an easier ascension than the options provided by the Georgian capital.
At one intersection, where the sidewalks extend no more than twenty feet from the crosswalks and then transition to grass, the dirt beneath the dying winter brush had washed out from under the minimal growth and clumps clinging to the edge of the curbs leaving a low pile of reddish sludge along the edge of the crossings.  As I watched my step to avoid the muddy pile, I considered Scarlett O’Hara’s testament and loyalty to the plantation that may have stood on similar soil.  The familiar color of the southern soil streaked its way into the busy street and if it were not for the occasional pedestrian like me willing to dodge the bustling cars and trucks, no one might notice or ever give credit to the former red earth of Tara draining away into the city sewers.
Melting Away
Clearly I am not afraid to tackle a metropolis by foot, and as I pull up to the city center in a suburb west of St. Louis, I discover a noticeably large quantity of available parking that might not be available on a weekday.  One of the restaurants in the vicinity displays an a-frame sign to notify the minimal number of passers by that a private event eliminates the opportunity for any random tourists such as myself to enjoy its offerings.  I determine by my brilliant powers of observation that the event has already concluded as the centerpiece of its decor lay melting near the storm drain below the sidewalk.
When zipping past in a motor vehicle, such sculptures easily avoid attention, but as I wait for my lunch companion, I realize that somewhere the artwork of a craftsman has been kicked to the curb by those who briefly have enjoyed its presence.  In defense of the revelers, where would an ice sculpture meet its demise and return to its liquid state?  Where else would the remnants of an agrarian society drain away when its usefulness has gone with the wind?  The streets of busy cities carry traffic - vehicles rushing to their destinations - and occasionally a wayward pedestrian exploring on foot, but also the earth and water of the planet flowing towards a forgotten end.  Often a collection of footsteps captures a moment lost to history.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dodging A Bullet

Counting History
I love celebrating a landmark date in time, but I prefer to dodge the crowds that follow the course of history.  It’s the sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s greatest battles, not just this year, but last year and next year and all of the early teens of this century.  As a nation, we celebrate each of the two hundred seventy-two words that President Abraham Lincoln spoke in remembrance of the more than fifty thousand people who fell victim to the shelling and shooting across the Pennsylvania acreage.  On average, each word represents one hundred eighty-eight soldiers who fell upon the hallowed ground of Gettysburg.  In fact, even the current population of the Adams county seat could multiply by six times and still not equal that number of soldiers who fell on the battlefield between July 1 through 3, 1863.  The small town grew twenty times its size during the conflict and forty times its size during the 150th commemoration of the event.
For me, I do not do well with crowds of that size.  Not that I mind Generals McClellan and Lee showing up with the number of troops they did, but to soak in the solemnity of the massive tragedy and the scale of despair during this year’s memorial of the circumstances of the bloodiest battle on American soil, I wanted solitude, tranquility, and silence.  No doubt, so do many others, but thousands of Civil War reenactors stomp across the Peach Orchard, across the Emmitsburg Road, and across the High Water Mark with cannon fire recreating the smoky haze of the original fog of war.  Plus the throngs of historical tourists raise the amount of congestion, the price of hotel rooms, and the wait times at every viewpoint, vista, and vantage point around the battlefield.  I just see the experience (and want to see the experience) differently.
Perfect Planning
When I plan to visit Gettysburg National Battlefield, I keep in mind my financial parameters and patience for mobs, both of which are low.  My first decision, besides the desire to just be there in person, keeps me away from the key reenactment weekends on either side of the sesquicentennial.  In so doing, I meet the expectation of obtaining a reasonable rate at nearby lodging.  I arrive on Monday and depart on Wednesday and spend from just after sunrise to just after sunset exploring nearly every crevice of the terrain.  Mother Nature understands my expectations for an ideal experience and keeps enough clouds in the sky to keep me cool, yet holds off on the afternoon rain shower until I am tucked inside the Visitor’s Center for a late lunch.  I subsequently miss the packs of bikers who will arrive on Thursday, and the sequester that impacts the National Park System allows a reprieve at the numerically date-significant site.  I did it, though, I dodged them all.

