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Colonial Williamsburg During COVID-19

ClaytonClayton Richards is a graduating MA student at the University of South Florida with interest in American history, particularly American expansion and imperialism.


Colonial Williamsburg During COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused all business to change the way they operate. This includes historically based businesses, such as museums, both traditional and “living,” and open-air historical attractions. This can be particularly difficult for these types of businesses, as they rely on attracting large amounts of people to their locations and in the case of living museums, on the interactions between the visitors and the interpreters. However, in the face of these massive upheavals, living history museums have been forced to adapt to theses new circumstances. A prime example of this is Colonial Williamsburg. Forced to close in the wake of COVID-19, Colonial Williamsburg has moved their interpretations online, encouraging visitors to their website to “travel back in time from their couch.”1 These interpretations take the form of blogs entries mainly, written by historical interpreters. These blog entries often look to educate people on certain aspects of 18th century life, while also heavily involving the interpreters themselves. There are blog entries exploring certain characters and figures from Williamsburg. Others are done in more of a Question and Answer style, with interpreters answering questions either their work as interpreters in Williamsburg or questions about their characters, such as Thomas Jefferson. They have also posted an entry about how 18th century apothecaries would have dealt with COVID-19. Colonial Williamsburg has also tried to include more interactive material on their website. They highlight their online interactive resources on their page, even including activity pages for younger visitors and how-to guides for crafts and colonial-style food recipes for adults. This shows how Colonial Williamsburg is trying to remain relevant during the COVID-19 crisis. They are still pushing the interactive elements that have made them famous, but they are embracing new mediums for this out of necessity. Colonial Williamsburg is using its resources and archives to keep its history relevant during this current crisis, by combing online and their signature interpretations as best they can. With the circumstances caused by the COVID crisis, history has had to push pasts its traditional zones in order to stay active in the public.

CV19 and Historic Cemeteries

LaurenLauren Piccinini is a Master’s student with the University of South Florida. Her area of concentration is American History with a specialization regarding American Prisoners of War.

CV19 and Historic Cemeteries

Shortly after Andersonville National Historic Site began conducting virtual tours, the Andersonville National Cemetery announced that they would be limiting visitation to the graveyard to just the weekdays. Then they announced that burials, while remaining available for eligible veterans, they would be done without military honors or a committal service. Additionally, no more than ten family members would be permitted to attend the internment.[1] Meanwhile, Arlington Nation Cemetery is still permitting military honors, but limiting other honors and procedures. Additionally, Arlington is requesting that guests, limited to those with Family Passes or those interning family members, wear masks and/or avoid leaving their vehicles during ceremonies.[2] Within days of these announcements, The Washington Post broke the news that New York City was burying unclaimed Coronavirus patients in mass graves on Hart Island.[3]

Hart Island, a mile long island off of the Bronx, has a long history of unclaimed or indigent burials. Dating back to the Civil War Era, the island is home to Civil War soldiers, the homeless, AIDS patients, and stillborn babies. Due to the mass infection and mortality rate in New York, authorities have struggled with how to deal with the large amount of unclaimed deceased Coronavirus victims. Naturally, Hart Island welcomed these unfortunate souls with open arms. New York is not a stranger to mass burials during previous pandemics; Central Park, then known as Seneca Village, was used as an internment site for victims of the Cholera epidemic of 1849.[4] While the idea of mass burials seems like an antiquated practice, it is one of the few options available, especially since scientists have discovered that the virus can spread after death.[5]

1: Workers in Hazmat Suits Burying COVID Victims, Hart Island, New York

As the worldwide death toll surpassed 164,000, the question of disposing of the deceased sparked a troublesome debate. Are these individuals granted the same rights as everyone else, or should they be quarantined to their own section of a mass grave, identical to the treatment of AIDS victims during the 1980s? The answer appears to be somewhere in the middle and depends on the next of kin’s abilities to provide funeral services.  If the family is able to afford the funeral costs, the decedent is released into their custody through a funeral home; however, if they are unable to afford these services or aren’t aware of the death, the decedent is interned in a mass grave. New York is not alone in this struggle; countries, such as Iran and Italy, have also implemented mass burials and suspended religious ceremonies. Iran has since dug a mass grave so large that it is visible from space. China, where the virus ravaged the population, ordered that any person who died from complications from the virus be immediately cremated without a farewell ceremony.[6]

2: Mass Burial Site, Qom, Iran

While the total loss of life is continuing to grow, it is to be seen how the treatment of the dead will alter and when this ordeal will cease. Presently, the measures being taken at Hart Island is limited to New York City and other epicenters of this virus like Iran and Italy. Other institutions, such as national cemeteries, are taking precautions and temporarily changing procedures in the interest of the public safety. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has promoted, these cemeteries are encouraging the use of masks, social distancing, and limiting the number of persons in a gathering. Only time will tell if individual burial plots will continue in this pandemic or if mass graves will become the new normal.

