Monday, September 30, 2013

Where There's a Will

Okay, I am going to get a little weird on you here.  But I really believe what I am about to tell you.  The world, the thing we call reality, the “what-is,” is basically just a bunch of “energies” roaming around, created and/or embodied by us and all sorts of other living and inanimate objects   Maybe Christians call these energies demons and angels.  Maybe the Ancient Greeks called some of these energies by other names, eros, furies, etc.  Often these energies get experienced and expressed as emotions.  Sometimes they are long lasting, like love and habitual anger.  Sometimes they are short lived like lust or quick frustration.  Sometimes large groups of people get inhabited by them—mobs, vigilantes, Occupiers, Tea Partiers.   It seems to me that to be a free and happy individual that we need to understand where our emotions come from.  Often we feel things that we are not intentionally producing ourselves.  Low-blood sugar, perhaps.  Tenseness from too little exercise, maybe. Anxiety at work.  But also we take on the emotions/energies of those around us.  Both sides of the Waco Branch Davidian conflict comes to mind as examples.  You know the phrases:  “Keep your head, while others around you are losing theirs.” And “Lack of planning, on your part, does not create an emergency, on my part.”  These sentences express ways that we try to deal with these forces.

Henry Ford

“Will” is one of the words we use to express some of these energies, especially the energies that we churn up within ourselves, gather and then focus into actions that we impose upon the world, upon all those other free-floating energies.  Waller Grant recently visited The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village.  These two places are monuments to human will acting upon the world and in some cases changing what we call reality, at least for a sizeable amount of time.  Henry Ford and his friend Thomas Edison were men of enormous wills.  But these men also noticed around them other great waves of energy; they were not alone.  There were Olds and Beinz and Diesel, the Wright brothers, Westinghouse and Tesla.  All these individuals were working, yes, as individuals, but they were also challenging, inspiring and feeding intellectually off each other and many others whose names we have forgotten.  Quotes from these guys attest to my theory, in part:

“Whether you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. [Ford].
“Coming together is beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”     [Ford]
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. [Ford]
“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.  [Edison]
 “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are:  Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.”  [Edison]
“If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied.”  [Westinghouse]
“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.”  [Orville Wright]
“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine.  I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then, if possible, add my might to help on the future worker who will attain final success.” [Wilbur Wright]
“Our virtues and our failing are inseparable, like force and matter.  When they separate, man is no more.”  [Tesla]
“The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire; first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.”  [Tesla]

I suppose I could develop all this into some great theory, that understanding the full round of what we call success is somehow measured by how our individual wills relate to the will of the world around us.  Categories could go something like:

·      A person without will:  These are all those folks who just kind of live, go along, and die.  I am not judging here.  Good god, what would we do if everyone were rushing around trying to change the world?
·      A person with some will, but not enough to really break out with-or-against the world:  I would be one of those people, a lot of people would be, maybe most people.   We don’t need to be regarded as “great,” as “heroes,” but we want to stand for something.   Heck, just to keep a job, graduate from college, write a book, save enough money to pay for your children’s education requires from us a certain amount of will.
·      A person with will but totally incompatible with the world’s will:  I think of Robert E. Lee and The Texans in the Alamo.  Here, it depends on how you look at these instances—one can be out of tune in the short term, but in tune in long term (Jesus); or in tune briefly, but out of tune in the long run (Hitler). 
·      A person with will but about a generation ahead of the world’s will:  Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, the Suffragettes. 
·      A person with will and just ahead of the gathering will of the world.  Ford, Edison, and just about every person we consider great, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan. Steve Jobs.  

Knightsmama and Captain Crunch with Thomas Edison

Why am I thinking about all this?  Part of it is just being around the legacy of Henry Ford.  Part of it is seeing Detroit and contemplating what happened there.  How could the collapse of that city have been prevented?  Scott Martelle, in Detroit:  A Biography, seems to say (in very simplified summary) that the causes were 1) the citizens never dealt honestly and straightforwardly with the racism, and 2) the city fathers allowed the economy of the city to depend too greatly on just the automobile industry, so when it went sour in the seventies, there was nothing to fall back on.  Perhaps I can theorize that people with ill will exercised that ill will upon the city and its citizens, or that the citizens gloried in their ignorance and irresponsibility and did nothing.   Another theory is that people with good will neglected and abandoned the city, and that a strong person with enlightened vision did not impose his or her will upon all those scattered and desperate energies in the city.  Still a third is that the will of world, the great mystical forces of the universe decided Detroit had had its time and its era of greatness was over—nothing anyone could do could have changed history—the era of industrialization in the US is over.   Which is it?  I don’t know. 
Another reason I am thinking about these things is that I have been reading a book that my friend Doug Dawson gave me for my 60th birthday:  The Port Huron Statement, by Tom Hayden.  Doug gave me this book more or less as a joke because he participated in my birthday party which, because, also more or less as a joke, I had begun growing my hair and beard for this year on the road in the Caravan of Wonder,  and I had developed a faint resemblance to the Jeff Bridges and The Dude.  For my 60th birthday, a bunch of us bowled, drank White Russians, and said “Fuck,” a great deal.  Just for the record, I am an extremely fortunate person to have as many great friends as I have, and I am an embarrassment as a bowler.
Just for the fun of it, therefore, when Waller Grant left Detroit, we did so by driving through Port Huron and crossed over into Canada.  As sixty, I have no war to run away from; I am more or less pleased with my President, but “Canada,” as a idea has always existed for me, and I suppose for others of my generation, as a place to run to when the crazies finally take over.
So we drove through Port Huron, Michigan, and I’ve been reading The Port Huron Statement, which the real Dude claimed to have written, well, at least contributed to an early draft. 
            In May, 1962, about sixty students from various universities, many of them associated with the Students for Democratic Society, gathered in an FDR park, now a state park, just outside of Port Huron.  Tom Hayden, young, fresh faced from the University of Michigan, was supposed to show up with a brief, pithy statement, perhaps of a half dozen pages, that would serve as the manifesto, maybe as a recruiting tool, for these idealistic youngsters.  Instead, he arrived with a fifty-page, single spaced document.  For five days  these determined and committed citizens discussed, argued, yawned (I assume), edited and more or less agreed on ideas and language that would eventually be mimeographed thousands of times  and distributed for 35 cents.  This is how one changes the world, eh? 
Well, it kind of is.  When The Port Huron Statement was written, I was a little league loving nine-year old boy in Birmingham, Alabama.  My parents, polite, middle-class racists, protected me from Martin Luther King and the troubles just over the hill from our segregated community.  By the time I had gotten to the University of Texas in the early seventies, the SDS had splintered and broken apart, but the nation was still fighting in Vietnam and Nixon was still in the White House, so there seemed there was always some meeting on campus.  I have to admit, I deliberately avoided any and all political meetings, even though my minor was government.  I certainly wasn’t a Republican, but I wasn’t then, and never have been, a radical. The student leaders I met in class—I just didn’t like them. I think what I was offended by was the confidence, the egotism, and the blatant displays of will that I observed in those leading, or attempting to lead.  Still, today I am suspect of any person who shows up to a meeting—be it a civic or work related—and wants quickly and completely to change the way things have always been done.   
Today, in reading The Port Huron Statement, I regret that I had not read the document earlier in my life.  It is a full and, I think, accurate critique of what was wrong then and, in many cases, what continues to be wrong with our nation. Yes, this document is idealistic, and I suspect we will never see its agenda fulfilled.  But it is not some dreamy mishmash of undergraduate longing.  Rather it is an intelligent description and analysis, supported by facts. And it is fairly wide ranging, looking at social policy, the economy, international relations, and more.  One surprise for me was its critique of labor and labor unions.  While proclaiming the importance of labor as an organized force for democracy in the history of the United States, the PHS pinpoints problems with the elitism of labor union leadership and future difficulties as the nation shifts from being an industrial-based economy.  Another surprise was its admission, up front, that the writers of the document were economically and culturally comfortable.  In one sense, there was no reason whatsoever for these people to become committed to the politics of the left.  College-educated, from middle-class and affluent families, their future comfort was assured.  But they opened their eyes and saw the racial horrors of the nation and the international situation balanced on the edge of mutually assured destruction.
One of the amazing things, in reading the document, is how much of its agenda has been achieved or at least how much movement has occurred in the past fifty years.  The SDS was created, in part, to support voting rights for African Americans, and today we have an African American President.  Regardless of all that remains to be done concerning race relations in the US, this fact is huge.  We can also throw in the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Environmental Protection Agency, and OSHA.  The Cold War, another important facet of the manifesto, has ended, though, obviously, not in the manner envisioned.  Still, their goal “Universal controlled disarmament [of nuclear weapons] must replace deterrence and arms control as the national defense goal” still seems to me a worthy goal.  We can add other improvements that were not foreseen but did grow from the sympathies of the PHS agenda—such as, equality for women and other less enfranchised groups.  Added together, we have a fairly different world.   Would some of these changes have occurred without The Port Huron Statement?  Certainly.  But that is not really my point.
My point is that this document is an emblem of a group of people who sat around and created a vision for a better world, and then through a clear expression of that vision, in this document, inspired others into action.  We are surrounded by people who do this kind of thing with technology, with art and literature, with video and computer games, and with politics.  This is how we change our world, for better or worse.  I happen to agree with more of this document than, most likely, I would of the McDonalds Business Plan for 1962, or more especially the McDonald-Douglas Business Plan.  People with a vision and a strong will face and overcome many and various obstacles to achieve what people fifty years later will just consider common sense and inevitable. 
And it occurs to me that I really need to examine what could be described as my political cowardice for not being an active member in “participatory democracy,” a key concept in the PHS.  I like voting; I believe deeply in voting—although I certainly don’t vote every opportunity I have.  But just as deeply I dislike sitting in a room listening to everyone’s current worry, their rehashing each infraction to their sensitive nature, their discussing endlessly their existential angst that their pet project is still not on the agenda.  Even more, I dislike watching those in charge, like boards and councils, listening politely to the fearful and angry knowing all along that they will either capitulate to the desires of the rich and entrenched or follow their own fearful and angry agendas.  I can watch and listen to all this on a personal, one-to-one basis.  I can sometimes tolerate it as a process at work.  But, civically, I just can’t stand the drama of it.  Is this apathy? 
And then I wonder if this entire trip, the year of the Caravan of Wonder, is it merely an indulgence?  We drive around and look at things, read something related, eat and drink at some locally owned joint, park, sleep, and move on.  What’s the point?  So The Port Huron Statement has made me feel a little guilty.  What about my will?  What will it be focused on in a year, for the next decade?   I feel so out of sync with much of the world and its desires. 
I will end with something from Thomas Edison.  He wrote, “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution.  Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.”  This seems to me to be a statement that would be perfectly at home in The Port Huron Statement.  If only we all had the will to make it so.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Labor and Industry

