Wednesday, August 29, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 12

Cabinet Room at the Clinton Library: I'm in charge! (Photos by Bonnie J. Schupp)

 A visit to Clinton Country

in search of kneepads,

then Tenn. to visit friends

Clinton Library, aquarium adventures

Back home for close to three months, and I am reminded -- several times a week -- that Chapter 12 of our Great American Road Trip is way overdue. Maybe it's just hard to wrap up so wonderful (and exhausting) an adventure as a coast-to-coast drive.

 Some folks have asked what I considered the highlight. Beyond five days in Utah -- making new friends and experiencing a very different lifestyle -- and reacquainting with old friends in several other stops, that's tough to answer.

Several places I wish we'd had more time to explore, among them Little Rock, Arkansas. We had passed through the state on an earlier road trip years ago, when we drove to New Orleans and Dallas. I barely remembered it.
Clinton Library, Little Rock

Not so this time, thanks to our first experience of visiting a presidential library -- a complex overlooking the Arkansas River in the heart of Billary Clinton Country just minutes off Interstate 40. 

We had scoped the place online, and managed to arrive minutes before the 2 p.m. closing time for lunch at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum's very pleasant basement restaurant -- with tablecloth, cloth napkins, gracious service, excellent burgers and fries, and for Bonnie a generously poured and presidentially-designed-chilled-glass of white wine. The bill came to about 30 bucks.

Admission to the library and museum, covering three upper floors of exhibit areas, was $8 each (seniors rate -- younger adults pay $10). 

Towers of books with presidential papers
If there is a centerpiece, perhaps it is the display few visitors have time to explore -- the towering shelves of blue-bound books containing millions of documents from Bill Clinton's eight-year presidency, so many volumes that even the hundreds upon hundreds visible there represent but a large portion of the entirety.

And that left us wondering what an eventual Trump library might house... would the presidency of an ineloquent man who seems barely interested in the written word generate so large a mass of records? The joke, inevitably, is that it would likely contain a porn peep show featuring the collected works of Stephanie Clifford, and a magazine collection of Karen McDougal centerfolds.

A digression on morality

I know what you're thinking now: Bubba himself was not Mr. Morality before or during his presidency.

So let's address the Donkey in the Room: There are no kneepads evident under Bill's desk in the impressive, full-size recreation of the Oval Office. And in three hours of exploring the exhibits, we found no mention of Monica (though I have since been informed of an alcove on the second floor with material on the investigation by independent counsel Ken Starr) -- only the inclusion, on a Clinton timeline running across a wall the length of the building, of the House of Representatives vote to impeach him, the subsequent acquittal by the Senate, and the president's apology to the nation for his improper conduct.

The Capitol Hill drama played out 20 years ago,  in the post-election, lame duck days of the 105th Congress and early weeks of the 106th -- in a House and Senate that both remained Republican majority.  While it takes only a majority vote in the House for impeachment, removal of the president requires two-thirds in the Senate, and those numbers illustrate the difficulty of the removal process.

Just two of the four articles of impeachment before the House received majority votes, and both failed in the subsequent trial played out in the Senate -- the party line vote of 45-55 on perjury to a grand jury, and a 50-50 vote on obstruction of justice, both substantially failing to meet the required 67 for conviction and removal of the president.

Those votes echo forward in time, as we approach the 2018 midterm elections. In the event of Democrats taking control in the House, an impeachment proceeding against Donald Trump becomes a distinct possibility. But even if Republicans also lose the Senate, it will take overwhelming evidence of criminality to persuade enough of those remaining to join Democrats in giving Trump the bum's rush out of the White House. (This, even as a Pence presidency might be deemed more appealing to conservative tastes.)

So that's the thoughts generated just by a cursory look at the Clinton Library. But there was plenty more to see, including a replica of the Cabinet meeting room (top photo), cases upon cases of gifts received by the Clintons during the presidency, all manner of political bric-a-brac,  a loop of comical Bill-and-Hillary videos (unlike Trump, they showed a sense of humor even while under political attack), and a multi-floor temporary exhibition of presidential-era and campaign music across generations.