[1]“Alerts & Conditions.” National Park Service, April 3, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[2] “Frequently Asked Questions.” Arlington National Cemetery, April 5, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[3] Yuan, Jada, “Burials on Hart Island, where New York’s unclaimed lie in mass graves, have risen fivefold.” The Washington Post, April 16, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[4] Martin, Douglas, “A Village Dies, A Park is Born” The New York Times, January 31, 1997. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[5] Baldwin, Angela N., Ph.D., “Coronavirus’ reach from beyond the grave: Deceased body transmits COVID-19” ABC Action News, April 17, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[6] Woodward, Aylin & Mosher, Dave, “Sobering Photos Reveal How Countries are Dealing with the Dead Left by the Coronavirus Pandemic,” Business Insider, April 13, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Enduring Xenophobia and COVID-19.

ROY Blog PhotoAlissa Roy is an undergraduate student majoring in history at USF Tampa with an interest in environmental history, memory, and ancient Egypt.

Enduring Xenophobia and COVID-19

The Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and their response during the covid-19 pandemic optimally threads past immigration themes and patterns with aspects of contemporary society. The CHSA Museum is uniquely positioned, with content intimately dealing with the legacy of Chinese immigration, situated within the context of COVID-19 – and the outbreak originating in China’s Province of Hubei. Due to these factors, the CHSA Museum has been extremely responsive in their online presence and content distribution throughout COVID-19.

Perhaps most imperative, is the CHSA response to current Xenophobia directed at Chinese Americans. posted an article titled, “Xenophobia Heightens” on February 18th, 2020. This article addresses the increased occurrence of physical violence, bullying, and racial profiling that is affecting Asian Americans during this time. The article reads, “The COVID-19 is the latest in the sad and sorry mistreatment of Asian American communities during public health scares.”[1] The Museum’s Instagram page also contains numerous posts along the same lines. On March 27th, their Instagram page posted about their partnering with San Francisco State University with a link ( to report xenophobic incidents, stating there are “almost 100 cases a day reported and growing.”[2]

Picture2On April 9th, their Instagram posted an anti-Asian American cartoon from the museums’ collection stating, “this tradecard from the 20th century perpetuate the underlying racism against Asian Americans and how issues back then are still reoccurring today.”[3]

Despite the hardships being endured by the CHSA Museum at this time, they continue to offer a variety of activities on their website and other platforms. MandoMeet, which would usually come together as a physical meeting to discuss and use the Mandarin language, has transitioned to incorporating resources on the website to sharpen Mandarin language skills while face-to-face conversations are not an option.[4] Additionally, the museum hosts an online roundtable discussion, or “book club” that anyone can sign up to participate in. The next “meeting” will occur on April 22nd from 3:00p.m. – 4:00p.m. and focuses on books, films, and tv shows, such as Finding Kukan, Netflix’s Tiger Tail, and The Woman Warrior to name a few.[5] Participants are also encouraged to discuss their favorite recipes and what they miss about visiting Chinatown, while San Franciscans are asked to shelter-in-place.[6] Additionally, on April 1st the website updated their policy regarding COVID-19 and the museum closure. The article states that they will remain closed through May 3rd, 2020 but hope to reopen by May 6th, 2020.[7] However, should this timeline change, they will continue to update these measures as needed.[8]

Picture1In conclusion, in the face of ongoing harassment and discrimination, Asian Americans and the CHSA Museum work to report xenophobic incidents and continue to educate the public about the pervasive effects of racism – both historically, and unfortunately, within contemporary society towards Asian American immigrants. Their unique position and incredible actions to combat racism and misinformation, like those of their brave predecessors, deserve a positive moment in the spotlight, amidst a plethora of negative and largely false media coverage.









COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor

odowdDaniel O’Dowd is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida, concentrating on European History in the Early Modern Period.

COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor

Much of the talk about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has centered around comparisons to earlier national crises and the relative efficiency of the government and public response.  Some of the most common non-disease comparisons have been to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  As the sites of these attacks have their own related museums and memorials, public memorialization of those events has been impacted by the current pandemic.  While the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a National Park Service administered site, the USS Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Memorial and Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are all non-profits without direct government funding.  All of these sites have been closed since March 17th, following guidance from the CDC.  I wanted to take a look at how these sites were handling the pandemic and resulting closures, and to see if any of the parallels in public response to crises were being recognized by the museums themselves.

