WEDNESDAY, JULY 31, 2002 - Reporter's blues
The corn is high, which means it must be about August. I've served almost a full year of time in this town, which is equal to the length of one orbit around the sun, enought time to see all the seasons. We didn't get much of a winter, and it felt like fall and spring merged in one long season of burn bans and drought declarations. Now summer's back, with teeth. It's in the 90s, humid, mocking me and my stupid refusal to buy an air conditioner. And now for the past two days, I've been zipping between the courthouse, the newsroom and a sunny home on a busy street where a family left their four-year-old son alone in his bedroom to starve to death in his own feces. That's what the cops tell us, anyhow. It's my job to tell people this story. Yesterday afternoon, on a judge's order (because Mom and Dad are in jail), the hospital unplugged the boy's life support machine. After I heard that news, I drove to the place where the father worked. It's a shady basement shop tucked between the truck stops by I-81 where they sell CB radios, old laptop computers, phone cards and knives. The only person inside was a tough-looking big man wearing suspenders and red-tinted sunglass. He told me the dad seemed like a normal enough guy, an honest hard worker. A few minutes later, a lanky slow-talking dude in a black tank top wandered in and joined the conversation. I let them ramble for about 20 minutes, made a graceful exit to my car, and began to drive back to the newsroom in the late afternoon haze. I took a shortcut through the farms to avoide the rush hour traffic. As I rounded the crest of a hill, I noticed that the road looked totally different from what I remembered. Was I lost? No, this was the right road. But the rolling fields I'm used to seeing are now blocked from view by the tall crops, ripening for harvest. So it's sweltering. My job is just plain creepy. But despite the drought, the corn is high. - Daryl
TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2002 - Random singing cowboy lyric
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don't fence me in. Let me ride through the wide open country that I love. Don't fence me in. Let me be by myself in the evening breeze, listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees. Send me off forever but I ask you please: Don't fence me in. Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle underneath the western skies. On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder 'til I see the mountains rise. I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences and gaze at the moon until I lose my senses. I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences. Don't fence me in.
MONDAY, JULY 29, 2002 - Showing some skin
On assignment Saturday, I was hanging out at the Washington "find another name" Redskins training camp at Dickinson College. If you're all about player autographs, training camp is the place to be. All the players stood around for a full hour writing their names for the fans, quite fairly and systematically. They called it "Fan Appreciation Day." Redskins owner Daniel Snyder showed his appreciation by blasting the fans with noise from his helicopter as he shuttled to and from Biddle Field. This was nothing short of true arrogance: He thinks he's so important that he must travel to his Saturday appointments in rural Pennsylvania by helicopter. Okay, fine, so I'm jealous. - Daryl
SUNDAY, JULY 28, 2002 - Nine lives
Huzzah for the rescuers who saved the trapped coal minors in Somerset early this morning. If you were watching TV at around 11:30 last night, you got to see the rare picture of news reporters actually smiling with genuine happiness. You also may have caught a rare glimpse of Mark Schweiker, our half-term undercover governor, acting gubernatorial. Everyone realized that this is a simple, beautiful story of heroism. No shades of gray. (Unless you want to discuss the deadly environmental legacies of Pennsylvania's greedy industrialist past -- but let's not.) - Daryl
SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2002 - Food for thought
Take your pick -- There are two farmers markets in Carlisle every Saturday. (1) The first one is downtown on the ground level of the municipal parking deck on Pomfret Street. You'll find about 20 tables with leafy things, a limited stock of assorted farm vegetables, and a lot of small stands selling honey, salsa and baked goods. There are a few Amish farmers, but mostly home gardner types. It's very small-town, organic, vegetarian, and it's the choice of the many old folks downtown who don't like to drive. (2) The second farmers market is at the edge of town in a big garage attached to a family-style restaurant. They don't post their hours, they just have a sign that says "Friday and Saturday." Inside, it's maybe twice the size of the Pomfret market. There are rows and rows of fresh vegetables, crafts, jellies, relishes, and other good stuff. The word "organic" appears nowhere, and there's even a meat counter where you can buy bloody cuts of beef, loose sausage, pig's stomachs and probably any other animal part that suits your fancy. When the market is open, the parking lot is jammed with pickup trucks and it's always busy inside. This is the market for real farmers, and it's probably been around forever. Forgetting about all that organic, vegeterian, economic-redevelopment stuff, this one simply has better food. It took me longer to discover this second farmer's market, but it's the one I prefer. - Daryl
FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2002 - Another brick in the road
They're re-paving East North Street in Carlisle and the workers just dug up a big chunk of it at the intersection of North Pitt. There, they have exposed an entire intersection of beautiful red brick street, which has lingered for years unseen beneath the asphalt. It's a bizarre sight, and it makes me imagine the whole town paved with brick, with no cars, only horses and carriages. When it was all solid red brick, the street grid here must have been beautiful. Perhaps it looks so startling now because none of us has ever seen pictures of it in color. - Daryl
THURSDAY, JULY 25, 2002 - Bird is the word
The Washington Redskins are here in Carlisle for training camp, and at least one player has been photographed driving the very hot car - the new Ford Thunderbird. But in the forests of Pennsylvania, the word "thunderbird" conjures up a fierce creature not to be trifled with, some hell-bird with a wingspan as wide as a barn, capable of lifting a toddler. Yes, this is our bigfoot.
