Author: Joe

Lemons to Lemonade Travelogue

Prologue.  My wife and I planned a four-week trip to Italy and Bavaria for early this past autumn.  Unfortunately, we had to cancel the trip at the last moment due to a false-positive covid test.  Trust us, it was a false-positive and we’re fully vaxxed. To say the least, we were disappointed. Making lemonade from lemons during our 10 days of state-of-Colorado-imposed quarantine (unnecessarily) we outlined a ‘round the country driving tour to see and experience things we wouldn’t normally consider, leaving plenty of time for serendipitous discovery and exploration of the country’s lesser known and appreciated towns, highways and byways, as well as see some major cities and sites that were still on our list of places and things to see.  [You can follow along in a photo album here]

4,255 Miles; follow the highlight

Thursday, September 30 – Depart home about 6:30 AM.   Hit Kit Carson, CO to see the town and peruse the KC museum, which was closed.  Very quiet, tiny and old town.

Headed to the Sand Creek Massacre Site.  Lots of county dirt roads en route. Drove through herds of cattle on the roads. You really, really have to want to go there.  Somber.  Walk in brisk late morning air to overlook.  Spoke with Ranger, asked a few questions and moved on.

Then to Ingalls, Kansas.  Stopped in a cute, little and odd museum for a break.  It said Santa Fe Trail Museum, but it’s really just all sorts of local history. Very local.  Dusty old registers and accounting books, mostly for property taxes, going back over 100 years.  Found an old Columbia gramophone.  Learned about the attempted Soule Canal, an effort to irrigate this region with water from the Arkansas River.

Continue To Dodge City, Kansas.  Saw lots of unharvested reddish-orange sorghum along the way. Great folks at the Dodge Visitor info center.  Even gave us wooden nickels.  Nice brewery in the afternoon.  City history walking tour; Dodge City Trail of Fame.  Learned about Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, and Wyatt Earp.  Yes, even James Arness/Matt Dillon, and many others, including actors in Gunsmoke.

Friday, October 1 – Delightful Boot Hill Museum.  Reconstruction of the old Dodge City.

[Ingalls and Dodge City are both along the Arkansas River and Santa Fe Trail.  Dodge has an Amtrak stop.  Was named for the old Fort Dodge, 5 miles away to get around Army liquor restrictions at the Fort.  Train station has two magnificent and large sun dial clocks for passengers to check time, one central time, one western.  How large?  Over 40 feet across. Each has their own analemma correction chart as well (although these are identical).  Located almost exactly at 100 deg west latitude, which was the time zone boundary at the time, since the railroads instituted time zones in 1883, and also the artificial line between the dry west and the humid center of the country.]

Drive to Wichita.  Where we stayed in a 1971 RV camper (cozy) adjacent and “hardwired” to a building for water, sewer and electric.  Found 2 microbreweries, one with nice beers (Hopping Gnome) but on busy noisy Russel Street.  There we met a delightful young couple.  He’s an aerospace structural engineer and a glider (soaring) enthusiast who built his own trailer.  She’s a teacher. The next (Central Standard Brewing) 2 blocks away with a quiet and enjoyable Biergarten. No chatty nice couples, though.

Saturday, October 2 – Explore Wichita, mostly the Old Town Farm and Art Market.  Dodged a few raindrops at first but it stopped by 11AM.  Learned about Coleman Lanterns, Mr Coleman and the World War II password code response “Coleman” to the query “lantern”.  [Essay on Mr Coleman and his lanterns here].

It was train day! Old steam powered train engine was running.  Right near a brewery.  Third Place Brewing.  Looked at old train stuff in the museum.  Very small and cozy brew tasting room, near the old and restored rail station (no longer a station as before).

Stopped by the Kansas Aviation Museum on the way out of town, right next to the old airport, now McConnell AFB. It has a lot of cool stuff, but I’d say it’s a bit disorganized.  Nice wing on Beech history, even a plaque for Ball.  We saw it all in about 1.5 hours. It’s in the old Airport building, Art Deco from 1929.

Wichita is also on the Arkansas River, which sort of seemed to be our guide on and off for the first several days.

On to Claremore, OK.

Wow, what a great AirBnB. Gene was our host.  He’s an architect who does house designs for both initial builds and remodels; he has really done a great job with this AirBnB. Even has a hottub. His brother, to whom he was very close, passed away while we were there. Sad. He reminded us of Fred Rogers.  Quite possibly the best host we’ve ever had.  Certainly, the nicest and one of the more inexpensive ones too.  Remarkable, since he’s currently the only AirBnB host in Claremore.

Sunday October 3Will Rogers Museum, quite close to Gene’s AirBnB.  Wow, definitely leave time for this one.  Like several hours.  Bring an extra layer, as they have the A/C cranked … they say to keep the humidity down and preserve some Rogers’ artifacts.  Built in 1938 in just 6-1/2 months with private funds (Rogers perished in 1935 in a plane crash in northern Alaska).

Left for Fort Smith, Arkansas early afternoon.  But we took a slight detour to see what it was like to be an Okie from Muskogee.  Well, a rather sad town.  Not much going on.  A bunch of pot shops.  Weird, since the famous Merle Haggard song begins with “We don’t smoke Marijuana in Muskogee.”  Pot is only legal for medical treatment in Oklahoma, so I presume the region has a lot of very sick people who really need their medical Marijuana.

Rejoin and cross the Arkansas River to enter Arkansas at Fort Smith.  The Arkansas River coincides with the OK-ARK state line here, and the quirky bend in the border needs to be investigated.  Nearly all of Arkansas’ state boundaries are straight survey lines (with the exceptions of some little nicks that are partly defined by the Red and St Francis Rivers in the SW and NE corners; and of course the Mississippi River).  How they arranged a kink in the north-south line for the boundary to be right on the river at Fort Smith must be an interesting story.

Walked the grounds of the Old Fort Smith (actual fort), walked along the river, nice amphitheater, and found a brewery, imagine that. Bricktown Brewery.  Right near the old fort.  The amphitheater was setting up for a big concert; presumably per our server it is quite a happening site for concerts.

AirBnB well to SE of town center.  Not the best, but it did ok.

Monday, October 4. Not much more to see, as the Fort Smith History Museum was closed (Monday), so we wandered over to Miss Laura’s Visitors Center, which is actually a well-preserved bordello from back in late 1890s.  It’s right near the river and the railroad tracks.  Our tour was given by the most delightful lady, 91-years old.  She absolutely loves being a tour guide in Ft Smith, even though she kept saying she’s an Okie from just across the river, in the flood plain.

Well off on to backroads again to Mount Nebo State Park, Arkansas. Along the way we stopped in Paris, Arkansas.  They have a small park near the center of town with a very small-scale low-resolution replica of the Eiffel Tower (25 ft tall, vs the original, at 1,000 ft).  So of course, we took selfies there.

Arrived at Mount Nebo, a hidden gem getaway on a mountain that rises abruptly up and out of the Arkansas River basin. We checked into our 1930s vintage cabin, built by the CCC 1933-35.  Very cool.  Watched sunset at Sunset Point at one end of the mountain.  Great views of the valleys below, including, you guessed it, the Arkansas River.

Tuesday, October 5.  Took the Ridge Trail hike around the crest of Mount Nebo.  Scenic.  Got a bit warm by the end.  Glad we had our hiking poles.  Kinda dicey for our old knees in places.  A nice 2.5 or 3 mile hike which we took at a very leisurely pace.

Headed over to sister Beth and bro-in-law Doug’s place along backroads, avoiding interstates.  Hit the edge of Jacksonville, AR, which reminded me of an old college buddy.  I found his number and called.  Left a message.  He texted back. I texted him.  We’ve chatted since.  It’s been well over 40 years, but we have good memories to share.

Had a great time visiting Beth and Doug.  Walked the yard, the garden.  Very pleasant evening.  Doug smoked some brisket.  Mmmmm.

Wednesday, October 6.  A little more visiting with Beth and Doug (Nice they were able to take the days off), and a nice breakfast.

Then off for Memphis.  Over half the way along US-70 (not interstate) but did pick up I-40 in Forrest City.  Crossed the Mississippi, finally leaving the Arkansas River watershed.

After checking into AirBnB on near east end, did the quick driving tour of downtown.  Then a history walk (nice) and also up-and-down Beale Street (over rated) and through historic region on east end of downtown.

Thursday, October 7.  Back into downtown for the National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel.  Over 5 hours! And 5 stars! Fascinating.  Lots of primary source history.  We took a break in the middle to get some BBQ nearby (Central Que BBQ).  A “must see” (the museum, not the BBQ).

We were told the Bass Pro Pyramid near the river is a “must see” also, so we did it.  Well: wow.  It’s huge.  It’s got everything, even “cabin” hotel rooms.  Pretty impressive place.  Check it out: Big-cypress.com.

Then stopped at a hole-in-the wall (Cozy Corner Restaurant) and took some takeaway BBQ to our room .

Friday, October 8.  Well, we hadn’t seen quite enough of Memphis yet, so back into town in the AM to see some older neighborhoods, like the Cooper-Young neighborhood, and some of the perimeter of Overland Park.  One more spin through downtown and the famous St Jude’s Children’s Hospital area, then on I-40 toward Nashville. An hour or so along the route we cross into  the Tennessee and Cumberland River basins.

About halfway to Nashville we got off I-40 for a detour over to Johnsonville State Historic Park, which has a nice little museum, and was the site of an important Civil War battle (and a skirmish).  It was a post along a major supply line (on the Tennessee River) for the Blue Jackets. Hiked the battleground, lake front (river is now dammed) and hill where fort was located. Departing, we followed the old US-70 through some small towns, including Waverly.  The devastation of the late August 2021 flood there was still evident, as we saw many tons of waste (sofas, carpeting, mattresses, drywall, etc – all damaged beyond repair) piled up along the highway and side roads.  [Deadly Waverly Flood, Aug 2021]

Made it to west side of Nashville around 5:3PM0 to meet old grad-school buddy Bob Beall and his wonderful wife Leslie at a BBQ joint near them.  A bit upscale for BBQ (Honey Fire BBQ), but very nice, and the company was terrific.  So good to see them again.  We had dropped in a few years ago for a visit.  Great to stay in touch with such good people.  Even if they were raised in Louisiana.

To a Days Inn east/southeast of town probably 20-25 minutes from dinner on the west end.

Saturday October 9 – Drive I-24 over the mountain (Mount Eagle). Kind of a pretty drive for an interstate.  Got off to go into South Pittsburg (TN) to visit the Lodge Factory Store (think: cast iron).  No bargains, but a pretty town along the Tennessee River.  I-24 looked a bit clogged, so we took all back roads from there to Chattanooga.

Got to “Chatty” early enough to tour the Chattanooga Choo-Choo station, and take a local bus to the Tennessee River front area, and took a nice walking tour there along the river, and of downtown.  Cool, hip, happening city.  Who knew?  Walked all the way back to car at Choo-choo station.  Stopped at the Big River Grill near downtown for a bite and a couple brews. Stopped by their large Oktoberfest celebration area; ticketed entry, we passed after a couple of pictures. Then up Lookout Mountain (another civil war battle site) to see what we could see (seven different states, presumably), then duck into the cave to see Ruby Falls, which has, at about 130 feet, the supposed tallest underground waterfall in the world.  Very cool, but gosh, that place makes a lot of money.  Tourists lined up all day to see it.

Well, that’s Chatty.  Now about 25 minutes over to Cleveland, TN our AirBnB, hosted by Dan & Nancy.  Nice couple.  He is a regional manager for the bakeries in Panera Bread; she’s a nurse.  Like the nickname for nearby Chattanooga, they were rather chatty, but very pleasantly so.  Eager to share stories and give us tips.  But time to move on.

Sunday, October 10.  Off to Asheville, NC, but no Interstate for us, at least to start.  Followed US 64 & 74, which is generally along the Ocoee River, up in the Appalachian Hills and still part of the Tennessee River system.  We stopped at the Ocoee Whitewater Center to hike a bit along the river and see the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events.  I did not know there were so many dams along the Ocoee; I counted 3.  Then along US-23 into Asheville.

After checking in late afternoon, almost in the center of downtown, we wandered over to the closest microbrewery (Hi-Wire) where we met a nice couple a tad younger than us (about 10 yrs), from near Chatty.  Kevin and Tammy.  We hit it off so well, we walked to another nearby micro-brewery (Wicked Weed) with them and hung out a bit.  Then weariness set in and we crashed hard into bed.

Monday, October 11.  Day to hangout in Asheville and not drive.  Started out with a 2.5 hour guided walking history tour of Asheville.  Tour guide Jess (I think).  Good stuff.  Founded 1797 along the French Broad River (part of the upper Tennessee system), and a convenient location approximately halfway between Raleigh and Chatty.  Surrounded by hills.  Spirits tasting at Cultivated Cocktails – local craft distiller.  Quite nice.  Good story behind the Grove Arcade, and why it’s only 3 stories tall.  Then over the Asheville Pinball Museum, a “hands on” museum experience for a couple of hours.    My hands and fingers were more than a bit sore.

After photographing the beautiful St Lawrence Basilica<

/a>, which was sadly closed, we wandered over to Twin Leaf Brewing, as we had what were sort-of free drink tokens.  Well, it was an okay deal, but the beer wasn’t great, but we did enjoy the environment and get to see a different part of town.

Then down to the riverfront to try and watch the sunset from some parks there.  Mostly blocked by mountains.  The parks seem to have recovered well after being inundated and swept over by floods back in August, some muddy soil debris was still evident.

We tried to see the Biltmore House area, but of course could not get anywhere near it.  Seems kind of touristy and bourgeois anyhow.  Drove through Biltmore Village, which is nice and has a different modern and dense feel than the rest of Asheville.  Off to Trader Joe’s for some supplies and a good night’s rest.  Tomorrow is a lot of driving.

Tuesday, October 12.  Jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway after stopping in the Visitor Center for tips and ideas.  Cruised that scenic roadway for several hours. About 175 miles of the 469 total, or so. Gorgeous, especially in October.  Can’t be in a hurry.  It’s 50mph speed limit, tops, and quite twisty anyhow.  We got off near the Virginia border right after hitting one last overlook and short hike, Fox Hunters Paradise and High Piney Spur.  Some backroads through tiny places like Galax and Woodlawn, VA, then hopped on I-77 to I-81 and cruised into Edelweiss German Restaurant, just outside Staunton, VA, for some good wurst, schnitzel and spätzle.