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial has been posting updates on Twitter, along with images from the memorial exhibits, referring to this as a #VirtualVisit. While there are some short videos about the exhibits available on the official website, these predate the current situation.  The @PearlHarborNPS account did promote a Zoom educational talk on April 8th featuring an eyewitness to the attack, which shows there is some effort being made at replacing events which would normally have been done in person.  As the memorial is government funded, there are no appeals for extra support from the public.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial is offering free guided virtual tours over Skype[1], although these tours are not a new COVID related effort and have been done for over a decade.  The Memorial does not appear to have made any special appeals for public support at this time.  The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is still posting updates on Twitter but does not appear to have any new virtual content available.  However, the museum was undergoing substantial renovations prior to the pandemic, and while the submarine itself was still open to the public prior to March 17th much of the grounds and the main museum building had been closed and under construction since August 2019.  For this reason, the current disruption in attendance and income from the pandemic may be less keenly felt by the institution.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has added a section to their website, called Pearl Harbor At Home,[2] to provide educational materials for parents at home with children during school closures.  In addition to materials that were available before the pandemic, the museum is offering web seminars over Zoom.  The museum is also making special appeals for donations, and offering discounted membership, to try to raise funds.  Using the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII propaganda catchphrase “We Can Do It”, the museum is making appeals to patriotism and national civic identity to help drive support and try to keep spirits up.  It is interesting that this is the only one of the four main Pearl Harbor museums and memorials to do this, as I expected to see more attempts to appeal to WW2 patriotic sentiment in relation to the pandemic given how frequently the comparison is being made outside of the museum context, in news media and politics.



Public Health Meets Public History.

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

Public Health Meets Public History

While all museums have been impacted by COVID-19, for some its hit especially close to home. Across the country, health museums have had to wrestle with the same issues as other similar institutions— how to stage engaged with the public, layoffs and furloughs, etc. But they also feel an additional responsibility to educate their communities about this health crisis.

In Houston, The John R. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science, better known as The Heath Museum, has attracted over 2.5 million visitors. Just last fall, the Smithsonian Institution exhibit Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World opened at the museum. The exhibit reveals how infectious diseases emerge, how they spread so quickly and what scientists are doing to fight them. A review described entering the exhibit— “A mockup of a real-life pandemic response—complete with HAZMAT equipment and staging—will serve as the dramatic entrance to the very real world of life-threatening potential outbreaks.” Since closing on March 17, the Health Museum has been very engaged in the fight against COVID-19. Staff members have appeared on local television to discuss the virus and its webpage contains an impressive list of links to useful resources, everything from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the US Chamber: Resources to Assist Small Businesses. Both its Twitter and Facebook accounts have been very active, posting videos and articles on such topics as how to fight the social distancing blues to advice for caregivers treating COVID-19 patients. And just last week the museum hosted a four day blood drive and donated 3,000 face masks and 3,000 hand gloves from its DeBakey Cell Lab to a local hospital.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine (Silver Springs, Maryland) aims “to preserve, inspire, and inform the history, research, and advancement of military and civilian medicine through world-class collections, digital technology, and public engagement.” While the museum is currently closed, visitors to their website can tour several virtual exhibits, including Closing In On A Killer: Scientists Unlock Clues To The Spanish Influenza Virus. The exhibit gives the history of the 1918 epidemic and the work of Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger to recreate the genetic structure of the virus in the 1990s.

According to its website, the Public Health Museum (Tewksbury, Massachusetts) “strives to preserve artifacts and records of our nation’s history in public health and serve as a resource to the community to educate and promote public health initiatives that address current health issues.” Among its current exhibits is an Infectious Diseases display that teaches how medical experts attacked previous infectious diseases and the impact of their work has on us today. The museum was forced to close on March 13, but has remained active on social media, posting several COVID-19 related articles and links to videos about hand washing and social distancing.

COVID-19 has driven these museums to shut their doors, but they still have found creative and important ways to serve their communities.


CV19 and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo, NY.

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

The Strenuous Life of a Historic Site

April 18, 1906. 5:12 a.m. San Francisco, California. An earthquake rocks the city to its core.  When the shaking stops, a massive fire breaks out. When the smoke clears, 28,000 buildings are destroyed, half of the city’s 400,000 residents are homeless and an estimated 3,000 people are dead.  4,500 miles away, President Theodore Roosevelt immediately grasped the gravity of the situation. “At this moment I am much taken up with trying to do whatever can be done to help the poor people of California in the midst of the awful disaster that has befallen San Francisco. It is a terrible calamity,” he writes his son Kermit. Roosevelt establishes the precedent of direct White House involvement to aid major disasters; his approves a Congressional appropriation of $2.5 million and makes a public appeal for donations to the American Red Cross.

