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Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Richmond, Indiana.

Riding the ACA Chicago to New York Bicycle Route

Rain. I sit under a picnic shelter on the Cardinal Greenway just outside of Muncie, Indiana. Had I thought more clearly about the rain, I could be sitting in a Starbucks in town and would be a mite more comfortable. I am back in the east now–or at least the eastern Midwest–and am now again but confronting that solid gray sky that can drop water on you for hours at a time. I really hate rain. Let me say that once more–I really hate rain. There is almost no other weather I like less. When I was up in Virginia I took the cold there (20 degrees of so in the winter) as a challenge. I layered up and built up a pretty good cold weather kit. Merino wool underlayers, breathable outer layers, insulating shoe covers, lobster mittens, even ski goggles (these were indeed very silly looking but made a huge difference in facing the wind). You see, riding creates wind according to the speed at which one rides–that makes a standing 20 degrees considerably colder while riding. On top of that, I rode a lot after dark–in the coldest parts of the day. But gear was my friend and I faced the cold bravely. But rain is a totally different enemy. There really is nothing one can do to confront it other than find a picnic awning and wait. If I wear my rain coat, then I will get soaked from the inside out. If I don’t wear it I will get wet and cold from the outside in. I am not too worried about my gear–I feel pretty confident about the waterproof quality of my Ortlieb panniers and handle bar bag. But I am a rain wimp and so the wetness and the drippyness just makes me miserable. So, hello wooden able, concrete floor, and roof–you are my humble shelter while the mean clouds do their worst.  

The last few days have been devoted more to visiting than to riding. Xander and I finished the Chicago leg of the trip a few days ago and we rode right up to his family’s door. The ride there was 50/50. We had a very pleasant night under canvas in Morris Illinois and then shot north. More of the corn-lined Illinois roads as we made out way to Oswego. The repetition of the Upstate New York Iroquois names all over the place gives me a constant double take. Oswego though was very close to the start of the Fox River trail–a riverside paved bike path that would take us up to the roads that would lead to Xander’s home. We soon set off on the trail and it was very nice–very much like the Mount Vernon Trail and was full of little ups and downs and tight turns, The main thing I noticed though was that the river was fast moving and high. The next thing I noticed was the police baracade and the sign saying “Trail Flooded.” Of course we ignored the sign and pushed on. In this case all we really had to do was walk or ride through some sodden grass and we were fine. The next time we saw one of these signs though, the result was not so happy. The whole basin before was part of the Fox River and there was no way around. In retrospect, the best idea would have been to wade through, get wet, and carry on with the dry part of the trail. Instead though, we turned to google maps and its bicycle route feature. We have used this quite a bit and to good effect. Xander set his phone so that Google would interrupt his music and tell him when a turn was coming up–we called this “the voices in his head” and more than a few times refered to knowing where we were going thanks to the voices in Xander’s head. Reaction to this were mixed when we told others of out unique navigation strategy. Once we had decided to leave the logical bike friendly (though submerged) trail, Google got pissy. “The Fox River Trail is the way to go” the voices told us. “Yes but it is now a maritime trail–a kayak run” we said. “Ok” said Google. “I will make a new route for you, but you won’t like it.” The voices were right. We did not like it. To save time, I will now list the kinds of surfaces our route did not take us over. Molten lava, salt flats, sand dunes, mounded human corpses, permafrost. Everything else though we pretty much had to deal with. Honestly–you have no idea how much the automobile has shaped and distorted our landscape until you try to get somewhere without one. Roads without shoulders, crappy glass and poop strewn paths, high speed corners, and more. These were all roads I would never touch if I did not have to. And everytime we appealed to the Voices all they could say was “sorry, I told you to go on the Fox River Trail, but no, YOU had to leave it! YOU had to be creative. Now YOU have to deal with it.” In the end though we made it to Xander’s house in fair shape and his pleased family got to see exactly the kind of sun tan one gets on a recumant. What followed was a very sweet welcome home to the prodigal son and his grizzled companion, and it was wonderful to meet his immediate and extended family. They were all very grateful that I had riden up with him, but in truth, he was more than capable of being on his own. But at the same time, I fully understand where they were coming from parentally speaking, and their collective warmth and welcome were touching in the extreme. Thank you all. 

Soon though I was off and in Indiana to spend Saturday with another grad school friend, this time in Muncie, Indiana. Again–more time spent with great folks to whom I am immensely grateful. Stacy prepared fresh vegetables from the local farmers’ market and Dan and I spent a considerable amount of time in the company of Martin Landau, who displayed a remarklable ability to be miscast. 

