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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Donner Pass


They say that hindsight is twenty-twenty.  Even in a well thought-out action like the American Founding Fathers scribing the Declaration of Independence, creating a nation may have been monumental, but it also began the reduction of the long-standing British Empire.  The statement of freedom became a single step towards the formation of a superpower despised by upstart countries throughout the world.  And even worse the pronouncement based on liberty looked the other way as the basic liberties failed to extend to American Indians, women, African Americans, and an expansive list of religious, sexual, and, ethnic citizens.  Nonetheless, two hundred and thirty-seven years of educating ourselves and analyzing the actions of those men allow us to consider better courses of action for the future.  We’ll always be reevaluating our choices, from everyday decisions to life-altering choices.

That’s what interpreting history does: allows a three-hundred-sixty view of circumstances that may have barely had a fractional view of all the facts at the time they occurred.  I’m sure General Custer thought he had everything under control at Little Bighorn (see “Cornered on a Hilltop,” July 2013).  Attacking Russia worked so well for Napoleon.  Jailing Nelson Mandela quieted the world on the issue of Apartheid.  It’s always easier being the armchair quarterback than being the guy in the huddle, even if it ends well for the guy in the huddle, it may just as likely end poorly.  Just ask Joe Theismann – I’m sure he didn’t plan that.

Stuck in the Snow

Visiting the Sierra Nevadas in eastern California treats any visitor to a spectacular range of environments from cold winters to brutal heat.  At a height of more than 14,000 feet, the range’s highest point, Mt. Whitney, straddles Death Valley (see “Desert Dust,” October 2011) and Sequoia National Park.  The snowy range includes an abundant source of water to support the megalopolis of San Francisco and Los Angeles. And tucked high above Truckee, California far uphill from the resorts of Lake Tahoe lies the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort built in the early twentieth century to entice the citizens of San Francisco area to enjoy the snowy, winter wonderland between Mount Judah and Mount Lincoln.

In November of 1846, without the benefit of hindsight or of a full-circle view, a group of eighty-one west-coast bound settlers discovered the downside of the Sierra Nevada winter wonderland and only forty-five descended the mountain pass to the pleasures of the California coast, with some horrifically poor dietary decisions along the way.  When I drove the path myself, I enjoyed the benefit of knowing what could occur when unprepared, and yet I still had to leave my vehicle to help push a fellow driver out of the snow bank in which he had found himself trapped.  And the view from the summit reminded me that even when we learn from history, it may still be hard to see where we are going.  Thank goodness the fog finally lifted.