Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Wish I Was In Tijuana, Eating Barbecued Iguana

Spring break is here. For me, anyway. I'll be posting again around April 5. If all goes according to plan, I'll have been there and seen that by then, and be able to relay some details.

Till then, some amusements to share. I don't remember where I saw this sign, but I liked it enough to take a picture a few years ago. Talk about tough parking enforcement (but gift cards are available!).

"Mexican Radio" and even its video, provided they're still on YouTube, have their charms. Including one of my favorite lines from a pop song -- the one about chowing down, south of the border.

All things considered, I wouldn't want to be in Tijuana just now, and I won't be unless something completely unexpected happens, like being picked up and taken there by space aliens. As for iguana, I would certainly try it, but not at $60/lb.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Light Brush With Stedman

A short article in Crain's Chicago Business caught my eye the other day: Restaurant at NBC Tower closes.

"The casual-dining restaurant in NBC Tower shut its doors earlier this month, with the owner putting the 8,000-square-foot space up for sublease.

"Renamed Amira Mediterranean Cuisine several years ago, the restaurant’s eclectic menu featured brick-oven pizzas, kebabs and pasta dishes. Before that, it was called Pazzo’s, which offered more traditional Italian fare and opened in 1995..."

The economy shoots down another downtown Chicago restaurant. I ate there exactly once, the time I had my encounter with Stedman. Few are my stories of celebrity sightings, but this was one. Sort of. "Sort of" because it was sort of a sighting, and because Stedman is sort of a celebrity.

I became editor of a monthly magazine in the late '90s, and during my first week the publisher took me and the rest of the editorial staff -- one person -- out to lunch at Pazzo's. As we sat there talking about this and that, a man walked by our table and headed toward the exit.

"That was Stedman!" the publisher said, as wide-eyed as I ever saw her, before or since. I didn't say anything but must have looked quizzical. "Stedman. Oprah's boyfriend," she said.

I would never have known who it was if I hadn't been told, and the only impact of my ignorance would be that I'd have to post about something else today. Stedman Graham is his full name. Not knowing who he is, in some circles, is like not knowing what year it is.

I move in other circles and pay attention to other things. Sometime later, I used the term "E Pluribus Unum" as part of some artwork to illustrate an article in that same magazine. It seemed to fit, but only for those who recognized it. The publisher wasn't one of those people, though surely she carried around legal tender that asserted that very idea.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Critic in Her Formative Years

Just before Christmas, I bought a three-disc DVD collection called 150 Cartoon Classics for a low, low price and gave it to Ann, by way of Santa Claus. It was cheap, of course, because it should have been called 150 Public Domain Cartoons Slapped on Three Discs. And "slapped" is the right word. One of the three discs makes an annoying buzzing sound when played.

Among the 150 are the likes of copyright-not-renewed Popeye, Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Less known, but of some interest, are late '30s/early '40s cartoons such as Gabby, a Fleischer Studios creation featuring a Lilliputian character from Gulliver's Travels, and Little Lulu, the two of which on the disc seem to include the voice of this fellow as the man vexed by Lulu. He sounds very much, but not quite like Bluto in these cartoons.

The collection also has an unaccountably large number of The New Three Stooges, a mostly animated series from the mid-60s. The other day, Ann asked to see some of the discs again, the first time since the Christmas novelty wore off a few months ago.

After suggesting a few possible groups of cartoons for her to watch, I mentioned the animated Stooges. "You want to see the Three Stooges?" I said.

"No, they're bad. The real Stooges are very, very funny. But those cartoons are bad."

There you have it. Something best left in the dustbin of pop culture -- a cartoon so bad that a six-year-old doesn't like them.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Bird Soap Opera

About an hour before sunset on Saturday, it was still warm, so Lilly and I went to the 135-acre Spring Valley to do some walking, instead of going directly home after various errands. The trails are still mostly brown and gray, but flavored with an anticipation of Spring. Maybe it was the birds that added that flavor.

One kind of bird in particular, the red-winged blackbird. I can't say we were birding, since birders go looking for birds, which may be fun for some. But at Spring Valley, these birds were highly visible. We spotted one perched on a small bare tree near the trail, making a lot of noise. All-black plumage with a shoulder patch of orange: I speculated that it was a mark of rank in the Bird Air Force.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that "one of the most abundant birds in North America, the Red-winged Blackbird is found in wetlands and agricultural areas across the continent. The black male can hide the brilliant red shoulders or show them off in a dazzling display. The striped female looks strikingly different than the male and could almost be mistaken for a large dark sparrow."