      If you drive around in the United States long enough, you will come upon a holiday. The Caravan’s first holiday turned out to be Labor Day. We were in the Midwest, so why not celebrate Labor Day near the city that I always considered the capital of Labor—Detroit. Planning ahead, Knightsmama reserved a space for the Caravan at Camp Dearborn, about thirty minutes or so from ground zero. For my peculiar set of values, aesthetics, and sense of irony, Camp Dearborn was perfect. First off, Camp Dearborn is not in Dearborn, Michigan, but in Milford, Michigan. In the late forties, when Dearborn was flush with Ford Motors money and Mayor Orville Hubbard was feeling all segregationist and such, he created this 626 acre park as what he called “The People’s Country Club.” There is so much wrong and right about its creation all at the same time, it makes your head spin. It is an odd vista where racism and populism and capitalism join. The camp includes six lakes, a golf course, a pool, a putt-putt course (which is not being maintained, as Captain Crunch and I can attest), hundreds of full-service spaces (meaning water, electrical, and sewage hookups). The camp also offers plots for pop-ups and tent camping, and several dozen of these cool tent-cabin kind of things that groups and families rent and string lights between for a very festive but bizarre appearance that somehow blends refugee camp with army bivouac with Fifties family car camping with hippy music festival. I would love to gather about a score of my closest and rowdiest friends for a four-day weekend there. Another life, I suppose.

Captain Crunch at DIA,
a casting of Rodin's Thinker

       What really caught my fancy was the happy regularity of the section where we parked the Caravan, all the RVs appointed perfectly in curving rows, cars parked in front, lawn chairs arranged around fire pits, grills smoking, wooden picnic tables covered in lovely festive cloth, and the kids coming and going on bicycles. It was as if it were 1950 and all of us GIs had returned from war, reunited with our sweethearts, and bought our own little homes in the new sub-division at the edge of town. Everything was so clean, so orderly, so similar, so perfect. In addition, of course, in the middle of all the middle-aged, middle- and working-class families were several large, class A motor-homes, piloted by seventy-year old retirees, your “millionaire next door” types. They are the equivalent to Mr. Wilson of The Dennis the Menace Show, if you can remember back that far. If you can, you are probably close to becoming Mr. Wilson (or Mrs, Wilson) yourself. Just for a few days, I could imagine myself being a regular part of good old America celebrating a good old American holiday.
      That it was Labor Day just made the fantasy all the more potent. Did you know that Labor Day became a national holiday under President Grover Cleveland in 1894 in an effort to respond positively to labor unions after pretty much the entire government, federal, state, and local, helped squash the Pullman strikes, which left 30 dead and 57 injured? It seems as if Waller Grant is revisiting the theme we discovered in Kent: the forces of hope versus the forces of power and fear. There are other instances of these struggles that I have not explored but maybe I will have to turn to at some point. One thing I discovered reading web pages today is that Eugene Debs was arrested for his support of the Pullman strikes. It turns out that Lyman Trumbull was one of his lawyers. Do you remember William Grant and Nora Lilley Grant from a previous post, my grandparents? They named my father “Lyman” after Lyman Trumbull, former Senator from Illinois, Republican, author of the 13th amendment to the Constitution and late blooming populist. So I am sitting here wondering, whose idea was this: William’s, the coal miner? Or Nora, the small town school teacher? Who was the populist? Both?
      One of the benefits of joining the crowd and setting up the Caravan in a popular, and somewhat populist, RV camp is that you meet people who just might be able to offer good advice. Knightsmama and Captain Crunch are the outgoing ones among us, So soon she struck up a conversation with the folks in the spot next to us. A day or two later, I joined on the gabfests. It turns out that they (I am terrible with names, so let’s call them Herb and Janet) are full-time RVs who originally lived in Michigan, but had sold their home and hit the road, doing what they wanted when they weren’t visiting sons and daughters in various parts of the country, including Texas, which, by what the wife said, was, to her frustration, most of the time. They belong to a group out of Livingston, Texas (which saves them on taxes and such), called “The Escapees.” I have to say that these Escapees were extremely helpful. Through the power of male shame, Herb inspired me to open up my battery compartment to discover, to my surprise, that I have only one 12-volt battery. He had six such batteries. Boy, did my penis shrink upon hearing that! But he gave me some distilled water and we got what little voltage I have, up and running fully. In addition, Herb was full of sage experience and calm encouragement. He walked me through the pluses and minuses of various generators, which Knightsmama and I suspected we needed when we attempted our two weeks in Acadia, Maine. Knightsmama already had reserved us a space in the National Park without electrical hook-up. That’s the thing about RVers and RV culture. Everyone wants you to succeed. RVers love the way they are living and no matter what kind of dunce you are, they want you to join them.
     When I told Herb that we were planning on going into Canada, he wished us luck. I asked, if he had ever travelled in Canada and he said, “No.”
      Surprised, I ask why. Captain Crunch was sitting with us playing with their puppy, Jenny. Another thing about full-timers is that they almost all have little dogs. Herb looked over at the Captain and back at me and said, “Well, I have too many guns on board.”
      The mention of guns always gives me the shutters and always gives the Captain a jolt of adrenalin. So, for the Captain’s entertainment, I asked how many. It felt like Herb listed at least a half dozen assorted rifles, shot guns, and handguns. And this is the thing about being peace-nick, no matter how unfaithful to the cause one might be in the short run, at a certain point our little limp manliness decides to express its resolve.
      “Well,” I said proudly, “we won’t have that difficulty, will we?” Captain Crunch frowned, as if ashamed his father did not tote an arsenal around in his storage compartments.
       Herb is a decent man, by all that I could tell, and knew my type and wasn’t looking for a fight. “You know, we do a lot of boon docking in the desert and we get rattlers pretty close to the trailer.” We all stood around the picnic table for a while, talking about the desert, and looking at the two Sandhill Cranes that were wondering around near our trailers. Then, it being time to head toward Detroit, the Captain and I excused ourselves.
      Herb and I had discovered a point where the Venn Diagram of our personalities separate. I am sure we wish each other well. Personally, I can accept that Herb feels the need to carry firearms. I mean, I have no need for guns. Maybe someday I might. I think people ought to be able to own a couple. Hell, I don’t trust the government anymore than the Tea-Partiers do. But, geez, I’d rather give peace a chance. I prefer to sit on the side of the room with MLK and Gandhi and Tolstoy. One of my problems is that I have too much music in my head like John Prine’s