The last reported PA sightings were in June 2001, in Greenville (near the Ohio line) and Erie. You can read these reports in a recent edition of North American BioFortean Review (in PDF form). But the thunderbird story has been flying around for centuries, dating back to American Indian folklore. (Sidetrack: To name a football team "Redskins" is revoltingly offensive.) The state of Illinois has had its share of big bird sightings, as have parts of the southwest. Typically, witnesses spot what they think is a small airplane, only to see it flap and land on something. Thunderbird wingspans are estimated at 10, 15, even 30 feet -- dwarfing the California Condor, generally thought to be the biggest bird you'll see aloft in North America. I saw a pair of condors once in the Grand Canyon, and they're fearsome. I can only imagine the terrible sight of a thunderbird circling over the remote Black Forest of Pennsylvania, eyes searching for prey, flapping its wings furiously enough to make the thunderous sound that gives it its name. Want to know more? Suite101.com and About.com have some quick-and-dirty background on the T-bird, and another good article was in Mysterious World magazine, which includes some useful links. I want to believe. - Daryl
WEDNESDAY, JULY 24, 2002 - Props to the crew
Last night, I went to the movie "Minority Report" to look for my mom's bird bath. Let me explain. I visited my mom last weekend in Ocean City, Md., where her boyfriend, Garry, has a summer trailer. I noticed a fancy new birdbath fountain in the yard, and asked about it. Turns out Garry recovered it (along with some matching flowerpots) from the set of the film "Minority Report." He works as an on-call set builder around Baltimore and Washington, including on Speilberg's "Minority Report" set in D.C. a while back. The movie company brought in a bunch of lawn ornaments for one scene, and when the filming was done, they gave the props away to the set crew. I was excited to learn of this storied birdbath, and decided to see "Minority Report" as soon as I could. Knowing very little about this film, I imagined this fantastic font in a starring role.... Picture Tom Cruise running through a nicely landscaped back yard. Cruise is chasing someone. No, they're chasing him. He reaches for his pistol, but he trips over a garden hose and the gun slips from his fingers and flies spinning into a rhododendron. Cruise ducks for cover behind a rose bush. As the bad guy runs by, Cruise grabs him by the ankles and they spin around with fists flying. When the bad guy reaches for a pair of extra-sharp pruning shears, Cruise makes his move. He pushes the bad guy backward into a lawn sprinkler and, in Matrix-like slow motion, slams him onto the bird bath, which explodes into chunks a computer-generated concrete shrapnel. Roll credits. With this mental picture, I went to the movie with a friend, and we kept on the lookout for lawn ornaments. Within the first five minutes, we spotted the flowerpots on the porch of the Georgetown house where Tom Cruise arrests a would-be "murderer." What about that bird bath? Two hours and 15 minutes later, we hadn't seen it. I think I know where it might be -- on the cutting room floor! As movies go, "Minority Report" is well done. The story is thought provoking, the special effects are flawless and the plot has just the right amount of twist. Sadly, without my mom's birdbath, I will always think of it as a disappointment. (No stars.)