Hotel, Days Inn, just a few minutes away.  We could’ve taken I-81 but didn’t.

That was a lot of driving.  Saw a lot of beautiful scenery.  Crossed over into the Shenandoah/Potomac River basin.

Wednesday, October 13Staunton, VA. Stopped in for tour of Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace.  It’s called a library, but I didn’t see it that way.  Sort of a WW museum.  Good tour.  Interesting perspective on history.  Hit a coffee shop on the way out of town.

Hit I-81 for a short while (~15 min) then exited and took many state and county roads through the mountains.  Passed through a crook of Maryland, and rested our butts for a while in Oakland, MD, mostly a thrift store there.  I know Audrey bought something, but I can’t remember what. Old train depot has been totally repurposed.  Nail and Beauty salon, accountants, and lawyers.  I wandered by looking for something interesting and a lady asked me sincerely if I wanted a manicure.  I caught her off guard.  Her question caught me off guard. No time for my first mani now.  Some US highways then finally caught I-68, just inside the MD Stateline and 20 or 30 miles from Morgantown, WV – our destination for today.

Entered Morgantown, which was much hillier than I expected, although it is the home to the Mountaineers, the nickname of UWVa.  Went right to the Don Knotts statue (it’s his hometown) and snapped some photos.

Then off to check out the heart of downtown and the Monongahela River waterfront.  (As a sign we’re about to head west again, the Monongahela feeds the Ohio River). First hit Morgantown Brewery, and we split a tasty burger.  About 1 block off the river.  Nice place, with a back deck and slight view of river.  Trivia night.  I couldn’t get a team together, so we went out to walk the river front.  Met some really nice people chatting, one of whom was a city cop.  That’s his beat, just cruising the river.  Nice walkways, and amphitheater.  Seemed like a pretty “high end” college town. Returned to the brewery to checkout Trivia Night.  Stayed for a few questions.  Two pretty difficult questions that I knew the answers to.  Shared them with neighboring table, kind of hoping to get invited to join in.  [e.g., in what bodies of water are each of these four islands: Isle Royale, Goat, Mackinac and Corsica?  In what movie is the line “You may call me: Oh Captain, my captain” said?]

Time to get some sleep.  La Quinta in, on the edge of town.  More driving tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14.  Turning seriously back west now, as Morgantown was our farthest east (also northeast). Cruising I-79 north into PA for a bit, picking up I-70 west then into Ohio.  I-77 north until we stop in Canton to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not as impressive as I’d hoped, but still pretty good and a bucket list item.  Audrey passed it up to have some personal time with coffee.

We took OH-8 north, and just on the north side of Akron we found a park that the Cuyahoga River flows through and has cut a pretty deep and impressive gorge.  Who knew?  Took a nice hike there, I think it’s called Gorge Park in the town of Cuyahoga Falls.  Somewhere near Canton we’ve crossed a divide, as the Cuyahoga feeds Lake Erie, not the Ohio River.

From there to our AirBnB on the outskirts of Cleveland … which is pretty sprawling when combined with all the little urban and suburban satellite communities.  We stayed in Warrensville Heights.  There is a light commuter rail station nearby.  We found that, but parking was very minimal, and the rail seemed to be very lightly used.  Covid?  We did find a brewery in that entertainment district, which was fairly hopping.  Locals suggested Lyft or Uber over light rail.  Hmmm.  Sad.

Friday, October 15.  Well, that was our worst AirBnB experience so far, mostly because the bed was way too soft and noisy.  Audrey got hardly a wink of sleep and Joe was restless.  She ended up counting sheep on a sofa outside our bedroom.  Sigh.  So, we dumped our second night there and booked a room in the high-end Drury Plaza Inn downtown.  Drove there, they let us check in very early and we were off to explore Cleveland.  Very, very nice room.  Complimentary happy hour with meals and breakfast, too.

We took a jagged crooked walk around downtown and ended up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, right on Lake Erie.  Very impressive.  Overwhelming. Everything was terrific.  The building, the displays, the presentations, the videos, everything.  We spent 5 hours there.  Then a bit more walking back to hotel by a different twisty route, which included going by the Browns football stadium (currently called First Energy) and a statue of Otto Graham.

Back to hotel for happy hour and dinner, which included bbq pulled pork. Mmmmm.

Friday, October 16.  OK, time to start heading seriously west.  But first one more cool thing to see, the West Side Cleveland City Market.  Built in 1912 but starting out as a market exchange in the 1850s, it is the longest continually city-run market in the region.  Cool building, very high arched ceilings.  We bought some sausages and bread for road snacks.  West Side and Ohio City seem to offer additional fun that we missed in downtown, so it’s on our “to do list” if and when we return.

On to Fort Wayne, IN.  Wanting to take more backroads, we stayed on I-71 south (southwest-ish) a tad longer to get us into some real rural country.  OH-95 to Mount Gilead, then US-231 up to and around Upper Sandusky, finally catching US 30 (AKA Lincoln Highway in many parts) and going almost directly west to Fort Wayne to meet up with an old work buddy for a beer in the old downtown.  It’s actually quite nice. Fort Wayne.  Who knew?  Many historic beautiful buildings, some to the 1880s and ‘90s, including the magnificent Allen County courthouse.

Ft Wayne is at the confluence of the St Joseph and St Mary Rivers, forming the Maumee River, so we’re still in the Lake Erie watershed.

Highway IN-14 almost straight west to near the Illinois Stateline, then a zig and a zag and you’re in Kankakee, Illinois.  It was getting pretty dark, so we went straight to our room, which was in Bourbonais, just north of Kankakee.

Sunday, October 17Kankakee and surrounds ended up being great.  Locals call it “K3.” We stumbled across a fall festival and trunk-or-treat related family event held downtown where the Farmers Market is held on Saturdays.  (This was a Sunday).  Saw a unicorn (ok, goofy) which kids loved, and a real good imitation of Dr Brown’s DeLoran-based time machine from Back to the Future, complete with Mr Fusion and dog named Einstein.  There are two Frank Lloyd Wright Houses side-by-side, next to the Kankakee River.  One is a museum, which was closed on Sunday, so we walked around and took some pictures. They have a nice train station, which appears to be some sort of museum as well (closed) and was surprised to find they also have Amtrak service.

Somewhere in Indiana we crossed a slight divide, as the Kankakee River feeds the Illinois and then the Mississippi River.  We’re heading west for sure now.

Departing, took city roads to IL-102 up to Kankakee River State Park for a nice 3 mile hike through forest along the river. Leaf color season, and some interesting puff-ball mushrooms.  Audrey picked up some black walnuts and chestnuts to bring home.  Continued along 102 to Wilmington, IL when we were forced to get out when we found out it is along old Route 66, they have an antique store, a brewery (Route 66 Old School Brewing) and a local dam controversy.

Took a different IL highway from there, meandered to I-55, then to I-80, and started really cruising west.  Across the Mississippi and into Iowa, near Davenport. Left I-80 near Iowa City; north on I-380 about half hour to Cedar Rapids.  Check in to nice hotel, not in city center, in mall area.

Went into town in the old Czech village area and found Lion Bridge Brewing.  Nice place.  Learned a bit of local Czech history and about the Bridge of Lions, spanning the Cedar River.  Good homework for tomorrow’s activity.

Monday, October 18Cedar Rapids and the Czech and Slovak Museum and Library.  Wa-a-ay more interesting than we expected.  Took about 2 to 2.5 hours.  Lots of Iron Curtain era stuff.  Also, cultural costumes, famous people and emigrations, mostly to US, over the past 150 or so years.

Quite a Czech and Bohemian village area, adjoining each side of the Cedar River, just south of downtown.  We cruised that area, stopping to take pictures of Wenceslas Church.  And more pics of Bridge of Lions.  Then through downtown.  Nice quiet, clean town we’d like to maybe visit Cedar Rapids again.

Then west again, to Boone, Iowa.  Saw some history and engineering.  Birthplace of Mamie Dowd Eisenhower and side-by-side Old and New Kate Shelley High Bridges over the Des Moines River.  Then over to the very tiny town of Moingona, to see the old train depot – which supposedly houses the Kate Shelley Museum, closed due to Covid – to which young Kate ran to save the Midnight Express (JG essay topic, 2020).

Both the Cedar and Des Moines Rivers flow generally north-to-south where we were, in Boone and Cedar Rapids, feeding the Mississippi.

Doubling back east a bit to Ames, Iowa much of it along the old Lincoln Highway (which has been replaced in many places by a parallel, slicker and safer US-30).  Checked into a B&B called Iowa House, which is in a former Frat House that has been lovingly remodeled and cared for.

Toured around the Iowa State campus.  It is mostly quite beautiful.  Took some pics, which were right at dusk, so they turned out pretty nice.

Tried to find a brewery, but they were all closed!  In a college town!  Geepers, Mondays.  Went to Boulder Tap House, where the beer was just OK, but we split a burger, again, one of our rare meals out.  Nice college kids wait staff that we got to know a bit.

Back to B&B.  Met some really nice co-guests, including a cool chatty grammy (Sally) and her daughter-in-law visiting grandson/son at ISU for a couple of days.

Maps are tricky, as globes don’t properly show up on flat maps.  Turns out Boone and Ames were our farthest north on the entire trip.  (I had thought it was Cleveland, OH).  Anyhow, time to really head west, a bit south and home.  A long day of driving ahead.

Tuesday, October 19.  Up and out after a very nice B&B breakfast.  Back south on I-380, then I-80 west. We did stop in downtown Lincoln, NE for about an hour.  It was originally planned as our last overnight stop, but we had to squeeze a day out of our schedule for a couple reasons.  Lincoln seems really worth re-visiting.  Lady at the Visitor Center had loads of good info and was pretty persuasive.  And it’s even a stop on Amtrak, direct from Denver.  The old train station, as in Cedar Rapids, has been nicely re-purposed.  Could be a future train-based trip.

Just out of Lincoln there was apparently a terrible crash resulting in fires.  I-80 had been closed for hours.  We took a detour way off I-80, up to US-34.  It’s all part of the adventure.  Added about 1.5 hours to our trip home, the traffic on all the detour roads was turtle paced.  Got a feel for towns like Utica and Waco, NE. Interesting to see such small and rather out of the way (even if they are on US-34) Ag and Rail towns not decaying, like much else we’ve seen in out-of-the-way America, barely stayin’ alive.  No reason to re-visit though.  Finally, back on I-80 near York, NE , following the Platte River upstream on-off for a few hours, turning South West-ish onto I-76, and then back to good old Broomfield, Colorado, arriving so late I don’t even remember; but had time to unload the car and do language lessons before midnight.

Museums/Historical Sites visited (quite a few others were closed)
Sand Creek Massacre
Boot Hill (Dodge City)
Kansas Aviation Museum
Will Rogers Museum
Old Fort Smith
Miss Laura’s Visitors Center
Mount Nebo park and historic CCC camp
Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel
Johnsonville State Historical Park (TN)
Chattanooga Choo-Choo Rail Station
Lookout Mountain
Ruby Falls (Cave)
Pinball Museum (Asheville)
Blue Ridge Parkway
Woodrow Wilson Library and Birthplace
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Czech and Slovak Heritage Museum & Library

Joe Girard © 2021

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Coleman!

In military terminology, a countersign is a word, phrase or signal that must be given to allow passage beyond anyone at a secure post, such as a sentry.  Usually, it is agreed upon a priori.  For example, in Normandy, on the beaches and on the cliffs, on D-Day, June, 1944, the password response to “flash” was “thunder.”  Sometimes it was more fluid, even impromptu, especially if a leak was suspected.  So, it was often based on contemporary culture:
          (approacher) Pass please.
          (sentry) Yankees Centerfielder.
          (approacher) DiMaggio.
          (sentry) Come through. [1]

Well, my REI winter holiday shopping catalog just arrived, packed with other assorted postal bombardments we are prone to receiving in our mailboxes in this current pre-Christmas season. 

REI.  That brings back more than a few autobiographical memories, and I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to trigger the dance of my fingers across my keyboard to tap out an essay that’s been brewing since the first days of the ‘round the country road trip we took in October.

Vintage REI logo. I couldn’t find one from either the very early days, or a good modern one.

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc) is a retailer of high-end sporting and outdoor adventure equipment. It’s organized as a cooperative.  It originated in Seattle and has since spread to 138 stores around the country.

I became aware of REI when I first moved to Seattle, in 1980, fresh out of grad school – and fresh out of money.  I mean broke.  I literally had zero dollars and zero cents.  Just a Chevron credit card and – for some reason, maybe since I had just earned an engineering graduate degree – an American Express Card.  On my cross-country trip from Nashville to Seattle I stopped in Denver for a few days; my dad loaned me $200 cash so I could put down a deposit on an apartment. As I was about to pull away he asked if I had any money.  None.  None?  He handed me the cash.  We hugged.  He cried.  It was the first time I ever saw him cry. And that was it.  (I spent part of it to get into Yellowstone National Park on the way to the Great Pacific Northwest).

There is a rush you get after being completely broke, thinking Hamburger Helper and Chunky Soup on toast are great meals, and then cashing fat paychecks for a few months.  [Also, after those few months, a collection agency found me, as a result of my “disappearance” after leaving Nashville.  I was able to resolve that with my newfound wealth]. [2]

One of the places where I splashed cash was REI, in downtown Seattle, taking up much of an entire city block at 11th and Pine.  At the time it might have still been the only REI store in the entire country, even though it was founded in 1938. I think that was still the original location. I soon bought a membership in the Co-op and have maintained it all these years – that’s why I still get catalogs.  And rebates.

Old REI patch. I guess people stitched these onto their backpacks and jackets. Vintage.

All the equipment was (and is) top notch.  I finally had money for needed (or wanted) equipment. Winter was approaching, so at first for skiing.  Poles, skis, boots, parkas, gloves, goggles, ski pants, scarves.  Then shoes for running (New Balance) and boots for hiking the Cascade Mountains (Raichle).

In spring as “better” weather approached, I bought some summer gear, including high-end golf shoes (Foot Joy), baseball shoes, and a camping lantern, made by Coleman.  [“Better” is definitely a relative term in the Pacific Northwest.  Let’s just say it rained less and the sun came out a couple hours a day]

Although I didn’t get the golf and baseball shoes at REI, I did get the Coleman Lantern there.  What a brilliant device.   Not just brilliantly bright, but simply brilliant.

