Monday, October 29, 2007

The Trip - Taxation

A couple different times I forgot to mention something having to do with our country's history. When we were on our tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, our Ranger mentioned the issue of taxation without representation. It played an important part in motivating the Colonists to throw off the shakles of British rule.

But when we were in Concord, Massachusetts, the British soldier talked about that very question from the British perspective. At the time of the Revolutionary War, families in England averaged around 4 or 5 children, with 2 or 3 making it to adulthood. But in America, families had 6 to 8 kids, with 5 or 6 making it to adulthood. And the Irish, who were much closer to England than the Americans, had similar birth and survival rates to ours.

Imagine how that made the ruling classes in England feel. If they gave all members of the British Empire equal voting rights, how long would it be before the English were outnumbered and outvoted? They couldn't afford to let the non-English citizens have equal say in what happened in their country.

It makes sense, that kind of attitude on the part of the British. But it also makes sense that Americans would chafe at being short-changed in their representation.

Now, when I hear the phrase, "taxation without representation," I have a different perspective on it.

But we were still right to revolt.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Trip - Staying Awake

You know how sometimes the neighbor's dog gets outside in the middle of the night and starts barking and won't quit, and you can't get to sleep? It's like that, except it isn't a dog.

We're in Northern Virginia, on our way to see my aunt in North Carolina. I started hearing a noise and thought it could be the baying of a dog or two. Or maybe wolves. It wasn't coyotes, because they yip more and don't have the same long, drawn-out, deep notes that these creatures have.

And then I thought about Halloween coming up. Maybe someone is having a Halloween party (on a Sunday night?) and their scary soundtrack is playing too loud too late at night. But that didn't quite sound right. No cackling to break up the sameness of the sound.

It wasn't a party, though. I finally identified the noise. Someone's cows are most unhappy. Did the farmer forget to milk them tonight? Are his neighbors checking up on him to be sure he didn't have a heart attack this afternoon? Or do they do this every night? I wouldn't know. I'm mostly a city girl.

It's after midnight, and the cows won't shut up.

A barking dog might be better than this...

Betraying Israel

Reuters reported Friday on Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's preparations for her upcoming Middle East trip.

Anxious not to repeat mistakes of past Middle East peace-making, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has turned to former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for tips ahead of her own conference this year.

Rice invited Carter, a vocal critic of Bush administration policies, to the State Department on Wednesday where the two discussed his Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts in the 1970s, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Friday.

Their talks were "good and cordial," he said. They focused on the Middle East and not Carter's recent criticism of President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq and elsewhere.

A Soviet specialist, Rice also telephoned another former Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who tried, and ultimately failed, in his eight years in office to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together.

Other sources of advice have been former U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross and ex-secretaries of state James Baker, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Rice meets frequently for lunch with Albright, whose father taught Rice at Denver University.

Rice has made clear she will devote all her energy in the Bush administration's final 14 months to get what others have failed to attain in the past -- a viable, independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Israel.

When I started reading the article, I thought maybe Condi was grilling Carter and Clinton so she can be sure NOT to do what they did. Especially Clinton. But the more I read, especially in light of her previous efforts in the region, it looks instead as though she's planning to pursue more of the same policies that have helped generate the mess Israel and the Palestinians are in:

1) Demand tangible, sacrificial, security-reducing concessions from Israel

2) Ask for Palestinian promises that they'll think about maybe shaking a finger sternly at their home-grown terrorists in exchange for Israel's concessions

3) Declare peace in our time.

4) Express sadness when the Palestinians resume blowing up Israelis, and scold Israel for retaliating against the terrorists with targeted assassinations.

That's the Clinton Legacy. That's all she can learn from Madeleine Albright about the Middle East.

When Condi was President Bush's National Security Advisor, she was The Man, talking tough and not backing down in the face of threats to our country. Now that she's Secretary of State, she's been body-snatched into the State Department's "stability" mindset. She's becoming nothing but Madeleine Albright's clone, only without the fat and the gray hair.

The problem for Israel is that Olmert doesn't know how to protect Israel's security any better than our State Department does. He should just tell Rice where to stick her ideas, plans, roadmaps, and demands. He should. But he won't. And Israel will be even worse off than ever.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Trip - Valley Forge

On the way back to our RV Park from Philadelphia, the road took us past Valley Forge, so we stopped there. They have a visitor center, and then the Encampment Tour is a self-guided driving tour, much like the Auto Tour in Gettysburg.