            Your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore,
            It's already overcrowded with your dirty little war.
            Now Jesus don’t like killing, no matter what the reason for.
            Your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore.

      Still, regardless of my many degrees in English, I am not so sure, I have the ability to reason with a rattler, whether he comes in serpent or human form.

       We had a great time in Camp Dearborn and Detroit, enough so that we extended our stay by a day. As I admitted in a previous post, Waller Grant had begun needing a slightly slower pace. At the Camp, the boys found time to swim, ride bikes around, and make friends with some Yankee kids, some of whom, I believe, Dr. J. is still texting with several weeks later. I skipped a a Sunday afternoon Tigers game thinking it was going to rain. Big mistake. Yet, Knightsmama and I found some pleasant urban style paved biking paths. We headed into Dearborn a couple of times—to visit The Henry Ford Museum (yes, I know the name is The Henry Ford, but that just sounds too strange to me), Greenfield Village, and the Rouge Plant (I skipped out on Rouge, heading to a downtown Dearborn Starbucks for a little writing time). Our blooper reel will feature some failed highway shenanigans, attempting to buy diesel and Major Dude’s refusal to accept that one location had perfectly fine fuel even though the price was dramatically lower than everyone else’s. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true,” I sagely, and this time, wrongly, pontificated. I saw enough of The Henry Ford, but I really wished that we had had more time in Greenfield Village.
       I feel the same way about the Detroit Institute of Art, which has been in the news lately as the City of Detroit considers looting its world class art collection to pay its bills. Good God. Maybe this is the direction the city fathers and mothers will eventually go, but to do so is to give up, to admit that one is no longer a world class city. It would be both a symbolic and deadly honest admission of a city’s failure to envision and create a future—but, as far as I have been able to learn, I guess, that is the story of Detroit, from the very beginning, but especially in the 70s. I wish I could explain my feelings as we drove through Detroit and saw its inner devastation. Magnificent buildings, not just houses, but great granite banks, once handsome office buildings. It is a city experiencing cancer and cutting away on itself leaving gaps and half blocks of empty land, like scars.
       Still, the collection at the DIA is stunning. I hate to say it, but I ran through the European collection in a way that one scans through an Ipod playlist listening only to the greatest hits, skipping tunes you don’t immediately recognize: Bruegel’s “Wedding Dance.” Caravaggio’s “Martha and Mary Magdalene,” Artemisia Gentileschi's "Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holifernes," Courbet’s “Bather Sleeping by a Brook,” and “Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait.”
      I had begun in the American Wings and approached it more leisurely. John Singleton Copley’s “Watson and the Shark” a particularly shocking painting. I particularly enjoyed the African American Collection and discovered the work of Hughie Lee-Smith, whose work has a lonely, haunted quality about it similar to Edward Hopper’s. It is funny how reading about an artist can make you see something more fully that you were sort of seeing before. I would not have been able to connect Lee-Smith’s work to Hooper’s, but once I read it I can’t quite separate them now. Another work I really appreciated was a video called "The Kitchen V:  Carrying the Milk."  The artist, Marina Abramovic, stands in an old kitchen holding a bowl of milk. She is dressed as someone in a Dutch Masters painting, starkly in black dress, hair pulled back tightly. The video is on continuous loop, and I approached somewhere near the beginning. Of course, I didn’t know where in the progress of the film I joined. I watched her for almost the full thirteen minutes. I just sat down and stayed and looked. I liked the way the viewing experienced was controlled by the unknown narrative and my not knowing where in the narrative I was. This is, of course, quite unlike the normal viewing experience of other works in a museum in which the viewing experience begins when you begin looking. There is no “where am I in this story?” experience at all. In the long run, this work throws so much meaning making back into the viewer; it becomes a meditation and a mining of associations and feelings about women, work, nurture, nutrition, then children, family, responsibility, love. A wonderful work, I think.
      But the great experience at the Detroit Institute of Art is, without a doubt, The Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera. Rivera created the frescos that grace the four walls of the great Garden Court of the museum in 1933-34, in the heart of the Great Depression. The experience of them, today, is close to overwhelming. If I tried to experience the rest of the museum as a version of greatest hits, this room forbade such an approach. The room is not a song or collection of songs, but a concept album, an opera. So many separate parts functioning alone but also referring and referencing and repeating and refuting other portions of the room. On the one hand, it is referencing the Renaissance and Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. On the other, its method hints at the great modernist fragmentary organization in works like The Waste Land or The Bridge or even Winesburg, Ohio, in which a work of art is conceived of in parts, but as greater than the sum of the parts.