More than a century later, the nation is again stricken by a national crisis. Its effects are being felt throughout country. Including the very building where TR was sworn in as President, following the assassination of President McKinley.

Since it opened its doors in September 1971, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site has been one of Buffalo’s historical treasures. But for years it was lost amongst the city’s other more high-profile landmarks, such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Pierce Arrow Museum.  However, the last several years have seen it become one of the area’s premiere historical attractions. A key to the museum’s recent success has been an emphasis on widening its appeal through public programs. Such events as Speaker, Vintage Game and TRivia nights have been successfully attracting a new more diverse audience.

But with the corona virus forcing its closure, site leaders quickly regrouped and devised a new strategy. I spoke with Executive Director Stanton H. Hudson, Jr. to discuss their game plan.  He shared that several years ago they created a virtual tour of the museum that can be viewed through their website. But recently, they’ve been working to take things to the next level with the TR VR Tour. The new tour takes items from their collection (artifacts, newspapers articles, interactive exhibits) and incorporates them into a high-definition virtual reality tour geared towards school children. They also have developed corresponding lesson plans for teachers. The original idea was to make it accessible to local school districts later this year.  But with recent world events, they’ve decided to make what they have available to more than just to schools, but the general community. They plan to get the TR VR Tour up on their website shortly.

In a move that may surprise some, Hudson hopes to begin airing local television commercials.  The spots will direct viewers to their website to experience the virtual tour, with the hook of “watch the virtual tour, than book your actual tour.”  Hudson hopes these commercials drive more than just educators and students to the website, but also the general public.

To keep in touch with the more than 4,000 people on their contact list, the site will start sending out a weekly newsletter. Each newsletter will highlight a program the museum is running during its closure.  For example, the first newsletter will announce on the premiere of the TR VR Tour. The second newsletter will focus on previous Speaker Nite presentations that will be made available to view online. Besides keeping them informed, at the bottom of each newsletter will be a link that allows members to renew their membership or make a donation.

According to Hudson, the site will also be stepping up its social media presence.  Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they will be rolling out new content. For example, this past Tuesday they posted on Facebook— “Quarantine Conversation: If you were stuck at a home with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, what would you talk about?” They hope that by having set social media days it will become appointment reading for their followers.

The site’s Deputy Director/Curator Lenora Henson is also working to save the popular Speaker Nite event. In addition to topics relating to Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 inauguration and his presidency, speakers in this series discuss topics that were significant during TR’s time and remain relevant today. Henson is exploring the possibility of conducting the presentations remotely through a video conferencing program.

All museum’s efforts to stay relevant take on greater significance because next year it celebrates its 50th anniversary.  While Hudson and the staff’s primary focus is on current events, they already have an eye on next year’s celebrations. They realize all their work now is vital to making the golden anniversary truly golden.











COVID-19 and the Tenement Museum.

ROY Blog PhotoAlissa Roy is an undergraduate student majoring in history at USF Tampa with an interest in environmental history, memory, and ancient Egypt.

Blurring the Lines Between “Us” and “Them”

As an immigration museum, theLower East Side Tenement Museums’ purpose of providing meaningful discussions surrounding both historical and contemporary immigration and migration through exhibits, tours of homes and their surrounding neighborhoods, panel discussions, and their Your Story Our Story national project, was not catalyzed by covid-19. However, their mission eludes to a valuable connection to these rich histories, at a time where citizens across the world are rapidly migrating across state lines and countries by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in an effort to reunite with family or to simply find safety. The Tenement Museums’ website reads, “HELP THE TENEMENT MUSEUM SURVIVE.”[1] While survival has become precarious for individuals and businesses alike, perhaps the silver lining to this situation is that it offers a chance for introspection within the U.S., toward what people have and continue to endure for the protection or betterment of themselves, their families, and safety. “While it may at times be easy to see the gaps between “us” and “them,” a closer look reveals how these newest citizens demonstrate the human spirit of our nation’s ideals.”[2]

Perusing the Tenement Museums’ website, it is quite palpable that the Your Story Our Story national project holds infinite meaning that is only magnified during the covid-19 pandemic. This curated online collection displays objects and stories submitted by groups, organizations, immigrants, and their families, “uncover[ing] patterns and differences of our experiences across the country.”[3] Currently, they are astutely highlighting individuals’ stories of “community resilience, health, medicine, and comfort.”[4] One can read about Lillian Chan, whose grandmother emigrated from China, in 1996.[5] When Lillian was not feeling well, her grandmother would apply tiger balm, a traditional Chinese salve that helped her to feel better.[6] It’s scent reminds her of her still.[7] Or perhaps about the medicine bottle found on the floor of the “Levine Apartment,” distributed by the Eastern & Good Samaritan Dispensary. “Dispensaries were municipally funded, medical walk-in facilities offering free or low-cost care to the poor.”[8] The aforementioned stories resonate during a time when we are quickly becoming intimate with the precarious nature of health and wellness during times of pandemic, and can even offer insight towards how to help our communities, perhaps with reduced costs to individuals who suffer from covid-19 – as did the historical dispensaries before us.