TUESDAY, JULY 23, 2002 - I gotta have my pops
Many of us have fond summer memories of Jell-O Pudding Pops -- gooey, sweet, frozen pudding on a stick. The chocolate ones were the best, and I seem to think there was a swirl flavor, and the vanilla ones were good but always the last ones left in the box. They were smooth and soft, the outsides would sort-of crystalize and crust over, but you could bite into them with your teeth without getting a cold rush. In the ice cream industry, they call products like this "frozen novelties," a term that always sounds vaguely dirty. Moving on, Kraft discontinued the pudding pop some time ago. But type "pudding pop" into any search engine and you can see they've remained on the radar screen long after they should have faded away forgotten (a la Life Savers ice cream and Trix yogurt). Someone has listed Bill Cosby's pudding pops ad as one of the favorite TV commercials of the 1980s. There's even an attempt to start an e-mail campaign to bring them back. To their credit, Kraft posts several recipes on their site for how to make your own "pudding pops" at home. (Basic directions: Prepare pudding. Freeze.) I'm going to make this recipe some day, but I'm sure it won't be as good as the real deal.
MONDAY, JULY 22, 2002 - Mayer days be merry and bright
I'm back from a Delmarva-lous weekend trip. Ouch, I'm sunburned from loungin' in Ocean City yesterday and today. Folks from Wilmington: Click here for the photos from Saturday.
So yes, I actually went to a John Mayer show in Delaware at a place called Kahunaville. What's all the buzz around this guy? Well, the show reminded me a lot of my first concert. That was the Dave Matthews Band in northern Virginia in 1994, with my friends Jeff and Bryan, when my parents still had to drop us off and pick us up. Like John Mayer, the Dave show was filled with kids from the suburbs like us, who wanted to sit back, sing along to the songs we know, and soak it all in. Same story in Delaware Saturday. The Kahunaville deck looks out on the Wilmington skyline, dimly lit stacks of grey cubes labeled with the names of credit card companies. It was summer and the moon was up. The show drew thousands of young people, behaving well, smiling, looking good, courteously pushing their way to the restrooms, and not dancing. I heard one guy say he wished they would turn up the volume. Yup, a concert for nerds. I liked it. As for John himself, he's got a singer-songwriter sound just like Dave Matthews. (If you're trying to place a John Mayer song, think: "I want to run through the halls of my high school/ I want to scream at the top of my lungs.") And he's way cute. It was a great night to stand on a big deck and listen to some folksy ballads, but it would have been a better show if it were just us and him around a campfire.
SATURDAY, JULY 20, 2002 - Dela-where?
Today, my weekly road trip takes me to see some friends in sunny Wilmington. (Home of tax-free shopping!) Most likely, I will then head south Sunday to Ocean City, Md, and then back to Pennsylvania via Baltimore on Monday. I'm not sure if I'll be able to post an update tomorrow, but watch for some pictures in this space on Monday.
FRIDAY, JULY 19, 2002 - Bored of education
Let's talk about universal truths. (Examples: Love thy neighbor. Women and children first. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.) Here one that's too often overlooked: Don't join a school board. I have two theories about why people fall into this trap. 1.) They're cranky, bored folks who need a forum to air personal grudges against their enemies in the community. 2.) They're lured in by a sense of civic duty and a concern for the welfare of children. The optimist in me leans toward number two. I think it's after a few months on the board that people realize it's a sham and become cranky, bored, and so on. But it may be a chicken-and-egg sort of question. See, school board members (around here, anyway) get a raw deal. They have to deal with random bizarre directives from the state, stressed-out administrators, unpredictable parents, clueless reporters, student discipline, but mostly politics, politics, politics. They deal with neither children nor education. Instead, they're meddling with budgets, property, lawsuits, and bitter senior citizens who show up at meetings to say things like "Here's a petition to name the new elementary school for disabled veterans, and if you don't agree to it tonight, you're un-American." I went to a school board meeting on September 13 last year at which a group of community elders (not even school parents!) showed up to complain about the condition of the high school parking lot. And the school board listened carefully and debated the issue seriously. Yeah, it's that bad, and I've got dozens more stories if you want to hear 'em. Maybe it's just the small town thing, and it's possible to be on a school board in a bigger county or city and not lose touch with planet Earth. I wouldn't risk it.
THURSDAY, JULY 18, 2002 - A city on the move
The year 2002 is a time of fantastic progress and innovation. There's a new kind of glass that cleans itself by a chemical reaction with the sun. There's a new kind of aluminium foil that doesn't stick to food. And there's a new kind of ketchup, made extra-spicy. What do all these astonishing 21st-century products have in common? That's right -- they all came from Pittsburgh. Yeah, I had a hard time believing it, too. Pittsburgh's stock is up. (For the record, the coolest thing made in Carlisle is wheelbarrow wheels.)