With all of the stressful factors out of my scope, I absorb every moment on the battlefield.  I feel the wind dabbing at my face as I survey the opposing battle lines across the grassy horizon.  I envision thousands of men shoulder to shoulder approaching, sweating, in the sweltering summer sun, and how blessed I am to be standing in the shade of passing clouds.  As I climb the paved hill towards Little Round Top, I imagine how the nearly exhausted soldiers from Alabama climbed and clamored over boulders as gunfire rained down upon them after marching through the night and into the morning to meet their deaths on the Union left flank.  As the glow of sunset streams through the broken clouds, I wonder how the cannon fire illuminated ahead of the infantry fighting for each step forward, forcing them backwards, or worse, into broken, shredded casualties.  And in the quiet of the crowds I successfully dodge, I imagine the crying, screaming, and moaning of the dying men strewn in all directions, because I don’t want to remember how hard it was for me to navigate these fields, but how hard it was for them to survive them.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Bus To Wal-Mart

What Constitutes A Tourist Attraction
Driving through the streets of downtown Juneau, the driver of the multi-passenger van that carried me to my excursion pointed out the highlights of third largest city in the forty-ninth state.  One might think expected sightings would include whales in Fritz Cove, or bald eagles perched in the treetops along the North Douglas Highway, or the creeks and rivers draining from Mendenhall Glacier.  When travelling to Alaska from the continental United States, the goal to see the breadth and depth of the state during the short time ashore should include these elements of nature, framed by the jagged mountains that surround the state’s capital.
At the helm of a van full of tourist freshly disembarked from their cruise ship, this driver skirting along Egan Drive enlightened his southern guests on what daily life along the northern Pacific coast is really like.  Juneau’s citizens were the first Alaskans to shop in a Wal-Mart Super Center, which they have only been doing for a handful of years.  On another corner, the driver drew our attention to the McDonald’s – one of only five in the over half million square miles of Seward’s Folly.  Surprisingly, the state capitol building didn’t even make the cut of notable structures worth highlighting.
What Constitutes Gorgeous 
When I step off the Norwegian Pearl in Ketchikan, I bypass the shops and sights of Creek Street, I veto the option of seeing Totem Bight Park and I head north of town to paddle around the edges of the Pacific Ocean and see the starfish clinging to the rocks and glistening in the early autumn sun.  I dodge the typical tourist sites to bask in the near silence of the kayak paddle dipping into the water and the seals sniffing their nostrils above the water’s surface.  Were it not for the chill of the walls of ice, the fjords of Glacier Bay would have been the most gorgeous views of all the scenes I enjoy in Alaska, but the perfect temperature and the tranquil scenery around me as I float on the water fill my mind with a myriad of memories in which to relish.
On the drive back to the cruise ship, I listen to the music of my iPod shuffle clipped to my jacket and gaze out the window as we travel down the narrow, pine-lined streets.  Not to brag when I say I have driven through all but one of the fifty states, and for all I have seen and enjoyed, nothing compares to the grandeur and beauty of Alaska.  Truly, nothing compares to the vast, beautiful scenery of the most northern state, and due to its immense size, from the Pacific to the Arctic, from the Bering Sea to the Yukon River, the entire United States is better for having Alaska as one of its fifty.  And in case you did not know how the spectacularly gorgeous the images of Alaska sparkle from nearly every vantage point, the driver of the van brings me back to this ship pointing out one of Ketchikan’s most important landmarks: the corner stop where the cruise ship employees catch the bus to Wal-Mart.  Don’t miss it!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where's My Luggage?

