Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Category Archives: Climate Change

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Morris, Illinois. 

Riding the ACA Route 66 Trail and Google Map suggestions. 

What can I say about Illinois. It has a certain presence corn corn corn corn corn corn that really captures the eye corn corn corn corn corn corn and leave one with a pervasive corn corn corn corn corn corn sense of what this place is all about. The landscape is dominated corn corn corn corn corn corn corn by one or two stand out elements corn corn corn corn corn corn corn corn that really corn corn corn corn corn corn corn define the place. Oddly though, I am at a loss for a single word to describe it–one single stalk of a word with the kernal of meaning that can reach high as an elephant’s eye and cut through this maize. Cob dammit, I feel like a husk since I lack the grit to find the right word no matter hominy times I try! Aw shucks.  ​

​Another feature has been roads that are sprayed with tar and then graveled. In time this makes a rough but solid macadam, but when new, the way is sticky and slow, I spent many miles listening to my tires popping tar bubbles as I rolled over them. Much of Illinois looks quite a bit like western Kansas in that it is flat and farm-filled. But there is more housing here and it was of a more familiar eastern suburban/rural nature. I saw very little that caught my eye or looked old. Instead, there were lots of ranch houses with those well-mowed lawns and that big free whose base is surrounded by plants. But the fields really were endless. 

Part of our path to Chicago has us riding the old Route 66 run. I am at a total loss as to why there is some sentimental connection to this highway. Yes, there was song, and yes, it is now a sort of self-perpetuating nostalgia long detached from its original causes, but apart from that I am lost. I guess it mattered that it once was the main road between Chicago and LA, and as such it was the ribbon which bound up many a midwestern family vacation. And no doubt many a Hollywood culture maker had it as part of their psyche and so it became part of ours–sort of in the way the economy of the Planet Televison seems to rely disproportionally on the business of comedy and comedy writing. Oddly, no one can really explain to me why Route 66 should be so important. I missed my chance to go to the Route 66 museum in Pontiac–they might have explained it. The woman at the restored Historoic Gas Station in Ordell could not answer my question either. She confirmed though something I knew–that Europeans were more connected to the Route 66 idea than were Americans. For them, Route 66 connects to some romanticized Americanism whereas for us it is, umm, maybe a fantasy memory of the 50s? I dunno. How many people are left anyway with that Happy Days vision in place? It seems pretty clear to me that as a set of historical sites, Route 66 is fighting an uphill battle to stay relevant. Only a few sections still survive and here and there remain some kitschy motels and trinket shops, but since no one really travels there this way anymore there are no new memories being made. In a generation all of this will be even more mysterious. The whole thing seems linked to that confusing and ultimately unhealthy love of the automobile I saw in elderly riding gangs in Nevada. The romance of Route 66 then becomes something akin to an old racist song or those horrible 50s comedians, who, drink in hand, told jokes about or imitated drunk people: it might have been innocent enough in its day, but it is impossible for us to put the blinders back on and see through those eyes ever again. With that said, anything that leads to the preservation of an old and easily overlook vernacular building is a good thing. So, keep the motels and the gas stations say I–but let’s visit them by bicycle. We can pop tar bubble along the way and corn corn corn corn corn corn corn. 

 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. The Slingshot is in Full Swing.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

Sure, I rode this stretch already, but the view was different. Does that count? The fact that the Sierras are so unlike the places I know makes backtracking–um, I mean Slingshotting–seem just like more adventuring. There were a few reasonable climbs today, but what made them hard was really just the heat. It is pretty damn intense. In fact, should climate change carry on as it has so far, in few decades outdoor activity in this part of the world in the summers will not be possible. The big ACA ride circa 2067 will have to be over before May in order to not kill the riders. It will be as impossible to ride here in 2067 as it is now impossible to ride in places like Needles, California where it reach 123 at 2pm today. We also learned that it was too hot in Phoenix for airplanes to take off. Hot. For me it is just about the intersection of aquatics and mathematics. I figure I am drinking roughly a liter of water every hour–that means about a liter every 10-17 miles on average depending on terrain and wind. These numbers are fine when there is water around–even if just at a convenience store. But once past Middlegate–or really past Carroll’s Summit–we were hitting distances like 65 to 75 miles between there being water. That means carrying about 7 liters of water for each of us–and that makes the bike so heavy to get over the mountain passes that I need to drink more to get the load over the hump. It is a losing circle. It seems that one, or possibly two cyclists have already died from dehydration over the last two weeks in this route. I hope that is just a rumor. For these reasons I am happy with The Slingshot. It is costing us more money we don’t have, and I will miss out on Utah, but it will get us out of the worst of it and back on the road. It will still be hot in Colorado, but there will be more water. It’s a moist heat. 