Unfortunately, the only photography allowed inside the Oval Office is done by a museum staffer -- so if you want your picture taken there, it will cost at least 15 bucks. But that seemed to be the only extra cost for visitors, other than a splurge in the souvenir and book shop where Bonnie bought an autographed copy of presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton's children's book, "She Persisted Around the World / 13 Women Who Changed History," and another titled "Photos That Changed the World."

Politics rocks!

Much of the material in the library and its exhibits are property of the National Archives. But the temporary show,  "Louder Than Words – Rock, Power, and Politics," which ended in early August was created by the Newseum in Washington.

And there are still opportunities to see it elsewhere: at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, March 12 to Sept. 4, 1919; at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Neb., Oct. 13, 2019, to Feb. 3, 2020; and at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, March 2, 2020, to Jan. 4, 2021.

A public affairs officer at the National Archives and Records Administration noted that presidential "libraries" may be different in the future -- starting with Barack Obama's, which will be a museum. Reference material will be available digitally.

She said such institutions can be an "uneasy" marriage of museum and library -- and  that Richard Nixon's in Yorba Linda, Calif., was at first just a museum, out of concern at  how the Watergate scandal would be presented. Notably, its collection now includes some 3,700 hours of recordings known as "the White House Tapes."

Homeward through Tennessee

Interstate 40 took us toward Nashville, and a turn south on I-24 to Chattanooga -- areas we had visited before, but this time intended for catching up with friends.

In 2012, we flew to the West Coast for three weeks of exploration and a wedding. The latter was Bonnie's first as an officiant, in her capacity as an ordained minister of the online Universal Life Church. The happy couple Tara and Christian, happy to say, still are.

The couple have since moved to a suburb of Chattanooga, where Christian -- after getting his bachelor's degree in the field and waiting several years for a job opening -- has become an air-traffic controller, and Tara is an entrepreneur in the field of online marketing.
Bonnie, Me, Christian and Tara (Expensive souvenir photo)

They had not yet seen a highlight of their new city -- the Tennessee Aquarium. So that became our main adventure there, exploring its two buildings on opposite corners of an open-air (and in early June, very hot) bustling center of tourism. The aquarium opened in 1992, with similarities to, and designed by the same company as, Baltimore's National Aquarium a decade earlier. Admission is 30 bucks -- cheaper than Baltimore's, but the Imax movie at an extra eight dollars makes up most of the difference.

We bought aquarium hats!
The overall layout seemed easier to navigate, and less congested, indicating its designers had rethought and improved upon the Baltimore project. And there is a focusing concept in its tracking of the path of water from Appalachian mountains to the sea.

Quirky art in Nashville
After two nights with Tara and Christian, we retraced our route up I-24 to the town of Columbia, 40 minutes from Nashville, where our photographer friend Brycia and her son Andrew had recently moved. We explored a little of the big city in search of quirky art we had missed on a shorter road trip months earlier, when we moved a carload of odds and ends to Brycia's new house. (On that trip, I left behind my new iPad -- which was subsequently found sitting plugged in on the floor, amusingly visible to an interior security camera.)

And then, in a final burst of stamina, we drove straight from Tennessee back home to Maryland -- the last 740 miles of the journey (stopping only for food, fuel and rest stops) in about 12 hours.
Andrew and Brycia, and a silvery bird

 From its beginning about 10 a.m. on May 8 to the ending of the journey late on June 6, our trusty 2012 Toyota Camry's trip-o-meter tally: 7,528 miles. We drove through portions of 20 states, including an odd corner of Georgia that cuts across about a mile of Interstate 24.

The next big trip we're planning is Hawaii, the only state we have not visited among the 50. Fortunately, perhaps, we won't drive to get there. The road just doesn't go that far.

Our route across America

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Newspaper remembrance

Newsboys' remembrance gathering includes bench-sitters Fred Rasmussen (left) and Ernie Imhoff. (Photo by Jim Burger)

Newsboys killed in 1924

honored at gravesite

on disaster anniversary

Toasts, tears are offered for them

... and for those killed at the Annapolis Capital

Time has a way of defeating memory, but a small group of diehard newspaper folks have kept alive an annual remembrance for five teenage boys lost in a tragedy nearly a century ago when the Chesapeake Bay steamboat Three Rivers caught fire off Cove Point in southern Maryland.