So morning saw me head out to the Cardinal Greenway Rail Trail taking me about 40 miles down to Richmond Indiana. Cardinal is a great trail–paved, straight, level, and with good amenities. I started writing this under a shelter, but I finish it in a Starbucks in Richmond getting ready to cross into Ohio. It rained most of the ride. I progressed this way. Ignore it. Put down my cap’s brim to keep the rain out of my eyes. Stop–put on my rain coat since my arms are cold. I can feel my socks getting wet. Stop again–try to pull my rain coat hood over my helmet. Feel the puddles in my shoes. Just keep riding. That really is almost always the answer–just keep riding, I am listening to George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. It is great stuff and what he describes is far more depressing that riding in the rain. The antisemitism is a bit thick and it is bad to tell if Orwell is just relating it or endorsing it. Oh well, at least this Jew is not having to swindle a Russian waiter or trying to sell his daughter into prostitution–nor will he have to portray a Mexican bandito or German elephant trainer turned villian. Rain seems a small problem by comparison. One of Orwell’s friends though did complain about an American hotel guest who did not want full French meals and instead asked only for Grape Nuts, scrambled eggs, and hot coacoa in his room. Ummm…. I had to rack my brain to recall if I had visited Paris in the interwar years. I am pretty sure it was not me. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Leaving Pueblo arriving Ordway Co.

Riding the ACA Trans-America Bike Route.

The off-the-bike week of responsible parenting has ended, I saw Rami off on a flight from Denver and he was home in 5 hours. It took some wrangling to make it all happen but it worked and I got to see Denver and Colorado Springs as well as Pueblo–my Eastern Colorado Trifecta. Tears were shed and many hugs and loving cuddles as well. Rami was sad to go, but he was being very mature in wanting to split his summer, and he deserves much credit for all the hard riding he did. This was not as long a tour as last year’s but each mile this year was five times as hard as one on last year’s ride. There are miles, and then there are miles. These were the latter kind.

The hero of the week though is, and specifically Gordon at Bikeflights. There was lots to ship home and Fed Ex wanted 210 bucks to take Rami’s bike to Tampa. I was livid since I have had bikes shipped to me for as little as 45 bucks. UPS said 210 and the post office said perhaps as little as 150. It took a while and a prompt from Sarah, who had to endure me screaming into the phone about being trapped in Pueblo, capitalism, and my own stupidity–not in that order. But then Bikeflights–dear sweet professional understanding Bikeflights wafted into the story like a calm gentle breeze. In no time at all I was back at Fed Ex, this time with a Bikeflights shipping labels which had cost 65 bucks and the Surly was on the way to Tampa. Use this company! I have no idea how they make money–I think they are operating on a Manna from Heaven business model, but like the Manna, they are heaven sent. I don’t think they taste of coriander or whatever food you want them to be like the original though, (look it up–it is in Shemot, which I think in English is Exodus–second book at any rate).

So, after shipping bikes and clothes, and sending off Rami, and once the Big Red Silverado was moored back in its hanger, I was free to be a cyclist once again. Incidentally, I learned on the drive to Denver that there is a sort of brotherhood of Silverado drivers–the Silveradudes, if you will. Rami was the first to notice that each Silveradude that we saw was sort of checking us out. Our’s was brand new–we got it with less than 1000 miles on it, so, yeah, brand new, dude. Rami also noticed that the newer models have squarer mirrors than did the tatty old ones–that’s right dude, square mirrors. I am not sure though that Rami and I  really fit the profile of proper Silveradudes, and on reflection, that might be why they were checking us out. Where was the gray tee shirt or plaid button down? How come no baseball caps with sunglasses on the brims? My beard might pass muster–but those silly glasses? I don’t think so! And what about Rami’s magestic mane of Semitic warrior ringlet locks anointed with scented oils? Waaaaaait a minute–something is amiss here! Better notify Silveradudes’ Central that some distinctly “ethnic” non-Marlboro man types are trying pass themselves off as vrai “gens de pickup” (or words to that effect, although my last sentence may somewhat highlight exactly the sort of issue they would be sensitive to).  We managed to evade any problems, although when some little pissant in a pimped out little car tried to steal the Short Term Parking spot we  had patiently waited for, the aforementioned pissant got a full blast of the front end of the Silverado, and some carefully chosen bons mots from the man blasting the horn. With a huge grin Rami said to me–“see, it is times like this when it shows that you are a Brooklynite.” To my recollection, I did not curse. But I did make my point using PG rated socially acceptable verbiage.