The line is working out well. Our new ride companions, Sam, Chester, and Xander are in good spirits and in good form, so we made good time–well–they all dropped me twice today since I am sticking to my slow and steady approach to heat and hills. We formed a pace line since the head wind was very strong. The drafting worked well until I fell back from a pull and Rami took over on the point. Suddenly the line was speeding up by 2 or 3 MPH and I just let it pull away. Rami is liking the group and I think he wanted to show his mettle. It was kind of fun though watching him pull away–a sort of metaphor for parenting. It also is a sign that The Slingshot is the right call. 

We revisited the convenience stores we hit on the way out and drank drinks. We saw more old folks with odd cars–this time open engine mock hot rods. I am so of two minds about this still. On the one hand, it just more consumer culture sociability and we all participate in that in one way or another. On that score the Mock-Rods score over the ‘Vettes since I am pretty sure that each of these guys did a lot of the actual mechanical work themselves. Skill is always impressive and admirable. The ‘Vetters on the other hand, just make a monthly car note payment to be in the ‘club’ and that is less impressive. On the other hand though, what it comes down to for me is that leisure gas consumption is one part of what is making it impossible to be out here on a bike. It is not an innocent hobby–they are actively participating in something that is harming others, albeit inderectly–depending on how much room they give cyclists. As seniors, they may not be around to see the long term results of their emissions, but they are the last hold outs of a world-view that thought these resources were bottomless, and that is having a hard time understanding the harmful consequences of habits they have always seen as at best a major boon or at worst, harmless. 

Tonight though we sleep under cottonwoods with the smell of sage in the air. Fifty years from now though, this will probably be a desert too. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Backtrack Phase One. 

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route

Let’s call it “The Slingshot”–that sounds better than backtracking. The idea is to roll back a bit to leap forward. Our time is limited, and we have a hard time making the miles we need to get to the eventual rendez-vous. My name for the tour was well chosen. 

Today we made 58 miles in good order with two climbs and a steady headwind. It was of course terrain we had done before, but that is the principal of The Slingshot. I am glad to be leaving Rt 50 behind even though much of the land it traverses is lovely. There is a bleak and foreboding to Nevada. It is a place creatures like us were not meant to live in, and there always is something appealing about those places that have bested us and not the other way around. Sure, there are big boxes here, and Modern Homoamericanus has done all he can to force his needs upon this unwilling landscape. But the sun, and the dust, and the blistering heat are constantly shouting back that man is not the master here. Yesterday in the shade of the cottonwoods and again this morning loading the bikes in the shade of an old bunkhouse, I noticed that the air was just perfect–as far as I was concerned you could just pipe it into my house. But as soon as I stepped out of the shade an into the sunlight, the bright glittering molten sledgehammer came down on my head like sixty pounds of baked potatoes right out of the oven. Meanwhile, we learned that it was hailing in Ely. Someone does not want us here.

It was not always thus. Rami and I napped mid day near some petroglyphs. We had made it through the salt flats where the heat was well over 100 degrees. The picnic tables at the petroglyphs are the first shade we saw in 40 miles or more and we had planned to rest out the worst of the heat there. God himself must be smiling on The Slingshot since the sky was filled with clouds for the first time since we were here. They acted as a parasol and made some of the climbing easier before they took their leave. While we rested, distant dark clouds scuffed into view,and I could see rain falling on the far mountains. About 10,000 years ago this world was totally different and we have to thank the ancient petroglyphiacs for some of this information as well as data from some sites. The killing salt flats had been salt marshes and were home to water birds, sandhill cranes, and of course the people who ate them. Rami reflected on the idea that one problem with man-made and man-enhanced climate change is that it’s speed means that there is not time for animals to adapt. He thought maybe the little tan chipmunks had had the time to adapt to their new environment. Indeed they have–at least to the one they are in now. The animals were on us the second we sat down at a park table. They darted around our shoes and chased around under the table waiting for whatever scrap or crumb fell. They even scampered up the bikes to get in the open panniers and a few even reached up from the ground to try and claw at the bottoms. Adaptive little buggers. We eventually fed them some science fruit squeezes and watched the show. 

It turns out there is a heatwave now and even locals are concerned over it. People tell us all the time that we are crazy–that is common tbing for cyclists to hear. But the heat has added a level of wonder to people’s condemnations–and fairly too. Today was the first day we saw other cyclists on the road. We had passed one or two here or there before, but few tourers and no feeling of mass. Today we passed a large supported group traversing Nevada, a lone east-bounder who looked in fine form and second who was less so. The second’s problem was the he had only one water bottle, was dry already, and had a big backpack on. He was young and strong and would probably be fine, but he knew he needed to adapt to his new environment–like a chipmunk.