The victims were among the 59 members of The Evening Sun Newsboys Band,returning from a performance on the bay steamer on the Fourth of July in 1924. Five adults also perished in the disaster.

The boys rest under a semicircle of gravestones flanked by stone benches, all facing a seven-foot-high granite memorial and copper sculpture in Baltimore's huge Loudon Park Cemetery -- also the gravesite, in another section, of the famed  Evening Sun writer H.L. Mencken.

For many years, the evening newspaper held a memorial service there for the boys, and the tradition was revived about 1994 by a group of staffers including its last managing editor, Ernest F. Imhoff. The Evening Sun itself formally died -- some say it was murdered -- in 1995, four years after its staff, operation and content were merged with the surviving morning Sun, leading to a rapid decline in circulation.

Ernie worked for decades at the evening paper, and was its city editor on a snowy winter night in 1969 when I, as a cub reporter for the then-competing morning  paper, was covering a massive church fire across the street from his home in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood. He invited me in from the cold, and offered a drink... brandy, as I recall.

I like to think of myself as an Evening Sun alum, despite having worked 40 years for the morning paper. I was acting night metro editor when, at the stroke of midnight one night in 1991, their staffs were officially wed. And I managed to get a few bylines on its front page during the final years of publication.

Now in his early 80s, his gait slowed enough to need a cane, Ernie is still presiding over the ceremony at Loudon Park, and was among 16 people who turned out at 9 a.m. today at the newsboys' burial site. It was also a family reunion, of sorts, because newspaper veterans have that kind of a bond -- dedication to their profession, and to each other. 

Dave Cohn calls out names of the newsboys, one headstone at a time. (Jim Burger photo)
There was news to share about the declining health of a colleague unable to attend, and lament for others who have died in the past year. There were toasts with whiskey and rye (and cold bottles of water for the few nondrinkers), and a reading by retired Evening Sun copy desk chief Dave Cohn of part of the newsboys' story.

It included the names of the dead, recited as Dave walked from headstone to headstone: Walter Clark Millikin and Thomas Ashby Pilker Jr., both age 13; Lester Alfred Seligman and Vernon Edward Jefferson, both 15; and the oldest of them, Nelson Appleton Miles, 17.

They were among the army of kids in that far-gone era who delivered the news.
Rasmussen and Joan Jacobson offer comfort as Ernie Imhoff speaks of the Annapolis Capital victims. (Jim Burger photo)

Ernie, tears welling up in his eyes, said their names should never be forgotten -- nor should those of the five others who were killed last week when a crazy man with a grudge opened fire with a shotgun at the Annapolis Capital, which is owned by the Baltimore Sun.

They were Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant managing editor and former Sun reporter; Wendi Winters, 65, community reporter and special publications editor; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, staff writer and longtime sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired just eight months ago.

They, too, delivered the news.

Perhaps someday there will be a memorial place for all of them as well, in addition to the one in our hearts.

About 500 people attended a life celebration for Annapolis Capital shooting victim Rob Hiaasen Monday evening, and services for the other four are scheduled for this week and next. (Panorama photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 11

Empty chairs and reflection, Oklahoma City (Photos (c) Bonnie J. Schupp)



Oklahoma memorials

for bombing victims, 

folk music legend


... and time expired at cemetery

Not every stop on the trip is an entertaining Roadside Attraction, and crossing Oklahoma requires a somber visit to the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, destroyed by an act of domestic terrorism in 1995 with the loss of 168 lives.
9:01 -- a minute before the world changed

But getting there proved a challenge. We’ve never seen a city so torn up by road construction and detours. It seemed that every major street into and out of town had been dug up, at least in part, giving our cellphone Mapquest link a workout.

Parking also wasn’t simple, so I opted for the Post Office lot across the street where signs declare it for customers only, with a 15-minute limit. There were plenty of spaces. And I bought a stamp.
A long fence lines one side of the memorial site, and on it are hanging hundreds of tributes to the dead – including flowers, pictures, stuffed animals (some of the dead were children in daycare there), and written messages. 

Where the building stood is a long, shallow reflecting pool, and alongside it a grassy field lined with 168 chairs – each bearing the name of a victim. A National Park Service ranger was leading a group of visitors to the chair of a particular person they were seeking, and afterward explained that the federal service works in cooperation with the nonprofit foundation overseeing the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

The memorial is flanked by monumental gates, one bearing the time 9:01, one minute before the blast, and the other 9:03. The space between is beautiful, serene, a place of reflection.