By 9am after docking the Silverado at Hertz, I was wheeling through Pueblo on my way to the turn on 4th St. That road was a bit busy, so I hopped down to 3rd and wended back. That led me to the coffeeshop there where habit made me stop. It was an oasis. Pueblo has had a hard time. Industry has left, the loss of jobs, meth, OxyContin and so on have clearly ravaged the town as have the big boxes sucking businesses out of downtown. There are a number of nice old buildings–all early 20c vintage–including a good Kress building and a great old leather shop once run by a man named Mayer, his name still in the stonework. There also are some valient well-meaning folks trying to bring life back to the old place. But it is hot, and windy, and not an easy battle to win. One local explained to me that marijuana legalization has been terrible for the city. She said that what happened was that once the state legalized, tens of thousands of dealers from all over the nation flooded the state thinking they were going to get rich quick. Of course the market was not set up in a way that would allow that, and  now all these people who had spent what they had to get to the Promised Land now found themselves no better off than they were elsewhere. Pueblo has a very low cost of living, and so in time they have flooded the city. It is no joke–there are sun tanned homeless and near homeless all over the place. It is different than Sacramento where the city seems to have just allowed tent cities to spring up here and there. In Pueblo, they are just everywhere. It is unsettling. This country has failed so many of its people.

The coffeeshop–the Solar Roast–though was a place apart–although I ended up giving one of my hard boiled eggs and some money to a guy on a bench right across the street.  People were friendly and chatty in the coffeeshop and religion again emerged as a topic. I need to write a seperate post on that, but later. For today though I scooted out of town and headed east quickly entering the plains. First impressions? LOOOOVE it! Fascinating landscape and I really wish I could have seen it in 1700. Most of the others places I have seen so far look more or less as they did then–the Sierras, Carson’s Pass, Nevada Hellscape, Utah Hellscape, Rockies and Bullwinkle, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown–all places largely the same in 1700 as today. Maybe. But this place is different. I rode and rode in what I can only call a sea of land. Sitting in Ordway late in the day, eating frozen blueberries, and talking with the local friendly old man who likes to chat, I could see the land out there and it was just like being at the beach–except the beach was a road crossing and the sea was land.  Trust me–really weird.

There is a stock auction in Ordway tomorrow and the trucks were coming in. The cattle trucks have two levels–upper and lower. I noticed they were very tall, but it was only this afternoon I realized that there were two levels with two floors. I guess I thought ranchers just stuffed cattle in to fill the space–like cabbages or Tokyo commuters. What do I know about cows? As my son pointed out–I am a Brooklynite!

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Salida Colorado

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

The Slingshot is nearly compete and we have landed in Salida, Colorado on the Arkansas River and about 7000 feet above Tampa. The drive here was fine and we all listened to and discussed a wide array of music as we went round and round with each person picking a song from their devices in turn. This made for an engaging and entertaining drive. Salida was the destination because Sam’s family had a home here that for the moment was empty. It was in fact a nice modern three story which they rent out. We quickly settled in and made use the chance to clean clothes and selves. For most of the drive we followed the ACA route. We loaded up with water bottles so that we could help hydrate anyone we saw. As it happens we saw very few cyclists. Even groups I knew were out there we did not see.

It was a mixed feeling to drive the stretch we were skipping over. Part of me feels bad for skipping the deserts and some of the harder climbs. But at the same time, most of me really does not care at all. We had a lot of soul searching and heartache when we made the call to turn back and there is no point in second guessing. What is more, seeing the temperatures reach as high as 107 in stretches of bone dry desert showed it was right to leap ahead. We came down into one valley in Colorado and it was the first time we saw flowing water since Dayton. The main groups I know of out there are supported. Indeed, I feel sure we would have been fine if we had a support truck with us. We heard that the solo guy we saw a few days earlier had been swept up by the Wounded Warriors’ party: he and his one water bottle will be fine. We also heard again and again that this was an unusual heat. So be it.

The only city on the route big enough to take the one way rental was Pueblo, so it is there we will return to riding on Monday. I would like to have returned to riding farther west, but there was no viable option. So, for now we are planted in Salida walking the streets, looking at art galleries and bike shops, watching kayakers on the Arkansas river, and hiding where we can. This is a sort of art festival this weekend so the streets are filled with mingling visitors, street musicians, and a gaggle of silver painted revelers.

