Monday, April 30, 2007

My Afternoon in Euphoria

"Can I help you find something?"

I was looking for a certain meeting room at the new Schaumburg Convention Center today, but had misread my program and had come to the wrong room. A young woman in the uniform of the convention hotel was asked the question. But I already realized where I needed to be.

"No thanks," I said. "I thought I was supposed to be in Nirvana, but actually I need to be in Euphoria."

"They are strange names, aren't they?"

I agreed. Besides Nirvana and Euphoria, the meeting rooms at the convention center also include Utopia, Prosperity, Epiphany, Serenity, Imagination, Connection, Perfection, Knowledge, Innovation and... the Schaumburg Ballroom. I will go back again tomorrow. More about these peculiar rooms then.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Compare and Contrast

This is the back yard on Sunday, April 29, 2007:

Compared with April 11:

The girls, along with a neighbor lad, spent a fair amount of time in the back creating and disposing of water balloons. I was out as much as I could spare. It had rained a lot the night before, with plenty of early morning thunder, but that was all gone in the morning, leaving the ground wet and unfit to mow. Then the temps climbed into the mid-70s. Just about ideal, I'd say. Enough rain, but you get to lounge around on your deck too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Serve and Enjoy!

Been a busy week, but I pushed a couple of large items out the door, and had them replaced by other assignments, so the flow is flowing. That's all we in the self-employed world can ask for.

That, and the opportunity to sit out on the deck drinking tea during those early afternoon breaks. This week has been no good for that, cool and rainy as it was. The grass has grown so lush, in fact, that there's no evidence that I mowed the lawn for the first time of the year last weekend. Saturday and Sunday promise warmer, clearer weather. Likely we'll end up at the Brookfield Zoo, as we've become members again.

Yuriko brought home another marvel of food marketing from Costco this week, the Okami "Chinese Style" Chicken Salad Kit, in a hemispheroid clear plastic container. "Makes 2 Family-Size Salads," the label says, and you don't know how glad I am to see that hyphen, though I would have written "two family-sized." Okami is a California company that specializes in sushi, but it looks like its branching out.

"For each salad, add 10 oz. chopped iceberg lettuce & one packet of each component (included in this kit): • Seasoned & fully-cooked chicken • Crispy noodles • Sliced, toasted almonds • Okami (TM) Asian dressing. Mix right in this bowl - Serve and Enjoy!"

And it is good. Instead of iceberg lettuce, we used a greens mix, also available at the behemoth Costco in plastic packaging. Having spent a major part of the week thinking and writing about sustainable, or green, building design, I had to wonder about whether this kind of packaging, which is at heart only a convenience, is going to fall out of favor. Lilly and Ann may someday marvel that such a thing was ever on the market.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Buster Olney!

Half-listening to radio interview today, a talk about baseball. Here's something the sports fans of my acquaintance don't believe: I like sports. Really, I do. I just don't have any interest in following sports, except maybe the Olympics, which are fairly easy to follow because they don't come along that often.

Anyway, the talk was about the Yankees, but I'd missing its beginning. At the end, I heard that the interview subject was Buster Olney. Buster Olney on NPR!

This from ESPN: "Buster Olney is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. A baseball reporter since 1989, Olney has covered the Padres, Orioles, Mets and Yankees. Olney, a bestselling author, joined ESPN The Magazine in 2003, after six years at The New York Times."

A few years younger than I am, Buster went to Vanderbilt and wrote about sports for The Vanderbilt Hustler, the student newspaper I also worked for. We were only nodding acquaintances, but I knew even then that he was a consumate baseball fan. I got a kick out of hearing that he's doing what he seemed perfectly suited to do, and clearly wanted to do: be a baseball writer. Good for him.

He even has a Wikipedia entry. (But so can anyone; but I suspect the volunteer "notability police" won't erase his entry.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Coolth has returned. Cool weather, that is. There isn't a "cool" equivalent to the form of the word "warmth," though there ought to be. It was a fine warm weekend that lasted into Monday, but I had to be indoors a lot, at the iMac keyboard, so I missed most of it.