North Wall, Detroit Industry mural
    The murals, seen as one work of art, are startlingly ambitious in scope and intention. Here is the energizing force of nature and humanity brought together. Nature fully expressed, root to fruit. Nature tamed and redirected to the benefit of humankind. Human beings as thinkers and creators. Human beings as makers—Homo faber, as Sam Keen would call us in The Apology for Wonder. Industry and machines as the creation of humans. Industry and machines as rooted in the forces of nature. Organized humanity as a force of nature, brought together, creating bigger, better, more than any individual human could. Native, American peoples and European peoples. Native intelligence. The Western Intellectual tradition. Pantheism and Christianity. Christ being vaccinated in the glories of Western science. The four elements of steel, the four races of humans, labor and management, and finally the machines of peace and the machines of war. It is a large and complete vision, and it seems to me to be an honest one, beyond ideology.
      Which, of course, means that the various ideologies have had to complain. It does not praise capitalism enough. It is an insult to the Fords, who helped fund it. It praises capitalism too much. Rivera was a communist, right? What’s he doing taking corporate money? It is too fully steeped in Catholicism. It is not Christian enough. It’s too classical and contains nudity. It’s too modern and contains machinery. It’s not American and is created by a Mexican. It is a tribute to the Anglo-Protestant work ethic, which has been exploitive of native peoples. So much to complain about.
       So much to complain about, most likely, because it is so overwhelming in its particulars as well as in its overall expression. And if one can’t understand it in a glance, can’t place it in a category quickly, can’t pigeon hole it and then dismiss it, then it must be a threat. And though I was not able to live with the work—which I believe would take many repeated visits, as one would visit and revisit a cathedral—I do believe the work is a threat. It is a treat to all of us because it eventually does move beyond ideology. In the long run, I don’t believe this work is a summative work. I don’t think it presents itself as final statement. This work is threatening because it is, ironically, one man’s temporary vision about where all of humanity has arrived in the industrial age. It this sense, it is a Romantic work, the work of a man who envisions himself as heroic. We have progressed. Progress is not evil. But what have we progressed to, he asks? What is progress doing to us? It reminds me, therefore, of the early 17th and 18th century essays, those that title themselves, “On . . .,” such as “On Work” or “On Smell” or “On Cruelty.” No one was offering a final statement. They were all just trying to contribute something to the long conversation that we humans are having with each other over the generations. I read Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals as an essay: “On Labor and Industry.”
      To see these murals, over Labor Day Weekend, in a city built on industry, but in a city that has essentially abandoned itself, well, I don’t know. That is part of a longer conversation.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

This Summer I Hear the Drumming

Colleen and I were more or less total innocents concerning Ohio.  Yes, I had been to a baseball All-Star game in Cleveland fifty years ago, but that’s all, folks. So we had big plans:  two nights south of Cincinnati, two nights in Shawnee State Park outside Portsmouth, where my old grad-school office mate lives, and six nights in Stowe in a little trailer park near Cuyahoga National Park and the Erie Canal Tow Trail.  In those ten nights, we would catch a ball game, see the William Howard Taft National Historical Site, Harriet Beecher Stowe House, U.S. Grant’s Birthplace and School, the Temper Mound, the Serpent Mound, Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, Malabar Farm, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, William McKinley Birthplace, James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Hiram and Oberlin colleges (just to show Dr. J. as he approaches college readiness).  In addition, we were going to pop over to West Virginia to see a grave of William Bethel Lively (my third great grandfather—father to Sophia who married Irishman John Grant in the early 1840s) near Charleston, and to say we had been to West Virginia.  Yes, we had great plans. 
Marker for Murdered Student:  Kent State

            We had pretty much stayed on schedule for the first three weeks of the Caravan.  And we had had it, I think.  First of all, we really liked Brown County State Park and Bloomington.  I finally got some focused bike riding in, and Bloomington reminded us of Austin, and I guess we were in need of a little liberal university alternative culture, so we stayed two nights instead of one.  Second, since we had just been to St. Louis and since we were on our way to Cleveland, I was feeling I was seeing enough of large cities.  So after a rainy night at East Fork State Park outside of Cincinnati (scratch the ball game), we hit the road to see my friend and former office mate Carl Yost, an English Professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth. 
            Then a series of funny things happened to us on the road.  First, we couldn’t find a place to park the caravan at Grant’s birthplace.  We came down the hill on Ohio 232 and didn’t see a spot, turned left, which is west, on US 52 and drove for several miles without luck, found a space to turn the huge mother around, drove by the birthplace again.  This time, we still could not find a place to park, so we just headed on, going east on 52, which follows the Ohio River.  As luck would have it, we arrived in Ripley and, low and behold, there was a great parking space—really, four great parking spaces in a row—on Main Street.  I had never heard of Ripley, did not plan to stop in Ripley, but we stopped and discovered the town was celebrating something, I forget what, complete with the usual foods and vendors—you know funnel cakes and syruped popcorn, random things carved from wood, and more paintings by nice people than all of us could ever find wall space for.  Once Captain Crunch discovered we really didn’t want to purchase any knives, guns, or plastic junk, he could settle down and enjoy a portable trailer-sized aquarium filled with Ohio River fish of various sorts that were caught by electrocuting the bunch of them.  We were assured that the fish would be returned to the river, basically unharmed.  I don’t know, but the whole enterprise seemed to me like a kidnapping:  taser a bunch of folks, stick em in cage; when they wake up, let people gawk at them (“Look, son, this one has striped clothes; and that one has funny whiskers; did you notice the lips on that one?”); then under the cover of night haul em to some dead end street somewhere and let em out.  Oh, no, nobody was harmed at all.)  Still, I’d never seen so many types of catfish.    

One of the interesting facts about Ripley is that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and home to John Rankin.  By what we could tell, we could not get the caravan near the house, so his house was another missed opportunity.  But in a cute bakery, where we all got something sweet—I got a slice of apple pie and coffee—I did purchase a couple of postcards of his house overlooking the Ohio.  Rankin was a Southern Presbyterian who had to move north once he began speaking about the evils of slavery.  Eventually, he built his home high above the Ohio River where he could hang a lantern signaling passage as safe.  No telling how many slaves he aided.  Perhaps it’s apocryphal, perhaps not, but the story goes that Rankin told Calvin Stowe the story of a woman who escaped over the frozen Ohio carrying her baby in her arms.  Stowe’s wife, Harriet Beecher Stowe, heard the story and the woman became Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
After a little more time riding along the Ohio, which, if you don’t know, is an amazingly beautiful river, we made it to Shawnee State Park outside Portsmouth.   At some point Knightsmama or I will write our blooper reel and include a story about a GPS malfunction that almost got us stuck on the wrong road and the wrong side of  a washed out bridge, but for now you will have to wait.  Brown County State Park had been hilly, and Shawnee State Park was hilly, and so I began worrying about brakes, maybe more than I needed to, but perhaps one cannot worry too much about brakes. 
At Shawnee and Portsmouth, we met with my friend and his family a couple of times. We discovered Tim Horton’s, which will both haunt and comfort us for several weeks; Captain Crunch met some kids that he basically lived with for two days; I rode my bike; Knightsmama and I visited the local brew pub.  In other words, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we added two days to our stay at Shawnee, just hanging.  And one of those days, we drove to West Virginia for another misadventure that will end up on the blopper reel if we ever discover the humor of a full day of driving on mountainous toll roads to the wrong cemetery and encountering the winner of the Least Helpful Librarian Award.  Still we do get to say, we made it to West Virginia.  By the way, downtown Charleston, West Virginia, is a treat. 