Vanished Into Thin Air

Hate me if you must, but no airline has ever lost my luggage.  When I drop off my bags at the entrance to the airport, they miraculously appear at my final destination.  Even the time I flew five flights in a single day (see “Swimming in Alphabet Soup” from February 2012), my suitcase showed up on the baggage carousel.  Granted, more often than not I carry on everything I need, and rely on the USPS to deliver a box of pre-shipped extras to my hotel in advance of my arrival so my odds of a successful reunion with my belongings garner higher returns.  Regardless, I pack frugally and travel similarly, so the contents of my baggage are critical, and having everything with me when I arrive allows my expeditions to begin immediately upon arrival.

Of course there was the one time my son left a book in the seat pocket.  He didn’t deplane, he just changed seats on the flight to help a family traveling together.  After takeoff when he went back to retrieve his book, the family had given it to the flight attendant.  The flight attendant gave it to the gate in Chicago before closing the doors, thinking it belonged to the previous flight’s passenger.  And from there, the book vanished.  The logical chain of events would be that the book went from the Chicago gate to a main location in Midway International Airport, then on to a central location for the airline.  Yet once the book left the plane, it dematerialized.  How exactly does that happen?

Did You Look In Alabama?

After visiting friends in Birmingham we decide to swing by a little store in Scottsboro, Alabama, featured on CBS Sunday Morning. Bill Geist profiled the little specialty shop where shoppers can find just about anything from swimming trunks to a wedding dress, with a wide selection of cameras, CDs, and a complete, all-weather wardrobe.  The Unclaimed Baggage Center sells just about everything the airlines have tired of possessing.  Vast lots of homeless suitcases with tragically abandoned, and occasionally outdated, clothing and assorted personal effects become thrift-shop fodder for us and we wander through the bizarre warehouse with no particular purpose.

Son #1 purchases his first thirty-five millimeter camera at the expense of its original sad owner who most likely has moved on to a digital version of his or her previous model.  Son #2 selects a brown, felt fedora appropriately labeled with the name of the movie character whose likeness often dons similar apparel.  As for me, I am content to bring home a few compact discs that have long since disappeared from music stores of soundtracks from movies that have long since disappeared from theaters.  Maybe one day when passing northward near Chattanooga, Tennessee, we again will dip into the plenty of abandoned possessions and begin a new chapter for otherwise homeless objects.  Perhaps we will find a missing biography of John Paul Jones last seen in the Windy City at gate A11.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Moonlight in Minnesota

Ghost Tours Should Come With Adult Refreshments

Convinced I should stroll the streets of St. Augustine with a band of tipsy Floridians and wide-eyed tourists, I found myself with a friend on a ghost tour of America’s oldest European settlement.  The stone walkways below us and the period costumes ahead of us made the nighttime walk seem only moderately more interesting than any other evening constitutional.  Nevertheless, like dozens of mid-size, moderately historic towns in the United States, “ghost tours” entice sightseers, both doubters and believers, to giggle or gasp at the stories tied to a community’s parks, plazas, and promenades.  Ghost tours in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, are most likely tales of military death and woe.  Ghost tours in New Orleans tell the tale of the haunted history of the Big Easy and the mademoiselle who still roams the French Quarter.  In each locale, unsuspecting, unresolved souls stumble into an ambling storyteller bewitching their followers with cryptic tales of foolish passers-by unknowingly relieved of their wits and wages.  Sounds like someone I know intimately.

I begin the evening adventure as dusk transitions into darkness and as my evening buzz fades along with the final remnants of sunlight.  I giggle, I roll my eyes, and I wonder how much longer until we reach a saloon where I might find a brew to keep me happily unconcerned that I am, in fact, bored out of my skull.  Nothing about the occult charms me.  While I do believe some people have a connection to the nether world, I believe mediums have powers I cannot understand and allow them to communicate with the dearly departed.  Yet I believe neither me, nor the costumed tour guide earning $10.82 an hour for her evening gig, facilitate a connection to the other side on this warm night in north Florida.  I believe this tour needs adult refreshment to make it remotely interesting.