________________________________________________________________

William Coffin Coleman (he usually went by “WC”) was born May 21, 1870 in Chatham, NY.  Chatham is about halfway between the Massachusetts state line and the Hudson River.  That’s about 6 miles east of Kinderhook, NY, home of the US’s 8th President, Martin Van Buren, who often went by “Old Kinderhook”, or “OK” for short.  Soon after, in 1871, while WC was still a suckling infant, the family moved to the far southeast corner of Kansas to homestead, getting their own land to work into a home and to farm.  The long arduous journey was made partly by train, and partly by covered wagon.

The brutally violent and bloody wars in the plains between Native Americans and the US Army were still underway.  It took some gumption and bravery to undertake the long transfer of residence.

Details on Coleman’s life before fame are a bit skimpy, sketchy and inconsistent.  Here’s what I found and have decided upon.

Apparently, Coleman had at least two brothers, as there is reference to them helping with some funding some decades later.  Unfortunately, the Colemans’ father passed away when young William was only 11.  He helped his mother run the farm and found odd work, mostly as a salesman of small merchandise.  He continued selling things – both travelling and in stores – and was able to eventually get a job for a while as a schoolteacher after completing a degree in nearby Emporia, at the Kansas State Teacher’s College (now Emporia State University).

He was also Superintendent of Schools in the Blue Rapids (KS) school district for a while. Then, it seems, he changed the direction of his professional intentions and attended Law School at the University of Kansas.  Always short on money, yet always a good salesman, Coleman sold typewriters as a traveling salesman to pay the bills and tuition.  As money got tighter, he was soon doing more traveling and selling than he was studying law.

Much of the following is Coleman Company lore, but I’m sure there is much truth in it.

One fateful evening in the mid-1890s, while on a typewriter selling tour, Coleman found himself in the hard-scrabble, dusty, dirty, pavement-free coal mining town of Brockton, Alabama.  There, in a drug or department store window, he saw a lantern shining brightly.  He’d never seen anything like it.

It burned gasoline, fed to its combustion under pressure.  He immediately changed from selling typewriters to selling lanterns for the Irby-Gilliland Company, maker of the lanterns, out of Memphis, TN. But first he had to buy the rights to sell the lantern, from the Irby family; the only region he could afford that was near home was in Oklahoma. I can’t find the value, but guessing around $500.

Oh, and Coleman, already long absent, finally dropped out of law school.

Originally sales went poorly. Turns out many customers had already experienced unsatisfactory results, despite the lantern’s brilliance, as the fuel delivery clogged with carbon deposits, and could not be easily cleaned.  Word had gotten around.

Coleman was already in for the $500, probably some it a loan from the Irbys and his farming brothers.  Not about to give up, he hit upon some clever ideas here.  First, he began leasing the lanterns for a small sum, instead of selling them.  He absorbed the risk of lantern failure, and replaced them if/when they failed. He could then refurbish and re-lease them.  This changed his product flow nicely.  Now with promising cash flow, his brothers invested further in his lantern sales and leasing business as well.  Second, with some cash available Coleman could afford to start tinkering with the design in his home until it was virtually flawless.

Until then lanterns were largely dull, wasteful and dangerous.  Dull because the light came from the flame.  Wasteful because much of the energy of combustion went to heat, not light.  And dangerous since the flow of fuel (usually kerosene) was either by wicking up, or gravity drip down, and hence the fuel source reservoir could be accessed by flame, especially in the event of a tipping or dropping accident.  Think Mrs O’Leary and the cow in the shed, Chicago, 1871.

WC Coleman: inventor, tinkerer, entrepreneur, marketer and businessman extraordinaire.

The gas lantern – especially with Coleman’s improvements – solved all those problems.  Instead of a wick, Coleman’s lanterns had a “mantle” which glowed, especially when treated with special chemicals (including, at the time, thorium – yikes!).  The gasoline burned just hot enough to get the mantle’s chemical coatings to glow.  And even though it burned pure gasoline it was much safer, since no flame could reach the gasoline reservoir when accidentally tipped over.  In fact, Coleman soon made his lanterns so rugged that they wouldn’t even break when dropped or tipped over (I can attest to all of this.  However, never, never try to get the campfire to burn more brightly by pouring Coleman’s special white gasoline directly onto the fire.  I can attest to this too. 151 rum is much safer).

Replacing the special mantle occasionally was the only maintenance required.

Coleman bought all the rights to the pressure-fed gasoline lantern from the Irby family.  It’s been purported that this might have cost him a further $3,000. This was also achieved by a loan from the Irbys and his brothers — what Coleman often called “the best sale I ever made.” Implementing his improvements, he started a manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas, moved his family there, and began selling the soon wildly popular Coleman Lantern.  In a time of scarce electrical lighting, and pale gas or oil lighting, his lanterns were enormously popular.

Pretty much everyone knew of the popular Coleman Lantern.  He soon applied the pressure fed gasoline concept to make conveniently portable cooking stoves as well.

Legend has it that cattlemen in Colorado once saw a lantern burning so brightly, miles away up in the Rocky Mountain Foothills, that they were sure they had discovered a new star.

_____________________________________________________

Green single mantle Coleman Lantern, vintage 1945.

In times of  military engagement, especially when infantry personnel of one army are likely to come in contact with – or even infiltrate the lines of – the personnel of another army, the use of passcodes and countersigns becomes very important.  This happened to great extent in much of World War II.

In the Asian and Pacific theaters, Japanese intelligence kept spies and infiltrators up to date on American expressions and culture.  Still, this posed little problem, as the US quickly learned to use passcodes and contrasigns like “Lolla-Palooza”, and “Lolli Pop”, words full of Ls. Our Asian allies, the Chinese, could usually pronounce the L.  For Japanese the “L” sound was virtually impossible; even when pronounced as “L” it was so awkward that, either way, like R or L, it was a give-away.

On the other hand, it was much more difficult with our European enemy, the Germans.  It’s well known that German infiltrators and imposters in US uniforms could and did cause much confusion with “false intelligence” about where nearby towns, roads and other divisions lay.  This occurred especially during the Battle of the Bulge, December, 1944. Enough Germans spoke near flawless English, able to produce both American and British accents, that it was quite a dilemma.  Many had been educated in America or Britain.  And, they were up-to-date on much of American culture.

[It’s a strong probability that more Americans were conversant to fluent in German than the other way around.  Many GIs were first generation Germans, who grew up speaking German and often stayed in touch with family in Germany until the war.  More than a few of them were Jews who had fled Germany just a few years before.  It’s also a bit ironic that FDR, then president of the US, was quite conversational in German as well, since he traveled there often — yearly it is said — with his wealthy parents as a youth, and even attended school there at least one year].

There were other problems in Europe too. Over-reliance on modern American culture for security sometimes led to costly, if not funny, mistakes.  For example, on Dec 21, 1944, during “the Bulge” US MP’s and sentries were alerted to the possibility of a German disguised as Brigadier General Bruce Clarke.[3] Well, Clarke himself soon approached a checkpoint and was queried as to whether the Chicago Cubs played in the National League or the American League.  Not a baseball fan, and pressed for an answer, Clarke guessed American (incorrectly) and subsequently spent several frustrating hours in detainment.  [The “intelligence” that Clarke, and other officers, were being impersonated might well have been counterintelligence supplied by clever Germans].

One thing the Germans did not know of American culture was the superb performance and popularity of the Coleman Lantern. In fact, these were used throughout the military.  So, it came to be that the perfect and indecipherable security countersign/passcode combination was to respond “Coleman” to the challenge query “Lantern.”

WC Coleman lived long enough to learn of and enjoy this quirk of history.  He was once elected mayor of Wichita, choosing to only serve one term.  He lived until 1957, still engaged in running his company, as an octogenarian.  He’s buried in his adopted hometown of Wichita and has a plaque on the Wichita Walk of Fame, in City Center.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Although the family lost controlling interest in the company long ago, the Coleman® line of outdoor products is highly respected, even today.  The lanterns remain popular, although the mantles are doped with safer chemicals [Extremely low voltage LEDs threaten to quash them soon].  The stoves are still popular with outdoor enthusiasts.  Coleman has expanded in the camping paraphernalia area to include almost everything outdoor: tents, sleeping bags, jackets, vests, collapsible chairs (some with drink holders, beer-sized), tables, boots, and coolers.  And much more. All of it is high end and highly regarded.  “Coleman” means “quality.” Of course, much of it is available at REI, where everything is high-end, at all 138 locations. Most products are available – naturally, it’s 2021 – on Amazon.  Next day delivery.

Wishing you all a pleasant and happy shopping and holiday season.

Lantern!

Coleman!

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] DiMaggio left baseball to serve in the military, 1943-45, returning afterward to many All-Star seasons.  But everyone knew he was the Yankee center fielder.  The most popular baseball player in America, at the time, even when he wasn’t playing.

[2] Hamburger Helper by Betty Crocker.  If you had it, it meant you had meat.  HH stretched meat to more meals.  Chunky Soup, by Campbell, was thick soup with chewy hunks of meat and veggies.  Kind of a splurge, but we always got that (and the beef for HH) on sale.

[3] MP is Military Police

Other stuff: The concept of pressurized gasoline lanterns (and stoves) here.  Old Town Coleman: How Pressure Appliances Work Part I Coleman US lanterns 1981 – 2000 – The Terrence Marsh Lantern Gallery (terry-marsh.com)

Interesting unofficial source of some info

Gently, Not

“… Do not go gentle into that good night.
… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

I still have a dear friend since childhood.  We’ve been friends and stayed in touch for nearly six decades now, although he lives over 1,000 miles away.  We’ve visited a few times, but most contact is through a news-blurb he publishes via email nearly daily. It contains the day-to-day comings and goings of his life and thoughts: everything from health, to work, to mundane errands, to weather, to politics, and, of course, his grandchildren. [1]

Sometimes he talks about the daily newspaper: what’s in it?; is it on time?; or is it wrapped in plastic for possible rain?  (precipitation is a big deal in Arizona.)  We share a sense of old-fashioned desire for the tactile experience here: we both like to get an actual newspaper, with ink, holding and folding it with that enjoyable crinkle of the paper as we manipulate the pages.

He recently divulged that his wife also enjoys the hardcopy newspaper, but for different reasons than he.  Whereas he checks weather, sports, local and national news (usually in that order, I have deduced), she goes right to the obituaries, and often limits her perusals to those.

Although they live in fairly good-sized city (now about 60,000, even though the municipality is younger than each of us), they live neither in, nor even near, any major metropolitan area.  Therefore, between the two of them, they know a majority of the long-time residents of the region.  So, it’s a way to get news, I suppose.  Mostly, I think, she doesn’t want to learn weeks or months later that a close acquaintance or long-lost friend has gone “into that good night.”

I’ve confessed before on this site that I like to wander through cemeteries.[3] My digital photo album has pics of the final resting places of people both known and unknown to me. The headstones with carved letters, the family plots, the funerary art: all suggest stories.  The details of those final resting places – withered bouquets, trampled grass, cracked stones with the weathered letters of names and epitaphs, two dates with a dash between them , or a few tiny pebbles perched upon a tombstone – are the outlines of those stories; our imaginations are challenged to fill in the rest.

Another confession. Like my friend’s wife, I also peruse the obituaries, especially on Sundays. The Sunday paper usually has a collection of obits from the previous week.  Here I can check to see how many are younger than I am. Weird?  I suppose. Sometimes I get a catch in my breath when I see a name I know. A full week when every Reaper’s Visit is to harvest someone older than I is a good sign.  Such weeks grow ever fewer. When the deceased are younger, I am often amazed at what full lives they lived and how very accomplished they were – I can’t help but feel a bit small and wasteful of my own time and talents in comparison.  Few have gone gently into that good night.

_______________________________________________________

This morning’s Sunday paper brought some very sad news from Houston, Texas.  “Crowd Surge Kills at least 8 at Houston Music Festival.”  Evidently hundreds, perhaps thousands, pushed up against the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott.  Never heard of him until now. All of those who perished were young, aged only 14 to 27.  Many more are in hospital.

This is not a unique occurrence.  Human crowd behavior is bewildering; it’s even a scientific area of study.  It’s almost like we’re grasshoppers: a few of us hanging around is no big deal, interesting and a bit ugly up close, but once we get into huge crowds we change – chemically, hormonally, pheromonally, irrationally – and any behavior, whether destructive or otherwise, becomes acceptable.  Are we like locusts?

Cute grasshopper, not so pretty in real life, especially as part of locust swarm

I am but a poor ignorant grasshopper, yet yearning for wisdom, as in the series Kung Fu.  I simply don’t understand it. Twice I have been caught in such crazed crowd situations.  Even though I am not normally claustrophobic, my instinct both times was to simply get away and go against the throngs. Rather like a rat, squeezing myself out from a collapsed building.

Once was at a Summerfest concert, along Lake Michigan, in the summer of ’73 or ’74. [2] One of the featured acts was the Doobie Brothers, already famous by this time. With anticipation of the big act, the crowd grew in size and rowdiness through each of the warm-up acts. I guess half the audience was stoned.  There were no chairs or benches, just blankets and people on grass.  By the end of the last warm-up group, there was no space left at all.  Thousands of people, shoulder-to-shoulder, most pushing this way and that to get a better view of the stage.  The more pushing there was, the more pushing and yelling ensued.  Most wanted to get closer to the stage. Some yelling was for the Doobs to finally get their butts on stage, some yelling at other attendees for pushing so much.

With the sweet smell of colitis floating through the air my companion and I grew a bit fearful and decided to leave.  At this point our going against the flow was still possible – the space we evacuated was quickly consumed by the grateful pushers.

I learned the next day that a riot occurred shortly after we left.  Concert attendees pushed so hard on the stage that it collapsed.  As I recall there were no fatalities or serious injuries.  I don’t think the Doobies even made it onto the stage, although I wondered later if the roadies could salvage the equipment they were setting up.

The other time was about 15 years ago when I attended the Phoenix Open, a regular PGA Tour® event held annually in early February.  It had been for some time, and is still today, regarded as the loudest, rowdiest, rudest, drunkest and (for many) the most fun of all PGA events, which are usually very quiet and reserved affairs.  [Of course there’s always yelling at any event when a fan favorite is making a run, but that’s after the shot is struck, or the putt is holed].

Rowdy crowd at Phoenix Open

As a result of this reputation, the Phoenix Open is usually the most attended of all PGA events.  The big day is usually Saturday; often around 200,000 in attendance.  If you think golf is a game of manners, politeness, and properly behaved respectful fans who remain quiet during preparation and execution of a golf shot, you’ve not seen or attended the Waste Management Open (ironic name), the current moniker of the Phoenix Open.