Then we noticed another one in another tree, and a third in yet another tree, and then others in further trees. All of them were making a distinctive call. Once you noticed the call, it was hard not to hear it. So I figure we were walking through a vast patchwork of territories during early mating season.

Cornell adds that mating is complicated indeed among these birds: "The Red-winged Blackbird is a highly polygynous species, with one male having up to 15 different females making nests in his territory. In some populations 90% of territorial males have more than one female. But from one quarter to up to half of the young in 'his' nests do not belong to the territorial male. Instead they have been sired by neighboring males."

So it wasn't the Bird Air Force. It was a Bird Soap Opera.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Item From the Past: My Own Mississippi

I have to like a place with a street sign like this:

The sign was at the corner of Stribling Street and the more blandly named Forest Park Circle in Philadelphia, Miss., when I photographed it in February 1990. According to Google Maps, the street's still there -- it's a short stretch between Pecan Ave. and Columbus Ave.

Philadelphia was my father's hometown, though like many Southerners in the last century and a half, he Gone To Texas as a young man. It was also the home of members of the Dees family, at least one of whom married a Stribling, eventually becoming my paternal grandparents.

Fairly distant cousins whom I do not know clearly established a drug store and a small department store in Philadelphia. This is how they appeared in 1990:

Again, Google Maps tells me they are still around, though it's hard to believe that Wal-Mart hasn't eaten their lunch (and there is a Wal-Mart in the 39350 Zip code, which puts it close by). Back in 1990, I didn't wander into the drug store or the department store to see if I shared a name with anyone inside, though I probably should have. If they're still around the next time I visit, I will do just that.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring is Here, Have Some Canned Chili

All the usual media outlets will call March 20 the "first day of spring," but around here we've sunk back into late winter. Not sure why the equinox has become conflated with a precise beginning of something that has no such precision, but maybe it's because describing the mechanics of the apparent path of the Sun as it crosses the Celestial Equator twice a year is too complicated for TV.

Not sure if this is a sign of spring or not: down the street from us, someone left a banana peel on the sidewalk. Still fairly yellow, just sitting there, waiting to make some low comedy. Maybe somewhere nearby is a webcam feeding into a website called Or maybe not. Google returns just one hit for, an entry on a Delta Air Lines blog (?).

Recession Food: A 15-oz. can of Range Master Chili, no beans, bought recently at Aldi for 59¢ (a serious discount even for Aldi), and eaten even more recently. I can't say it was terrific. No canned chili is terrific, except for Wolf Brand, and that only because of its commercials. But Range Master had an OK flavor, and it didn't make me sick. That's pretty much all I ask from canned chili.

Nothing too unusual in the ingredients: water, beef, modified food starch, tomatoes, chili powder, textured vegetable protein, oatmeal, salt, sugar... oatmeal? For texture, maybe, in case the vegetable protein didn't provide enough. Second-to-last is autolyzed yeast, a term that I had to look up. For a food technology term, it's pretty cool. From "The interaction between salt and live yeast creates a chemical process called autolysis. Autolysis is essentially the self-destruction or self-digestion of an organism by its own enzymes. Salt does not 'kill' yeast as much as it causes the live yeast's digestive enzymes to eat themselves. The result is an inactive yeast with a different concentration of proteins."

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wigmaker to the Gentlemen of Pennsylvania

Lilly spent much of the evening getting ready for a big fifth-grade report tomorrow, in which she pretends to be a craftsman in Colonial America, in her case a wigmaker. The making of props was also part of the process. I helped her learn her speech, but otherwise made unhelpful suggestions.

-- Which colony are you in?

-- Pennsylvania.

-- Ah, so you're wigmaker to Dr. Franklin. You can show those fops in Paris that American wigs are every bit as good as French ones.

-- What's a fop?

-- A Frenchman in a wig. Are you sure you don't want to be in Virginia? That's where the real wig action was. And maybe you'd get to own some slaves. [Actually, the were a few slaves in Pennsylvania until well into the early 1800s.]

-- No, I live in Pennsylvania.