WEDNESDAY, JULY 17, 2002 - Totally nuts
One time I went camping with some students from Singapore. At some point, they told me their favorite English expression was, "to go bananas." English may be inelegant and hard to learn, but our idioms are the bee's knees.
TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2002 - Building a concept
This afternoon, the folks in charge of rebuilding the World Trade Center site unveiled some concept plans, which you can see on their web site. I'll wait here a minute while you check them out..... Okay, so what do you think? Yeah, I had a trouble picking a favorite, too, though the "Memorial Gardens" plan stands out because it would restore some personality to the skyline of lower Manhattan. The most significant thing about these plans is that none of them are appalling. The planners did a good job, and all six concepts seem to provide fine commercial space and transportation structures, plus ample room for a memorial to lost lives. But at the same time, sadly, there's nothing shockingly creative. No replacement for the twin towers. Designing a new public building, such as a school, a church or a library, is painful and messy because everybody wants in on it. This project is more complex than any of that, and has all of America attached to it, eager to add their own ideas and criticisms. We'll keep watching and hope it gets done right.
MONDAY, JULY 15, 2002 - Name your own price
Some things cost more because they're worth more, but other things are worth more because they cost more. Here's a forinstance: I heard about a beach-front hotel penthouse that went for $30,000 a night. Suppose this is true. Would such a suite really be, say, 30 times better than a $1,000 suite on the floor below? Or 3,000 times better than renting out the VFW hall in Carlisle? Of course not. But because the cost is so high, there's a level of prestige in buying it. It's saying, "We've made it. We bought the most expensive room we can find." Can't you hear Nelly rapping about throwing a party there? Here's another example: A $140,000 Bently vs. a $70,000 Beemer. Are you getting twice the car? No -- You're paying twice the price because you can. Now I will attempt to connect this to something relevant: college tuition. At a meeting last week, I watched Penn State raise its tuition 13.5 percent, or about $1,000 a year for most students. Dear old state! The university says it needs to keep tuition high to balance rising costs, and you often hear them say they need the money to stay competitive. Other universities keep raising tuition in order to afford better faculty and better facilities, so Penn State has to keep up. Sounds convincing. But a higher tuition also gives the school a level of prestige. For many students, the difference is negligible because scholarships make up the difference. But surely some people will think, well, if Penn State is willing to charge $8,000 a year, then it must be better than the state schools that charge $4,000 a year. Now I bring it back home: Does it cost more because it's worth more, or is it worth more because it costs more?
SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2002 - Let's go on a bear hunt
I just read an article in Outside about some believers in Washington state who are searching for the sasquatch. This might seem like a dream not worth chasing, but I can relate. Although there is no bigfoot native to Pennsylvania, I've been hunting bear. I've only ever seen a live, wild black bear once, and it was in the Tuscarora State Forest about an hour from Carlisle last year. Since then, I've been back there several times with my camera, hoping to get a picture of the creature in its habitat. I can picture the bear lumbering down the trails, raiding beehives for honey and plucking fish out of the passing brook with the swipe of a big paw. Alas, I've had no luck finding the bear. I've read that they wander quite a bit. But this is prime bear season, because berries are ripe and the bears are up in search of food. I heard there was a bear sighting at Pine Grove Furnace State Park recently, but today I decided to try my luck at Fowlers Hollow State Park, a near-deserted place no one knows about. Ferns leapt out at my legs, luring me deeper into the woods with their soft touch. Butterflies kept just a few steps ahead of me and dared me to keep hiking. Dazzling blue songbirds serenaded me from the thickets. There were some stinging, buzzing things around, too, but I swated them away from my ears and kept hiking. Several hours later, I emerged with a few blurry pictures of birds and butterflies, but no bear. Bear, if you're reading this: I know you are out there and I will not rest until find you.