We were considering other places
The now-closed Womb building
to visit in Oklahoma City, but quirky – and the ranger suggested a building called “the Womb.” It was a warehouse-type structure a few minutes’ drive from the downtown section, that had been used by an arts collective and painted with loving craziness on the outside walls. Unfortunately, the doors were locked and inside it appeared to have been vacated. But visible inside the entrance area was the kind of art installation created by Flaming Lips rock band guitarist Wayne Coyne at Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf.

So we threaded the road-construction maze back to Interstate 40, and Bonnie found another appealing stop: Woody Guthrie’s 1912 birthplace in the town Okemah.

The town had a small park with a Woody statue, mural and memorial, and not far away was the now-vacant birthplace property where a local artist had sculpted its dead tree into the shape of a guitar bearing the words “this land is your land” from what likely is Guthrie’s most enduring song.
Woody Guthrie statue and memorial park in Okemah

Guthrie’s body was cremated after his death from Huntington’s disease complications in 1967. His ashes were scattered at Coney Island, N.Y., but a memorial for him was placed at his family’s plot in Okemah’s Highland Cemetery.

We didn’t realize it at the time of our visit, but we stopped at the cemetery for another oddity – the grave of Barbara Sue Manire, whose tombstone features a parking meter with a “64 year time limit) that has the dates of her birth (April 29, 1941) and death (on her birthday in 2005) and the dreaded words “Time Expired.”

Barbara Sue Manire's time was up.

Next Chapter: Clinton country

Friday, June 1, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 10

Cadillac Ranch draws visitors to Texas pasture. (Photos (c) Bonnie J. Schupp)

Last stop in New Mexico,

but more craziness

in Lone Star State

Invest in spray paint stock, folks!

Tucumcari… tuckawhat? That’s where we settled for our final night in New Mexico, after turning eastward for the long drive home. Bonnie was worn out in our almost nightly (and free with 20,000 points) Holiday Inn Express du jour, but I went out to peek at the town, fill the gas tank and get the dead bugs off the windshield.

Summer weather was settling in, with temperatures rising into the 90s, and bugs were attacking the windshield like it was a kamikaze suicide mission. (Flying grasshoppers, it looked like, made the loudest impact and biggest mess.)

Outside a closed cafe, Tucumcari
Tucumcari turned out to be enchanting, in an oddball way. Driving along a mile or so of Historic Route 66, I found an assortment of old-style roadside motels, stores and gas stations in various states of survival, decay or abandonment – like the Apache motel near the edge of town, a big sign above the building topped by an Indian face and “vacancy” at the bottom. A tiny notice on a boarded office window read “no trespassing.” And the Motel Entrance arrow pointed to a line of boarded windows and doors.

I also took note of a huge horned animal skeleton on the back of a pickup truck alongside the Tepee Curios shop. Nearby, a camel stood atop the sign of the Safari Motel – and a big one stood in the lobby by the front window.

Route 66 museum monument
But in the glare of the setting sun, I missed a lot more crazy-great stuff – so the next morning, we headed together to check out the roadside attractions there. One stop on the west side of town was a large Route 66 monument incorporating a giant 1950s-style automobile tailfin, standing in front of the local Route 66 museum.

But who needed to see the museum, when the town itself was such an amazing exhibition of faded, quirky glory. Well, not all faded. There was the Blue Swallow Motel, whose owners over the last six years or so have lovingly restored the place to its 1940s and 1950s beauty, including antique automobiles, colorful painted metal chairs outside each room, and adjoining garages bearing signs and painted murals. The motel dates to 1941, and has a working 1941 Kelvinator refrigerator/freezer named “Lois.”

Blue Swallow rooms have adjoining garages,.
There’s a couple of murals, including one of James Dean smoking a cigarette and standing next to his Porsche automobile – presumably the one in which he died in a crash.

On an adjoining lot stands an old gas station with two pairs of “pumps” – one for leaded gasoline, the other ethyl – at period prices. On another fuel island, a pair of Tesla charging stations. 