Continuous hoots, jeers and cheers are common, especially on the 16th hole.  On the 17th too.  It’s not uncommon for this behavior to spill over to other holes, as ethanol fueled fans seek other views. To be honest, I’d be surprised if many attendees even witness two shots during the day they are there.

On this particular Saturday I was attending “alone”, with about 180,000 strangers, and I just couldn’t take the heat (even though only early February) and obnoxious crowd behavior.  Mid-afternoon I went “against the flow” toward the exit, only to find I was not alone.  Not even close. A vast throng of patrons had also decided to depart early.

In their (lack of) wisdom, the tournament officials set it up so that the main exits from the golf course had to weave through large merchandise tents, like cattle channeled through a feedlot.  In the tents were booths of many sizes and types, selling tournament memorabilia and golf paraphernalia of all sorts.  Most of the thousands of people just wanted to get out; but just enough people stopped at booths to shop that they impeded – in fact stopped – the entire flow of foot-traffic.

We simply stopped moving.  I had no interest in golf hats or visors, shirts, slacks, balls or ball markers.  People pushed upon me. I then pushed against others. It got hotter and hotter in the tent (it’s Phoenix).  Fresh air was non-existent.  After 10 minutes or so people started shouting: hey, let’s get moving.  This was anger.  This was locust swarm behavior.

In a flash of panic-motivated brilliance I hit upon an idea.  I pushed to the edge of the dammed-up motionless river of people and crashed through the barrier of a display booth.  I was then able to dash about 50-75 yards, going from booth to booth, sometimes crashing through the tables and banners that separated the display booths, until I was within a few yards of the exit.

Some people saw my successful tactic and followed.  I’m pretty sure more than one display area was out-of-commission for a while.

Once out  of the tent and at the event exit, I essentially cut-the-line for cell phone retrieval, since everyone else was back on the golf course, stuck in the big tent, or behind me weaving through display booths.  [Back then cell phones were not permitted on the tournament grounds; you checked your phone upon entry and retrieved it when leaving with a unique chit.] I ran to my car.   I’m not sure what happened thereafter.  No deaths, but I wouldn’t be surprised if ambulances showed up. The shouting, screaming, pushing, threats and hyperventilating was scary.  Humans.

I simply don’t understand crowd behavior.  Whether it’s F Joe Biden, Let’s Go Brandon, or crushing people to death at concerts, at soccer matches or during a Hajj, … or putting crass bumper stickers on your car because you just know that everyone in your community thinks the same way you do.  These are things that reasonable sane people wouldn’t normally do.  It’s like our brains flip to Locust-mode when we are in crowds.

Houston and crowd deaths. When people die young like this, they don’t go gently. They’ve not had the opportunity to rage against the dying of their own light.  To tell their story.

Live your life!  Rage now!  Soon enough, the sun sets over the horizon.  Live full, so that, as the Kung Fu teacher said: “Death has had no victory, grasshopper.’

The poet Dylan Thomas himself, whom I quoted to begin this essay and alluded to throughout, managed an impressive life and obituary, despite resting his bones forever, barely aged 39.

Grasshopper’s master teacher, from Kung Fu

As always, my best wishes for you.  And avoid crazed crowds.

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] I’ve written about Kevin a few times in this blog and other blogs.  A few I can recall are here, here and here.

[2] Summerfest bills itself as the largest Music Festival in the world.  And they might be right, with attendance approaching one million annually. Although the Donauinselfest (Danube Island Festival) in Vienna has drawn greater attendance in recent years.

[3] I’ve written about my fascination with cemeteries here and death here, among other times, which I cannot find right now.  My mom wrote this nice piece.

 

Finally, here is Dylan Thomas’s poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953. The years are close together, but his “dash” contained a full life.

Post Election Thoughts, Part 2 – and Looking Forward

Since I wrote Post Election Thoughts 2020, Part 1 last fall, I thought I’d finally get around to a Part 2 — which is actually mostly a look forward, and not so much a look back.

First, a quick look back.  Presidentially, Trump lost.  Period.  Yes, of course there are many “couldas”, “shouldas”, “wouldas”, and “yeah-but-what-abouts”, but he lost.  A large percentage of Trump voters think it was rigged; and a large percentage of Hillary voters still think 2016 was rigged.  Nonetheless, it’s over. Like it or not, Joe Biden is your president, for now.

Is Joe Biden your president?

We’ve been hearing the “not my president” chant for decades now.  First under Clinton, then growing ever louder with Bush 43.

I will throw a bone (or perhaps chew toy) to that crowd of howlers and doubters and concede that it looks like there were more than a few voting anomalies, such as sketchy absentee ballots and ballot-curing oddities, in populous counties of states that were extraordinarily closely decided: e.g. Maricopa in AZ and Fulton in GA.[1]  Regardless, it’s also evident that none of those were enough to swing a state, let alone the entire election.  Gonna take that bone away: this happens every election.  Every – single – pelection.  There are always anomalies and sideways glances.  Nothing is perfect, even democracy. Or perhaps, “especially” in a democracy.

This is one reason that I remain (slightly) in favor of the Electoral College (EC) over the National Popular Vote movement: it may be possible to corruptly swing a single state or two. But even if an entire state was so messed up (or amoral) that 100% of the vote went for one candidate (or, even 110%), it does not sway the EC outcome much at all.  It’s simply more difficult to fraudulently sway a large number of states without detection.

Built into this is a second reason: the EC usually (not always) gives a pretty clear indication of just who won.  For example, in the last two (very tight) elections the winner won by identical 306-232 [2] votes.  Fairly convincing majorities (yet Trump labeled his 2016 win a “landslide” despite losing the popular vote 46-48%).

Speaking of “minority” presidents, the EC gave Abraham Lincoln a clear majority over three other candidates receiving EC votes in 1860, despite garnering less than 40% of the popular vote.

[1] given the closeness in Georgia (a current official difference of only about 11,000 votes out of 5 million cast for all of its 16 Electoral votes) my pre-election assessment that a presidential vote counts more in Georgia than any other states stands substantiated.

[2] note that so-called “faithless electors” changed this 306-232 outcome slightly in 2016.  Per a recent 2020 Supreme Court case (Chiafalo v. Washingtonwhich was combined with Colorado Department of State v. Bacawe will likely see an end to such faithless electors soon — a situation I do not agree with)

One last thought looking back at 2020 and the presidential race.  I assert that without two things Trump wins, hands down.

  • Number one: obviously, the novel corona virus. The pandemic, our collective responses to it, and the consequences thereof completely pushed what was an almost certain Trump win into the gray area that columnists and the news media love.  Pre-pandemic the economy was roaring with record low unemployment as well as record high employment (and salaries) for minorities (especially blacks) and women.  Oh my, how that flipped.
  • Number two: Trump is an ass who broadcasts whatever undisciplined thought floats into his maze-of-a-brain without any filter whatsoever. Very unpresidential. Of course, he said stuff like “one day the virus will just go away.”  He didn’t do himself any favors. I score it an unconvincing 2-1 loss with an own goal.

Ok, enough looking back.  Now forward.


The US decennial census results are finally in, some four months late.  (Late, owing to the pandemic, and a few court battles about whether the census can legally count non-citizens as non-citizens).

The results are only a tad surprising, and there are some golden nuggets and poison pills for both Dems and Reps, although long term it looks better to me for Dems.

First, the population only grew about 7.4% over the entire decade; that’s the slowest growth since the Depression and Dust Bowl-cursed 1930s.  Still, 47 of the 50 states (48, including DC) recorded population growth; the losers were West Virginia (-3.2%), Mississippi (-0.2%) and Illinois (-0.1%).

Looking forward: Reallocation of Congressional District Seats, and thus Electoral Votes have been determined.  The “winners” are Texas (+2), and the following at +1: Colorado, Florida, Montana, Oregon, and North Carolina.  The “losers”, all at -1, are: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  [this is the first time California, the nation’s most populous state, has ever lost a congressional district; for New York it’s just the second: they lost two seats in 2010].

Nominally this looks like a slight win for Republicans, as more generally Rep voting states get additional congressional seats and Electoral Votes, drawing away from solid Dem states like CA, NY and IL.

If one thinks the presidential contests of the past were dirty or tainted – think of the angst following both ’16 and ’20 –  then one hasn’t ever paid attention to re-drawing of Congressional Districts and state legislative districts, which has been, and is going on, under our very collective noses. It’s a terrific example of “polite fiction.”  [“Terrific” is etymologically related to “terrible”, in this case for good reason]. The “Fiction” being that this is all fair, balanced and representative.  This has been historically, and still is, the unseen dirtiest of dirty businesses – classic smoke-filled room stuff that we don’t get to see much of; something that is supposedly based on balanced and fair representation. In reality it’s highly partisan in most states, and the process will take its toll on anyone’s faith in the notion that the drawing of district boundaries is fair and independent.

For example, Illinois, which is hard left leaning, at least state-wide (voting 55% and 57% for the Dem presidential candidate in ’16 and ’20 and only having Dem US senators since 2010) currently has 18 congressional seats: disproportionately 13 Democrat and 5 Republican.  The new state CD map managed to squeeze an incumbent Republican out of his seat, Adam Kinzinger; this, despite the state losing a seat and having a solid majority of Dems in the current tally, so it will be even more disproportionate.  Not sure how this plays out long term, since Kinzinger has been a critic of Trump, especially his bitching about the election.

On the other hand, one can be sure that the heavily Republican-leaning Texas legislature will ensure that the two “new” districts will lean Republican as well. More on Texas in the footnotes.

This all has to be done quite quickly, as the campaign season for the 2022 mid-terms is already underway.  The 4-month census delay has not helped map drawers meet deadlines. [By the way: since 1935 the sitting president’s party has lost seats in congress in all but two mid-term elections.  Because the Dems currently hold a very narrow 220-212 edge – with 3 vacancies – we can count on the drawing of CD boundaries and campaigning to be very contentious.]

And, probably about as important, each state must now re-draw their state’s legislative and senate districts (except Nebraska, which is unicameral, and only draws one set of district maps). Again, these must be drawn very soon.  Haste makes waste, so be careful.

Back to census-based demographic trends, most of which look to be favorable to Democrats.

  • America continues its over-one-century migration away from its wide swaths of rural regions, and toward the urban, suburban and exurban centers.  Urbanites, and those close to urban areas, tend to vote Democrat; Rural dwellers tend to vote Republican. Covid might have changed this, as it hit right in the middle of the census; so it will take a decade to see what the impacts are.
  • Racially, there are actually fewer total Whites than in 2010; Whites tend to be more likely to vote R than D. [Trump got 57% to Biden’s 42% of White votes in 2020].

One demographic that I noted could slightly favor Republicans.  America is aging. The Average age in the US is up 1 year, from 37.2 to 38.2.  Mostly this is due to longer lives among Baby Boomers and older (those born before 1964). Older people have a slight tendency to vote Republican, and they definitely get higher voter turnout. It’s also partly due to a falling birthrate.

Regarding voting patterns. People tend to vote how their friends, neighborhood, and fellow community members vote. This has become kind of a closed-loop feedback system, as people now tend to socialize and associate mostly (or only) with those who think like them politically. I don’t think this happened nearly as much before, say 2000.  We are very polarized now.

There’s also a high correlation between population density and political voting patterns. Below 800 per square mile people tend to vote Republican; and below 100 overwhelmingly so.  It starts to change between 800 and 2,000 per sq mile.  From lower population densities, but still urbanite densities like Denver and Saint Louis (both just under 5,000/sq. mi.), to larger BostonSan Francisco and New York (14,000, 19,000 and nearly 30,000 sq.mi.) one sees profound diluvial pro-Democratic voting patterns.

For Republican patterns and densities, one would need to look at county population numbers; I can’t think of a single urban center that leans Republican.  I suspect that two major factors here are: the higher the density the more the propensity to perceive benefit from bigger and more active government (efforts to de-fund police notwithstanding), and urban areas tend to have higher populations of people of color, who generally vote Democratic.

Re-districting and the associated “food fights” are almost inevitable. Highly political gerrymandering is not a necessary outcome every decade.  Although states like Texas and Maryland (and several others) seem doomed, for now, to their grossly distorted Congressional District maps, several states have recently taken map-drawing out of the hands of their politically-motivated legislatures (and even state courts) and put them in the hands of supposedly non-partisan commissions. [3]

Maryland’s CD map, 2012-2020. CD 2, 3, 4,and 7 are so contorted it hurts one’s head

My home state of Colorado is one of these; we voted for two such special commissions back in 2018: one for US congressional districts, and one for state legislative districts.  Kind of a big deal, especially since Colorado has an additional congressional seat starting in 2022 – now up to eight.

Other states that are now drawing maps via “independent” commissions are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New York and Washington. I can’t help but be skeptical of the “non-partisan” rating each commission would get, but I’m also optimistic that increased fairness and representation will result. (AK and MT have only one CD, but this applies to their state legislatures as well).  I’ve heard some squawking about preliminary maps from all sides already.

A few elections to look forward to besides the November 2024 Presidential and General Elections – when we will no doubt be told, yet again, that “this is a matter of life and death”, and “this is the most important election in our lifetime.”  (Insert breathless, feverish inflection as you wish).

I touched on the mid-term races in 2022, but special congressional elections will be held to fill vacancies as well in November, 2021.  With a Senate split at 50-50 there are several 2022 Senate elections to watch closely, wherein Reps must defend 20 seats, the Dems 14.  The likely close races to watch here look to be: Georgia (again), Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  Of these likely close races, Reps are defending 3 seats, Dems 4. Be prepared for an extra onslaught of advertising and “persuasion” if you live in those states.

And coming sooner, this year in September: (1) the nation will watch the recall election of Gov Newsome in California on the 14th, and (2) Europe – indeed, the world – will pay attention to see how Germany reshapes itself in the post-Merkel era, as they hold federal elections on the September 26th.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[3] Fewer Whites than in 2010.  This might party be attributed to several factors.  (1) more mixed-race couples and people-in-general who identify as non-racial, (2) mixed race people who identify as a person of color (e.g. Barak Obama who is exactly ½ White and ½ Black definitely identifies as black; people like Tiger Woods, who at ¼ Black would identify as Black), and (3) a reluctance — or even rebellion — by Whites against identifying people by race; e.g. some identify as Native American.  Why? They were born here, as were their parents and grandparents. They identify as Native.  Hmmmm.]