SATURDAY, JULY 13, 2002 - Get your kicks on route 74
People often ask me about the short-cut from Carlisle to State College. If you're driving to Penn State from Baltimore, D.C. or the West Shore of Harrisburg, this can help you avoid some (but not all) of the 322 construction. I hesitate posting these directions on the Internet, because if everybody finds out about it, the roads will get jammed and it won't be a short-cut anymore. Shh, don't tell anybody who told you this:
Pick up 74 N in Carlisle... it runs right through the center of town. Follow the signs for 74 N for about 45 minutes through the mountains until you hit 75. Turn right on 75 N, through Port Royal, and to 322. Get on 322 W and follow it the rest of the way to State College.
I'm following those directions today en route to the Arts Fest. Hope to see you there.
FRIDAY, JULY 12, 2002 - Art v. the Blob
Tough decision this weekend. On one hand, there's the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College. Arts Fest is a time to wander the town, socialize, look at art (but not buy any) and watch police take over the downtown in an effort to prevent the traditional 2 a.m. drunken riot. I've been to most of the recent Arts Fests, and it's still the best excuse to return to Penn State for those of us too poor to afford football tickets.
But tugging me in the other direction, there's Blobfest. If you've seen The Blob (the 1958 horror film), you might remember it takes place in and around Downingtown, Pa. The scene in which people run screaming from the movie theater (run, don't walk!) was filmed at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, which still stands. This weekend, The Colonial holds its annual Blobfest, with several screenings of The Blob and other sorts of blobular fun. I hate to miss something that's so much a part of Pennsylvania. (To see what I mean, check out this excellent web site about The Blob in Chester County.)
Flip a coin. Well, the Blob must wait until another year, because some friends expect me in State College tomorrow. See y'all. - Daryl
THURSDAY, JULY 11, 2002 - Just push play
I attended a change-of-command ceremony at the local Army barracks this week. After the color guard presented the colors, the announcer asked everyone to stand for the national anthem. Then there was a pause. A long, awkward pause.
Long. Awkward. Pause.
"Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to play the national anthem. Please be seated."
Doh! This was the second time in a week I had attended an event at which a tape of The Star Spangled Banner failed. (The other time was at a regatta of homemade boats emceed by an announcer from the local AM station.) These technical problems should have been ironed out long ago, like back when the tape recorder was invented. Alternatively, the event organizers should find a musician to play or sing the anthem live. That's much better.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 2002 - A fish in the grass
There's a movie opening about giant spiders. It's just in time to take our minds off the giant fish. Haven't you heard? The northern snakehead can grow to the side of a golf bag, eats everything, decimates any waterway it lives in, breathes air, crawls on land and could pretty much ruin us all. If you believe what you read in the papers, this critter is the killer bee of the sea. A native to China, the slimy snakehead has suddenly cropped up in Crofton! -- dangerously close to the nation's capital. Here's a web site you can use to keep abreast of the snakehead. It is important to understand the enemy. Rumor has it the fish are working on the bomb. Snakehead for the hills.
TUESDAY, JULY 9, 2002 - Stupid? Gullible? Call now!
I had one message when I got home.
"This is Paul Lawrence. I'm calling from the awards verification center. I've been trying to reach you for some time in regards to a drawing you were entered into for a 2002 Jeep Liberty and a full free round-trip airfare package." He left a phone number -- (800) 385-3851, extension 500 -- and so I called it.
"Awards verification center," said the guy who answered.
"Hi, I'm trying to reach Paul Lawrence at extension 500."
"That extension is unavailable, so I'm taking those calls," he said. He asked me for my home phone number, which I gave him.
"How are you doing today, Daryl?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm working, thanks for asking," he replied mysteriously.
He continued: You're a finalist for the Jeep, and all the finalists get a free package of vacations to eight destinations such as Atlantic City and 30 others from which to choose, and all you have to do is go to the Mountain Laurel Resort and Spa in White Haven, Pa., for a 90 minute tour, at no cost to you, and pick up your prizes, as long as you're between 21 and 65, which you are, right?
"I am, but I'm not really interested in doing this," I said, "I was curious about the message, which is why I called back."
"Uh - okay." "Bye." "Bye."
MONDAY, JULY 8, 2002 - Some wicked air
After all this talk about SUVs and power plants, what's polluting the air here? Forest fires. We first noticed the nasty brown sky Saturday afternoon, as we left a gourmet food store on Broadway. At the time, we figured it was a late-day thunderstorm. Back in Carlisle yesterday morning, the whole town was cast in a yellow pall, this Ambervision-like bile color. It hasn't cleared up, and the air smells faintly like smoke. The meteorologists tell us a north wind blew this soot into our skies from some big bad fires in northern Quebec. When the winds shift tonight, the smoke should blow somewhere else, and maybe Harrisburg can launch the Independence Day fireworks they had to cancel yesterday. Who ever thinks about air pollution as a natural phenomenon? This isn't some invisible ozone problem caused by too many Styrofoam coffee cups -- it's just old-fashioned fire, by lightning. At the moment, there is nothing to do about it other than loaf around under this brown haze and hope our lungs don't slam down an angry letter and quit in protest.