I have not been able to shake a low level flu for about 4 days and it is getting on my nerves. On Friday I bought medication so here’s hoping. We are encamped at the edge of a farm on the edge of town. The couple who own the land welcome campers and have mowed out a few nice tent sites. Our’s is by a small river swollen with snow melt. One highlight is the friendly llama who pops by our camp now and again. The wind is ferocious and constant and locals tell us that both the wind’s and water’s intensities are aborations. This land has always been known for its weather extremes, and road washouts and flooded rail bridges have been causing problems here since the third quarter of the nineteenth century. But these days, it is like the climate has gone mad and no one is safe. We are on the course of the Tour Divide–a long endurance cycling ride that takes riders from Canada down to the Mexican border along the continental divide. We have seen a few of the riders and they looked beaten. One guy in a roadside convenience was in good spirits, but was pretty worn. He was talking to another rider about the rumor that one of their number had been killed the week before. Great. I wonder if that was a source for our rumor. The stories move up and down the trail and get changed a bit on the way. I have seen the same thing on every tour or hike I have done. Usually talking with fellow travelers is a great way to gather info–this summer it is scary. The only self supported riders we saw on the Slingshot were a very nice and determined couple we met as they climbed to Austin. They told us that they had come upon a road accident a few miles back and it was pretty unpleasant. As we talked the wrecker passed us carrying the ruin–it was an SUV that rolled so badly it looked like a giant muddy beer can. Great. The good news is that the driver should be fine. We saw a Tour rider in a coffeeshop in Salida as well. she had a big ace wrap on her right leg and was icing her knee while she charged devices and studied maps. Everyone is having a hard time but soldiering on in their fashion.

The Tour Divide is not for the faint of heart. It is over 2700 miles long and mostly on back country trails. The kits the riders use are very different from the sort of road touring outfits we use. For one thing, we ride touring bikes which are in essence beefy road racing bikes designed to carry weight. Touring bikes also have longer chain stays than do road bikes. This creates a longer wheel base making for a stable platform–road bikes can be really twitchy. Yeah. I am missing my road bike. A touring bike’s longer chain stays also mean that a rider’s heels won’t slam into rear panniers. The supported groups we saw along the way were all on road bikes–made heavy by two (count ’em, two) water bottles, meaning they could ride light and fast up hill and down while we slogged along with fully loaded self-supporting dump trucks. The Tour Divide riders are all on mountain bikes The have suspension and are designed to take the knocks of dirt trails. In recent years here has been an explosion of “bikepacking” bags and sacks makes to fit onto the frames of mountain bikes and their endurance cousins. They are a sort of ultralight counterpoint to touring bikes. Our panniers mount to the side of our front and rear wheels, whereas bikepacker bags are designed to stay in line–thus the bikes have a very slim profile head on, but make use of all sorts of spaces and voids in the frame. The Tour riders and their bikes we saw were all muddy. It looks like a proper ordeal.

Tomorrow morning we will break camp and head down to Pueblo. The deal with the truck was that we had to keep it for a week or pay an early return fine. I dunno. Sam, Chester, and Xander headed out on Friday so they will be one or two days ahead of us when we set out after our Hertz enforced break. The downtime may be a blessing. More chance to drive this flu away.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Bike For Dago

Xander, Sam, and Chester are riding for a cause. They are raising funds to help children in Kenya go to highschool. They have a gofundme and a video here.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Middlegate Station NV.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bike Route, 6-16-17

We made it. Happier words I have never typed. I sit in the Middlegate Station Roadhouse with the shadows lengthening while Rami plays pool. The low ceiling here is covered in dollar bills and this little cottonwood oasis–no really, it is an oasis–is covered with a creative hodgepodge of trailers, old buses, disused cars, and shiney RVs. This is THE place to be when passing this part of RT 50 and it seems that everyone who passes by stops for gas or food or something more restricted in some counties. We will spend our off-the-bike rest day here and so we opted for a room rather than a tent spot. The room is nice–a bit like a trailer–but it has beds and its own bathroom and the truth is that at 35 bucks it is a palace and we could not be happier. Lower cost short term lodgings is something we just don’t get in this country where everyone seems to want to be a big shot. Thank heaven some people still know the art of the clean low cost bed. 