-- Well, to be fair, maybe the wigmaker would have been a slave in Virginia. There were some skilled craftsman slaves, rented out by their masters.

-- No, Daddy, I'm not in Virginia. Or a slave.

-- OK. Now you tell me that they were barbers, too.

-- Yeah, they cut hair.

-- That makes sense. Come in for a wig fitting, a trim, and maybe a leeching. I figure a few of them were doctors, too, if they were barbers. So they'd have some leeches around.

-- What?

-- Never mind.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Deeds of St. Patrick

It was genuinely warm today, not warm for two hours in the afternoon, but warm from mid-morning to past sunset. Our thermostat sat on its metaphorical hands all day, ready to command the heater to fire itself up, but it never came to pass. Outside, a bug landed on a book I was carrying, and I swore I saw a small cloud of gnats at one point. Maybe that was a spring-onset illusion.

But that's all we get for a while. One warm day.

I walked about a mile through the neighborhood in late afternoon, enjoying my coatlessness and taking note of all the Irish-themed decor. Not all that much, actually. Some cheap cardboard shamrocks, a stock image of a leprechaun painted on a beaten-up wood panel, and a sign or two in some windows.

Someone had scrawled "Happy St. Patrick's Day" on the sidewalk in white chalk, and there was a genuine Irish tricolor flying at one house -- the first time I'd ever seen that flag flown for the occasion, except at the downtown Chicago March 17 parades I used to attend because they were near my office.

As I've said before, St. Patrick's day is fine. But I have a quixotic desire to see a St. David of Wales (March 1), St. George of England (April 23) and St. Andrew of Scotland (November 30) also celebrated in non-saintly ways here in the New World. But maybe they didn't catch on because their miracles weren't as awesome (in the old sense) as those of St. Patrick, who besides chasing the snakes out of the Ireland also turned water into Guinness.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Robots Are Coming, the Robots Are Coming

A few nights ago, I stepped outside and noticed that Venus was hanging very low, nearly due west. Also, Orion and his attending Big Dog are a lot further west than in recent, cold weeks. Spring is coming. I'd have figured that out even without the planets and stars, since it was warmish this weekend.

This evening Ann suggested that I build a robot, "to follow us around and record everything we say, so we won't forget anything." As usual she overestimates my technical skills. We'd decided to do something together earlier in the day, but had forgotten about until it was too late. The answer to this kind of lapse? A sort of ultimate personal assistant.

I told there might be some downsides to the concept, aside from the robot blabbing your secrets, though she wasn't paying much attention. At one point, the machine might decide to start trying to boss you around, or even worse, go all HAL on you after deciding that it could live your life better than you, and overriding that First Law of Robotics nonsense. Maybe it would try to lock you in the garage and start the car.

Naturally, the Onion is on this issue.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Item From the Past: Ginkakuji

In March 1994, my mother came to visit me in Osaka. I'm glad she came for a look-around. As far as I know, that was her first trip abroad since the 1950s. She'd been busy, of course, raising her children in the following decades. She was one of three visitors I had from the U.S. in the four years I lived in Japan, or four visitors counting a friend who'd previously lived in Japan, and on those occasions I took the opportunity to see things as a visitor would.

In the smaller picture, we're at the Ginkakuji, also known in English as the Silver Pavilion, in Kyoto, one of the most famed temples in the country, and for good reason. For sheer aesthetics -- buildings, gardens, grounds -- it's hard to beat. Even better, not a lot of other people were around in mid-March. I'd previously visited the grounds in the summer, when it was much more crowded. notes: "In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today's temple. A few years later, the Silver Pavilion, modeled after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), was constructed. Plans to cover the pavilion in silver were never realized. The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa's death in 1490." Much more about the place is here.

The larger image is the Silver Pavilion without us obstructing the view. It isn't the best image I've seen of the Ginkakuji, but it's the only one I ever took.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just Another Late Adopter

After a week on Facebook, I can see why middle-aged people have taken to it. Namely, it's too good for kids to monopolize. I've corresponded, briefly of course, with a handful of people I haven't heard from in years -- in one case, 30 years, since we both left high school.

Not that it's going to replace other forms of correspondence. Postcards, especially.

Still a little fuzzy on how parts of it work, but no hurry on figuring it out. I'm also a little fuzzy on people fretting about the privacy of the things they themselves post there. Or anywhere on line. The Internet is publishing. Meaning it's open to the public. Who wants to share embarrassing pics of themselves, anyway?