So what all this leads up to is to say that we found what I thought was a lovely, but low key family owned campground in Brimfield, Cherokee Campground (complete with totem pole) and stayed in the Cleveland area only four nights.  One morning, Knightsmama and I acted like the adults we sometimes are and got an oil change and had our brakes worked on in both the truck and in the trailer.  The rest of our days were filled with The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for me (a tour of a submarine and the Cleveland Museum of Art for the rest of the family), and two afternoons riding bikes on the Cuyahoga Tow Trail.  There was so much that we had not done, but I think back in Portsmouth we had hit a different rhythm. We did not try to stop at Serpent’s mound or Malabar Farms or any colleges for Dr. J. or any presidential sites for Captain Crunch.  We had figured out that we could not see it all.  We had to focus on the places and activities that were most important, and, of course, there are a lot of ways to define that.
On the morning following the fourth night, before we packed up to head to Detroit, Knightsmama and I left the boys still sleeping in the caravan and headed into Kent just a few miles away for the one pilgrimage we had to make, the campus of Kent State University. I am willing to entertain the idea that visiting Kent State is an unusual move for a family exploration of the United States.  However, on a fundamental level, this campus is one of the pieces of earth where the armies of hope and the armies of fear battled it out.  As it seems happens so very often, at this site on May 4, 1970, the armies of fear won. The Ohio National Guard fired upon students who were protesting first, President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, and second, Ohio’s, Kent’s, and the University’s reaction to their protests.  After approximately four days of protests and a mere 13 seconds of gun fire, four students lay dead in a parking lot, 9 students were wounded, and a nation watched in shock.  I am aware that there are always many sides to a story; I am aware that students had started fires and damaging businesses in downtown Kent—now a very cute little town—which borders the campus.  But I am also aware that whether one is standing in the middle of an incident or is strolling the ground forty-three years later, one has to ask, “What is this all about?”  Not whose property is being damaged, not whose authority is being threatened, not who has insulted whom.  In the long run, the Kent State shootings were about the state killing its own citizens—students, at that—because those citizens would not cease to speak the truth to power.  Quibble, if you must, over the manners and behaviors of the protestors.  But the state never, never, needs to shoot its citizens.  When it feels it must, the war is already over.  Sooner or later, it will turn into Iran or Syria.  Or Bull Run, the Alamo, or Concord.
So early one morning, before anyone else was out and about on campus, Knightsmama and I strolled around Taylor Hall and the Prentice Hall parking lot, where finally in 1999, granite markers and raised lighting were placed where the four students who died were shot.  We took photos from many angles of the four granite casket-like structures that look through the trees down upon the University Commons.  None of them, I think, do the scene justice.  You could think they were at peace, in repose beneath the stand of trees.  You could think they were sentinels looking down upon campus making certain students are never threatened again.  You could think that no matter how much the powers-that-be wish for it, the past is never fully buried.  We read the series of markers that dscribe out and explain how and where the students and troops moved.  These markers, reminding me of the many Civil War battlefields I have visited, ground one in the anger, fear and tragedy that worked itself out that day.  Once you wind yourself around Taylor Hall and pass the bell tower where the soldiers stood, and look three hundred feet away at the parking lot where the four students who died were standing (others who were wounded stood closer), you come to the marker that quotes the report of President’s Commission on Campus Unrest that concluded, “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
            Being the age I am, I could not help but hear Neil Young’s “Ohio,” the entire time I walked around campus.  “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/ We’re finally on our own, /This summer I hear the drumming, / Four dead in Ohio.”  But I should have also been reciting the names of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder, Sandra Scheuer.  

Soundtrack Double Feature:  The Pretenders:  "My City Was Gone."
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, "Ohio"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is It Only Rock and Roll?

In preparing for this trip, and really in preparing for the last couple of decades of my life (the two concerns got wrapped up in one little worry ball back in the spring), I decided to unload some ballast that had kept me hugging the surface of my biography.  I called my friend Lance Worley, who has a business dealing in old paper products.  He has a real talent for taking someone’s stuff and finding just that one person for whom it will be treasure. And he makes a little money in the middle.  Everyone’s happy.   I guess I have known Lance for about as long as I have known Knightsmama—about sixteen or seventeen years—but we went through a long period of not keeping up.  Well, we found each other and in the spring, I ask, “Are you still selling books and shit.”  He answered to the affirmative, and so we have been finding time to get together, grab a quick lunch, and talk about books, and history, and our generation. The only problem with Lance’s talent is that he also found a couple of books about the settling of the West—someone’s stuff that became my treasure—that I packed up in the caravan.  Most likely, I won’t read them until we hit New Mexico and Utah, so these two book will do their small part to reduce my overall gas mileage for, say, 8,000 or 10,000 miles.  Lance and I have talked a good deal about Lewis and Clark, so I have thought a good deal about Lance, lately:  at the Museum of Western Expansion in St. Louis, at William Clark’s grave in St. Louis (which I visited as I tracked down William Burroughs’ grave also.), and at the abandoned park in Cairo where Lewis and Clark prepared their men for their adventure.  
Parts of "The Wall" at RRHF