Unrelated topic: I hope you're paying attention to the AIDS conference going on right now in Barcelona. It's becoming a news blockbuster, with startling studies released throughout. AIDS won't go away, it's destroying parts of Africa, and there's no cure in sight. Who's worried about WorldCom? - Daryl
SUNDAY, JULY 7, 2002 - Bridge for sale
Here's a picture I took while walking the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday. (Click on it for a slightly different view, desktop-sized.) From Manhattan, you can pick up the bridge's pedestrian walkway at City Hall. It crosses the East River and connects to the High Street subway stop and nearby points in Brooklyn. Each trip to New York, including yesterday when I visited some friends and did some exploring, I learn more about the city. Those of you who know me may have heard me talk about this crazy notion I have to move to New York. I've been on this kick for a couple months, and I really think it's going to happen. My lease in Carlisle runs out in August, so that gives me a date to shoot for. I'm aware New York is a place with such problems as crowds, pollution, expensive living and crime. It's also a place of opportunity, adventure and surprises. Why not go?
You'll notice I have posted a new note on the left-hand side of this page, pleading for a job. Desperate, yes, but I figure it can't hurt. There's an old quote that says "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." - Daryl
SATURDAY, JULY 6, 2002 - DLNY
The humidity broke yesterday, and the white haze that obscured our mountains finally lifted. The effect was much like when you put on your glasses.
Traveling again. I'm driving up the valley, once again to New York City to scout the place out. Check back Sunday for some pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge. - Daryl
FRIDAY, JULY 5, 2002 - A total wash
I must be doing something wrong. Talking about laundry. See, when I'm in the laundromat, things seem pretty simple to me. Step 1: Wash clothes in washer. Step 2: Dry clothes in drier. Step 3: Take clothes home and put them away. I'm in and out in less than an hour. But I watch other people in the laundromat and they seem to be on some more higher plane of laundry than I. First of all, nearly everyone in the laundromat when I arrive is still there when I leave. It must take them hours to wash their clothes. And moreover, they're working hard the whole time. While I'm relaxing with a book or a magazine, they pulling clothes out of their machines and moving them around. They've got washers and driers running at the same time. They're folding neat stacks of clothes, sorted, on the folding tables. They're even putting stacks of clothes into those CARTS! and pushing them around. Yes, I know to separate whites and colors, and I'm aware that some clothes take longer to dry than others. Fine. But what else am I missing that is so complicated about laundry? - Daryl
THURSDAY, JULY 4, 2002 - God bless America
Happy Independence Day. Carlisle is back on the same tired kick... Firefighters, policemen, World War II veterans, President Bush, school prayer, bomb Afghanistan. Hmm. These were some of the themes that came up at a celebration I was at last night in the town square. I'll suggest a few others I think are more appropriate. Freedom. Democracy. Family. Love for your fellow man. Equal rights. Diversity. Opportunity. George Washington. Abraham Lincoln.
I think we should go back to thinking of our country as a strong pillar of good ideals, the best place to live in the world, the greatest nation ever. Not as a military machine to counteract Muslim terrorists, or a political mass spinning around Washington, D.C. and cable television... Please, we're bigger than that.