Original Gerrymander cartoon

[4] Gerrymandering is named for early Massachusetts politician, Governor, and 5th VP of the nation, Elbridge Gerry, who helped draw and then approved a political map of his state that was so distorted (in order to keep his party in power) that a district looked like a salamander.  Thus the word is a sort of portmanteau of his name and the amphibian.  Many states have outdone him today.  As Gerry was one of the nation’s founding fathers, it’s sometimes interesting to think that many modern jurists should divine to understand the thinking of founding fathers, and then seek, anachronistically, to incorporate such into modern judicial decisions).

Not all of Texas is severely gerrymandered, as much of it is rural and undividably safely Republican.  It is too large of a state to easily show all of the congressional districts at once in much detail, but the generally progressive counties containing cities like Austin and San Antonio have been chopped up and districted so that Dem Congressional representation is diminished.  Politics, it is said, is a full contact sport.

Shown is current Texas CD 21, in which fragments of San Antonio and Austin are lumped in with an enormous swath of rural-dom. Alongside is Texas CD35, which is more of a salamander and ridiculous.

Tripping Out: Cross-Country to Canada

Since the world shut down in early 2020, my wife and I have undertaken some road trips of various duration and distance.  Sometimes they were made with specific destinations; but all were with the intent to just to get out of the house and experience a journey.  How American: we answered the call of the open road.  Happens more when cabin fever starts setting in.

There are more than a few good quotes about the journey and the destination. One comes from Harry Chapin: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good.  That’s a thought for keeping, if I could.” (From song: “Greyhound”).

Our last big trip actually did have a worthwhile destination: our son and daughter-in-law who live near Toronto. Great to spend time with them, get a few projects done (or at least started), and help them settle into their “new” home; well, at least new to them.

I’m going to muse here a bit about both the journey and the destination.

We took nearly identical routes both ways to/from Ontario.  Yes, it was a shorter than alternate routes (for a drive). I think people are so interested in getting back-and-forth quickly that they easily – too easily – fall into the simple notion that all those fly-over states are boring and just full of nothing.

Simply not true.

Well, we are definitely going back to Omaha.  That’s were the Union Pacific started laying track in 1863, going westward, and finally meeting the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, UT in May, 1869.  East and West were linked by rail! The Transcontinental part was truly complete when the UP bridge across the Missouri River was complete and opened in 1873.

Omaha has an extensive river front, and we were hoping to spend some time enjoying it.  But it was all closed up, as they endeavor to complete a $300 million re-vitalization of the area.  That’s a lot of money and it is mostly private funds.  It’s due to be complete and re-opened in 2022.  The Heartland of America water-themed park will re-open in 2025.

Across the flowing water is Omaha’s river partner city: Council Bluffs, Iowa.  We stopped there for an hour on the way back.  Cute downtown area (it’s several times smaller than Omaha) with a great park. Bayliss Park has a wonderful Veterans memorial, beautiful fountain, plenty of trees, benches and tables. Speaking of which, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is there in CB; so that’s on another future stop. [We passed through on a Monday, when it was closed].

Moving sculpture at War Memorial, Council Bluffs, Iowa

The downtown areas of both cities are set well back from the river.  One presumes the historical reason is to avoid flooding of the big Missouri, which surely occurs from time-to-time.  There is a pedestrian bridge across the river, connecting the two cities and states: The Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge.  Good for views and stretching your legs.

Rock Island, IL was another pull-over place, and I’d like to spend more time there in the future.  It’s historic for sure: that’s where the first bridge across the Mississippi was completed, in 1855, leading directly to greater westward expansion, and Chicago’s leaping to the fore as the great economic and commercial capital of America’s heartland.

Returning, we stopped for a “leg stretch” in Kearney, Nebraska.  That’s the former site of Fort Kearney, built in 1848 as a base of protection, provisions and refuge for western emigrants traversing over the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail (think: gold rush), and Overland Trail… all of which passed through Kearney along the Great Platte River Road.  The short-lived but never forgotten Pony Express also passed through Kearney. There is a wonderful little museum built in an archway that spans across Interstate-80.  Takes about an hour to tour the whole thing; great way to get a “walk about” and learn a lot about America in the mid-19th century.  Even has a bit about the Donner Party.

Kearney Archway Museum

While in Canada, I learned a few more things about differences between “their” culture and “American” culture, at least so far as what we experienced in Ontario.

When at restaurants and bars, they have no “Rest Rooms.”  They have “Wash Rooms.”  Same thing, different name.  I like it: “Wash” seems more appropriate than “Rest.”  Does anyone actually take a nap in there?  I’d like to think that, at a minimum, people actually wash themselves while in there.

They have little quibble when US citizens refer to themselves as “Americans”, or their home country as “America”, even though Canada is certainly part of America (as is Mexico, etc.).  One thing that bugs me about “Americans” is our propensity to refer to any room or facility that has a toilet as a “bathroom.”  Really?  Does anyone really bathe in there?  I do rather prefer the simplicity of the Brits and Aussies, who call it “Loo”, “Public Toilet” or “W.C.” for water closet. (Toilette and WC work in Germany, too).

They seem to have little use for the pesky Phillips head screws.  And they are annoying.  There’s a strong preference for the square tipped screws and driver tips, which are far less likely to engage poorly, and – worse – strip.  They prefer to call these “Robertson” screws and tips.  Very useful.  I’d certainly seen square tips before, but never heard of Robertson.  And, it seems they were invented by a Canadian, named, of course, Robertson.

The Roberson tip

Southern Ontario is fairly low lying, rather flat, and has waterways that are often quite close together.  Such locales are dotted with little land links that separate the waterways, some of which have come to be called “portages.”  The word “portage,” which comes to us through French, shows up quite a bit in US history and geography as well.  One way to tell a Canadian from an “American” is how the word is pronounced.  In Canada the -age is pronounced as in “Massage”.  In the US it rhymes with “Porridge.”

I think I’ve mentioned other pronunciation differences before (e.g. the words: about, produce, product), but portage was new to me.

Canadians, at least Ontarians, are quite relaxed about units of measurement for many things.  They are fine with ounces (as fluid ounces or even pints) in place of liters – say for getting a beer –  but petrol (gasoline) is always in liters. Er, ah, litres. Same with pounds and kilograms, say if one is purchasing produce (“Prah-duce”) or meat.  That’s unofficial.  Officially, purchases in brick-and-mortar stores are made in kilos.

But mention Fahrenheit to anyone born after, oh, about 1975, and you’ll get a blank look.

You: “It was hot today, eh.  At least 90 degrees, eh. “ [Add the “-eh” to a statement when trying to fit in.]

Canadian: “ ——–”

You: “That’s 90 Fahrenheit”

Canadian: “——–”

To me, and in my unhumble opinion, Fahrenheit is a far better unit than Celsius, at least as relates to humans and weather.  I really don’t care what temperature water boils at (nominally 100C, which varies based on elevation/air pressure anyhow). Or where it freezes (0C). What could be simpler than 0 (zero) is really cold, and 100 is really hot??  Tip of the hat to Fahrenheit.  [However, 20 is really a quite comfy temperature as good reference point].

Final thoughts. This might well be biased by my long-term residency in Colorado, typically one of the very leanest and fittest states in the US, on average.  Canadians are every bit as fat – even obese – as we Americans are.  Plenty of waddlers and dunlap syndrome going on.  Guess it’s a common first world problem.

Oh by the way, try to buy your gas (and booze and cigarettes, if either of those are your poisons of choice) in the US before crossing the border.  Taxes on those things are pretty eye-popping “north of the border, in the great white north.”  We were scoffed at and chided a bit by the Border Officer when we claimed only half a case of beer.  “We need to train you better, eh.  <smirk>”.  I would have taken a picture of him and the border crossing, but that is definitely frowned upon. [1]

Be well, and may your travels be safe and interesting.

Bonus section: Sitting is the new smoking.
I’ve long known that sitting for long periods of time is bad for one’s health in so many ways.  And I’ve long thought that I knew everything that could go wrong with knees.  Well, put them together and I have a new super painful knee condition to share.  Those many, many hours of sitting on my butt took a toll.  Yes, I knew it was bad for the hamstrings and glutes.  So, I got out of the car every chance to walk, do jumping jacks (50-100 is the norm), even run 100 yds ,or do step-ups on benches.  But sitting all the way to Ontario, then doing hours of landscape work for several days really did a number on my ITB (Iliotibial band).  That thing tightened up just awful and left me crippled and crying for a while.  Moral: never, ever stop moving.  ITBS (syndrome), is real, is painful, and not to be taken lightly.

Iliotibial Band (ITB) and pain

 

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Each adult can bring  the following across the border into Canada: up to one case of beer (24 standard 12 oz cans or bottles), 1.5 liters of wine  (2 standard size bottles) and 40 fluid ounces of hard liquor.  In most of Canada, one is considered adult and of drinking age at 19 years old, except where it is 18, such as Alberta and Quebec. I think you can bring more, but either (1) don’t mention it, i.e. lie, or (2) be prepared to pay some tax on it.  I think they wink and nod at the first, and really don’t want the hassle of the second.  

Ray of Resolution

1900. The Games of the II Olympiad are underway as part of the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. The Track and Field events are being conducted in the stadium of the Racing Club de France Football. It is not the fancy stadium or field we would come to expect of Olympic Games decades hence – Racing Club plays in the 5th tier of French national soccer (football). But, it is conveniently located close to the fairgrounds.  Not far away, just under a mile, and across the historic River Seine, the 1,000-foot-tall Eiffel Tower – built as an awe-inspiring eye-catching fascination for the 1889 Fair – is in view.(1)

June 16. Ray stands beside the bar as required for this event: the standing high jump. No running approach or adjustment of feet position is permitted.  He takes a moment to gaze at its World Record height; so prodigious a height that, if cleared, it would have sufficed to earn a medal in the regular running high jump in the previous Athens Olympics. He begins his unique routine, breathing slowly and deeply, focusing his attention, gradually folding his lanky legs into a deep squat, stretching his powerful quad, calf, and glute muscles.  As his squat deepens, he begins to swing his arms, farther and farther, back and forth. Then – suddenly! – he explodes almost straight up.

Standing High Jump, Ray Ewry

Would it be Ironic that a man who came to world prominence labeled as “The Human Frog” would have the most life-altering circumstance of his entire life crash upon him during a silly race involving frogs? Because, after Ray Ewry’s performances in the II Olympic Games – winning three Olympic Championships in all three standing jumping events in a single day – that’s what the French media and fans called him: La grenouille humaine. And the name stuck.

I have found that a firm definition of the word Ironic is difficult to pin down, although many English speakers use the word often.  As Merriam-Webster states: “The word irony has come to be applied to events that are merely curious or coincidental …”  Best fit might be when a word’s, or a phrase’s usage – or a real-life outcome – is far different than what one would expect. Or as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said (of something completely different): “I know it when I see it.”

Ray Ewry was that man of world prominence. 

Standing High Jump, Olympics,  Ray Ewry

He was born in October, 1873, in Lafayette, Indiana. That’s the seat of Tippecanoe County, lying along the Wabash River, and contains its companion waterway: the Wabash Canal.  The river, the canal, and even the county fair and fairgrounds provided entertainment for young Ray.  But his life wasn’t even close to easy.


Much of America and Europe went through a canal building craze in the early 19th century.  These ambitious waterway constructions facilitated the transportation of goods and product.  In America grain went from the breadbaskets of the heartland to oceanic ports and thence to other American cities and to the world. Canals also facilitated the flow of all sorts of necessities to the heartland: forged machinery, stoves, clothing, boots, even sawn lumber and fine European clothing and furniture.  (One tip-off regarding canal building and its significance is the number of inland US cities with the suffix “-port” in their name, such as Logansport, Gasport, Middleport, Brockport, etc.  There are at least 4 Lockports, of course all near canal locks: one each in Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and New York states).

US Major Canals, circa 1853

Thousands of miles of canals were constructed. The Erie Canal is probably the most famous and enduring.  It opened in 1825 and traversed northern New York state for some 360-plus miles, connecting the four Great Lakes above Niagara Falls to the Atlantic Ocean … and thus helped make many cities along those Great Lakes  become commercial and transportation hubs (Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, etc.), and also helped make New York City into the gigantic hub of commercial trade.  That’s a status it enjoys to this day.

Of the significant but lesser-known canals we consider the longest North American canal at nearly 500 miles: the Wabash & Erie Canal.  This canal network connected Toledo’s Maumee Bay, at the western end of Lake Erie to Evansville, Indiana, on the right bank of the mighty Ohio River.  From there transportation to and from the Mississippi and to the Gulf of Mexico was possible.

With construction beginning near Toledo in 1832, and finally reaching Evansville in 1853, the canal’s long-term future (as for many other canals) was doomed before it was completed, even though it had been in use since the first few miles of the big ditch were dug.  The steam powered “Iron Horse” was the next transportation rage.  Fueled with coal and using rapidly developing steel technology for engines, wheels and rails, the railroad would almost immediately surpass and suppress the potential of canals for convenient transportation.

1904 Saint Louis.  The Games of the III Olympiad are underway, again as part of a World’s Fair.  The Track & Field events are occurring on the newly constructed Athletic Field of Washington University (now known as Francis Olympic Field).  Again, the field lacks much of the glamour and size we’d grow to expect in future decades. The University is in the process of moving from downtown Saint Louis to just across the city limits.  Its many buildings and grounds are still works-in-progress.  Just a few yards away from the Athletic Field, the World’s Fair is using the University’s new Admin Building as headquarters for its massive spread of 1,270 acres of exhibitions – the largest Fair until Shanghai over a century later, in 2010.  And just a bit further away the Ferris Observation Wheel, at 264 feet tall with a capacity of 2,160 passengers is clearly visible.

August 29.  Ray stands at one end of the Long Jump pit.  His feet are on the ground; this is a standing jumping event.  He’d need one of his better jumps to secure 1st place and a gold medal (the 1904 Olympics were the first with gold, silver and bronze medals).  He gazes out to a spot well over 3 meters away, to world and Olympic record distance.  Fellow American Charles King has already broken Ray’s Olympic record at 3.21 meters.  Ray quiets his pensive, disciplined mind and begins his now well-known routine.  When he leaps, his explosiveness surprises no one.  When he lands –  properly not falling backward – the crowd roars its appreciation.  Ray has set a new World and Olympic Record at 3.47 meters (11 feet, 4.6 inches) – and won himself another Olympic championship.