This is the desk where I spend a lot of my time, where I write and edit and post, so that checks will be mailed to me. Of course, I don't want to illustrate it with a picture of me when I can come up with someone much more photogenic.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My Tie and I

Went downtown today, as I periodically do. Noticed progress on Block 37 construction, now officially known as 108 N. State. I hadn't walked past it since sometime late last year, when it was still a vacant lot. It has been a vacant lot, or at least a lot without a towering commercial structure, for nearly 20 years. It's cursed, in commercial real estate terms (and haunted by Arthur Rubloff? Never mind, a Chicago real estate reference of no importance elsewhere and not even apt, since I don't think he had anything to do with Block 37). But now the project is part way toward completion, in defiance of the curse.

En route to an appointment, I rode an elevator some floors with a woman about my age who told me that my colorful tie must mean that I'm "creative." She was quite certain of that. I was wearing a tie with drawings of food on it -- fast food, mostly, burgers, fries and milk shakes, with loose lettuce and tomato and other burger parts floating on a black background. The food items are in reds, green, yellows and lavender, but somehow (I think) it isn't garish, though it might sound that way. It isn't a designer tie, unless "Street Scenes" brand, made in Korea, means anything special in the realm of ties.

"What do you do?" she asked.

"I'm a freelance writer."

"I knew you were creative."

"Not my kind of writing. It's craftsmanship."

She was skeptical of that assertion, but that's all we had time for. A tie does not an artist make.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lost Your Vim?

Incredibly windy here today, though toasty warm, so it wasn't unpleasant. On Saturday, I pitched the tents in the backyard with a mind toward airing them out, and they got a lot more air than I thought they would. But the tent stakes held, so nothing blew away.

One more image from Dallas, which I neglected to post last week, but which I like. Its a re-creation of a Dr. Pepper ad painted on the side of one of the buildings. Dr. Pepper promises vim, vigor, and vitality, and presumably other virtues of a lion. Lilly, dressed in black and pink, stands nearby, to give you a sense of scale (she's about a head shorter than an adult would be).

Interesting than sodas once promised such things -- a legacy of their roots as patent medicines, no doubt. These days, sports drinks do this kind of promising, though the word vim doesn't seem to come up much in advertising.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Young Man's Fancy Turns to Bamboo

Had some connectivity issues on Thursday, was busy with work on Friday and today, Saturday, was too fine a day to post anything earlier in the day. We had lunch on the deck for the first time since sometime in September, though it was too windy to maintain a fire safely in the barbecue, at least with an unpredictable four-year-old around. So I cooked lunch burgers inside, and dashed them with Liquid Smoke.

The air is warm and there's a hint of green on the trees. By some coincidence, I'm in the thick of writing an article about green, or sustainable, design in the retail industry. Among other things, I found out about a car wash -- attached to a car dealership -- in McKinney, Texas, that recycles most of its wash water, something like 80 percent of the total. A car wash for cars on Dune, though I don't remember that they had that kind of transportation, prefering instead to ride giant worms. I think. Been more than a quarter-century since I read Dune.

Some bank buildings I'm writing about use bamboo as a interior finishing material it's a renewable resource, though I wonder how much water bamboo cultivation uses. That made me think about my grandparents in San Antonio. Instead of a privacy fence for their backyard, they cultivated bamboo. As a kid, it seemed like an enormous forest, high as I could see, thick and weird. The only break in it was for the back gate, and even that was surrounded by the knobby trunks and the slender leaves.

Later in life, I enjoyed wandering through a couple of bamboo forests in Japan. I don't remember where they were. Near Nara, maybe, but how green it all was, leaves and trunks, rustling and creaking in the light wind.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dead Men Tell No Tales

The video created by the latest mass murderer seemed to be getting an inordinate amount of attention today, as these things do. Assorted talking heads are busy now trying to use it to figure out the twisted lad's motivation, etc. At times like this, the wisdom of President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove comes to mind.

General "Buck" Turgidson: General Ripper called Strategic Air Command headquarters shortly after he issued the go code. I have a portion of the transcript of that conversation if you'd like me to to read it.

President Muffley: Read it.

General Turgidson: Ahem. The Duty Officer asked General Ripper to confirm the fact that he had issued the go code, and he said, uh, "Yes, gentlemen, they are on their way in, and no one can bring them back. For the sake of our country, and our way of life, I suggest you get the rest of SAC in after them. Otherwise, we will be totally destroyed by Red retaliation. Uh, my boys will give you the best kind of start, 1400 megatons worth, and you sure as hell won't stop them now. Uh, so let's get going, there's no other choice. God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural... fluids. God bless you all." And he hung up.


General Turgidson: Uh, we're, still trying to figure out the meaning of that last phrase, sir.