While I'm on my soap box... Please, please, please, stop saying "the events of September eleventh" or "nine-eleven." These were attacks. Three thousand dead. We're not talking about a convenience store.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 3, 2002 - Oh Canada! part 3
U.S. 15 between Williamsport and the New York line is art. It slices down a steep valley, snakes through small towns, over rivers, through woods. Most of it is wide, safe and lively, as if the people who built it smiled and said, "They're gonna love this part." During my trip to Ontario last weekend, I started reading two books about highways. (I doubt I'll finish either before they're due back at the library, but so it goes.) The first is "Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by William Least Heat Moon. He wrote the book about a rambling van trip through rural America he took after he lost his job as an English professor and his wife left him. On the old maps, he explains, a red line stood for a main road and a blue highway was a back road. The other book I started reading is "Roads" by Larry McMurtry, a highfalutin literary type who also wrote "The Last Picture Show." He begins the book by dismissing Least Heat Moon's back-roads style of travel, and sets out to drive the Interstates, staying in Holiday Inns and eating fast food. As he begins, he writes: "I know many ladies, some of whom might like a trip now and then, but I know no one who would be likely to enjoy sitting in a car with me while I plunge eight hundred miles down a highway in a single day, not equipped with a Zagat and not even stopping for museums." Hmm. He continues: "The challenge of the solitary traveler is always the same: To find something out there that the reader will enjoy knowing about, or at least, that the reader can be persuaded to read about." Wow. He thinks he can persuade people to read about roads? Sure! McMurtry even writes a bit about the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a highway with which I'm intimately familiar. The Queen Elizabeth Way in Southern Ontario reminds me of the Turnpike, but eight lanes instead of two. It flows over everything in its path, pausing only every dozen miles or so to spill into some massive interchange. It even soars clear over one town on a mile-long arc called a "skyway." My favorite touch: Some road signs in Canada, instead saying "merge," read "squeeze." Dig it. And so my confession: I am a road geek. Sure, the superhighways built in the last 30 or 40 years have their drawbacks (especially environmentally), but they have also opened all of America within easy reach. It's a great time to be alive.
TUESDAY, JULY 2, 2002 - Oh Canada! part 2
What draws people to waterfalls? Better question: What draws rude people to waterfalls? During my excellent adventure to Canada last weekend, I parked on the New York side of Niagara Falls and walked to an overlook. I have a thing for waterfalls, and Niagara Falls (not the biggest or highest or anything like that) is unfailingly breathtaking. It has drawn tourists as long as there have been tourists, and we tourists have shown it nothing but disrespect. The entire area is built up with high-rise hotels and trash-n-trinket shops. Moreover, on a sunny summer Saturday, you have to elbow your way to the rail to get a halfway good view. After a few moments, other visitors will elbow you out of the way and claim the spot as theirs. It's a clumsy dance high above a crashing wall of water, which could easily sweep you and the other tourists to a violent death and never stop looking graceful. People should show it more regard. Next time I go to the falls, I hope it's during the dead of winter, on a Wednesday, at 6 a.m. Maybe there won't be anyone around. Here are some other lessons learned on my bogus journey:
If you pay to park at Niagara Falls, somebody is taking you for a ride.
A friend at AAA told me you now need a birth certificate or passport to travel between countries. In fact, it took less than 30 seconds either way, and no one even asked my name. I guess I don't look like a shady character.
Parking meters in Toronto take credit cards. So does everything else. If you stay off the toll road, there's practically no need to carry Canadian money.
Even on busy weekends, the kind folks who run roadside campgrounds almost always seem willing to squeeze in another tent, even if you haven't made reservations. Be willing to make friends with your neighbors.
Tomorrow: Are you a road geek?
MONDAY, JULY 1, 2002 - Oh Canada! part 1
Happy Canada Day. I'm freshly home from a solo, three-day, unplanned road trip to Ontario -- the only international experience within my means at the moment. Today, Tuesday and Wednesday, I will post on this web site some reflections on Canada and on traveling in general. I will also link to a different wallpaper photo of something in Canada each day. Today, you can see the retractable-roof Skydome in action, as seen from the observation deck at the top of the amazing CN Tower (pictured at right).
I'm tired now, so I won't write much tonight. By total luck, I picked perhaps the most exciting weekend to be in Toronto. Being summer, everything was open, warm and clean. Even with hazy skies, the view from the top of the tower was sparkling. Also, today was Canada Day (the Canadian Independence Day) so there were lots of picnickers out having a good time and eager to share a Molson and their impressions of Canada with folks from out of town. Even more lively, it's pride week, so there were huge crowds rainbow-wearing folks out and about. That's not my scene, but I'm always pleased to find something off-beat and surprising, and a parade of squirtgun-toting hunky guys wearing nothing but small towels surely qualifies. Finally, Brazil won the World Cup yesterday, and football fans Sunday were blazing through the streets waving the Brazilian flag, tooting car horns and being happy. Happiness (if not gaiety) rubs off on you. It felt good to travel, and it will be painful to return to work tomorrow.