Ray Ewry, Standing Long Jump, 1904 Olympics, Saint Louis

Unlike Paris, the Olympic events are spread out over several months; yet like Paris, most of the athletic (track and field) Olympic competitions were crammed into just a few days.  In Paris, all of Ray’s events were held on a single day; in Saint Louis his events spread out a bit.  Yet, Ray won three golds again, sweeping the standing jumping events, between August 29 and September 3.  Although he set a record in the Long Jump, his other numbers were off from his personal best – a trend he had begun to notice in his training.

_____________________________________________________________

Not much detail is known of Ray Ewry’s early life in Lafayette, except that it was profoundly difficult.  I found little.  He had one sibling, a sister, Mabel, a few years younger.  His father, George, was prone to drink. His mother, Lizzie, died of “consumption” (now known as tuberculosis) when he was only 5-½ years old, and his sister was still a toddler.  Sodden with alcohol and sorrow, Ray’s father was unable to deal with the duties of sole parent, household management, and employment – so he turned to his friends and neighbors, the Elisha family, to raise his children. Mary Elisha became Ray’s and Mabel’s mother. Mr. George Ewry then vanished forever. Ray was an orphan.

Little was known about diseases – including hygiene and sanitation – even late into the 19th century.  And little could be done for what was known.  Thanks to Hooke and van Leeuwenhoek, the prolific lives of bacteria were certainly known, yet Fleming’s discovery of penicillin was decades away, and widespread use of it even further.  Viruses were unknown, although they were proved to exist in the 1890s; yet they were so small they were little understood until well into the 20th century.
____________________________________________________________________________

In Lafayette Indiana, like many other places, children frequently played in, and splashed about in, fetid waters.  Ray Ewry often did such when he was not off playing at the county fairgrounds.  He’d jump and swim in the Wabash Canal or River. All the kids did.  No one really thought much of it.

2021. It’s still the time of coronavirus, or Covid-19, although – hopefully – the end is nigh. Or at least major relief.  Tokyo will host the Olympics with essentially zero spectators.  Of the countless types of viruses, there are a tiny fraction that can have horrible effects on humans. But a tiny fraction of a very large number is still a large number. Among this vile fraction are a set of three that can cause conditions that terrify anyone: the polio viruses.

These are three similar but distinctly different polio viruses. Call them variations on a gene.  All are highly contagious and are different enough that vaccines must contain three different antigen triggers.  Thankfully two types are considered to be fully eradicated from the earth, and the other is found only in remote places – mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Much as with Covid-19, the vast majority of people who got infected with a polio virus suffered very mild-to-no symptoms; some medical sites say 95-99%.  Of those with symptoms, most might have felt like they had a mild cold, or flu, and feel achy for a few days, or maybe a week. Perhaps a slight fever. And then it was gone.  [Also, like Covid-19, these asymptomatic infections can spread the virus]. What history and imagination conjures up for us is the one-in-two hundred or so who suffered some sort of paralysis. The onset of paralysis was usually some time – several days, or even a week, or more – after the body had seemingly “beaten” the virus. Overwhelmingly such paralysis victims were children: from very young to adolescents.

The odd adult case has a most memorable example.  Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the US, was stricken with polio paralysis at age 39 – the year after he had unsuccessfully stood for Vice-President as the Democratic Party nominee.  About 75% of such polio paralysis victims eventually get most, even all, capability back in their stricken limbs and muscles.  Roosevelt was among the minority who did not.

Sadly, for those who do recover, there is a high incidence of PPS – Post Polio Syndrome.  After many years, even after decades, the previously afflicted muscles begin to slowly weaken, and may eventually fail altogether.  The biological mechanism is not understood, as the virus itself is long gone from the body, and – now that Polio is nearly totally eradicated thanks to diligent vaxxing of all children – the phenomenon may never be understood.  Perhaps the aging body just “remembers” the condition and reverts back to it.

There are other infectious diseases that can have long-lasting effects, long after the infection is beaten.  One is caused by the genus of streptococcus bacteria.  Bacteria are much larger than viruses, but just as devious.  They are frequently “opportunistic”: the body generally fights them off well, but they still strike hard when the body is run down, perhaps fighting another infection (often viral), or there is a large cut or scrape to the skin, as often happens to young boys.

Strep bacteria have distinct proteins on their cell coating which the human body’s immune system identifies as antigens: something to attack and kill.  But sometimes the body is too run-down to fight the bacteria off quickly, or perhaps, after the age of Fleming, the use of antibiotics is delayed.  When strep hangs around the body for a while, the immune system gets over-programmed to attack the marked bacteria’s protein in its cell coating.  Unfortunately, that protein is very similar to other proteins that the body needs, such as in the muscles of the heart. And tissue in the joints.  The result is Rheumatic Fever.  It is usually a life-long struggle.  It’s an auto-immune disorder: the body attacks itself.

It was probably not uncommon to suffer such an infection along with a viral infection … like polio.

1906, Athens. The International Olympic Committee has decided to hold another Olympic Games competition to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the first modern era Olympics, also held in Athens.  Dubbed the “Second International Olympic Games of Athens”, they were the first clear forerunner to the much spot-lighted and hyped-up Olympics we know today.  Well planned, highly promoted, and separate from a World’s Fair. The track and field events are held near the center of ancient Athens, in the Panathenaic Stadium, a magnificent edifice, fully worthy of the Olympics, which remains today the only stadium built entirely of marble. So magnificent, in fact, that it was used as a main venue for the 1896 and the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, as well as 1906.

Olympic Stadium, Athens, Olympiakó Stádio Athinon

Ray Ewry successfully defends his Olympic Championship in two events, the standing high jump and standing long jump.  After the 1904 games, the standing triple jump was removed from the Olympic event list, for which Ray and his aging body were grateful.  A tad discouraged by failing, yet again, to reach the height and distances of his previous performances, Ray nonetheless takes the time to scoop up some soil from the Athenian Olympic field and take it back to America.

June, 1881.  School is out.  Ray and his friends spend many muggy days playing in and around the old horse and wagon trails, taking time to splash about to cool off and “rinse off” in the fetid waters of the nearly abandoned Wabash Canal, part of the lengthy Erie & Wabash canal system.  Catching a few frogs was not out of the question.  Such “boy things” were commonly done, and no one thought much about it.

In June Ray caught a bad cold, perhaps a flu, with fever, chills and aches.  His greatest fear was missing the Tippecanoe County Fair.  To him the Fair’s highlight would be the Wheelbarrow Frog Race, to be held on July 4th.

Such “Frog” races were rather new to America, and especially Tippecanoe County.  Apparently the highly entertaining, laugh-a-minute race idea came along with immigrants from Italy.  The general idea is that each contestant gets a wheelbarrow (with low sides, or even no sides) and a frog.  Place a frog on each wheelbarrow and run.  Race distances were from a few hundred yards to a mile.  You must complete the race with both a wheelbarrow and a frog upon the wheelbarrow to win.

Frogs are generally placid and stay put … until the slightest bump or turn occurs.  Whereupon they jump off, and the unfortunate contestant must discard their wheelbarrow, stop running the race, and start running after their frog – hopefully retrieving it quickly.  It was not uncommon, and considered within the rules, that contestants would bump each others wheelbarrows.

Fortunately for Ray, he recovered from his summer “bug” after a few days, and Mary Elisha allowed him to participate in this hilarious half-mile race.  A bunch of young boys with small wheelbarrows and frog aboard (perhaps caught in the canal) took off from the starting line.  Along the dirt race path each participant, of course, had his frog escape from time-to-time: that’s the whole idea and the source of the fun.  Sometimes boys would catch each others’ escaped frogs (rules say one needs “a frog” to win, not “the frog you started with”). It was such fun for all of them and for the spectators!!

While chasing his escaped frog Ray began to feel tingling in his legs, like something he’d never felt before.  Each time the frog escaped and he chased it down, the tingling experience was of short duration; yet, each time it was longer and more intense; and each time he ignored the funny tingling and began running the race again once he had his frog aboard his wheelbarrow.  Coming down the home stretch Ray felt like he had a chance to win. The leader was just a few strides ahead. He ran and pushed as hard as he could.  No sense risking losing his frog now.  At full stride, the tingling returned.  It turned to weakness. The faster he tried to run the weaker his legs became.

With what seemed like the whole county watching, Ray fell face first onto the race path.  Had he stumbled?  Horrified, Mary Elisha and others watched as he tried to get up and complete the race.  But Ray couldn’t get up.  His legs were completely paralyzed.  At 7-½years old.

1908, London.  The Games of the III Olympiad are again, and for the last time, held as part of a World’s Fair.  The IOC had found, from experience in 1900 and 1904, that holding the games concurrent with such a grand Fair was not consistent with their vision for the future of the games…  especially after the success of the 1906 games in Athens, which stood alone, and shone greatly.

The 1908 games were awarded to Italy, to be hosted in Rome. Unfortunately, the catastrophic 1906 eruption of Vesuvius had stressed the Italian government greatly, and they backed out as host of the games.  London, which was to host another grand World’s Fair in 1908 (they had hosted what is arguably the first modern World’s Fair, in 1851) would now host the Olympics for the first time.  [Rome finally hosted the Olympics in 1960, and the achievements of Wilma Rudolf there are not without remarkable parallels to Ray Ewry.  London hosted again in 1948 and 2012].

At the astonishing age of nearly 35 (for a track and field athlete) Ray Ewry again defends his Olympic title in both the standing Long and High jumps, eking out height and distance just barely ahead of 2nd place.  Quietly both proud of his achievement and also a tad disappointed in his slipping numbers, Ray takes home the last two of his ten Olympic first place awards.  He is 10 for 10, winner of 10 events and undefeated in his Olympic career.  Unheard of even today for a multiple gold medal winner.

1881-1891. Young Ray is distraught and discouraged by his condition: Paralyzed and bed-ridden.  Mary Elilsha refuses to give up, reaching out to doctors and medical centers far and wide.  There is full consensus: this is a life-long condition.  Ray is forever paralyzed.  But one doctor provides a glimmer of hope: perhaps some physical therapy could possibly help.  It might well have just been a simple kind thing to say to a grieving “mom” like Mary.  No sense heaping more grief on her, and Ray.

Mary runs with this advice.  She finds a woman with a therapy background willing to spend time with Ray.  Some research suggests her name was “Kate”, but the source is not firm. Nevertheless, she quickly moves past massage and assisted range-of motion stretches; she improvises with a peach basket, cutting two holes in the bottom and hanging it from a rope suspended over a pulley on the barn.  Ray, wheelchair-bound, was lifted into the basket, its height adjusted with the pulley so that his feet barely touched the ground.

“Push Ray, Push!”

Day after day, month after month, year after year, Ray spent endless hours in the basket.

“Push Ray, Push!”

Slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly, the basket was lowered – first by Kate, then after she had left, by Mary Elisha.  As it was lowered, although unknown to Ray for some time, he could support ever more weight, and this allowed him to flex his legs, exerting his muscles over greater range of motion.

By the time Ray reached his senior year in high school, he was still using crutches. But he could get himself into and out of the basket, raise and lower it himself, and he was growing in several ways.  Ray was growing stronger – much stronger.  He was also growing to be quite tall, now reaching 6 feet. And he was a superior student.

By the end of his senior year he was walking.  After 11 years of paralysis.  He enrolled at nearby Purdue University and started participating in the track club.  He continued his own training and therapy, keeping careful notes, and training with the club.

In 1894 Ray completed a degree in engineering, and moved on to a few years as an Associate Engineering Professor at Purdue.  His intellect and his physical prowess were catching a lot of attention.  Since freshman year, Ray began winning track events, although at a club level and against mostly regional schools.

Ray Ewry and the Athenian Olympic Stadium. At right his Olympic shirt bears the Winged Foot insignia of the New York Athletic Club

Later in the 1890s, Ray got the opportunity to move to the New York area, with a position designing and building ships for the US Navy.  As a coincidental bonus, he was also offered a sponsored membership at the exalted New York Athletic Club, where he could continue training and competing.  It was they who sponsored his participation in the Olympics. And provided a training site for him.

 

1910-11. Despite his age, Ewry had every intention of competing in the 1912 Olympic Games, in Stockholm. He continued his training and kept meticulous notes.  Outwardly upbeat about his chances of qualifying to be on the US team, inwardly and in his notes his mood was a bit darker.  His joints ached; not just his knees and not just when he trained.  It was everywhere. And he could feel his leg muscles weakening, despite his disciplined workout and training regimen.

It’s hard to tell the difference between the effects of aging and the combined effects of Post-Polio Syndrome and Rheumatic Fever.

In 1911, aged 38, while training for the Olympic tryouts, he suffered a knee injury.  These had occurred before, and he always recovered and worked through them.  Not this time. He just could not get through it this time.  After a few months of further training and therapy Ray decided it was time to retire from competition (although he remained active in the sport for decades, both coaching and judging at events).

After a very distinguished career with the Navy (as a civilian) Ray was recruited by the city of New York City to help further develop their water supply infrastructure.  The large city was still growing, and they would soon need not only more water, but better systems to deliver it.  Ray spent a lot of time over the next decades touring the state, inspecting and directing implementation of his designs, many of which are still providing steady, faithful service today.

Along the way, Ray married a local Lafayette girl, a lass named Nelle Johnson, several years younger than he, who had taken kindly to him when he was young, shy and struggling with polio paralysis.  They had only one child, a girl named Mary Elizabeth, who usually went by Betsy or Bets.  Sadly, Betsy got very early Alzheimer’s, and all of her memories of her father were lost.  Her only son (I think, and thus Ray’s only grandson) Thomas Carson,  a music industry professional, compiled much of Ray’s lesser-known history through much personal research. His work was a great resource to me in writing this essay. [2]

Ray passed away in 1937 just before his 64th birthday.  One would normally think that is quite young for an athletically accomplished man who attended faithfully to his health.  I can’t find the circumstances, but it seems it was a quick slide at the end and might well have been negatively affected by the health issues of his youth … which followed him  through most of his adult life.

In 1928 Ray Ewry was invited back to Purdue to be present at the dedication of the new Ross-Ade Football Stadium.  As Purdue’s most accomplished athlete ever (and perhaps most accomplished engineer), he was the guest of honor.  For the ceremony, and unknown to almost everybody, Ray brought with him a small jar of soil from the Olympic Field at Athens, still untouched after more than two decades.  For the surprise highlight of the dedication ceremony, Ray spread the hallowed ancient Olympic soil upon the stadium field of his Alma Mater.