President Muffley: There's nothing to figure out, General Turgidson. The man is obviously a psychotic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Here I Come to Save the Day

Bees, buds and the sound of lawn mowers off in the distance. Warmish air. Baseball in the park behind the back yard. It's been spring today, again, but those wise in the ways of high-pressure systems, the jet stream and so on say no, it will be cold again tomorrow. Bah. But 70 on Saturday! (Unless it isn't.)

Once it's set up, Ann can maneuver YouTube and the like in a limited way. Thus, while I was working (trying to) on the slow computer, she was on the nearby faster one ordering up Mighty Mouse cartoons, with vintages from the early days to the newer ones made in the 1980s. I'd forgotten any were made in that decade, though after shaking the memory tree a little, I remembered that the show caught flak for MM's supposed use of recreational substances. But I'd never actually seen any of those episodes.

I had other things to do, and tried to ignore them, but animator Ralph Bakshi's items are hard to ignore, whatever else you think of his work. (I'm not overly taken with it, except for the surprise conclusion of Wizards). But there were funny moments in this MM, especially one episode -- "Don't Touch That Dial" -- in which the caped mouse found himself bouncing from cartoon to cartoon, giving Bakshi a chance to spoof The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and Bullwinkle. Not completely spot-on, but it had its charms. "That's why television is called a medium," MM said, commenting on some TV show not his own. "It's never rare or well done."

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Agnes Burgers

It was just about warm today, though I only had a few moments outside on the deck to revel in it. But one of those moments was spent in the company of a delightful lunchtime companion, namely a 5.9 oz. (that's what the box says) Angus cheeseburger. As the moment wore on, however, my cheeseburger companion disappeared, never to be seen again.

The amazing thing about these burgers is that they come frozen, and to render them edible, 1:20 or so in a microwave is the thing to do. Once nuked, they're remarkably good. I wouldn't have thought so, since microwaveable burgers in their own plastic bags are usually a low order of food even by my flexible standards. Pressed for time driving through North Dakota last summer, I remember well resorting to pre-wrapped burgers found at the convenience store where we bought gas. Every trip as a worst meal, and they were it. Tough and void of flavor.

Pierre Signatures Flame Broiled Angus Cheeseburgers, by contrast, are tender and flavorful. How is this achieved? Food technologists somewhere know the answer, and maybe it's a trade secret. They're a product of Pierre Foods, a sizable operation out of Cincinnati that, according to their web site, "produces a complete line of fully cooked beef, pork, chicken, turkey and bakery products for school, foodservice, vending and convenience store markets."

And places like Costco, where I met up with Pierre Signatures last month for the first time. How did that happen? Free samples. Costco was giving away quarter-slices of these little burgers, and everyone agreed (rare for us): we needed to get some right away. A classic impulse purchase, but we don't regret it. Lilly persists in calling them "Agnes burgers."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Snaps from Texas, Late March '07

At US 69/75 just south of the Red River and just north of Denison, there's a finely landscaped welcome center run by the state of Texas. If you point your camera just so, you can capture an image of your children and the Six Flags Over Texas, like so:

Above the door at the Cracker Barrel near Denton, Texas, you'll see this:

Spring in Texas, starring the state flower. Taken in Dallas:

And, if you park your youngest daughter on an old-timey fire barrel in Old City Park in Dallas, it would look something like this:

Finally, and this has nothing to do with Oklahoma or Texas, please see my old friend Geof Huth's latest vacation blog. He blogs his trips more consistently, methodically and photo-intensely than I ever will. Lately Geof and his family made it all the way to Dry Tortugas National Park, an admirable destination that I would like to visit myself someday.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007


On this latest trip southwest, one afternoon we visited Denton, Texas, my home from age four to seven years, and spent some time at the town square, which is dominated by a fine old courthouse ringed on four sides with storefront businesses, including restaurants and antique stores. I suspect there were mostly different businesses there in the mid-60s, when Denton was merely a county seat and small college town. These days it's a larger college town and essentially an outer suburb of Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Recycled Books Records CDs, in a 17,000-square-foot purple building across one street from the courthouse, is one of the best used bookstores I've visited in years. It claims 200,000 titles in an array of rooms, everything well organized. I was especially glad to take Lilly in, where she found a few items in the enormous children's section. It's the kind of place to spend an afternoon, though a four-year-old isn't quite as patient as that, so we stayed less than an hour. But I'm glad we went all the same.