I have also been thinking about Lance because the things he took off my hands have returned in my memories recently on the journey.  First, in St. Louis, I drove by an old building with “The Sporting News” grandly painted on it.  One of the first things I passed on to Lance was a bookcase full The Sporting News publications, including decades of the annual publications The Baseball Registers and The Baseball Guides.   I inherited about forty of these publications, each, and a stack of magazines from the thirties.  For a few years, I continued to purchase the annual Guide and Register, but in the late nineties I stopped.  When I decided three years ago to fill in what I missed and to begin again, I discovered that The Sporting News had ceased publication of these books in favor of something more appropriate to the fantasy baseball crowd.   You know, the world changes.   And sometimes I don’t have to change with it.  I can’t even keep up with real baseball, much less a fantasy sport. 
I also had inherited a two or three hundred baseball score cards.  My father was a great baseball fan.  He even played in local semi-pro leagues in Southern Illinois for most of the thirties after he graduated from college.  In the closet, I had stacks of score cards from games he attended.  The St Louis Browns was a favorite in the thirties and forties.  Then the Cardinals took precedence.  In married and family life, he attended many minor league games in Nashville and Birmingham.  When we took family vacations, he would catch games in Pittsburg, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Houston, and Arlington.  I read through many of the cards, looking at his score keeping, and read the names of the players he saw play:  Gehrig, Ruth, both DiMaggios, Lefty Gomez, Slaughter, Banks, Greenburg, Koufax, Marichal, Mazaroski, and his hero, Stan Musial. In Nashville, he saw Chuck Connors, the Rifleman, who played there.  These are treasures, thanks to Lance, someone else now appreciates.  But I kept a few.  I held onto the two from the day, my father said I was conceived in St. Louis, July 4, 1952.  There were fireworks that night!  I kept one card from a Cardinal game during the war, before he met my mom.  A girlfriend, Claudia Tucker, had written a flirty comment on it that I enjoyed.  And I packed away his score card and mine from the 1963 All-Star Game held in Cleveland.  By that time, at age ten, I had learned to keep my own score card.  Lyman and Lyman Jr.   In St. Louis this last month, I caught a game between the Cards and the Pirates, and I have the score card in the Caravan and I maybe I will save it for my sons to figure out what to do with.
Besides Willie Mays, who is an American wonder himself, what I remember about our trip to Cleveland in 1963 is the pollution of Lake Michigan.  I am not sure if my memory of Mays running deep into center field and catching the ball on the run is something from film clips or something I saw that day or if my vision of him dealing with some shoe difficulties out at the fence was something I saw him do that day, but these are “memories” I associate with Willie Mays and with Cleveland.  Memory is so malleable.   It seems that the more I think about a memory, the more I handle it, knead it in my brain, the warmer and softer it all becomes and begins to pick up flecks and flour from other memories.  But what I am sure about, because it is a singular memory, is the flotsam and jetsam and dead fish and a little fire floating on the water I saw at the docks of in Cleveland after the game.  I guess my dad just wanted to see Lake Michigan, but as we walked to our car after the game we strolled over to the docks and peered over.  Now my mom and dad were no environmentalists, but even they knew something was wrong, that industrialization should not begin to kill something so large and magnificent as Lake Michigan.  
Back in Austin in late July, this year, as we were attempting to move every little bit of our material lives into storage, I stared at my record collection in a state of despair.  How long has it been since I had an adequate turntable?  Would I ever have the time or inclination to listen to these 700-800 records?  No one in my house wants to be in the same room with me when I listen to America or Chicago or Led Zepplin or Jethro Tull.  Knightsmama is dancing in the kitchen to the Indigo Girls or KD Lang or Anne Lennox.  The boys are rattling the walls with Jay Z or the Black Eyed Peas or Kanye West.  My study, upstairs, was already filled with books; no room for albums there.  And now any music I want—be it Charles Ives or Miles Davis or Jerry Jeff Walker—I could purchase fairly inexpensively on-line.  It was time.  I called Lance, as if he were part of a Wet Team and I had some inconvenient, bloody bodies that needed removed. 
“Lance, I have a job for you.” 
Lance is a taciturn West Texan.  He says, “I’ll be there in ten.  No one will ever know.”  Then he asks, “Are you okay?”  He knows these moments can be traumatic.
“Affirmative. I’ve already got them boxed up.”
And everything did go well, except that Lance, who is more or less my age, admitted that he was getting too old for this kind of work.  Albums are like water.  They begin to weigh a lot even in small quantities. 
My relationship with Colleen is one of the wonders of my life—I cannot explain at all how and why we have lasted as a couple for seventeen years.  She is fifteen years younger that I am.  Either because she has always been mature for her age or I have been immature for mine, we have found a meeting place in the middle where there are really few differences and difficulties.  But music is one of those places where the differences in our ages matters.  She can be really vicious—I mean, fangs dripping gleefully with blood kind of vicious—when she alludes to my fanboy relationship to Poco, America, or Jackson Brown.  She will tolerate my love for Rick Nelson.  It is not that she does not have her soft spots for soft rock—you should hear her squeal when “Dancing Queen” prances on to the radio.  But I think she would rather boogie with my Southern Unruly Redneck Self to my Southern California Sensitive Guy Self.   She prefers the ironies of ZZ Top,  Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Charlie Daniels to the sincerities of Richie Furay and Graham Nash.
So it was with a mixture of joy and melancholy and relief that I separated myself from the rest of the Waller Grant Caravan and spent an afternoon in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by myself.  A sixty-year old dude can wander the four-story complex in a few ways.  One is purely and simply as a nostalgic indulgence. “Ah, I loved Janis Joplin, and there is her Porshe.”  “Gee wiz, there are the lyrics, handwritten, for ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice.’ I remember listening to that song in my 1967 Comet on 57th Street in Temple.”  “Paul Cotton’s shirt that he wore on that album cover for Poco!  I love that record.”  “Stevie Nick’s dresses—I was seeing a woman named Donna when those records came out.” 
Another way to walk through The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is as a ritual in Hero Worship.  As I write this, in an RV park north of Boston a couple of weeks past the experience, I am a bit surprised that I am becoming a little blank here.  Throughout my life, I think people would say that I was prone to hero worship. I was always looking for role models.  At various points in my life, I wanted to be Scott Fitzgerald or Roy Bedichek, Walt Whitman or C.S. Lewis.   But as I passed through the exhibits, I didn’t pause slack jawed and wish that I could reach through the protective glass to touch Paul’s Beatle suit, nor did I cry when I saw that George’s guitar was missing, on loan to another museum.  In fact, I began to drift toward heresy in this Cathedral of Rock and Roll Relics when I paused to wonder why I was looking at some many outfits worn by Jimi Hendrix or if I really cared about Jim Morrison’s childhood doodles?
One of my favorite thousand songs from my youth is “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star,” by Roger McQuinn and the The Byrds.  Like the song suggests, I did pick up a guitar and learn how to play, but I learned only basic chords and, since I can’t sing a lick (and could not envision any other role but the lead singer with guitar), I never had the desire to learn to play one song all the way through—I was never going to stand on a stage and sing for a crowd.  Maybe I am fooling myself, but as I walked through the Hall of Fame, I did not feel the backwash of sorrow from a wasted life and a missed calling or neglected dream.  Maybe that has surprised me a bit.  I do not wish I were Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison or Brian Wilson, Tom Petty or Bob Dylan.  It’s not their lives that I envied, the day to dayness of fame and fortune.  I think, maybe, this is a revelation for me, but it all seems like such a load of trouble.  The wonder isn’t that we’ve had the tragedies of Jimi, Jim, Janis, Sid, Kirk, Elvis, and Michael.  The wonder is that Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Patti Smith, and Eric Clapton have remained as sane as they have.  Ah, but I do wish I could have written “Caroline, No,” or “Working Class Hero,” or “Beware of Sadness,” or “Psycho Killer.”  To write those songs, now that would have been a trip!
A third way to wander through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is as an historian or cultural anthropologist.  This would have been my preferred method because Rock and Roll, to me, has been more important as a cultural force than as an entertainment activity.  I know that all entertainment is a cultural force, so it boils down to what the entertainment is and how one looks at it—my point would be, however, that Petticoat Junction does not have the same cultural force as All in the Family.  Still I don’t think you can pull apart all the threads of racial integration, the questioning of authority, the feminist movement, sexual liberation, the beginnings of acceptance of GLTB, environmentalism, the introduction of Eastern religion and practices, and probably even the resurgence of conservative Christianity. All of them get intertwined into one thick set of cables forming the suspension bridge from the nineteen forties to the present day.  Sure, all those ideas and forces existed in the earlier decades of the twentieth century.  But individually they did not each exert the resonance that rock and roll did for them together.  Together, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Little Richard, John Denver, George Harrison, and Aretha Franklin deposited as much cultural coinage as did anyone else in their day.  They, and hundreds of others who picked up guitars and other instruments and believed in the power of a rock song, changed the face of the United States.  It was all aided and supported by Hollywood movies and television, radio, New York publishing interests, and college professors.   And basically it all boiled down, I believe, to one big message:  quit being small town squares and bigots, open your minds and your hearts, liberate yourself and celebrate the liberation of others.  “Come on, people, now.  Try to love one another, right now.”  (Wait a minute—isn’t this also the message of Mark Twain in many of his books?  Am I beginning to see the development of a theme?)
From “Rock around the Clock” to “Wake Up, Little Suzie” to “Traveling Man” to “With God on Their Side” to “Natural Woman” to “Light My Fire” to “Fortunate Son” to  “Whats Going on”  to . . . .  make your own list . . . . the world changed.  I am not going to argue that it was all good.  I am not going to argue that we haven’t lost a great deal in the transition.  I still love The Ozzie and Harriet Show and The Andy Griffith Show, and my family is only mildly tolerant of this affection/.   When I watch Frasier, it’s the echoes from Jack Benny that I enjoy the most.   But do I want Blacks riding in the back of the bus, suburban moms bored at home and denied meaningful work, corporations polluting air and water at will, gays and lesbians hiding in guilt or fear, half of us ignorant about sexual pleasure and sexual responsibility?  No.  And I believe Rock and Roll was the primary force in changing all of that.  Not the only force, but the major force. People talk about the “soundtrack to my life.”   Rock and Roll was not merely the soundtrack to my political and cultural development.  It was the substance of it, or if not the substance, then certainly the container.
So I loved my four or so hours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—what’s not to love about a beautiful building on Lake Michigan designed by I. M Pei filled with memories my youth and early adulthood?  Still, it all seemed a little heavy on generational self-congratulation.  There were certainly many more gray pony-tails than hipster beards wandering around. So much for the past having relevance for the young.  So thinking of the future, I wonder if there might not be a moment when someone figures out that those willing to shell out twenty-two dollars for nostalgia have all died, and, the only thing left to market is historical and cultural significance?  Maybe our stuff will become someone else’s treasure.