Gravestones Should Come With Baseballs

Most people who visit Rochester, Minnesota, seek the medical recommendations of the renowned Mayo Clinic, but not me.  Sure, I may have planned to pop in on family members, but the cover story in the human-interest section of the local paper caught my pop culture eye and took me to a small, two-acre plot.  W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, led to Kevin Costner plowing under his corn fields on the big screen, and the tiniest bit of trivia from the American pastime impacted the novel, the movie, and the history of the Rochester area.  And it made my trip unique and remarkable.
Now buried in a plot next to his wife, Alecia, Archibald Graham spent nearly nine decades serving his family and town rather than continuing to play baseball beyond the single inning of professional stardom that he savored and discarded.  Kinsella found Graham's simple stat when writing his novel, and on a summer afternoon, I find his simple headstone after strolling through the graveyard referenced in the daily news.  In the light of day, without a tour guide, or a hint of intoxication, or an over-inflated story, I reach out to the other side to thank “Moonlight” Graham for his contribution to American film lore and my expedition to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.  And laying next to his granite slab, a perfectly-placed leather sphere with its signature red stitching marks the appreciation of another fan like myself who had taken the same self-guided tour.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Telling Time

Everyone vacations differently.  For the past several years, a friend of mine has planned his big summer outing with his entire family (yes, some in-laws, a handful of cousins, etc.) by the edge of a lovely lake in North Carolina.  For his family, this outing marks the pinnacle of family time and he returns feeling refreshed and relaxed.  I marvel at the concept, as the one time I spent two nights with extended family at the Lake of the Ozarks, I noted the experience would be my last family reunion in a shared cabin.  More than a decade later, I stand by those guideline.  Besides, I’d like to see more of the lake than a single, shore-side view.

In the heart of Florida, Lake Okeechobee marks the crossing point between the drifting headwaters and the full-blown Everglades.  On a variety of mini voyages, I have seen vantage points from the southwest around to the south; specifically, I have driven around the entire lake from eight o’clock to six o’clock if one were to view the lake as a clock face.  Likewise, I have enjoyed a two-hundred, seventy degree view of Lake Huron, from six progressing around to three, also in multiple road trips.  And despite having even explored the inside of its clock face on Antelope Island, the  Great Salt Lake from eleven to five o’clock offered me only half of the full waterside experience.

Counter Clockwise

Even before beginning to plan my excursion to Lake Tahoe, I knew I wanted to drive the full distance around its shores.  Starting at the traffic-clogged southern tip, I break from the construction traffic to grab a bite of lunch (see “Where’s Jack?” from March 2013) at the six o’clock point before beginning my full-face assault.  I skirt the water’s edge counter-clockwise (on my vacations, I am allowed to break the rules of time travel) into Nevada and am bombarded by casinos – no need for a “Welcome to Nevada” sign here – the abundantly clear transition lets me know.  I continue to climb up to the rocky tunnel towards the three o’clock marker, and then just beyond to the crystal-clear pool of boulders.  As much as the full circle beckons, the below rocks, sitting blissfully in the   
cool mountain pool deserve their own moment of reflection.  The clock momentarily stops here.

At twelve o’clock high, I drive into California for the second time today.  The summer crowds have departed and the skiers are still waiting for the more substantial snows – not the dusting from a few days ago – so the roads are as clear as the skies.  I continue around to eight while the sun still lingers, and pause for a rest in my own little cabin just out of the sight of the water.  And shortly after the sun peeks from its slumber, I resume the final two hours on the lake’s clock face.  Somewhere around seven o’clock geographically I pull over for a final view of the American Alpine lagoon.  For years I wanted to be at this spot, at all of these spots, to make this three-hundred and sixty degree loop, and to see one small piece of America from every angle.  Back at six o’clock, I turn right and mark the time I circumnavigate Lake Tahoe.