We also passed a group of three cyclists who were taking a break. It is always good to stop and chat to see what you might learn about the path. In this case, it was a group of friends from Chicago heading east to, well, somewhere. A bit like us. They seemed up to the task and we rode on. Later in the day tbough we stopped for water at the first convenience after the desert flats and the three riders were there. They had back tracked too and must have passed us while we’re napping with the chipmunks. Now we are a small group riding The Slingshot back towards Carson City. 

Fredericksburg’s Farmers’ Bank II

The Free Lance Star reported yesterday that on Monday the city issued a stop work order on the demolition of the 1950s drive-through bank additions behind the Farmers’ Bank on Princess Anne st. farmer's bankIt seems though that the order was almost literally a day late and a dollar short. Last year, developer Mike Adams purchased the property from PNC Financial Services and floated a few plans for the building and lot. The latest is to turn the bank building into a restaurant and offices and put seven town houses in the lot. The former seems like a reasonable low-impact use of a historical structure, the later through still threatens to overwhelm the lot and over shadow the old building. The project began with the removal of the drive-through, but at the last moment the city’s Architectural Review Board–frequently a site of preservation battles–has thrown cold water on Adams’s plans. He has replied with a suit, and the city returned fire on Monday by sending over the cops to enforce the ban. From what I saw though, there was not much left to cry over. IMG_4297.jpeg

Magic Means Stay Asleep

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How well did that magic multi-roadway bridge work out in that image future?

Wow–look at how technology will solve our traffic problems! Sensors, slots, half autonomous cars whizzing past each other with barely a thought from the driver of each one: it’s like future magic. Too bad we don’t have a simple tried and proven technology for just reducing the number of cars on the road in the first place. If only we had something like that, then we could address this problem right away and not have to imagine some mystical future where our ENTIRE road network is remade AT PUBLIC EXPENSE to accommodate new gewgaws. Oh well, I guess I am just a head-in-the-clouds dreamer and lack the down-to-earth practical problem solving skill of geniuses conjuring up star trek road ways for some imagined future.

Fredericksburg’s Farmers’ Bank: History vs the Tarmac Desert.

In the summer of 1862 President Lincoln visited the city of Fredericksburg. Soldiers of the United States had recently captured this hub of rail, road, and river virtually without incident and the President was in town to meet with his theatre commanders and to see the prize. Halfway between Washington and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Fredericksburg’s capture was one of the last moments when rational people could imagine that the war would be short and relatively painless.

Lincoln held meetings and visited local sites—including George Washington’s childhood home. In town, he met with General Marsena Patrick in the two-story neo-classically inflected Federal style Farmers’ Bank. The bank sat on the corner of Princess Anne and George Streets right across from St George’s Episcopal Church on its front and the town’s Presbyterian Church on its eastern side.

This section of the much-discussed 1888 St George Church panorama of Fredericksburg shows the roof and chimneys of the Farmers' Bank on the left foreground. Note the use of the lots that are now mostly tarmac deserts. This section of the panorama came from Fredericksburg Remembered. http://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3c00000/3c00000/3c00600/3c00623v.jpg

This section of the much-discussed 1888 St George Church panorama of Fredericksburg shows the roof and chimneys of the Farmers’ Bank on the left foreground. Note the use of the lots that are now mostly tarmac deserts. This section of the panorama came from Fredericksburg Remembered. http://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3c00000/3c00000/3c00600/3c00623v.jpg

Though lacking the adornments of ecclesiastical architecture, the Farmers’ Bank’s facade, style, and placement was nevertheless itself a statement of faith, solidity, and the American way. General Patrick’s selection of the bank as his own office—and a nerve center of the city’s occupation—enlisted the existing architecture of trust, power, and commerce for the for the cause of the Union.

The Farmers’ Bank has survived to today.

The Farmers’ Bank as it looks today. Image from Mysteries and Conundrums https://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/slaves-at-fall-hill-abraham-and-hester-tuckson/

It has been a bank and office suites most of this time and is now one of Fredericksburg’s best historical buildings. Indeed, Fredericksburg NPS Battlefield Park Historian John Hennessy recently highlighted this fact for his blog readers reminding all that the bank is the only existing building we are certain Lincoln entered, walking over the bank’s worn Aquia sandstone steps and entering through the elaborate alcove entrance. The bank’s northeastern corner is especially notable for the large amount of Civil War graffiti resulting from bored soldiers carving their names and regiments into the brick (Other Civil War graffiti). In the 1930s, Historic American Building Survey architects studied the bank (then called the National Bank) and added it the list of the town’s charms. A 1990s drive through window and cash machine addition south of the bank are the only externally visible changes to the building which otherwise has maintained its historical feel capped off by a wooden Civil War era style sign.

But changes in the larger lot have left the Farmers’ Bank an isolated historical Island in a tarmac desert. Beginning at least as early as the 1950s, Fredericksburgers transformed open in-town spaces into parking lots.