Irish immigrants throughout most of the 19th century, made up the bulk of those living in the tenement houses on the lower east side.[9] An gorta mór, or the Great Famine, was caused by a fungal disease phytophthora infestans, leaving 2.1 million Irish to flee the country – many of whom immigrated to America to avoid starving to death.[10] The Tenement Museum deals intimately with the history of these peoples and other immigrants who came to America for numerous reasons, not the least of which included survival. The Tenement Museum clearly hopes to thread this palpable connection by highlighting stories that hold significant meaning in contemporary society. The Tenement Museum has released member-only content to the public for digital viewing, provided remote learning activities such as reading or writing activities including oral histories, photographs, and videos, and allow you to virtually tour the museum content and more.[11] In order to survive it is essential for museums and other businesses to adapt – or risk closing their doors forever.[12] And perhaps, rather than isolating their message as a thing of the past, we need to fully recognize the value the immigrant experience brings to contemporary society. While we all attempt to remain safe and to protect those we love from covid-19 – whether that means fleeing New York for Florida, or wherever else, the lines between “us” and “them” might blur, so as to make one indistinguishable from the other. Isn’t it about time?

[1] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[2] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[3] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[4] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[5] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[6] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[7] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[8] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[9] Kenny, Kevin. The American Irish: A History. (Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[10] Kenny, Kevin. The American Irish: A History. (Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[11] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[12] Vagnone, Franklin and Ryan, Deborah. Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums. (Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press Incorporated, 2016).

Best Bikes of New Orleans, Jan 2018.

A week in New Orleans to attend the Society for Historical Archaeology annual conference. It was the coldest week in ages and that simple shivery fact shaped everything–including the frozen yard fountains. I accept that many of the best bikes might not have been out and ready for me to see and review. Most of my time was in the French Quarter at Cafe Envie–my fave NOLA spot. But the walking back and forth allowed ample time to see what cyclists had to share. There were lots of bikes, but mostly meh. Riding is not a priority here–perhaps because one should be sober while navigating traffic. Philadelphia was a smorgasbord, true, but I had higher hopes for New Orleans than the po’boy it turned out to be. Never the less, I found five I happily would have ridden off with if asked (my standard for judgement).

NUMBER FIVE: Sticker Mixer.2018-01-02 14.34.16-1

Hmmmm. I know you. You are a Dawes cheapy fixie. I know this because there is one in my living room. These are not too bad, but the components are not delectable. This one is pretty stock (even the silly bars, crap seat post, and garbage bar tape), but with after-market wheels. But–Dawes makes a fine beater and the stickers on the white have some panache. How does this make a discerning list though? Chalk it up to how desperate for speed I was after seeing dozens of depressing department store mountain bikes! It was that bad.

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NUMBER FOUR: The Bars Are Open.2018-01-02 19.13.39

Someone is from the Northeast (or has a computer). Unbadged big sticker steel. Sugino cranks horrible horrible horrible saddle, and those bars. I dunno, I’m sorry. Can there be a hipsterhood of one? Front end brake means Mr Bars is going careful fixie, and that is special here.

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NUMBER THREE: Hidden Wisdom.2018-01-02 13.02.16

Do I know you? I see what you are doing though–and I LOVE It. Mercier Kilo TT is a nice cromoly frame with good goodies stock–a well regarded affordable ride. BMX pedals in terrible colors make me happy. Bull horns are never my faves, but ok, I won’t judge. Natural color Brooks B-17 tops it off and shows that you, my friend, know exactly what you are doing with your sticker bomb. Air kisses!

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NUMBER TWO: Oldies are Goodies.2018-01-06 19.18.13

I saw little vintage steel that was not depressing dreck. Here is an exception. Unbadged, so, search me for what it is. did not look closely, but a convesin from a road bike obviously. Shimano 600 cranks (?) and older 105 front calipers–again, a rider that is looking to see the view from over the bars–which, BTW, look great in the raw. Mismatched tires just makes me so happy too. I am too timid to do it moi meme, but here is a tip: label match the tires to the valves, and you will be doing cool in a big time way, babydoll!