Ewry’s Olympic record of ten championships held up for many decades. In fact, so far, it has only been broken once, by the superhuman Michael Phelps, who has won 23 gold medals.  He broke Ewry’s record of 10 when he won his 7th through 14th Olympic Gold Medals at the Beijing Games, in 2008.  However, Phelps is not undefeated, as he won zero medals in 2000 (at Sydney, age 15) and has 28 overall medals (also the most ever) against “only” 25 golds.

It should be noted that several decades later, in 1949, the IOC decided that the 1906 Games were not “Real Olympic Games” and purged all records of those games from their official list. Most historians of athletics disagree, however, and they do indeed count these games and awards, since they were highly attended, highly promoted as Olympics, and set the trajectory for how the games evolved. So, officially, I suppose, per IOC (and Wikipedia and others) Ray Ewry has only eight Olympic championships. But I am with the consensus of historians: we emphatically say ten!

Thank you, Ray Ewry, “The Human Frog”, for showing us that anything is possible if we keep pushing our boundaries and continually try to better ourselves, even in times of strife, viruses, and disease… and beyond.

Joe Girard © 2021

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Footnote (1) Today, the Tower is only visible from this site if one peers carefully between trees growing in the park and new buildings built later in the 20th century. Here is a painting of an aerial view of the 1900 fair, which was likely made from a sketch that was made by an artist aloft in a balloon.  The athletic field is the green space across the river. It is possible that the old Theirs city wall, which was quite close to the park and fields, could have obscured the view, despite being heavily damaged during the siege in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

1900 World’s Fair. Athletic Field is the green space across the river. Arial Painting by Lucien Baylac, based on Balloon observations.  The Observation Wheel (Grande Roue) was about 354 feet tall, higher than the huge wheel built by George Washington Gale Ferris for the 1893 Fair in Chicago, and also used at the 1904 Fair in Saint Louis.

 

Footnote [2] Thomas E Carson V, Ray Ewry’s grandson, wrote a biography about Ray, called “Unsung.”  It was the culmination of decades of work in which he interweaves Ray’s bio with his own nearly epic pursuit of the details of Ray’s life, as well as his medals.  There are many, many sources on Ray.  But, to the benefit of me as a writer and you readers, Mr Carson’s book provided much of the rich contextual detail about Ray that made his story much more “human.”  Thank you sir!

Carson is also a published fiction writer, and I believe you can find his works (including some serials based on a main character named Drum Bailey) on Amazon and elsewhere.

Mr Carson may not be Ray’s only grandson, but some genealogy searches turned up no others.

________________________________________________________________________________

Various sources, among so very, very many …

Before Leaping To 10 Golds, Athlete Beat Polio : NPR

Ray C. Ewry | American athlete | Britannica

Biography of Ray Ewry <small>(1873-1937)</small> – TheBiography.us

The Ray Ewry Sports Engineering Center – Ray Ewry Sports Engineering Center – College of Engineering – Purdue University

Ewry begins Olympic career with 3 titles in 1 day in Paris – Washington Times

Shore Up

See the source image

Ernie Shore, circa 1917

I haven’t written about Major League Baseball (MLB) this year until now.  I’m still a bit discouraged by all the new rules for covid, and those that  have carried over.  The game drifts farther and farther from the one I learned and loved as a child.  Strikeouts are now matter-of-fact; those numbers continue to soar.  Batting averages sink.  There is a controversy about this being linked to many pitchers illegally applying various substances to the balls to improve their grip. Is it that, or that every swing seems to be a “home run” swing?

But it’s still America’s game.  America’s great past time.  Old games stay in our memories, and in the record books.  Just as new stars and events make their ways into the same places.

Consider the phenom playing for the Los Angeles Angels, the once-in-a-century supremely talented Shohei Ohtani.  The Japanese star hits for extraordinary power and is also a starting pitcher.  His home run rate rivals that of Babe Ruth, the other most-famous pitcher-and-hitter; and, depending on how one calculates, Ohtani hits HRs more frequently than the Babe.  Both over his career and especially this year.

Like the Babe in the earlier part of his career, Ohtani is also an exceptionally good pitcher.  Stuck with a mediocre team, his win-loss record doesn’t accurately reflect his talents.  He has one of the fastest fastballs, and regularly throws at, or over, 100 miles per hour.  With a full assortment of pitches and deliveries – cutters, sliders, splitters, curves – he’s dropped his ERA this year to 2.70 and strikes out one-third of batters he faces; both are among MLB leaders.

Ohtani will be at the All-Star Game in Denver next month.  Many fans are looking forward to his participation in the Home Run Derby.

______________________________________________

I’ve written about amazing pitching performances in MLB history a few times, for example Can’t Touch This and Last At Bat.  104 years ago today, on June 23, 1917, an amazing pitching performance occurred that is sorta-kinda one of the most amazing No-Hitters and Perfect Games that don’t get recorded as such.

The man was Ernie Shore, a teammate of Babe Ruth’s on the Boston Red Sox.  He is linked to the Babe in other ways besides this particular game against the (first) Washington Senators. Both were earlier sold by the Baltimore Oriole organization to the Boston Red Sox in the same transaction.

[Later, before the 1920 season, the “BoSox” would sell Ruth, known at the time as “The Bambino” to their rival Yankees – even though he had helped lead them to three World Series wins. He was just too expensive and demanding. This became known as “The Curse of the Bambino”, since the BoSox, who had won 5 of the first 15 World Series, did not win another until 86 years later.  Meanwhile, the Yankees won 26 championships, or so, in the same time period.  They had won zero before acquiring Ruth.]

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ernie Shore was a farm boy from the foothills of North Carolina, near North Bend. He was the 2nd of five boys born to Henry and Martha Shore; Ernie arriving in 1891. (My essay about farm boys in MLB here]. Ernie compiled a very respectable record during his four years alongside Ruth on those Red Sox teams, going 58-33.  He also went 3-1 in four World Series starts, helping the Braves win back-to-back WS victories in 1915 and ’16.

[The Sox won another World Series in 1918, this time without Shore, as he had enlisted in the military to fight in World War 1. When Shore returned, he too, like Ruth, was dealt to the Yankees].

Fenway, pre-Green Monster

The day was June 23, 1917.  Exactly 104 years ago as I write this. World War 1 raged in Europe.  Bodies fell and blood flowed across Flanders.  Fenway Park, the now famous home of the Boston Red Sox, was barely 5 years old.  Its iconic “Green Monster” left field wall was in place, but that nickname came later.  Then, it was just “The Wall”, put up to keep fans and freeloaders off the field.  There were rows of fans in front of the wall.

The woeful Washington Senators were in town for a 5-game series against the Sox, which would include two double-headers.  Such long multi-game series and double-headers (especially on Saturdays) were more common back then, since travel was very  inconvenient.  One of those double-headers might have been a makeup from a weather-caused postponement earlier.

On this fine Saturday, Babe Ruth was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox in the first game of a double-header.  The game’s first batter walked; he was the Senators’ Ray Morgan, a swift-footed second baseman.  Ruth thought both balls 3 and 4 should have been strikes, and he let the umpire know how he felt in no uncertain terms.  In fact, by many reports, the dispute came to blows. Ruth was ejected from the game. So was the Red Sox’s catcher, Pinch Thomas.

Without warmup or warning, Ernie Shore, who was likely scheduled to pitch the backend of the double-header, was called in to pitch.  Sam Agnew, a part-time catcher, substituted for Pinch Thomas.

The situation seemed rather frenetic, and thus opportunistic, to Morgan.  What with the dustup between Ruth and home plate umpire Brick Owens,  the sudden pitching change, and the sudden catcher change, this seemed like a good time to try and steal second base as soon as possible.

He did try.  The new catcher, Agnew, fired the ball across the diamond to second baseman Jack Barry, who then tagged out Morgan.  It was not a good opportunity.

Morgan was the last baserunner the Senators had the entire game.  Ernie Shore retired every batter; 26 up, 26 down.  The Red Sox went on to win, 4-0.   By the way, substitute catcher Agnew went 3 for 3, and knocked in two of the Red Sox’s runs.

This game used to be listed among MLB’s individual no-hitters and perfect games.  But the rules for such things were “shored up” (sorry, pun intended).  It’s now just an interesting game and one of those baseball oddities.  Maybe it wins you a few bar bets.  It is listed now as a “combined no-hitter.”  Babe Ruth steals the headline again.

After World War 1 Shore resumed his career, now with the Yankees.  However, during the winter of 1918-19 he caught a bad bug from his Navy roommate. Perhaps it was the Spanish Flu.  He was bedridden for weeks. It greatly weakened him.  He had a subpar 1919 season by his standards.  He rested and trained for 1920, but the arm strength just wasn’t there. He was sent to the minors in 1921.  He languished there a few seasons, then retired.  He then tried coaching for a while, but Shore didn’t have the body or the heart for baseball anymore.

He moved back to his native North Carolina.  He got married, raised a family, got involved in local youth sports and politics.  He was even sheriff of Forsythe County for 36 years.

Ernie, Thanks for the memories. We might forget you, but the history books will not.

Joe Girard © 2021

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Enterprise

My wife and I are very blessed and fortunate.  Our enterprises have afforded us the opportunity to travel rather extensively, compared to our compatriots, mostly in the US and North America – and, to a degree most others have not, across much of Europe and even much of Australia: New South Wales, Canberra, Victoria, South Austrailia … and even Western Australia, which even most Ozzies have not seen.. 

Renting a car for most or part of the trip is often part of the overall calculus, including the financial aspect.  Yes, non-automotive transport is often efficient and quaint – whether by buses or various types of train – and we have certainly made use of that opportunity. But there’s nothing like the good ol’ American feel of independence and flexibility you get from a car.  The call of the open road, where you can get to really out-of-the-way places on your own schedule.  And to have travel flexibility and independence.  Pull over to take in a seductive, attractive random hamlet, or a park, or scenic overlook, or ancient castle.


Sky Harbor’s Car Rental “Palace”

One thing that has struck us is the variability in car rental costs.  Particularly at airports.  Prices can be eye-watering.  Especially at airports like Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Holy cow! The special add-on fees and taxes there are often more than the raw cost of renting the car!! 

This is, I reckon, largely the result of two major factors.  First, there’s the cost to the car rental company for space at, or near, an airport; it’s often quite high.  Airports are usually run by local Port Authorities, Transit Authorities and/or host municipalities.  They charge very high rates for space because … well, because they can.  It’s part of why a sandwich, a coffee or a beer in an airport is so expensive. Companies must pass this cost along. No sense being in business if you cannot make money.  

The second is the almost unavoidable urge to make someone else pay for your own needs.  Need money?  Easy: just charge special fees and taxes to out-of-town visitors.  The same occurs in another hospitality industry: Hotels.  Let’s have “Joe from Colorado” pay for our fill-in-the blank need (roads, water treatment, schools, ramps, lights).


One way to see a lot of the world without a lot of extra fees and surcharges is to join the military.  Especially the US Navy.  Most sailors get to see quite a lot of the world, even if it is often by peering over endless seas. 

My father-in-law was a Navy man during World War II.  Radioman, 3rd class. He indeed got to see much of the world as a young man, from the Mediterranean to the far-flung atolls of the Pacific.  He also got to see and experience Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.  A regret we descendants all have is that we didn’t encourage him to talk more about this.  But he just never seemed to want to be open about it, … and we respected him, keeping a safe distance from the topic, only probing once in a while. He always stayed guarded and reticent on the topic of war experiences. That’s a trait that many of that Greatest Generation Era shared.  So many memories – not just Pearl, but things like seeing the bloodied Marines coming back from Saipan and Tarawa – would lie largely suppressed for decades, until his final years.  Unfortunately, that’s just as his mind began to cloud.  We cherish the few stories and memories we could get from him.


Well then. Join the Navy.  See the world.  Jack C Taylor, of St Louis, Missouri, was just such a fellow. In 1942 he quit his enrollment at Washington University (in neighboring Clayton, abutting St Louis’s western boundary) and got himself into the Navy, where he became a fighter pilot – flying Grumman F6F Hellcat Fighters off the decks of aircraft carriers. 

The Grumman F6F carrier based fighter

Assigned to the USS Essex in 1943, Taylor participated in many confrontations, including dogfights.  Most notably is the famous and crucial battle of Leyte Gulf in late October 1944.  There, his squadron provided daring and critical strafing cover for torpedo bombers, all targeted toward sinking the Japan’s Imperial Super Battleship: the Musashi.

Taylor also flew sorties as the Essex supported attacks and victories at Guam, Wake Island, Peleliu, among others.  Credited with only two confirmed “kills” himself, Taylor is not an Ace.  However, he was wingman on many “kills” – including during the Marianas Turkey Shoot.  So, his military decorations – including two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air medal – were well earned.

Shortly after Leyte, the Essex put into port in the Caroline Islands (Ulithi Atoll).  She was simply short on supplies, having been at sea and in battle for four months (heck of a way to “see the world”).

Taylor was moved over to the carrier USS Enterprise.  [Speaking of Pearl Harbor and Infamy: The US Navy was extremely fortunate that the USS Enterprise, along with the two other operational Pacific Fleet carriers – the USS Lexington and the Saratoga – were not in port when the Japanese arrived at dawn that fateful December Sunday morning]. 

Taylor stayed with the Enterprise for most of the rest of the war.  The focus of the fighters’ value changed, as the Japanese turned more and more toward use of the Kamikaze.  The Enterprise itself, in fact, took several Kamikaze hits … can’t shoot them all down.  Along the way the Enterprise supported many coordinated Naval efforts, from Luzon to Iwo Jima.

A genuine decorated war hero, Taylor returned to St Louis and tried to pick up his civilian life. A natural adventurer ( … adventurer? Well, he did land fighter planes on the decks of aircraft carriers as they pitched and rolled upon the open sea) he started his own business from scratch: a delivery company.  Too early for the needs we now see fulfilled by Ubereats, Grubhub and DHL, he then moved over to selling cars, Cadillacs mostly. 

Successful at that, he planted the idea to the car dealer (Lindburg Cadillac) to get into the car leasing business.  That is: leasing really nice cars to business executives.  His employer agreed. In exchange, Taylor took a 50 percent pay cut and dumped $25,000 of his own money to bootstrap the operation. He ran the business out of the dealership, still selling cars on the side. He expanded over a few years to three locations in the Saint Louis area.  The company was called Executive Leasing. 