Seen in order on the right, the 1990s drive through bank addition, the south wall of the Farmers' Bank, and the steeple of St George Episcopal Church.

Seen in order on the right, the 1990s drive through bank addition, the south wall of the Farmers’ Bank, and the steeple of St George Episcopal Church.

In the nineteenth century, open lots were needed as work yards, kitchen gardens, and animal residences. But in the automobile era—and particularly after the 1960s when I-95 passed just west of town—the storage of temporarily dis-used cars became a primary concern. Property owners paved open lots and, as older buildings came down, their empty lots also joined the ranks of parking lots often in the shadow of roughly constructed side walls of remaining buildings meant to be seen only from the front. The result of this was to leave town feeling cold and gap toothed and filled with unplanned areas of undesirable, mostly unused, open spaces.

A Tarmac Desert on Sophia Street.

A Tarmac Desert on Sophia Street.

Once a lot is paved, the city or the owner are now committed to a never-ending maintenance regime as cracks have to be filled and holes patched. Paved lots also force collected rainwater to funnel into streets thus stressing removal systems, increasing flooding, and accelerating the erosion of older cobbles. The answer to this is of course more paving, so that over time, more and more of the cityscape became a tarmac desert. Whereas earthen lots absorb rainwater and produce greenery even when left alone and require no maintenance other than occasional mowing (or goat keeping), tarmac deserts produce nothing other than that distinctive smell in the heat and make corners for the collection of wind-borne trash. On top of that, the in and out flow of cars provide visible markers of when people are in a building and when they are not. The absence of cars signals a building’s emptiness to burglars while a dark lake of tar is itself an inviting terrain for all sorts of mischief. Nothing feels emptier than an vacant parking lot—and in Fredericksburg, most parking lots are empty most of the time and, being paved, can do nothing other than wait for the next car to park there. Paving a cityscape makes it an uninviting alienating tarmac desert that seems dark and dangerous most of the time.

The Farmers’ Bank sits now at the corner of just such an in-town desert. That makes the bank feel isolated and even irrelevant. This is just one of many ways whereby reliance on automobiles and that dependency has remade the landscape in ways that challenge preservation and a place’s historical feel.

The west wall of the Farmers' Bank with the drive through on the right. Note the sale sign.

The west wall of the Farmers’ Bank with the drive through on the right. Note the sale sign.

But now the bank faces a new threat—one worse perhaps than the shells and pocket knives it endured during the Civil War. When the economy bottomed out in 2008 most of Fredericksburg’s development project ground to a halt New condos near the rail tracks which once boasted signs claiming “Starting at $400,000!” soon boasted starting prices of $150,000 before being cut up into apartments. Subdivisions simply stopped with streets half fleshed out and stripped fields were left alone to regrow what grasses they could. Businesses failed and storefronts replaced displays with For Rent signs and papered-over windows. But all of that is over, and the development economy is once again booming. In a very short period of time the city saw a massive new courthouse constructed, a new downtown hotel right across the street, and many new homes fitting in between older ones. In just this last year new in-town projects have piled high-end housing into town and added eateries and even a glittering south-western styled brew pub.

Postmodern newly built townhouse filling in open spaces on the left and the stunningly out of place brew pub sitting on the corner of William and Winchester streets.

Postmodern newly built townhouse filling in open spaces on the left and the stunningly out of place brew pub sitting on the corner of William and Winchester streets.

The good news (perhaps) is that much of this new development is taking place in lots that were previously tarred over. That addresses some of the aesthetical problems posed by tarmac deserts, but none of the environmental or historical preservation ones. The bad news is that all of this is happening so quickly that thorough archaeological is very challenging—and it seems in many cases that significant finds would not be enough to slow down the pace of building or even redirect it. Speed also leaves preservation–of buildings as well as less tangible but nevertheless important things like view sheds and historical feel– left in the dust and crushed by the bulldozer’s treads. Right now the future of the Farmers’ Bank is in question. A developer had bought the lot and received initial approval to fill the desert with condos. But the plan bogged down in levels of city government and all is on hold for now.

New construction on William Street right next to 19th century rows

New construction on William Street right next to 19th century rows

At this year’s Council for North Eastern Historical Archeology conference in Fredericksburg, there was discussion about how the city, still lacking a protective archaeological ordinance, may be turning a blind eye to the destruction of the town’s material patrimony–a patrimony daily stewarded by Fredericksburg, but in reality owned by the nation. Again, the good news is that the city is on the way to hiring a preservation specialist to monitor work. Again, the bad news is that no one knows just how influential that person will be once hired and how much we may lose in the meantime.

Meanwhile though, decades’ old bad car-driven choices are still felt in a town walking the line between protecting its past and building for its future.

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