On US 69 in northern Oklahoma not far south of its junction with I-44, there's a ranch that raises exotic animals. Unless I've been hallucinating consistently over the years. But I'm fairly certain I've seen both llamas and zebras there at one time or another. This time, it seems to have been added some tourist-trap infrastructure, billing itself as a llama petting zoo or something, but I was driving and at that moment couldn't study the signs closely.

Before we toured Old City Park near downtown Dallas (see April 5), we ate lunch at Ay! Chihuahua, a Mexican restaurant located in the Cedars neighborhood in a small cinderblock structure at a corner next to a weedy vacant lot on one side and another weedy vacant lot across the street. The Cedars, which is struggling for gentrification -- I saw some condo developments in the area, and a DART stop there supporting a cluster of businesses -- isn't quite there yet. But Ay! Chihuahua was wonderful, the best meal of the trip. I had a tasty pork stew and Yuriko had a burrito about as large as the state of Chihuahua. Lilly didn't like her nachos, but she doesn't know good nachos yet. (Ann had french fries.)

Once inside the cinderblocks, the place was everything you'd want in a restaurant with Chihuahua in its name, all the bright colors and nicknacks and photos of old Mexico -- and piñatas hanging from the ceiling. Including a SpongeBob piñata, something I'm pretty sure we didn't have when we busted open piñatas at Favor's Nursery School in Denton.

In Hot Springs, there are a number of fountains in public places at which anyone can fill up jugs with hot spring water. Lilly and Ann and I spent some time at one of these fountains, me mostly sitting around on a nearby bench while they filled their cups and transferred the water from cup to cup and cup to jug and jug to jug (we'd bought two empty gallon jugs). I watched a slow trickle of people come by to fill jugs, and it was clear that some of them later sell the water. One guy in particular was filling jugs marked "Hot Springs Arkansas Spring Water" or some such.

I have to like whoever named the tiny town of Braggadocio, Missouri, which we drove nearby on our return from Arkansas. All we saw of it, in fact, was the sign on the Interstate 55 smack in the middle of the Bootheel of Missouri. According to very cursory research on my part, it was named for a character in The Faerie Queen, indicating that perhaps people used to read that classic. But I prefer a more whimsical story, about some early Italian settlers in extreme southeast Missouri with a sense of geographic humor.

The Bootheel also contains the town of New Madrid, which has lent its name to a fault zone that's going to move again someday and pull the rug out from under St. Louis and Memphis. The fault zone is no secret, and yet as far as I could tell, the people of New Madrid aren't taking advantage of it with a museum or other tourist attraction. To think like Roadside America, there ought to at least be a diorama somewhere depicting the potential distruction.

It was the first time I'd visited the Bootheel. I wondered why it wasn't part of Arkansas. It seems that the citizens of the area, at least the planter elite who counted, wanted to be in Missouri back when borders were being drawn.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

April Showers

This was the view from our back door in the northwest suburbs of Chicago on the morning of April 11, 2007.

And this was the view from the front door.

Most of the day, it wasn't actually below freezing, but new snow kept coming to replace the earlier snow, which was busy converting into slush. Under the white cover, there's green grass somewhere. The trees in their wisdom haven't budded yet, but the daffodils, always eager to bloom before competing flowers, have taken it hard.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Taking the Waters

The differences in taking the waters at a Japanese onsen compared with a bath house at Hot Springs National Park are instructive. What they teach, I’m not sure, but the experiences are very different, perhaps the opposite of what you’d expect, though they both depend on access to hot water seeping out of the Earth. At an onsen, at least the ones I went to as a carefree gaijin, most of my time was spent lounging around in hot pools or steam rooms or, sometimes, cold pools. It’s a do-it-yourself experience.

Since we’d come all the way to Hot Springs, Arkansas, the thing not to do was skip taking the waters, which is still possible at the Buckstaff. It's the only establishment on Bath House Row that still offers baths, and the experience is much more methodical than at a Japanese onsen. First you do this, then that, then something else, in order and for a certain period of time. Yuriko and I had to take turns visiting the Buckstaff, since children aren’t allowed in (another difference with Japan), and I went in just before the staff’s lunch break. So for a while I was the only customer in the men’s floor, it seemed.