Soundtrack:  Peter, Paul, and Mary:  "I Dig Rock and Roll Music."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Brew Tour August 3-September 15

My son, The Philosopher, back home in Austin, has pointed out the glaring contradiction that I write about riding my bicycle and getting healthier while posting photos on Facebook of the beer I am drinking.  ACC friend and beer enthusiast Richard Smith has commented on a greater problem—the photos are merely records of self-indulgence and don’t really contribute to the betterment of humankind by indicating some sort of measure of the brewers’ art.  What my son, The Philosopher and Connoisseur, would be able to tell Richard is that I famously lack discernment.  While I can accurately report what others have said—I am a scholar, after all—and while I am a pretty good judge of literature, no one should trust anything I say about the relative quality of a beverage or foodstuff.  On my gravestone will be inscribed my most accurate moment of self knowledge:  “He was blessed by indiscriminate tastes.”

Still, since much of this blog is an exercise in hubris anyway, I will, therefore, report on my adventures in quaffing, and not only that, I will rate the beers of which I have been partaking.  This will be my scale, based on the Guardian Saints of this journey, characters from the Cohen brothers’ classic movie, The Big Lebowski.   
Dudes:  This is what I really like.  I have no idea what others say about it, and I don’t care.  Be careful.  I am holding a beverage here. A beer can get 3, 4, or 5 dudes. 
Walters: Good stuff.  I like it. You should like it, too.  But it ain’t fancy.  Back in Nam . . . .  A beer can get 2-4 Walters. 
Donnies:  Look, you can drink this if you like.  Others do.  If you love craft beer, these might be out of your league. 2-3. 
Nihilists:  Nobody cares. Drink it, if you don’t care either. 1-2.  
Special Lady Friends:  Somebody’s getting artsy and it might work. 2-5. 
Bunnies:  Dangerous stuff. Could be fun if there is an ATM around. 1-5. 

This may seem complicated, and may confuse some of you.  But it is fairly simple, I promise.  Basically this is a 1-5 rating system.  Dudes are best and Nihilists are worst.   But the categories overlap.  Sometimes the Major Dude likes what he knows is average (3 Dudes); and sometimes the Major Dude knows discriminating folks will like this beer, but it’s not my cup of malt (4 Walters). A decent, drinkable beer, nothing special, comes in at 3 Donnies or 3 WaltersSpecial Lady Friends and Bunnies are brews of individual distinction.  No rulings are final.  Your comments are appreciated. 

Fayetteville, Arkansas: 
My friend Tim Grear took me to this brewery to buy a growler that we all shared over a wonderful pizza dinner that Dana, his wife, prepared.  (The pizza gets 5 Dudes, by the way.)
Saddlebock Brewery. Arkansas Farmhouse. 4 Dudes.  I ordered this at the brewery to enjoy while the growler was prepared.  As time goes on, you will see I am a big fan of farmhouse/saison style.
Dirty Blonde3 Walters  ABV 5%.  A good, everyday beer.

St. Louis, Missouri: 
Colleen and I snuck away for a date and left the boys in the trailer.  We ran some errands (The folks at the Apple store were angels.) and tried the restaurant in the suburbs but couldn’t find a parking space for the big-ass pick-up, so ventured to the original site downtown.  The food was really tasty. Highly recommended.

Schafly Brewing Company. Pumpkin Ale.  4.5 Dudes  ABV 8.0%.  IBU 16.  I was blown away by this beer at the restaurant and would have rated it 5 Dudes.  But I bought a six pack to go and drank one ever so often for a couple of weeks.  I admit I grew a little tired of it.
Oatmeal Stout.  4 Dudes.  ABV 5.7%  IBU 40.  This one is really solid and tasty.  This was my dessert while Colleen had something chocolate.

Springfield, Illinois:
Waller Grant made a long trip to Springfield.  There, we visited the Lincoln Presidential Library, the Lincoln memorial, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana Thomas house, and Vachel Lindsey’s home.  Before heading back to our campground outside Charleston, Illinois, we found a newish brew pub named Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery.  I think that we have here are the ambitions of a young couple to build upon their family connections to Springfield, but to contribute in a new, current way.  Waller Grant enjoyed their attempts, even if it was a bit typical for the brew pub culture:  sandwiches, fish and chips, pastas.  At first, I order a sampler of four brews.  All were fine; none were world class.

Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery Ditzy Blonde.  ABV 4.6%   3 Donnies
Mother Road APA  5.6%   3 Walters
Belgian Style IPA  7.4%  3.5 Walters 
Upside Brown Ale 5.5%   3 Dudes   I usually don’t get excited about British Style Brown Ales, but this one was pretty tasty.  So I ordered a full pint after the sampler.  Dr. J. drove us home.

Bloomington, Indiana: 
Knightmama and I had another sneak away dinner.  We went to a farmer’s market downtown, visited their co-op grocery store.  On recommendation from friends in Austin, we ate at The Trojan Horse, a family Greek kind of place.  The restaurant served beers from two local breweries.  On recommendation of the waitress, I chose:

Bloomington Brewing Co.  Ruby Bloom Amber3 Donnies.  ABV 6.0%  IBU  11.  Look, it was fine.  I don’t think beer connoisseurs will rave about it.  I drank it, didn’t I?
At the grocery store, I bought two bottles of local beers with great labels.  One of the pleasures of the craft brewing culture is the attitudes that the brewers bring to their beers and to their marketing.  My favorite Brewery in Austin is probably Jester King.  I love their beers and their style.

Figure Eight Brewing (Valparaiso, IN).   Offwidth Double Pale Ale.  3 Special Lady Friends.  ABV 8.8%  IBU 100.  This seems to be an ambitious ale.  It was good, almost unique. 

Three Floyds Brewing (Munster, IN).  Apocalypse Cow4 Bunnies.  ABV 11%.  IBU  100.  Go for it.  I think I got too drunk to remember it well.

Portsmouth, Ohio: 
Another venture into town.  We left the boys in the trailer in the campground with their xbox.  Colleen and I drove into town for a little dinner and grocery shopping.  Dinner at the Portsmouth Brewing Company, billed as the oldest brewery in Ohio, dating back to 1843.  I got the sampler of six beers.  My feeling is that this brewery is not attempting to do anything fancy or to compete with ambitious craft brewers.  They are just trying to make some beer that people in their home town will like.  I don’t know why, but I bought a six pack with three Red Birds and three Peerless Pale Ales.  I still have one of the Pale Ales.  Does the fact that they don’t publish the ABV and the IBU tell us anything?

The Portsmouth Brewing Company.  Crystal Gold Light Lager.  1 Nihilist.
Crystal Gold Lager.  2 Nihilists.
Portsmouth Pilsner.  3 Donnies.
Red Bird Ale. 3 Walters.
Peerless Pale Ale.  3 Walters.
Raven Rock Dopplebock.  3 Special Lady Friends.

Cleveland, Ohio:
We parked the Caravan in a RV Camp in Brimfield, so we were a little out of the flow of urban life.  Our goal there was to bike the Erie Canal Tow Path, which we did, and had only one day in Cleveland.  I drank a Yuenglings waiting for the remaining Waller Grants to pick me up and listening to bands in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I couldn’t let myself get out of town without trying one things so I stopped in liquor store and bought one six pack.

Great Lakes Brewery. (Cleveland, OH)  Edmund Fitzgerald.  Porter.  ABV 5.8%  IBU  37.  3.5 Dudes

Niagara Falls, Ontario. Canada:
Waller Grant had a great day on the American side of the Falls, then headed over the international bridge because everyone says you need to see the Falls from the Canadian side.  We asked the nice, young, Canadian official where to eat that wasn’t too touristy—not the Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Cafe.  He gave us directions, direct to the crazy Clinton Hill, the gaudiest tourist circus I have seen in years.  I guess it was good for the boys to see it.  Theo’s eyes were as large as plates taking it all in.  We finally found the very pleasant family owned Antica Pizzaria and Ristorante where everyone had wood fired pizza, while I enjoyed a Greek salad and a beer.  Food was good, but the beer was nothing special, I don’t think, but it hit the spot after walking all day.