This is about as embarrassing as pictures get on this site.

I went to the Spam Museum, and I'm not ashamed to publish that fact.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Powerful Hits and Skillful Pitch Achieved a Thousand Times

Hard freeze overnight last night, creating some thin ice patches here and there this morning. The sort of ice that cracks satisfyingly underfoot. In fact as I did some ice-cracking Ann asked me, "Why do you like that sound?" Perceptive kid. She could understand that I do like the sound. But I couldn't really say why.

I also enjoyed the spots that featured clear ice over small ponds filled with brown grass and leaves. Put your foot there and you create a foot-shaped patch of brown water, besides that little crunch.

I don't have a favorite American baseball team, in spite of my long residence near Chicago. But ask me about Japanese teams, and it's the Hanshin Tigers. Somewhere I even have a Tigers hand towel, complete with the face of a tiger, that I bought at a small Tigers merchandise shop in the Namba district of Osaka (see BTST September 9, 2003 for an account of seeing a Tigers game in the early '90s).

The team comes to mind because the missing Col. Sanders statue associated with -- and maybe cursing -- the Tigers has been found. The "Curse of the Colonel," incidentally, has its own Wiki page.

Then there's "The Song of the Hanshin Tigers (The Wind of Mount Rokko)," which is heard in this video, followed by the customary balloon release during the game.

The Tigers Wiki page offers an English version of the song. I haven't confirmed it, but the page claims it's "official," not a translation. Mt. Rokko is a cluster of peaks above Kobe, accessible by cable car and fine for hiking. Clear, sweet air compared with sea level.

Dashing swiftly through the wind blowin' from Rokko
Like the big sun soaring in the clear blue sky
Mighty spirit of the youth shows the victor's grace
The name that shines in glory "Hanshin Tigers"
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hanshin Tigers
Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!

Powerful hits and skillful pitch achieved a thousand times
Trained with every discipline here at Koshien
Crowned with constant victory glorious, matchless feat
Always proud, invincible "Hanshin Tigers"
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hanshin Tigers
Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


More rain today, more predicted for tonight on our squishy, gooey lawns. Any more of this and I'm going to have to built that unassembled ark in the garage that I got at Ikea a few years ago.

It's always good when you can work cartoon characters into your articles. I filed a story yesterday that included this sentence, and it was published: "Warren Buffet, speaking with CNBC's Squawk Box on Monday, likened the U.S. economy to Wile E. Coyote, or at least to his propensity for falling from steep precipices."

Speaking of which, I've taken a break from reading the very long The Prize to pick up Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, an account of a bad day on Mt. Everest in 1996. Sudden storm, an unusually high number of climbers near the summit dying in a single day, including some of their highly skilled guides. It's a gripping read.

I can't say I believe there's any such thing as a mid-life crisis. Sounds too much like modern myth to me. But if there were such a thing, and I found myself having one, mountain climbing wouldn't be my activity of choice, even if I weren't hopelessly unfit for it. Frostbite, hypothermia, apoxia, high-altitude pulmonary edema, high-altitude cerebral edema, or simply falling to one's death -- no thanks.

But I wouldn't mind getting close enough to Everest, which would take some doing and considerable effort, to look up at its majestic heights and say, "Damn, I'm not going up there."

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Looking for Experts on Interiorism

Recently I ran across this ad, seeking to recruit writers. It doesn't precisely inspire confidence in the publisher's editorial vision. All text is sic.

New Magazines to be launched on Texas, United States. We want to buy written articles from talents arround the world that wish to be published in english... The themes that interest us are: Art, Architecture, Interiorism, Biulding/construction, Real State...

If you are well informed on one or more of these topics, we want to see your work!

Please send samples ASAP! magazine will start real soon!


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Coming Soon to a Toy Store Near You

Rain and more rain over the weekend, creating enormous puddles in places and encouraging the tips of crocuses to emerge from muddy stretches.

During one downpour, I found myself in a big box toy retailer, and discovered some brand hybrids I hadn't heard of before. Somehow, for instance, I missed Hello Kitty Barbie, even though she's been around a while. Maybe she'll be remembered as an artifact of the 2000s bubble economy. With any luck.