 We began the morning late again (more about that later), but we were on the road by 8:30 am. We made a tidy little run into the oddly sleepy town of Fallon and stocked up. On the way in we saw a vernacular reminder of what is happening in the background of places like this. Meth–and perscription drugs too–are a plague: a scythe that is causing a lost white generation. African Americans saw their lost generation in the crack epidemic, but now the heavy handed sentences and lack of meaningful ways to help the wounded are twin barrels turned on white America–particularly in the hinterlands. I know that’s not the most insightful insight, but there are reminders of it everywhere. Rami–being a kid in the now and today–is unduly fascinated by this stuff. All of his peers are. From Breaking Bad (which I still refuse to watch despite many assurances that it is good), to a familiarity with the drug enthusiast’s patois, his generation are THE drug generation and we have made them be that. I read it as an innocent enough way to come to grips with it all and it is certainly good that he is talking about it all. I guess the problem would be should he stop talking. At any rate, his savior ne-fait-pas came in handy the other day in a convenience store. A gent strolled in and asked the Charge D’affairs if he had (and I quote) “86’ed the tweaker down by the river yet?” Monsieur le Patron replied “Oh Harris–yeah. I’ll take care of him.” Rami and I had a nice exchange of lingo. Growing up the 70s gifted me with an rich and nuisance understanding of CB and number codes–so 86 was as natural to me as is English–you copy? But what is a tweaker? Was Harris some Giapetto-like craftsperson using his skills to alter this or that into that or this? Or perhaps Harris had some sort of strange nipple fixation, and had simply tweaked one too many? No–my son informed me that Harris was in fact a consumer of meth. What Rami did not know though, was what 86 meant. I told him, and he understood. It was a big 10 4.

In Fallon we chatted with a very nice young woman with a beautiful baby. She told us a bit about the road ahead and even wanted to know what she could do to help out the many cyclists she sees on the road. Without missing a beat I said, offer them water: a fortuitous comment on my part, sadly. She was glad to know that though since she wanted to do something to be kind. And on that theme, she then insisted on paying for the food we were buying. I protested a few times but she insisted. It was a remarkably sweet thing to do. 

We hit the two convenience stores on our way out of Fallon and drank water at each one. We then headed into the desert. It was close to noon when we started the remaining 46 miles Middlegate. It was a singularly hot day and we rode through scorching salt flats and sandy valleys. We had two big climbs. Coming down at speed from the first we found ourselves behind a curious wagon pulled by four horses. It was gratifying to see that we were not the only non-gas-powered people on the road, and on we went. Soon though we hit trouble. With about 8 miles left to Middlegate we ran perilously low on water. We each were carrying about 3 liters and I also had a liter of club soda tied on. This has proven to be more than enough–but this is Nevada and we are entering a part of the state where stores and resupply are far apart–some stretches go for as far 68 miles with no amenities (or water) and many have hard climbs too. We were well-hydrated when we left the last store in Fallon, but about 40 miles later we were in trouble. We were both pretty sunburned too, despite sunblock. So here we were, no longer sweating and beginning the first signs of dehydration. Nevada really wanted to kill us today–but it was Nevadans who would not let it. 

We stopped at a road at the base of the second big climb. The road was flat and about 2 miles long. It led to a military instillation of some kind–we had been seeing jets and helicopters all day and most of the land here is government owned. I asked a guy who stopped at the sign if he had some water to spare. He said he did not, but he would radio back to the gate and they would let us fill up–at least they could fill our bottles for us. Great! We set off on a four mile diversion with supply dangerously low. We got the gate and the pig faced man there said no dice. Can’t come on the base. We don’t want to–can someone just fill a bottle for us?No, They said no. Can you fill one for us? No–I can’t leave the gate. You have a hose right there at the booth you are literally six feet from… No. Ok, thanks I said: our tax dollars at work, and we wheeled and left the reptile behind and set off to rerun the two added miles back to the base of the hill. We were still eight miles from our destination, but for thanks to four added miles we got to meet one of their nation’s greatest moral voids. As we rode back Rami and I talked about this. Rami has always been kind and that is his instinct and nature. It is rare that he meets with the real ugliness that some people possess where their soul or compassion should be. Here was a man, I said to Rami, who simply could not care less if you or I lived or died–our lives meant nothing to him. It is good to see the face of that sort of evil now and again just so that you know what you should never do. The good news is that he was old, and won’t be with us for all that much longer, while the woman in Fallon is going to raise a shiney new baby to be kind and generous. There is hope for a better future. 

At the end of the road though, we flagged down a truck and asked about water. A young man with a broad smile handed us a brand new full commercial water jug, saying it was ours to drink, and refused my offer of money to pay him back for the buy. We were not in desperate straights yet–but we were close and no doubt things would have been worse had we not met this second angel. This was our topic of conversation up the hill. Rami has long had a water angel story which he reminded me of, and I reiterated the Rabinnic idea that we are all angels to one another–even when we don’t know we are. The kindnesses we do often ripples in ways we can never see–but so does our ugliness–we just have to be ever mindful and very very careful.  10 4 good buddy.    