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NUMBER ONE: Class. Photo Jan 07, 12 26 49

Yes. I know. A comparable Cinelli bike made Number Five in Philly and here it is Number One in New Orleans. That is mean, I know. I really do. But let me defend it. This is a Gazetta, which I submit is far hotter bike than the older Philly ride. Now–look a bit closer. No brakes, old school toe clips, black Origin 8 cranks in a “spin me baby” sub 40T variation, hardshell old ride saddle, 110mm stem, and, wait for it…New Orleans’s only pair of skin wall tires, and  in juicy 28mm to boot. See what I mean? Not too shabby. And in context? Magic!

Take a look at the delicious Cinelli details on the seat tube and the logo. Class. I could snap that crap kryptonite U with baguette, but hey, if Dude is not worried, then I am not either. Like I said, it pays to be sober.

Photo Jan 08, 01 03 58

Duel (1971) As Environmental Parable

I happened upon a 1971 made for TV movie called Duel. I was looking for something else, but the film caught my eye. It starred Dennis Weaver and was Stephen Spielberg’s film directing debut. The story and screenplay were written by Richard Matheson who had published a short story version in Playboy earlier that year and had a considerable CV including Twilight Zone notches on his belt. duelThe whole thing was filmed in two weeks for $450,000 before an ABC TV broadcast on November 13, 1971. I asked around and quite a few friends had not only seen and recalled the film, but more than a few quite fondly remembered it.

Good—they should. The movie is great. Since this entry is going to ruin the ending, best to go ahead and watch it quickly before reading on. I’ll wait, it is on YouTube ….Done? Ok, good.

So, recap. Weaver plays David Mann, a salesman driving through the California desert to get to a sale. He drives a bright red Plymouth, and a few commenters noted that the car itself is a sort of co-star. Early on we learn that Mann and his wife are having a rough time, but that is all for background. Spielberg later said he wanted Weaver to play Mann because Weaver had a flare for portraying anxiety on screen.

While winding and twisting on the roads, Mann finds himself stuck behind a hulking late model fuel truck. It is a dusty dirty rattly behemoth anticipating the vehicular cast of Road Warrior. The truck has the  word “flammable” just visible through the grime. The truck belches out oily smoke which flows into Mann’s car. He coughs and wipes his hair and utters the awkward line, “talk about pollution!” Finally, Mann sees his line, and passes the truck. Spielberg makes sure we can hear the thundering engine and rattling panels as the camera passes by. So far so good. But soon, the truck suddenly passes Mann, and now the two are locked in game of road rage on an epic scale. Feature-Schober-Image-5-750x400Mann soon realizes that his nemesis is out for more than lane space as the truck tail gates him at close to 100 miles per hour, rams his rear bumper, and even tries to shove the stopped Plymouth into the passing cars of a train at a railroad crossing. The truck even tries to kill Mann while he is in a phone booth and stalks him in all ways. Spielberg said he was very much influenced by Hitchcock and followed the ‘less is more’ approach. For example, we never see the truck’s driver—the monster is seemingly autonomous—an effect that only heighten stress an alienation. We see the driver’s boots in one scene, his arm waving Mann (unknown to him of course) into on coming traffic, and his face ever so faintly and quickly in a rear view mirror once (perhaps an accident). The overall effect is an ever more anxious Weaver/Mann battling a nameless faceless non-human machine clearly out to kill him for no discernable reason.

Critics, and Spielberg himself, all talked about how this was an allegory of man’s battle with technology. Our own machines are trying to kill us and we are seemingly helpless to stop them. In this case Mann (get it?…!) is alone in the desert. David (get it? …. David!) is battling his own mechanical Goliath. But as we all know, David wins, and in this case, in the end, Mann triumphs over machine. The theme is pretty obvious and all clear and intended and stated outright.

But I saw Duel also as having a different level of meaning in this age of climate change. 1971 was just before the great gas crisis that altered the overall discussion about gas consumption. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was almost ten years old, and this was the year that the Keep America Beautiful organization first aired its now legendary “Crying Indian” ad featuring Iron Eyes Cody. People_Start_Pollution_-_1971_AdThe mid-sixties saw an awareness that “smog” and car exhaust were linked and an increase in urban temperature inversions led to tightening of emissions standards and a stated need to clean the air. 1963 Clean Air Act, the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Act of 1965, and the 1967 Air Quality Act all worked towards that goal, and the 1970 creation of the Environmental Protection Agency all show the increasing awareness that something was very wrong. When Mann says “talk about pollution” he was not the only one who was. But at the time, most Americans would have understood pollution as smoke and trash—a mess and a health hazard. Few if any would have thought about climate in the broadest sense, let alone permanent and irreversible change to the planetary climate system. Indeed, it would still be six years before Exxon would learn about, and begin to cover up, the links between gasoline and the climate.