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Ocean View Spoiled

Adding to the Adventure

More than once I have traveled for a medical procedure.  Not as extreme or distant as discounted heart surgery abroad, but often finding the right physiological provider did require a flight to a doctor’s destination (and once included a bump up to first class – how simply awful for me).  And as is common with most of my travel, I insert sightseeing into my itineraries.  Whether it is for business, joining a family reunion, completing my degree work (see “An Education at Gettysburg,” March 2013), or for a medical procedure, I stop at a historical marker, I voyage via a unique mode of transportation, or I take in a baseball game to add a little spice to my travel.  It’s what makes a routine trip a memorable outing.

Once I cruised Hollywood Boulevard after a two-day workshop in Southern California and happened upon a press-lined red carpet for a movie premiere at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I dined on the waterfront after a meeting in Annapolis when I took with a side trip to Chesapeake Bay (see “The Ice Machine in the River,” July 2012).  I squeezed in a landmark outing in the City of Brotherly Love (see “The Vet,” November 2011), and I added a full day’s drive to the northern tier when I had just planned an overnight outing to Omaha (see “North Dakota on a Napkin,” November 2011).  My travel always has multiple purposes and selfish sightseeing.

Missed Sunsets

I land on Monday night and reach the hotel after sunset, sadly, since my hotel stands near the beach in practically perfect Santa Monica.  I barely close the door to my room and receive a call from the front desk updating me on the score from the Tampa Bay Rays game (why, yes, they did sweep the Red Sox).  Clearly this hotel will exceed my expectations if they can keep me apprised of the early-season series.  Hued in tans, browns, and white, with highlights of trendy green, this hotel may not ooze medical motif, but it certainly brightens my visit’s purpose.  I may not get to enjoy the fancy first-floor nightclub, but just being in Santa Monica will be a treat.

Morning begins with my trying to complete my homework in advance of finals week.  But certainly I will get a chance to get out to the beach or down to the pier.  By midday I am on my way to appointment one of two, followed by a social call from friends checking on me.  When adding in a little recuperation time, another sunset comes and goes without me.  Day two takes a similar course, substituting work on my final term paper for the conversational pop-in.  And by the time I lie down, I have caught only a snippet of the sun’s departure and none of the ambiance of the ocean.  The coastal taxi ride back to LAX affords me my only scenic pleasure during an excursion-less escape.  The sun metaphorically set on Santa Monica.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Georgia Agritourism

I Saw The Signs

Plenty of highway signs dot the road sides to get us where we are going.  Obviously the highway department in any given state provides multiple notifications before an exit because sometimes drivers miss one or two as they cruise along the road.  The green ones tell us where we are headed and what is coming up next.  The blue ones provide us with services and the brown ones share with us the cultural and historic sites along the way.  The yellow ones caution us, the white ones remind us the rules of the road.  Highway markers for interstates, US highways, state roads, county roads, and cross roads direct us as we move from place to place.  But is it really possible to see them all?

When traveling solo, I often read as many of these signs as possible, seeing them as friendly faces along the way greeting me, speaking to me and teaching me as I drive.  And I certainly learned a new term as I drove through Georgia: Agritourism.  When I first saw the word on a small blue sign, I spent several miles tossing the idea around in my brain; the mix of southern agriculture and tourism seemed comical – wouldn’t that just be a summer trip to an extended family’s farm?  Do plants really produce a vacation industry?  I like pineapples and pistachios, but they fall pretty low on the list of reasons to travel to Hawaii.  Nevertheless, the word continued to generate steam in my gray matter the farther I drove.