The quality of cars was good, the clientele loyal, and Taylor ran a tight financial ship.  The company was making money within a few years; Taylor was soon the primary owner and principal.  Customers began pestering him to rent them cars for short periods of time.  This is not something he wanted to do; he had a very simple business model that he was not eager to relinquish (leasing to executives for 2-3 years); it was stable and making profits.  The pestering continued: short-term rentals. After a few years, he relented.  He would add short-term car rentals alongside his long-term lease business.

Taylor and Executive Leasing began the short-term car rentals business in 1963.  Within a year the rental business grew to be much larger than the leasing business.  One reason is that Taylor creatively partnered with auto insurance companies.  When clients needed a rental (because of repairs needed after a crash) Taylor would rent them quality cars at low rates.  His business boomed.  He had outlets not just in St Louis, but now in several other cities.

It grew wildly, mostly by word of mouth and Taylor’s growing network of connections.

It was time to face the truth, something Taylor had denied from the beginning: he was in the car rental business, not the leasing business.  And he had a new improvised business model that was simple and efficient: small rental sites scattered around cities.  And mostly not at airports.

The company couldn’t be called The Executive Leasing Company anymore.  What should the company be called now?  He reached into his past and pulled up the glory of the USS Enterprise.

And that’s how the vast Enterprise Car Rental company got its name.  The overwhelming majority of its sites are off-airport. All across America, over 10,000 of them … tucked into business parks and strip malls and low-cost locations in neighborhoods of medium to large sized cities.

USS Enterprise, leaving Pearl Harbor, August, 1944
(National Museum of Naval Aviation RL Lawson Collection)

Mr. Taylor was very enterprising.  He went coast-to-coast. He expanded into Canada and Europe.  Enterprise acquired National and Alamo car rentals.  It became a huge enterprise, and remains so to this day. It is usually ranked #1 among car rental companies for volume and quality. [Ref here]

We have rented off-airport cars in Canterbury (UK), Freiburg, Landau and Munich (Ger), Wollongong (Aus) and, yes, even in Saint Louis, Missouri (actually Clayton, the original and current hometown of Enterprise Car Rentals).  Most of those are quite convenient, as you can usually take public transport to near the rental site from the airport or train station. If not, Enterprise will usually drop the car off — if you are within 5 miles or so. And pick the car up when you are done!

Since these are not at airports, not only are the surcharges and extra fees quite low to non-existent, but they also usually also have lower drop fees; which is great if you want to end your car rental adventures in a different city than where you start.

Honesty here: Although many of these off-airport experiences were with Enterprise, some were through EuropeCar, which seems to have a similar business model, and the same logo colors: Green and White.  [I know we used EuropeCar in Saint-Lô, Normandy, and Landau (twice).  BTW, The folks at the Enterprise in Canterbury were just lovely; on that trip I dropped the car far away: in Edinburgh.]

Taylor and Enterprise were very generous with their fortune.  By himself, and through the Enterprise Foundation (his company’s charitable arm), he donated several hundred million dollars to philanthropic causes.  Geographically, these recipients and donations were widespread, going into the communities where his neighborhood rental offices were located, often to provide assistance to underserved children.

He also donated very generously in the St Louis area.  He donated millions and millions to the St Louis Philharmonic, to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and to local youth organizations and colleges. [Including Rankin College, where our dear friend Max Storm taught for almost three decades]

Jack Taylor ended up having a wonderful and successful life by any measure.  His enterprises were successful, and he left us and his family with terrific stories.  We and future generations will have at least two more reasons to remember him. (1) The US Navy has just completed the Jack C Taylor Conference Center, at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis (a truly beautiful campus in a beautiful city).  And (2) the Missouri Botanical Gardens in his hometown of Saint Louis is currently building a new visitor center, to be named for Mr. Taylor.

Jack C Taylor passed on in 2016, aged 94.  Thanks for all you did, sir.

To you readers: Be well. Live and love large.

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Miscellaneous additional reading:

How to Save Money on Rental Cars: Rent Away from the Airport |

Moneyhttps://www.enterpriseholdings.com/en/press-archive/2016/07/jack-crawford-taylor-war-hero-business-leader-philanthropist.html

World War Fighter Pilot Jack Taylor Dies: Founded World’s Largest Car Leasing Company | Naval Historical Foundation (navyhistory.org)

Microsoft Word – Taylor Master.doc (navyhistory.org)

The Big Tease

“One Robin does not a Spring make”

old addage, together with …”and one sparrow does not a Summer make”

Last year about this time I slipped into a pattern of writing on themes related – more or less – to the coronavirus pandemic. You can refresh your memory here, here, here, and here. Usually, it was as a means to address other topics, or a tangential reach from some other theme, as per my customary rambling style.

[Can’t believe it’s been a year since that excrement hit the modern electrical convenience.  Like a major flood, we’ll be cleaning up for a long time.]

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes” (attributed to Mark Twain).  Well, here we go again. This year I seem to have slipped into a similar pattern of essays related to the months of the year, as seen here and here.

It’s early March.  Last weekend the temperatures in my hometown along the Colorado Front Range hit 66 on Saturday and 71 on Sunday. Took advantage with a long bike ride and long walk. That does not mean Spring has sprung?  Oh, no, no, no. This is Colorado. One robin and all that. The white stuff will return, with chilly winds soon enough.  March and April: I’ve learned to address these as “the big tease.”  This weather cycle spins and teases – taunting us – often until Mother’s Day.  Sometimes beyond.

March, like January and much of our Western culture, has its etymological roots in pre-Christian pagan culture, notwithstanding March’s enduring connection to St Patrick.

March is intensely connected to St Patrick in America and Ireland

Before getting onto March, and its sibling eponym[1] Tuesday, I’ll back up.  What is “pagan” and paganism?  Well, it’s not unlike a weed.  What is a weed?  A simple working definition is: a weed is any plant you don’t want.  Similarly, paganism is any religion you don’t understand or practice.

Well, that’s a bit oversimplified, but it works well enough.

Once Christianity became the universal (i.e. catholic) religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, after the ascendency of Constantine, many rural parts of the empire clung to and languished in polytheistic and ancient religious practices.  The word “pagan” has roots in old Latin meaning “rural”. And as Christians became more dominant, they used this word (pagan) as a pejorative to describe those whose religious practice did not “fit in.”  In modern jargon, they were effectively calling them “rednecks.” Generally, “pagan” has evolved and is now a word used to describe followers of non-standard (i.e. non-western-style) religions, as well as pre-Judeo-Christian theologies and practices.  Often, they are either poly-theistic and/or animalistic practices.

Back to March, ancient “pagans”, and pre-Christian Rome.  As mentioned earlier, March was originally considered the first month of the year (we see this obviously in the extant names of September through December).  Romans named this month after their god of war: Martius.  Why?  Well, no one went to wage war in the winter; that would be crazy: the weather was terrible, and all the paths, fields and roads were muddy, or snow covered. March brought spring, followed by summer: the seasons of martial campaigning.  Think about that: a whole month given to thinking about, preparing for, planning, and beginning to wage war!  How pagan!

March’s weekday “twin” is Tuesday.  We can see the similarity in Latin’s descendant languages for this day: Spanish (Martes), Italian (Martedì), French (Mardi), and Romanian (Marţi).  Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago many celebrated Mardi Gras?  Fat Tuesday?  The day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent?

But how did we English speakers get “Tuesday”? Not all English words have a Latin or Greek ancestral root.  The very word “English” is named for the Germanic/Teutonic tribe called Angles.  The Angles’ regional god of war was named Týr which somehow, over a few centuries after migration, became Tiu. 

I have no idea why the English or long-ago Teutons copied the Romance cultures and named “Tiu’s Day” after an ancient pagan god of war. Maybe they coincidentally decided to name the 2nd day of the week just as they did the month such right before the weather gets nice. Although, as a side thought, it gets pleasant much later in those more northern regions than it does in Italy.

Perhaps a renaming is in order.  Sunday surely comes directly from the Germanic/Dutch (Sonntag, Zondag); but, do we worship the sun?  Or the moon for that matter (Monday)? Sunday has been literally renamed the Lord’s Day in some other western tongues (Spanish: Domingo, Italian: Domenica, Portuguese: Domingo, Romanian: Duminică).  I have no idea why the Frenchies call it Dimanche.  Anyone?  Bueller?

St Joseph, the Carpenter (AKA San Giuseppe). The feast of St Joseph (Mar 19) is much celebrated by Italians and those with Italian ancestry

Perhaps in this time of wokeness and canceling, it’s best to just let sleeping dogs lie.  If we were to consider re-naming March, Tuesday and Sunday – whatever could we all possibly agree upon? And what would we cancel next?

May the beauty and promise of spring be upon all of you soon.  Have a happy and safe St Patrick’s Day and St Joseph’s Day.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2021

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[1] Eponym is sort of the inverse of a namesake. If St Joseph were my namesake (likely guess), then I am his eponym. March and Tuesday have the same namesake, thus they are eponyms of the same thing: the god of war.

February Amore: When in Rome, you amateurs


What’s Love got to do with it?  –
famously recorded by Tina Turner,
written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle

Last month, as an amateur writer (I always was and probably always will be), I wrote a piece about January as a pathway for touching on some tidbits of an autobiographical nature, self-reflection, as well as contemporary culture.

And now we are in February, the month of Love, as it brings us both Valentine’s Day, the 14th, and Random Acts of Kindness Day, the 17th.

Gonna geek-out here a bit. February – by virtue of some topics connected to it – is a rather curious month.  It has only 28 days, except once every 4 years when it has 29.  And thanks to Pope Gregory XIII and his attention to astronomers, the 29th day is not added in years ending in 00 – unless the first two digits are divisible by 4 (hence 2000 – with a “20” prefix – was a leap year, whilst 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not).

Curious indeed, and great reminders that there is no reason whatsoever why the time it takes the earth to make a cycle around the sun should be any simple multiple of the time it takes for the earth to spin around itself one time. {Notes on “years” and “days” below [1] and [2] }

Many ancient cultures had calendars. They were necessary for everything from government administration, to drawing and enforcing contracts, and especially for agricultural cycles. As with much else, we can trace our modern Western calendar – and February – back to the Romans.  The Romans had several calendars over the centuries, and sometimes more than one at time.

And we would be correct in guessing that, for quite a while, they had only 10 months per year.  The Roman year began with March, as it is the time of spring and new life.  We can clearly see this in the names of many months that they left for us: September, October, November, and December.  These are ordinal partners for numbers 7 through 10. For parts of Roman history the remainder of the year was a monthless winter period; and would reset as spring approached with March.

Eventually the monthless periods were filled in with January and February … then months number 11 and 12 by the old calendar, and months 1 and 2 by the administrative calendar.

This all changed with Julius Caesar.  He made 365.25 days/year the law of the land and fixed the calendar year at 12 months.  He named the 5th month after his family (July), and deemed it should be 31 days.  So, he nicked a day off the 12th month, February, reducing it to 29.  [Not much later, Caesar Augustus did likewise, reducing February to 28).  And then he moved the beginning of the year for all to January.

The month before spring was a time of cleansing, to prepare for the year ahead, and for the coming seasons of work – in the fields, vineyards, time to make war, etc.  The ritual of cleansing was called “Februa”, related to the verb “to cleanse”: februare.  And, voila, there you have it.

As an unverified side thought: It is possible this is related to the Christian similar season of Lent.  Just a guess, but we do know Jews had done a spring cleaning of sorts for millennia (it’s probably part of the reason the bread at Passover was unleavened), and also performed a new year spiritual cleansing between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur.


Moving on. February is Cupid’s month, for it gives us Valentine’s Day, a day to honor the emotion of love and praise the ones we love.  For example, Amore.  Love. 

Dean Martin’s Amoré album cover with his smash single: That’s Amoré

I can’t help but think of Dean Martin singing That’s Amoré whenever I hear that word.

And what about related words?  Ami: a good friend or even a lover.  Amiable: kindly, friendly, worthy of love.  Amity: friendly, affectionate, loving (but don’t forget the story and movie Jaws occurred on and near fictional Amity Island). We also get easily to the words enamored and amorous.  And paramour: a lover (although usually used as an illicit lover).

We find it in the girl’s names. Amanda: she who is loved. Amy: a beloved child.

And in the amenities at hotels: things we just love to make our visit a little nicer.

What about that often-pejorative word “amateur”?  Pejorative, as in: “Oh, what an amateur mistake”, and “He’s just a rank amateur.”

What’s love got to do with that? Show me some love here.

An “amator” in Roman times was a friend or lover. But by the time it arrived in English centuries later, it had passed through French, picking up both the Frenchy spelling “amateur” and a somewhat new meaning: someone who does something purely for the love of it.  That is, for personal passion.

Whether it’s a hobby like golf, playing piano, writing, or gardening; or a service to your community, church or synagogue – to be an amateur is to put effort into activities without any financial compensation.  It’s just for the love of it.

To call someone an amateur is not an insult.  It is a complement. It is nearly an act of love itself. It is to identify someone as one who does something simply out of love.  Is there a better reward than love?  Even self love?

So, here’s to February – that weirdest of months.  And here’s to cleansing ourselves, spiritually and physically. And here’s to the amoré, the passion, and the amateur in all of us.  After all: To live is to love.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Actually, what we call a “year” is not quite the same as the time it takes the earth to make one trip around the sun.
It’s the time from one March Equinox to the next.  A perfect 360 degree trip around the sun is a sidereal year; the one we use on our calendars is the tropical year.  They are different by about 20 minutes.  Why? Because the earth’s axis is precessing at a period of about one cycle each 26,000 years.
So, a calendar “year” is not set up to measure the earth’s orbit around the sun, per se.  It is set up to measure the seasons. This is the difference between tropical year (seasonal) and sidereal year (by tracking a presumed motionless star background)

[2] There is no reason to think that the time required for a trip around the sun, or from equinox-to-equinox, should be anything like a simple multiple of the time it takes the earth to spin around itself.
In fact, a single such revolution is not a day.  Not by several minutes.  A “day” is the average time from noon until the next noon.  The current best estimate of “days” per “year” is 365.2425

The length of a tropical year and solar day even drift and wobble.  Perhaps it’s time for a piece on just what “time” really means.  And that leaves us with Chicago (or back then, the Chicago Transit Authority): Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?