The full traditional bathing package at Buckstaff includes whirlpool mineral bath in a large tub, hot packs, a sitz bath, time in a steam room and a thing called a needle shower, which just means that water streams at you from every direction, followed by a 20-minute massage on a table. These steps come in that order, and you're assisted by a series of attendants all along the way, in my case mostly older black gentlemen who’d likely been plying the trade for many years. It was all very pleasant, some of it novel, but I never believed of a moment that it had any therapeutic benefits for me.

The sitz bath, for anyone who’s curious about that term, is taken in a seated position, with water of varying temperatures flowing around your lower reaches. Supposed to be good for back pain, and I can’t say it felt bad. At another stage, instead being put in a steam closet with only my head exposed, my attendant pointed me to a small sauna of a room, intensely steamy, for a two-minute sitdown. I was a little disappointed with that, since how often do you get to do something that exists mostly in old movies and cartoons (now that I think about it, The Bank Dick featured one that took about 200 pounds off one gentleman).

With its tiny white tiles (somewhat worn), and rows of tubs and tables and pipes and gauges, and the sound of water flowing and dripping, and the muffled sounds of the staff crossing the floors, I got some sense of the Buckstaff as an old-time bath. Just a fleeting sense. Maybe shades of men as pale and paunchy in life as I am now still made small talk while lying prone with hot towels around most of them, chatting about Babe Ruth or Red Russia or the price of corn with the fellow on the next table, an optician from Muncie or loan officer from Oklahoma City. But I wasn’t privy to any of that.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Fordyce

Hot Springs National Park has an odd layout. The modern city of Hot Springs is a two-lobed territory connected by a strip of land bordering Central Ave. (Bath House Row). The northern lobe is completely surrounded by the national park, while the other lobe abuts the park for several miles. With its agglomeration of chain retailers and more local businesses, the town’s streets look pretty much like a lot of other small cities’ thoroughfares, though south of the national park on Central Ave. is a large racetrack that seemed to be quite a draw.

The west side of Central Ave. is privately owned, with various buildings occupied by businesses mostly catering to tourists. The east side of the same street is part of the national park, with eight ornate buildings in a row that once were the heart of the bath house industry in Hot Springs: the Superior, the Hale, the Maurice, the Fordyce, the Quapaw, the Ozark, the Buckstaff and the Lamar. The existing buildings of Bath House Row date mostly from the 1910s and ’20s, replacing older facilities during a period of when the nation was flush and transportation improving, but people still believed in the efficacy of taking the waters. At their peak in 1946, the waters attracted about a million visitors a year – remarkable considering the total US population at the time wasn’t quite 150 million.

The Fordyce is now the park’s visitor center, and offers tours of its elaborate facilities – self-guided, but at a good price, free. The building style, Spanish Renaissance Revival, is supposed to pay tribute to Hernando de Soto, who supposedly came this way. No fancy bath houses were necessary for passing Spaniards, Indians or other early visitors, however, who apparently soaked in pools fed by the springs wherever they found them.

The Fordyce, on the other hand, was completed in 1915 and has rooms that wouldn’t have been out of place on some of the luxury liners of the day, especially the third-story lounge. “Here, under a wonderful ceiling of art glass in five remarkable pastels, amid lavish decorations and furnishings, social groups may gather at ease and listen to music,” said an advertising brochure about the facility from its early years (piano music, it should be noted, for the room had one). “Opening to the south is a ladies' parlor and music room, with the gentlemen's parlor and billiard room at the other extreme.”

The bathing and therapy rooms, while not quite so ornate, were elaborate enough, sporting a host of devices mostly obscure these days, such as Zander mechano-therapy equipment, sitz tubs, Hubbard tubs and various other hydrotherapy-related items. The one that inspired the most disquiet, for me anyway, was a deep pool and series of boards and straps and other devices that provided some kind of mercury treatment for syphilis. There were even steam cabinets, the sort you see in old movies and cartoons, but which I’d never actually seen myself. They too were a little disquieting, probably because I’d seen at least one murder committed in a movie by locking someone in a steam cabinet (a Charlie Chan movie? Something I saw some Saturday afternoon.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Scenic Gulpha Gorge

Most of eastern United States has been in the grip of a cold April for a few days now, including Dallas and the parts of Arkansas we visited a week earlier. Makes me glad we went while it was still warm in those parts. Cold up here in early spring I can shrug off, but driving two days in a southwesterly direction just to have the cold follow me like a stalker? Argh.