Sharks and Cacti in Suburbia

More from my on-going discussion of development in this part of Florida. Just FYI–Vlass is a development firm that walked all over a local plan. single person is responsible for the city’s downturn–even though elected officials presiding over it have the unenviable task of wearing failure–such is the nature of politics. Really though, the problems are very large and deep and historically rooted–and they are not unique to TT. For those who never considered the history of towns like these, you might want to read someone like James Howard Kunstler who has a very informed (though somewhat grim) understanding of the relevant histories. The long and short is that our kind of suburbia is an artificial creation–manufactured by federal government policy after WWII when there was a strong public desire to get as many families in tract homes as possible and sustained by preferential federal funding. Federal money fed mortgages and subsidized everything needed for suburban life from roads to the cost of gasoline. City turmoil in the 1960 accelerate suburban growth and by the 1980s firms were moving to “exurbs” since so much of the labor force lived there and found driving to be less fun than they had imagined. Federal funds for cities bottomed out (think NYC bankruptcy) as voters pulled those funds to the suburbs which only further accelerated the growth of suburbs. The accordion was stretching out its bellows. Suburban towns always had a hard time paying their way though and always looked to state and federal funds to infill. For much of the suburbs’ first 50 years of life, it was city dwellers who footed the bill so other people could have lawns.  But voters put in people who began to cut off Federal funds in the 1980s. Costs of running cities like ours piled up while the subsidies that made them possible dried up (think the Orange County Bankruptcy crisis). Taxes went down at the national level, but those cuts were more than made up for in new local taxes (the ones to infill the loss of Federal monies) and new “fees.” By the 1990s tax cutting in one arena made life more expensive for everyone through new taxes elsewhere and new fees all over the place–tax cuts always mean you will pay more for things–either in new taxes or out of pocket (think Lexus Lanes or the current Student Debt Crisis). Things like water had been seen as a public good and were funded that way. But by the 1990s these were increasingly seen as consumer choices–meaning the user bears the cost (which are always higher when privatized because someone must be making a profit–otherwise why do it at all?). As the quality of suburban life stagnated in the 1990s there also was a mass increase. Cheap land and mass development meant cheap homes for Americans whose real wages have not increased relative to the cost of living since 1970. In 1980 the minimum wage in today’s dollars was $16 and hour! New developments full of affordable homes exacerbated traffic and sprawl problems while the cost of living slowly went up and subsidy went down. In the 1950s, suburban life meant family and home–by the late 1990s it was two working parents sitting at the table fretting about how to pay all the bills. Children raised in this world wanted something else and they began to look with new eyes at the cities their parents and grandparents had abandoned. The accordion began to retract. In the 1990s it was suburbs that superseded cities in crime statistics and by the 2000s the drug problem was no longer an “urban” one, but one of the suburbs and even rural America (think meth). All the while, shrinking pools of government development and infrastructure monies went into cities as the gravity shifted away from the suburbs. Suburban dwellers who had been driven around for decades in a very comfy limo paid for by other folks suddenly had their driver stop, open their door, and ask them to step out of the car leaving them in a dry prickly desert next to a cactus. When the suburbanites said-“wait, I don’t know how to survive here….this was never the deal….?” the driver just tipped his cap, and said “not my problem buddy–pull yourself up by your boot straps,” closed the door and drove off. That is where we are. Having been built with outside support that support is now gone, we are forced to rely on skills and resources we never had. Every one of our structures still envisions a world manageable by gentleman amateurs who the voters ask only to allot the monopoly money. As Vlass and others have shown, in fact, we are minnows swimming with the sharks whose big friendly toothy smiles disguise what those teeth are really there for. On top of that–every similar city is in the same lifeboat and we are all glaring at each other waiting the chance to slit the other guy’s throat and scarf up that last can of water. Hockey players chip their teeth and politicians get blamed for things they cannot control–that is part of the job description and no one puts a gun to your head to make you take either job. But–we still need to grasp where we are how we got here if we are going to find a way to survive under this cactus.

Barbados Day Six (and Five Too) (Very late!)

I just noticed that this was in my drafts folder. No idea why…

Well, Day Five was a Saturday so that meant Saturday stuff including sleeping late, reading, napping, and taking a walk. Day Six though began with some interest. I was awakened around 7am by the smell of smoke. IMG_3103.JPGAt first I ignored it, but it got stronger and stronger. I went out into the living room and there was visible smoke in the room! Nothing seemed amiss, but I could see that two houses down someone had decided to set the yard on fire. They were burning dried palm fronds and yard waste, but the dry grass had caught fire and the two hapless yard enflamers were now using a garden hose to try to delineate a perimeter. The long and short of it is that the wind carried most of the smoke into my apartment. Windows closed and all was well—but everything smells of wood smoke.