Alexander Keith’s.  (Torondo, Ontario, Canada)  Red Amber Ale ABV 5%     3 Donnies.  

Cooperstown, New York:
We changed up our itinerary some, skipping Burlington and Northern Vermont and headed across Central New York, so we could take the Southern route to Acadia Maine, always our main destination.   We had always planned on visiting Cooperstown but later in the trip.  We spent two nights at Glimmerglass State Park; Knightsmama found a coffee house to hang out in, and I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame.  When Knightsmama picked me up with the boys,  she said, let’s go to Ommegang!  It’s why I love her.  We made it to Ommegang too late for a tour but just in time for the last seating in the restaurant.  This, folks, in one of the sacred locations for the Church of Malt and Hops.

Ommegang.  Hennepin Farmhouse Saison:  ABV 7.7%  IBU 24  5 Dudes
Abbey Ale.   Dubbel Ale.  ABV 8.2%  IBU 20     5 Special Lady Friends/4.5 Dudes
I was giddy after my pilgrimage to Ommagang, so when Waller Grant stopped at the grocery store for basics:  milk, cereal, and snack foods, I bought a six pack from another Cooperstown brewery.  It’s fine.  Nothing special.

Cooperstown Brewing Company.  Old Slugger  American Pale Ale  ABV 5.5%   3 Donnies

Newburyport, Massachusetts:
We really had no plans at all to visit this part of Massachusetts, but we needed a stopover and Knightsmama found Beach Rose RV Park, a pleasant park at a reasonable price in Salisbury.  Rain was forecast but it arrived about 24 hours late, so we had a little time for wondering around nearby Newburyport.  The boys got to stay in the RV with their electronics, while Knightsmama and grabbed calamari and sweet potato fries at a new little restaurant called The Deck overlooking the Merrimack River. 

Cape Ann Brewing Co.  (Gloucester, Mass.)  Fisherman’s Brew, American Amber Lager.        ABV 5.5%  IBU  30   3 Dudes

In the afternoon, the entire Waller Grant Clan wandered around Newburyport, admired the sail boats, saw where the Witch of Newburyport has held captive by her husband, found a lovely bookstore, and specialty grocer, Grand Trunk Old World Market, where Knightsmama acquired some wine and a baguette, and I grabbed two featured beers.

Field Guide (Havermill, MA.)  Latitude Adjustment.  Farmhouse Ale.  ABV  6.8%  3 Donnies.  Sorry, guys, Ommegang has spoiled me.

Narragansett, Private Stock.  (Brewed and bottled by Buzzards Bay Brewing, Westport, MA, for Narragansett Brewing Co, Providence, RI) Imperial Black Steam.  ABV 9%   Other reviews identify raisins; I taste dark chocolate and coffee. Pretty good. I would drink another.  4 Walters.

Soundtrack.  Texas Tornados:  "In Heaven There Is No Beer."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Heart Machine

On Friday, August 30, four weeks into the Caravan, I passed the one hundred mile mark on my bicycle’s odometer.  Well, I actually passed the 119 mile mark.  I had forgotten to reset it before Waller Grant took off a month ago, so it was set at 19 miles from a ride way back in April, and once I got back on the bike in Oklahoma, I decided that I would reset the odometer when I hit 119.  I am old, and can’t remember anything anymore, so I have to make things easy to keep track of.   I figured this way I would be able to compute the number of miles I ride on the entire trip. Instead of having to remember to subtract 19 miles, I merely have to add 100.  Makes sense to me.  And I guess that is all that counts.

Captain Crunch at Szalay's Farm Stand

Because God likes to play tricks, or because I am careless, or because bad things happen sometimes to good people (take your pick), I will always be able to remember where I passed the first 100 miles:  at Szalay’s Farm Stand in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  At that moment, Captain Crunch and I were riding the towpath trail alone.  Dr. J. and Knightsmama were few miles behind us—that’s another story.  The Captain and I had ridden about nine miles, beginning at Akron Northside and heading north toward Boston Station.  Szalay’s Farm Stand is one of these modern re-inventions of the traditional.  The Szalays, I have no reason to doubt this is a family operation, learned that they are not just selling fruits and vegetables; they are selling the experience of purchasing fruits and vegetables.  It’s like 1950, except it is the way that we wish 1950 really was, clean, orderly, efficient, customer focused.  
At the corner of two two lane country winding roads, the stand was bustling with locals and, I suppose, a few tourists like us.  Those with cars, and there were many people with cars, could stock up on local and trucked-in fruits and vegetables—squash, melons, berries—jars of jellies, local baked goods.  And corn.  Tables and tables piled two feet high with corn.  I heard one young lady saying, “This year we have 200 acres planted only with corn.”  I noticed the “we.”  Those passing through on bikes can   take a break, rest in various covered picnic table contraptions that rocked (of course, Theo picked one of those), and enjoy a “fresh squeezed lemonade” or soft-served ice cream with fruit.  I trust the labeling because I saw the squeezing machine working away on some defeated lemons. Captain Crunch and I each got a lemonade, and then took off.
That’s when I noticed I had hit 119 and called for the Captain to stop.  Maybe I said it a bit too emphatically, because he squeezed his brakes like they were hard lemons and he wanted every little bit of juice. We were already back on the crushed granite towpaths, so first, he skidded to the right, and I went left.  Then he went down and to the left, and I rode right over him and crashed, too.   Luckily, Crunch is as tough as I am slow to react.  A couple of bicyclists rushed over to see how we were.  An employee at the farm also rushed over.  Thank goodness, we were both fine and our bikes unharmed.  Captain has trained with a youth mountain bike team back in Austin, so falls were not new to him.  After a brief moment to make sure there was no blood and nothing broken, we hit the trail again, but not before I changed the odometer.  By the end of the day, I was up to 23 miles (plus my hundred). 
One of the most important goals for this year is that I should ride the bike as much as possible. Remember, I am fat.  Fat is not good for a guy who has had a couple of stents inserted into an artery somewhat close to the heart. Granted, I should be reminded about this fact when I write about the wonderful beers that the true geniuses of our 48 contiguous states have created and I have tasted.  This is a dilemma I haven’t rationalized my way beyond yet, but give me time.  And I admit at this point that 123 miles in four weeks is nothing to brag about.  (I almost wrote “nothing to write home about,” but then that is exactly what I am doing right now.  Oops.)  But then again, these are most likely 123 miles that I would not have ridden had I still been in Austin, going to work in the morning, and returning home in 104 degree heat.  So I am taking what I can get.  For the record, I have ridden in Okmulgee State Park in Oklahoma, at Pea Ridge Battlefield Site in Arkansas, in St, Louis, in Cahokia National Monument, in Brown County State Park in Indiana, near Shawnee State Park in Ohio.  Later, this afternoon, Knightsmama and I will hit a local hike and bike trail in Milford, Michigan. 
I don’t care what the nostalgists insist, many aspects of our nation have improved since the fifties.  One of these is the biking culture that is spreading throughout the U.S.  On the one hand, it is probably not an improvement that, as Wendell Berry has pointed out, that so few of us actually do any labor during the day that so many have to find fake activities like jogging, weight lifting, and biking to provide out bodies with some purpose and means of staying useful.  On the other, the bicycle is a marvelous invention, incredibly efficient at moving a body down a road.  In the right places, like those where I have ridden so far this year, the bicycle is both a touring vehicle and an exercise machine, clicking off the miles in wonderful landscapes, pumping oxygen rich blood throughout the body.  Everything is fed--the muscles, the eyes and ears, and the soul. 

Soundtrack.  Queen, "Bicycle Race"