The only time during the entire trip that we wore the jackets and sweaters we’d brought was early in the morning at Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs National Park. It had started to rain sometime in the night and when we woke up the air was slightly cool – just right for a light jacket. That didn’t last during the day we subsequently spent in Hot Springs, however. It continued to rain on and off, but it also got fairly warm. A good day for duck-in-the-building tourism.

Such an evocative name, the Gulpha Gorge Campground. Sounds like campsites surrounded by towering cliffs with a wild river running through it. Actually it was very much like a minor state campground with hills nearby and a gurgling creek running through it. But they were pleasant green hills and I was glad the creek was so tame: it would have hardly had the force to whisk a playful four-year-old away. Playing in the rocky creek, all the better for throwing things and making splashes, was the high point of this particular camping expedition for the girls.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Tidy Past

One of these days, I'd like to see an historic house - which is supposed to evoke the way people used to live through period furniture and other artifacts - actually try to depict they way a lot of people really used to live, that is, without tidying up all the time. I've been to a fair number of these kinds of places, from the home of Lincoln here in Illinois to the reconstructions of village houses of Edo Japan, and I have to ask: where's the clutter?

Inevitably, there's a bit of a house beautiful sensibility to the way the space is re-created. The books are all in their shelves, the toys artfully positioned rather than randomly scattered, the dishes clean and arrayed for a meal: everything is pretty much in its place. Of course, I've visited actual non-historic houses that look that way. But I've also visited a lot more houses that look like someone actually lives there, and never have I seen an historic recreation that's less than tidy. How about a disordered stack of Godey's Lady's Books off in the corner of the sitting room, a pile or two of clothes in the bedroom, or some simple toys here and there where an adult might actually step on one? Most people might have had fewer possessions in those earlier times, but they did have possessions, and I can't believe everyone, or even most people, wanted to emulate a proto-Martha Stewart.

Someday among historic preservationists there might be just such a movement. It's one thing to re-create a house as it might have looked after spring cleaning in 1880, but quite another to depict it on an ordinary day that same year, as if the owners had just stepped out and weren't expecting company anytime soon. The human condition is cluttered.

I thought of that when I toured the uncluttered interiors of some of the structures at Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park last week. Which isn't to say that there were some interesting things to see, such as the 1901 Blum House, a Jewish house of the period. It's a painted a very pretty lavender on the outside but is otherwise little different from any other house of that style, except for the silver menorah and (I think) the separate sets of dishes among the possessions.

Other featured structures in Old City Park include a small hotel, a doctor's office, a dentist's office with its scary late 19th-century devices, a general store, law office, print shop and bank. The shotgun shack -- called a house, but I knew better -- was a little cluttered with tools and the like, but even it had a touch of organization probably not known to the folk who originally lived there. The church was satisfyingly Protestant in its simplicity, and the saloon had some good touches, such as a stuffed grizzly bear.

The largest of the houses was called Millermore, built in the late 1850s by a cattle baron named Miller and re-created to 1861, which included the first Confederate national flag, the Stars and Bars, hanging outside. We actually took a guided tour of that one, provided by the docent who also recommended places to eat lunch in the modern neighborhood around Old City Park, known as the Cedars, just south of downtown Dallas. It was odd at times to look up from some ca. 1880 building to see the office buildings of ca. 2010 Dallas looming in the background, but there they were.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dodging the Rain

To avoid the rain on our first full day on Dallas, we chose an indoor destination, NorthPark Center. For some, malls are travel destinations, but usually not for me. But besides duty as a rain shelter, I wanted to see the property and its artwork, sculptures and paintings that I'd read about and had mentioned in an article I wrote not too long ago.

The original parts of NorthPark date from the mid- to late ’60s, and though well-maintained and generally still tenanted by expensive stores, it still has that moon-landing era vibe in the way the hallways are shaped and in the building-material choices (such as white brick) and in the lighting and so on. Nothing jarringly dated, just a subtle example of a cutting-edge style whose edge long ago moved somewhere else. Some of the art, which includes pieces by Andy Warhol and Jim Dine, add to that impression.

Several enormous metal sculptures occupy certain parts of the mall. The most recently acquired one, I read, is called “Ad Astra,” a complex of orange steel by Mark di Suvero about 50 feet tall and weighing in at 12 tons. Another monumental sculpture was formed by a ring of black metal figures, maybe 20 feet tall, swinging hammers smoothly up and down. Each hammer is moved by a small electric engine visible on the side of the sculpture. Jay later told me that my nephew Sam was terribly afraid of these figures when he was very small (some time ago, as he is 24 now).