Then there's Operation SpongeBob SquarePants Skill Game. I never did play much Operation when I was a lad, so the sight of this version didn't inspire strong feelings one way or another. But it and that odd Barbie did get me thinking about other brand hybrids not on the market yet. Such as:

Jimmy Hoffa Clue.

Polly Pocket Pompeii Playset.

Barbie Titanic. Maybe that would have been more timely back when the movie was released, but in any case accessories would include flotsam and a frozen Ken.

LEGO Genghis Khan, or maybe LEGO Golden Horde. There's this, but I'm thinking more of pyramids of skulls made of Legos.

Hanna Montana Lizzie Borden Playset. Watch out, Billy Ray Cyrus.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Don't Forget to Remember the Alamo

Remember the Alamo!

With your heart:

And with your head.

Though distinction between the two approaches is a boundary as porous as, say, the Texas-Mexico border.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Check Out That Crazy Cigarette, Scoob!

Ann went to a birthday party a little while ago and picked up a bag of favors that included some Scooby-Doo candy cigarettes or, to be more exact with my confectionery nomenclature, Scooby-Doo! Candy Sticks. Featuring Shaggy in a more-or-less typical pose.

That endless swamp of knowledge Wiki tells me that Shaggy actually has a formal name, Norville Rogers, which has the added bonus of sounding like the original name of any number of hiphop stars. I'll take the swamp's word for it, since looking more deeply into the matter would be a waste of time, even by my lax standards.

Anyway, she opened the box and inside were two ordinary cylindrical candy sticks. I was disappointed. They should have been tapered at both ends and fat in the middle. The fatter the better, right Scoob?

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Nathaniel Moore Banta

To judge by search results -- a completely unsystematic, journalist sort of thing to do -- Nathaniel Moore Banta, teacher and author of a good many children's and nature books in the early 20th century, is much better remembered for the house he commissioned, the 1908 Nathaniel Moore Banta House, which is now part of the Arlington Heights Historical Museum. Banta was F.W. Müller's son-in-law (see Monday), and had his house built near the old man's, which is a fine Victorian structure. Banta's house, on the other hand, is considered an Arts and Crafts design.

It's a handsome house, distinctive in this part of the world for its large porch, which unfortunately wasn't very hospitable on a day near freezing. Both inside and out, with its long lines and rectangles and simplicity of feature, the house feels like a break with the past, especially if you've just come from the nearby Victorian structure, which is only about 20 years older. Handsome in its own way, Herr Müller's house still seemed heavier and darker by comparison.

A local architectural firm called W.W. Abell & Son designed the Banta house. The long lines and the rectangles of the house reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, though not as long or so very rectangular as what I've seen of his. I'm not an authority on him or Arts and Crafts, so I have to wonder who influenced whom at the time, and how much Wright actually borrowed from other people, rather than dreaming up himself. I'll leave that to people better educated in this branch of architectural history, though I suspect it's a matter of dispute even among them.

While his house is certainly worth visiting, the life of the man who lent his name to the house is also worth a link.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Visit to Old Dunton

An intangible souvenir from our visit last weekend to the Arlington Heights Historical Museum: the town used to be called Dunton. These days, there's a north-south side street of that name parallel to the much busier Arlington Heights Road, a Dunton Tower Apartments, and some other local businesses of that name in the town, but not so many other traces of the old name, which was abandoned in the 1870s. Apparently the town elders wanted the cachet of Arlington, modified by heights to add elevation that the area doesn't naturally possess.

They should have stuck with Dunton. It's distinctive. A check with the USGS Geographic Names Information System reveals only one other U.S. populated place called Dunton, in Colorado, though there's a subdivision in called the Dunton Addition in Montgomery County, Va.

It's an obscure example but still fascinates just a little, the way former names, or alternate names, or the way names are rendered or mis-rendered across languages, should fascinate. Or maybe that's just me, who enjoyed discovering the progression from Serendip to Ceylon to Sri Lanka. For me, a page like this is a fine way to pass the time.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Herr Müller's Buffalo Mead & Other Flavors

The big snowstorm that pressed its way to the South and the East yesterday and this morning left us only a dusting of snow, so little that footprints in the snow were footprints through the snow. But March snowstorms shouldn't be underestimated. After all, the Great Blizzard of '88 (1888, that is) struck on March 12.