Most of the Blue Swallow rooms have a queen bed, and prices start at $89 a night, an employee  said as we peered into some that had just been vacated and were being cleaned.

Old artsy signs, neon and not, abound on the roadside – many having outlived their businesses. A former laundry building has one depicting a housewife doing her washing in a round tub.

One motel has a sign declaring that Clint Eastwood stayed there. 

A roadside café has half an airplane nestled against its side wall.

And there’s three miles of this kitsch! Even an Edsel! (Come to think, why not an Edsel? It’s a perfect touch.)

We spent the noontime hour there as Bonnie took dozens of pictures, and then bid adieu (or maybe adios) to New Mexico, hopping back onto Interstate 40 and heading into the Texas panhandle – the narrowest part of the Lone Star State.

Cadillac, VW graveyards and a giant cross

Two graffiti painters add their touches to buried Caddies.
One of the best-known quirky attractions in Texas is the Cadillac Ranch, just off Interstate 40 west of Amarillo. It is a line of Cadillac automobiles half-buried hood-down in a pasture, baking under an unforgiving sun on the Wednesday after Memorial Day. Not a holiday, not a weekend… and we were stunned to find a steady stream of a couple dozen gawkers and graffiti painters walking about a tenth of mile in from the frontage roadway parking area.

With shifting winds, it was difficult to avoid the fumes of spray-painters' efforts. Graffiti is encouraged. Even the old barbed-wire pasture fence has been painted. In a sense, whatever anyone paints on the cars may last forever – but under layers of graffiti added by other visitors. Who knows how long this bizarre display will survive, but I imagine that after a century or two of paint layers, the Cadillac frames will have grown larger.

A Slug Bug jalopy adds artistic touch.
Beetles planted at Slug Bug Ranch
Our next stop was a spoof of Cadillac Ranch about 20 miles east of Amarillo, near the community of Conway. It is called the Slug Bug Ranch, for a row of five dead Volkswagen Beetles similarly buried and adorned with layers of graffiti. But there’s also several buildings of a former fuel stop bearing wacky messages, and back in a grassy field an old pickup truck – its hood popped open – under the rotting canopy of a long-abandoned Texaco garage. 

For visual punning, there was the ruins of an old Shell station, a shell of its former self.

Giant Cross rises over Stations of the Cross.
Further east, in the town of Groom, we found religion – a 19-story cross reputed to be the second-biggest in the Western Hemisphere, standing almost like a sundial surrounded by metal sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross. 

Climb a nearby stairway to find a recreation of Christ’s tomb watched over by a pair of angels.
On a blistering hot day, it was a relief to check out the center of the property featuring a religion-themed fountain, and an air-conditioned building with a gift shop, divinely clean restrooms, and a 230-seat movie theater screening an eight-minute inspirational film. I peeked inside and found not a single soul, just empty seats. Jesus!



Texas over and done, quickly!

The Panhandle is just 177 miles wide, so we reached Oklahoma by 6 p.m. (even after losing an hour, since crossing into Texas we had entered the Central Time Zone and lost an hour). And 40 miles later, we pulled into Elk City and found our next Holiday Inn Express – this one extraordinarily luxurious, and free for our stay (at a bargain surrender of 15,000 reward points).

After sharing a steak dinner at a nearby sports bar and grill, called Boomtown, we settled into our executive king room (an upgrade over the standard twin-double afforded us Platinum Rewards members when available) and expected to watch a late-night comedy show. But none was being aired over the local network affiliates. Instead, we were treated to dramatic live coverage of a string of violent storms sweeping southeasterly 30 to 40 miles north of Elk City.

Amazing to watch the coverage as the TV stations had crews broadcasting the view through windshields as they drove into the storms. The weather anchors were giving minute-by-minute storm tracks, warning of cyclonic action, winds of 60 to 90 mph, and the possibility of hail the size of baseballs. One road crew told of hail hits cracking the windshield, and showed an image of a car perhaps two-tenths of mile in front of them spinning around in the middle of the road before the driver luckily regained control.

There were indications the storms could reach Interstate 40, closer to Oklahoma City – one of our planned destinations for Thursday afternoon. But by morning, there was no alarming news about the overnight drama. Just another weather day in Oklahoma, I guess.

Next chapter: A few stops in a very wide state, OK?