So, along comes Speilberg and makes a movie about Man/Mann at war for his life with a machine. But look again–gasoline is the peril–not just machines. First off, it is significant that the truck is itself a fuel truck (notice too, the parallel in the words “Duel” and “Fuel”). With its hidden driver, it is gasoline itself that is pursing Mann and trying to kill him. The fuel is also, as it is in nature, covered in dirt but delivered only by noisy machinery. The menacing word “flammable” on the truck’s back and side of course is a harbinger of danger, but it also is an illusion to heat—for us, a warming planet. At one point, truck/gasoline tries to push Mann into the passing train. In this scene, three forms of transportation are all in juxtaposition. Mann is on his Plymouth—the personal transport fit for a Pilgrim–what can be more American? Gasoline tries to kill Mann, but the more fuel-efficient train steadfastly rolls by oblivious to the drama at its side.

Finally, Mann’s battered Plymouth’s engine overheats and the oil is all gone. We watch as liquid and smoke pour of the slowing car and Weaver puts in that angst performance that Spielberg wanted him for. As Mann climbs a hill with the truck in hot pursuit, the Plymouth ceases to be a gasoline-powered vehicle (in two shots the fuel gauge says empty but in a subsequent one the red needle points to F). duel-1971-dennis-weaver-killer-truck-steven-spielberg-first-filmAs soon as Mann crests the hill, his now gas-free unpowered car can coast in neutral and at dangerously high speed down the other side and only then the distance he needs. At the base of the hill, after a small wreck, and a hairpin turn, the Plymouth uses the last of its power to get up a road, and, with the help of Mann’s briefcase pressed on to the gas pedal, is slammed into by the truck (Mann having leapt out already). Gasoline and the car then careen over a handy cliff. Mann ultimately is only saved from death when he frees himself from the car and from gasoline, and when he frees himself from gasoline, the peril ends, and he is safe. True, he is also alone in the desert without a car, and the end of gasoline has dramatically changed Mann’s world, but the immediate peril is gone. The car and gasoline have driven him to a world of deadly heat and empty valleys, but at least he is alive. This is climate change. 

I don’t think any of this analysis was intentional, but it is all there. The man vs, machine theme is unmistakable and the path is set for Jaws which is really a very similar film. But Duel also makes a great environmental parable too. Now I have to watch Jaws again.

Man Plans. God Laughs Tour, 2017. London, Ohio. 

Riding the ACA Chicago-New York Bicycle Route. 

Trigger Warning! A flying insect of some variety dies a strange and horrible death. Those with delicate dispositions or a rather wide definition of animal cruelty might want to read elsewhere where the text is rather less vomitorius (if such a word exists).

Ohio is great! Yay Ohio–you kick ass. So much of this state is graced with rail trails that I think I have done more miles off the roads than on them. That is remarkable considering that Missouri was all rail trail and the whole way from Pittsburgh to DC will be car free. I am surprised that anyone even bothers with Kentucky with its cars and hills and dogs–just come up to Ohio where it is flat, 72 degrees, and possessed of a gentle tail wind. In short, the state has thus far has been a perfect ride. Perfect that is in all respects saving one, as I shall now relate. To begin with, let me clarify something. Riding all day is relentlessly physical. Body parts become very much components of machine that is focused on one thing–turning energy into forward motion. Food becomes elemental and primarily about the kind of reward each item offers. Sugar means energy jolts, carbohydrates are slow release energy, protein is maintenance, and roughage keeps the system clear. More than anything else, vegitables appeal, although V8 and orange juice are much prized. Also, potato chips–a worthless food if ever there as one, is a frequent friend I think mainly for the salt. Gels and cycling food are always on hand too, but mostly as emergency rocket fuel. The goal of it all though is to keep the legs moving and keep that whole neck of the body’s woods working with the most efficiency and least pain possible. At home I have an ideal place–my cycling happy zone. That is at 90 pedal rotations per minute holding at a speed of 21 MPH in ideal conditions. To do that I generally keep my gearing at 50/18 or so. In cycling jargon, this high rate of “cadence” (rotations per minute) is called “spinning” and it seeks to use the power of the legs with minimum muscle fatigue. Heart rates go up and so does wind capacity. This in fact is one the main benefits of cycling and as I have gotten more serious as a rider, my resting heart rate has dropped dramatically–it was at 50 when I last checked and once it was a bit lower. When one finds one’s sweet spot, one can ride there all day. And that is what I have been doing out here–trying to nail down that ideal place–that perfect combination of gears and terrain that will allow the most efficient spinning. Out here, on a loaded touring bike, that seems to be a gearing of 44/24 on the flats and dropping the front ring down to 32 on sharp inclines. Ohio though has been efficiency heaven and making 75 miles or so a breeze. When this happens, the whole leg system goes on auto pilot and just does its job.