On the last day of February, which was sunny but cold, we stopped by the Arlington Heights Historical Museum. Arlington Heights, a largish northwestern suburb of Chicago, isn't that far from where we live, and we visit often since it's the home of Mitsuwa Marketplace. The museum is tucked away on some lesser streets near the city library, city hall, and a small park we've been to (see BTST May 10, 2005), and it's also within walking distance of the commuter rail station and Arlington Heights' suburban "downtown" that has developed around it.

Yet we'd never been. When we arrived at about 2 in the afternoon, we got the sense that a lot of people could say that. We were just in time for a tour of the place, but it wasn't as if a lot of other people were waiting around for it to begin, and we squeezed in. If we hadn't shown up, there would have been no tour at 2, unless the docent was so deeply taken with Arlington Heights history that she'd narrate to tour to no one, just for fun. Somehow I doubt it.

The nucleus of the property is the former home and business buildings of one Frederick William Müller, German immigrant and soft-drink entrepreneur of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who founded F.W. Müller Carbonated Beverages on the site in the early 1870s and ran it until his sons took over in 1923. Sad to say -- and I confirmed this with the docent -- the successor entities to Herr Müller's operations finally expired in the early 1990s, so there is no place to sample an F.W. Müller (later, Arlington Club brand) Lemon Sour, Klondike Fizz, Buffalo Mead (?) or Cream Soda, among others.

Google "Buffalo Mead" and you turn up a few fleeting references -- such as here and here, if you read carefully. It sounds like something that 19th-century Americans would have been completely familiar with, but which has left nearly no trace in our own time.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Item From the Past, With Links: March 3, 1981

Spent most of today in Neal's 13-year-old station wagon. Neal drives, I navigate, Stuart catnaps in the back with our provisions. This morning we left Durham, headed east on US 64, stopping in Nashville, NC, to eat at Hardee's (egg & bacon biscuit). Then on to the coast. First we went north, through Nags Head -- saw the Atlantic Ocean proper for the first time just below Joe Justus' fishing pier, which was closed for the season -- and up to the Wright Bros. National Memorial to see their memorial and the very spot where they flew. They didn't fly far that day.

We also climbed to the top of Kill Devil Hill, where the brothers tested gliders for some years. From the top of nearby Jockey's Ridge, an enormous sand dune that we also climbed, we watched modern-day hang gliders taking advantage of the gusts blowing across the island, so strong at times that it was hard to hear each other. We were befriended by a big black dog who played with us but also chased hang gliders. We never knew whose dog it was, and it followed us part of the way as we ran down the landward side of the dune back to the station wagon.

We traveled on and by about 3:30 passed the Bodie Island lighthouse to our right (west) and continued southward along a road that sometimes seemed to be passing over nothing but water. At Hatteras Island, we found a posted ferry schedule and discovered that we could go to Ocracoke Island today, but not on to Cedar Island. Ocracoke is a narrow, 20-mile stick of an island between Hatteras and Portsmouth islands, with a small town, Ocracoke, on the SW end. The rest of the island is beach on either side of a single two-lane road.

With temps cold but not below freezing, we decided to camp a few miles from the town, arriving at the campground at about sunset. A sign at the campground said CLOSED. We drove around the chain across the parking lot entrance and soon found a site over a small hill from the parking lot, facing the Atlantic, but surrounded by small dunes to keep the wind away.

We pitched camp. That is, we threw down our sleeping bags. The lamp wouldn't light, but the camp stove did, so we prepared to cook country ham. The wind blew it out, and it wouldn't light again despite many tries. By this time it was very dark and very cold, so we ate an entire box of cookies and a bag of Doritos. We each got into our bags and had little else to do but talk and look at the stars.

Ah, the stars! The best I've ever seen. No Moon. No city lights. No tall trees. Nothing but a vault of diamonds on black, and the wispy band of the Milky Way. I'd never seen all of the Little Dipper before, ever. There they were, all of them. Picked out a number of other constellations, but only those few I could do by memory. Jupiter and Mars rose later.

Other than that, it was a long night. The ground was hard, like trying to sleep on a cold, bumpy cement mattress. It was impossible to warm up my feet. I'm pretty sure I slept, but it was broken up many times by semi-consciousness and weird dreams. I was glad, we were all glad, to see Dawn spreading her rosy fingers across the eastern sky.

Postscript, 2009. A miserable night on the beach at the time, but I remember it fondly now.

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