With that matter settled I headed back up to the north end of the island to find some more old stuff and see the hills once more. Lots of driving for half the day again with an eighteenth-century map and some historical travel narratives as guides, and some old stuff was found. IMG_3109.JPGThere are lots of older buildings in varying state of ruin while some are very well cared for. All are in private hands though. My wanderings took me into some of the ritziest zones—the places where the homes cost 5 mil British pounds! I also found the very opposite, but that is pretty easy here. I was very interested to get to the highest points and one of my new friends—Adrian the Kisok Guy in this case—directed me to Harrison’s Cave in St Thomas Parish. I ferreted it out, but I did not want to pay money to see the cave, so what I really did was look for views on the hills. There are these sort of upland savannahs here that are a total contrast to what is on the lower altitudes and great views everywhere. I also sought out the older churches of which there are quite a few. Busy drive.

I recovered back at Oistins from too much road time for a bit and then thought that it made good sense to end this trip with an afternoon at the beach. Aviso: I am not a beach person. Growing up in Brooklyn we went to the beach once in a while when it was hot. The beaches of my formative years were made up of sand, chicken bones, cigarette butts, and plastic tampon dispensers all mixed in equal proportion. It was years before the idea of the beach did not leave me vaguely nauseated. The Outer Banks of NC helped me warm a bit to beaches—but just a bit—still covered in dead fish and plastic grocery bags. Florida has some nice beaches (so I am told) but I have not really found them yet—maybe the barrier islands near Pensacola. But the beach near where I am staying is actually very nice. Not many people, really clean pinkish sand, and the water was lovely (no condoms and cigarette butts floated by). I did the beach thing and then watched the sunset before going and buying more oranges. I am not going to be able to finish all I need to do on this trip. That means a return visit. Not the worst thing.

Mount Vernon Living

I have not commented much here on my time at Mount Vernon. I have been in residence here since the start of December and loved every moment. As this phase of my work winds down it is time to share some thoughts and insights. First some background. On September 27, 2013, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association cut the ribbon on the new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. It is a long title, true, but it is a pretty impressive place so it is worth enunciating all the syllables. The idea was to create what amounts to a presidential library for Washington—an idea he actually imagined before his death. The result is a gentle modern toned glowing paneled library with a subtle W footprint, nestled amidst some tall trees on a rise of ground across the road from the entrance to the Mount Vernon grounds.

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The main reading room of the library. Even though fellows have fine offices in the wing off on the right, I prefer to be here as much as I can. Wouldn’t you?

The collections digital, special, and circulating are large—although much of what Washington wrote and owned (book wise) was scattered soon after his death. Bit by bit, elements of that collection are returning home, and when they do, they are housed in a state-of-the-art facility managed by a professional staff as committed to collection management as they are to facilitating scholarship. Everything about this place is both an exhortation to produce scholarship and an efficient organism for making it happen. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful and highly engaged people—both on staff and passing through—during my six months living “on campus.” My work has developed and matured, my horizons widened, and my friends list lengthened. While my focus is GW and details of his world, the library really is rapidly becoming a hub for all manner of issues related not just to GW, but the founders and the founding largely. A short review of the cast of fellows past, present, and future shows the kind and quality of work happening here. The energy is so strong that the place almost hums aloud!

Mount Vernon’s Rev War Weekend

This weekend is Mount Vernon’s “Revolutionary War Weekend.” This is a new event MV is putting on for the visiting public and the visible glee of about 700 Rev War reeneactors from all over the land. I took a pleasant walk over the grounds in the company of several thousand visitors and caught the tail end of the afternoon skirmish of what I called the Battle that Thankfully Never Happened, or HMS Savage Day. Reenactments need not a battle site to be visually compelling and educationally engaging for the general public, and I would be lying if I said that I did not feel just a little bit homesick walking quietly amidst the wall tents and the cook fires. I never dabbled though in Rev War eventing. When I was more active it was a much smaller hobby dominated by older men in glasses. In those days it was rare to see three men in a company in the same uniform—and they would usually be highlanders in full kit! One of the main appeals of Civil War reenacting—particularly in portraying United States soldiers as I invariably did—was the very real possibility of massing together lots of men attired in almost identical kits.


That’s me on the lower left in this iconic Claude Levet print with (clockwise from me) Paul Carter, “Reservetta” painted by Ron Tunstall on Mike Thompson’s blanket (an admittedly singular object if ever there was one), Mike Thompson (with frying pan), Mark McNierney, and Hugh Cadzow. The camp hats that Paul and I have were knitted by his grandmother–half the company had one by her hand. Fabulous uniforms being put to no good purpose.