Now comes the part where the trigger warning applies. Riding can be a breeze, but breezes, gusts, zephyrs, and various vents are still out there. The horrible jockeys I left behind in Kansas are a distant memory, but the air still moves even here. On this day, riding along happily on a one such gentle zephyr was a medium sized winged beastie. I am sure he rode the air from destination to destination, using its patterns to save his own energy–in his way, he was, like me, spinning, having a lovely day, and feeling in a general good way about the blue sky, the intermittent clouds, and the pleasant temperature. He had every thing to live for, and all of his two or three week life span in which to do it. Up he floated. Down he dived. Buffeted and blustered–not a care in the world. But, like the terrible gust that filled the sails of the ill-fated man-o-war Vasa as King Gustavus Adolphus and all of 1620s Stockholm watched in horror, one preternaturally strong gale (for indeed, at his size it must have seemed a gale) caught him and pushed him to a terrible fate.

I wear sunglasses when riding because I once caught a bug in the eye. Each bit of cycling kit has to prove its worth to me before I buy it, and sunglasses did that job years ago. Sadly though, there are no sunglasses for the mouth. I did once ride along the Potomac at dusk and found the bugs so bad, that I tied a bandana to my face, bandito style and rode on looking as stupid as Martin Landau in a silver-trimmed sombrero. I wore no such bandana today though. Nor a sombrero. There was no time to dodge or react. The bug flew into my mouth before I even knew it was there–such was the wind it rode. I knew right away what it was and was suitably horrified. A host of religious and physical objections make a swallowed bug a horrid thought, and so I immediately began the logical removal procedures. The brain took over. The legs stayed steady at at a high cadence and about 16 MPH. Step one was that raspy throat clear that precedes most dramatic spitting, The idea here is to reverse all downward throat movement and transform swallowing into expelling before an irreversible process begins. I can only guess what the bug was thinking, but there is something singularly disconcerting about autonomous uninvited mouth guests. The intial hack though did not seem to do the job, and I had to do that delicate operation whereby one checks one’s throat, but in such a way so as to keep everything very still. I could tell the bug was still there, and–still holding at 16 MPH–began Plan B: water. The water was intended to flush the bugger out while being very careful to not wash him down. Only in the most desperate of circumstances is the long wet swallow the way to deal with a bug. It can happen that the little rascal can get so lodged mid-throat that no hacking and rattling can dislodge him. In that terrible moment, the only way out is down, as much water as possible must be used to flume the creature down to the stomach acids that await all who venture too far down under. I was determined not to come to that crossroad, and I could tell that the bug was still as yet not committed–the battle was not lost. Not yet at least. I leaned right and reached down for my bottle, and that is when a wonderful thing happened–a joyous, delightful, and most welcome thing indeed. The legs were doing their job keeping the whole train in motion and making good time. The throat was on silent running and was doing all it could to freeze all activity in place. The hand was reaching, and the brain was controlling the whole procedure. “Slowly” it said, “careful…care-ful” it cautioned. And then, the cavalry showed up–like a miscast Martin Landau, the stomach kicked into gear. “Don’t worry boys, I got this one” it said, and with no warning at all, it heaved out a full bottle of orange juice I had propitiously quaffed a few miles back in Cedarville. The propulsive power of the orange juice forced out all that was in its way, and in a second, and with no nausea whatsoever, the bug was gone. It was nothing short of miraculous. The sudden and wholey unexpected reaction truly impressed me–and as the snail said after being mugged by a gang of turtles –it all just happened so fast! There really as no warning sign at all–just a body system working to its full potential with each part performing its tasks perfectly. I salute you stomach. 

There was a downside though. Sadly, my reach the right was not quite completed when the stomach took matters into its own hand, with the result that significant portions of the front of my bike and bags bore the worst of the incident. Still holding at 16 MPH though, I took my water bottle and sprayed down the bars and bags. Then I took a second bottle and did it again. A few miles later there was a water fountain where I filled the bottles and did a few more spray downs. Soon there was no trace left of what had transpired. In a way, that saddened me. I had a lot to be proud of. After all–even King Gustavus Adolphus had to watch in helpless horror when wind threatened to ruin his afternoon. Maybe if the collective stomachs of Stockholm had reacted with the speed and efficiancy as did mine, well, who knows, Vasa might have been saved and all her crew too. They had plenty of water on hand to clean up with too. 

Spare a thought though for the poor innocent bug just living life on a breeze. They say orange juice will keep you from getting sick. For me, that is a yes and a no. But for the bug–well, he would have been better off on a day without sunshine.  

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