Georgia On My Mind

The Peach State always reminds me of the old South, of cotton plantations and giant oak trees, and a few of these sprawling estates still stand to provide a glimpse of the state’s history.  The peaches and the cotton, and the way of life that has long since ended transitioning into a modern agriculture boom that ingrains itself in the state.  Giant groves of pecan trees (pronounced pē’-can, of course) add to the charm of the new south and the sweetest of pies.  Its native son, first its governor and then US President Jimmy Carter, brought Georgia peanuts into the limelight.  And who doesn’t cry at the site of Vandalia onions when slicing and chopping them?
Perhaps the sign, small in comparison to others, represents the twenty-first century
South – a South that’s growing and alive, that has variety and vitality and flavor and fluidity, that’s tasty and tempting and touristy.  While I still don’t think I am motivated to travel to Georgia to savor its bounty, I certainly like having it at my disposal.  And in tribute to the full range of Agritourism Georgia provides, I stop on my way out of the state at a southern winery where I sample and purchase my own bottle of vintage Agritourism at its finest.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Twins

Quirky Coincidences of History

Do you remember who won the World Series in 1991?  Wait, let’s take a step back.  Do you know who won the World Series last year?  Do you follow baseball at all?  Maybe it’s not about the sport or the teams or the scores or the victors or the spoils.  Maybe you’re not good with dates.  Many of my friends defy my geeky logic and profess to not being history buffs primarily because they cannot remember all those names and dates and places.  But I argue that historic moments cannot be rhetorically remembered by names and dates and locations, but rather by the circumstances of the events that help to remind us of the salient details.

President James K Polk (do we all remember that name?), the Commander-in-Chief during the Mexican/American War (do we remember the year that ended?), happened to mention in his State of the Union address that a spot in the American West (do you recall the place?) happened to produce a golden nugget – a nugget that would transform the United States’ destiny.  And that valuable mineral propelled people with promises of prosperity westward spurring the largest stampede that defined the growth of the 19th century American West.  And how do I remember the key names and dates and places?  Easy: San Francisco, a city located west of the South Fork of the American River, hosts the National Football League’s 49ers named for the year those money-hungry settlers arrived en masse and that's the year of the California Gold Rush.  The year before that, 1848, the United States acquired the land that became the Golden State at the end of the Mexican/American War.  The year after, 1850, California had boomed in a transition from territory to state faster than any other in America’s history because of the rush of folks to the tantalizing gold fields.  And as for President Polk, his middle name, Knox, in one of the fun, quirky coincidences of American history, happens to be the same name as the site of America’s gold depository at Fort Knox.

My Mnemonic Device

Leaning history stems from more than clever coincidences, the memorization of facts, or even the names of NFL teams.  Our memories makes history truly magical and remarkable.  We recall the date of Pearl Harbor because our president (do you know which one?) told us the date would live in infamy.  Our children will remember the events of 9/11 because it may be their earliest memory of American history.  But not all history is tragic, or monumental, or even memorable to everyone.  Take the World Series of 1991.  If you are not from Minnesota, even a baseball fan may not recall the final outcome of that year’s playoffs, and while I am an aficionado of the sport, I would be unable to recall who won the October Classic in 1990.  I remember that particular year, though, (and similarly why I remember the winners in 1992) the way many people recall history – by having been there.

During the summer of 1991, I drove with my son (see “Rapid City, Rapid Change,” November 2011) from Denver, Colorado to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (see “The UP,” July 2012).  The route took me through the Twin Cities during August as the aptly named home team gave its finest effort to make the season truly memorable for the players, the fans, and the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Baseball history, world history, American history, and my family’s history converged in the summer of 1991 and for that reason, I recall who won the 1991 World Series.  I also know what year members of the old Soviet regime kidnapped Mikael Gorbachev, and what year our family moved to Michigan.  And I didn’t have to memorize any names or dates or places; instead I experienced all of the above.  That’s what I adore about history: the way it comes alive in our lives, the way it becomes a part of who we are in large and small ways, the way it sticks with us and follows us, the way its quirkiness, its coincidences, and its own kind of storytelling excite me.  Don’t even get me started on what happened when Sacajawea bumped into her brother.