On our last full day in Dallas, threatened rain was again a factor in our sightseeing. We’d considered the Dallas Zoo, where we’d taken Lilly about five years ago, but the sky looked dark enough to opt for Old City Park instead. Formally known as Dallas Heritage Village, it’s one of those open-air museums that offer a collection of old structures to see. In this case, old buildings from all over North Texas.

Both Yuriko and I are fond of such places, and while not exactly aimed at children, they’re usually places where kids can run around. Also, there’s some chance, however small, that something from the past will actually impress itself on an older child, the better the cultivate the idea that the world didn’t spring into existence around the time the child was born. These kinds of museums also tend to be under-appreciated by the public, and so not so crowded. Such was the case at Old City Park last week. It wasn’t Disneyland, so it would have been next to impossible to lose track of someone else in your party for very long.

And unlike the zoo, it offered places to duck into in case of heavy rain. So we went. More about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

North Texas Clover

Clover fascinated me as a very young boy. Regular grass wasn’t that interesting, but I could eye the vast patches of the three-leafed clover found in North Texas fields for a long time, going from shape to shape, which sometimes jiggled in the wind. Even now they mix in memory with the smell of damp earth and the touch of springtime sunshine.

Northern Illinois has clover too, and I even saw some today, but the sensation isn’t quite the same. After all, it’s been 40 years since my boyhood fascination, and besides the Illinois clover doesn’t seem quite as lush as that in the Texas fields. Still, I felt just a bit of that fascination again in Dallas last week, especially at a city park about two blocks from my brother Jay’s house. It’s a nearly anonymous crescent of a park, a slice of land between a block of houses on one side and a railroad line on the other. The facilities are simple: a swing set, a water fountain, a pavilion with a handful of picnic tables under it, and a couple of worn-looking tennis courts.

Lilly wanted to walk Jay’s dog, so one morning after the rain had stopped and I’d filed my story, we all went, Lilly with the dog on a leash – something new for her – along with her mother, while I trailed behind with Ann, the slower walker. It was a flawless spring day, with the leaves newly grown, the air mild and smelling fresh, and puddles of rainwater here and there.

Part of the time in the park I got to hang on to the dog’s leash, and "hang on" is the right term, because the dog was moving. Because of my brother’s and sister-in-law’s and nephew’s schedules, I don’t think the dog gets walked much in the daytime, so that might have accounted for her excitement. Or maybe it was just doggish joy at the panoply of smells that, as a human, I’m denied. Anyway, the usually lethargic hound was racing around, straining at the leash, sniffing everything in her path, and sometimes marking spots with her special urine calling card. For my part, I noticed a lot of clover underfoot. I think we both got a kick out of that park.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dallas-Hot Springs '07

I forgot to take note of the odometer when we left for Dallas a week ago Saturday, but according to mileage tables the drive one-way is 930 miles or so. Double that and round it up and I’d say we did about 2,000 driving trip, one that ended yesterday.

It was a trip from late winter into early spring, very roughly from 40 degrees north to 30 degrees. As we left, the trees in northern Illinois were still leafless and the grass still brown, but as we rolled south a green fuzz appeared and then young leaves and by the time we arrived to north Texas it was full-flush spring. A drive to green.

The route south and west took us through St. Louis and into a burg called Rolla, Missouri, for the first night. Look up Rolla in the likes of Roadside America and you’ll find that it’s home to a half-scale replica of Stonehenge. We saw that in 2001, and it isn’t the kind of place you need to see twice in any particular lifetime, so missed was the opportunity to build something interesting.

The second day took us through the mainly Indian lands of eastern Oklahoma and into Dallas, where my brother Jay lives. We stayed at his house for four days and five nights. In Dallas we encountered rain, bad traffic and fire ants, but also time with our relatives, visits to a few new places, and some good meals. It wasn’t exactly all vacation for me, since I continued to write and post articles from Monday to Wednesday, though typically not much in the afternoon.

On Friday we headed out for Arkansas, pausing in that state a day and a half to see a presidential site and the former hot springs resort town of Hot Springs, which is still a town, and still has hot springs, but doesn't really have that resort feel. The last day of the trip included a dash from near Cairo, as far south as Illinois goes, to Schaumburg, not quite as far north as the state goes, but close. Spring was repealed gradually as we headed north.