I know that is an odd thing to care about, but anyone who served time in the Pretend Army knows that I mean. It was the plainness of the ten-a-penny United States soldier in a regular issue sack coat and trousers that was worth emulating, and then using the tiniest of details to be distinctive and express individuality. The angle of a hat, a camp hat at night, or the carefree cuffing of trousers—these are what soldiers did to say “I am me” and that much is clear in so much war time photography. The more flamboyant the uniform, the more it was disparaged by others with this mindset. Be plain or go home!

To me, the Rev War hobby always suffered a bit from a lack of the repeatable. A mix and match company made up of two guys in kilts, three with buff facing, two with yellow and bastion lace, one loyalist in green, two Hessians in mitres, one grenadier with a bearskin, and three light infantry—oh, and maybe a jaeger too—was a sight that made me cringe. So, I was sort of pleased by what I saw at Mount Vernon today. For one thing, this was a major event. It was nothing for there to be a few thousand men at a Civil War event, but Rev War has always had a hard time reaching anything close to that scale.


Another Claude Levet classic of me. This one made the cover of Camp Chase Gazette–the reenacting equivalent of Time Magazine.

The going count of 700 participants is impressive and the afternoon’s showing had a few hundred in evidence. Best of all though, there were a few groupings that had good numbers. There was one company of British Light Infantry who really looked great. Their coats were non-synthetic in color and tightly cut. They were mostly young guys so they were appropriately skinny and one of their number was black—adding a nice hint of the war’s underlying racial politics. It helped that one or two of the gents had faces that could have been drawn by Hogarth—the 18c equivalent of all of that Civil War photography. They were not as many as one might hope, but enough to convey scale, and they cut a good form (no pictures from me though since it was Saturday–maybe tomorrow).

I am not called back to the ranks—it is hard to imagine what that would take. But, Mount Vernon’s event was, so far, a really big hit for both participants and spectators.

A Maddening Experience to Which all Historians Can Relate,

Here Told in Narrative Form and Entitled The Hunt, or, a Tale of Relentless Page Turning in Order to Find That Which Should Have Been Made Clearer at the Outset, or, To Every Quotation There is a Citation Which to Locate I Must Turn, Turn, Turn.

Dedicated to the irritating writers everywhere who feel a need to cleverly reinvent to their own purposes and in their own fashion the perfectly fine system of citations outlined in that Good Book from Chicago.

Zounds, says I, Indeed, a more helpful quotation on this topic I have not yet seen. Let me stray from my reading and peruse the origin of the handy tidbit so as to read more of it from its place of origin. I see it is listed here as endnote two. Two? I muse—that seems odd as it appears on page 50—surely mine good literary host has included citations before this one in 50 hearty pages of writing? Lo—he has! But he has chosen to begin the numbering of each chapter’s citations anew chapter by chapter! What purpose does this lunacy serve? No matter, all I needs do is look at the top of the page to see what chapter I am amidst and then turn as needed. But what is this? No indication at all on the page to show in which chapter we the poor readers are marooned! I must turn back to the start of the chapter to know its designation. But I know not where it began, for it is the index that is my native guide though this texta incognita—or was the author so arrogant as to think that we readers would actually slog though his prose to find what we want? Each page must be carefully turned back lest I miss the one place where the chapter name in listed. At last, here it is, and written in Roman Numerals—what a kindness Tullius Maximus Iackuss has offered to those of his readers who, by some miracle, hail from antient Rome. There it is, Chapter XIV. Now all I needs do is turn turn turn to locate the vicinity of the book where the notes are hidden—what a lucky hap for me that I have nine fingers on one hand so that I can keep my increasing number of places. At last, I arrive at the citation—and what do I see? GHY: 20: 7. What on earth is that supposed to be? Ah! It is an abbreviated indication of some larger collection, and in goes another place marking finger and begins again the turning turning turning, this time back to locate the start of the series of citations to find my goal. But what is this? Our author has chosen to divide his list of abbreviations into three separate subgroups aligned along category lines that he, and only he, could find meaningful. To your beleaguered correspondent’s chagrin, each of three different alphabetical lists must be consulted before the arcane reference is finally spied in the third of the three lists. At last I have the citation—it of course, is for something singular and housed only in an archive across the sea in England!

With a heavy heart, I move to write down the reference, but find that my fingers are twisted in knots and bound up within the execrable monograph to such an extent that it takes the aid of a comrade to extricate the poor curious digits.

The lesson is clear dear friends, and please let my sad experience be a warning to all who venture into the game of citation production. For the love of all that is holy and good in this weary world, create citations that will help and not hinder

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