We didn't have time for the Encampment Tour, but the visitor center had plenty to offer someone with little knowledge of the details of the Revolutionary War. Between the displays, the short movie, and the Storyteller outside the movie theater, I learned quite a bit.

Valley Forge was where Gen. George Washington quartered his troops over the winter of 1777 - 1787. The first two years of the War had gone well for the Americans, but then the British sent thousands of reinforcements, and the tide of the War shifted. The British took New York City and New Jersey. Then they took Philadelphia, home of the American Revolution and their seat of government. Washington's troops were demoralized, and many were in tatters. And they were outclassed militarily by the British

Valley Forge was 21 miles from Philadelphia--far enough away that they'd have warning if the British attacked, but close enough that they could send spies into Philadelphia to monitor the British. Washington began the winter by separating his men into 12-man squads and then offering $12 to the first squad in each unit to build a serviceable shelter. The men got busy, building huts out of rough-hewn wood with mud to seal the cracks. The first hut was finished in under three weeks.

When Baron von Steuben arrived in February, he set about training Washington's men in proper military activities.

Washington wanted to do more for the men than just restore morale. He wanted to inspire them to fight against the odds. For inspiration, he put on a play. It was about Cato (not to be confused with the guy with the Green Hornet or the Pink Panther or O.J. Simpson), the defender of the Roman Republic against Julius Caesar's Empire. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people vs. government of, by, and for one man--the emperor. As Caesar rose in power, Cato's army fought Caesar's for control of the Republic. Cato was outnumbered and defeated, and Caesar became Emporer of Rome. Rather than live under a dictatorship, Cato took his own life.

The message Washington gave his men was that, although Cato lost his battle, the Continental Army now had the chance to win Cato's fight for a Republic. No matter what the odds, liberty was and is worth fighting and dying for. His men were inspired.

And the British spies who saw the play were worried.

As spring turned to summer and Washington prepared his men to march on Philadelphia, the British withdrew from the city. Nine days later, Washington caught up with them, and this time the inspired, well-trained Continental Army defeated the British.

It was a tough winter, but not the coldest--that would be the following winter in Morristown, New Jersey. Disease was prevalent at Valley Forge, killing 2000 troops. Provisions were in short supply, so the soldiers had foraging duty to try to keep the army fed. That George Washington was able to overcome everything he faced with his army that winter and shape them into an effective fighting force says a lot for his leadership. I was impressed.

On a different note, here are a couple pictures of autumn around the visitor center. It hasn't finished there yet. Leaves on the trees...

And on the ground...

The Trip - Philadelphia

We drove over to Philadelphia this morning. My back was somewhat improved after a day of rest and one of those ThermaCare Heat Wraps, which lasted way more than the promised 8 hours. I put on the second wrap before we left for Philadelphia. This was a challenge (the first one was too), because I have a pear shape with a smallish waist and curvy hips, so when I need something wrapped around my hips, it always manages to slide up to my waist where it does no good. But I figured out how to secure the wrap (big enough to go around most beer bellies) so it stayed in place and warmed the right spot.

It rained all morning, sometimes hard, sometimes not, sometimes with the wind blowing. It even ruffled the feathers of the pigeons, who looked pitiful.

Outside the Independence Hall Visitor Center, where we went to pick up our tour tickets for Independence Hall, some people from Code Pink were getting set up. It was pretty exciting to see some real live Code Pink people with my very own eyes. I wanted to ask them what they were planning there, but we were running short on time.

Still, when we got back, I looked up the website they had listed (in pink) at the bottom of their banner, and learned it was the "October 27th Regional (Philadelphia) Peace Action with United for Peace & Justice."

On Saturday, October 27th, people from all walks of life will gather in 10 sites around the country for massive regional demonstrations....--you can join the Human Chain, which will go from the VA Hospital on Woodland Ave to Independence Mall in the morning...--and a Big Rally/Concert on Independence Mall in the afternoon, with speakers and entertainment. We the People must end this war!

We didn't rally with them. Instead we walked over to the Liberty Bell Center. The beginning of the displays give some of the history of the bell itself. Then they have memorabilia over time, with items that used the Liberty Bell logo, from gold-leaf designs on chair backs to the wrappers on restaurant butter pats. And then comes the Bell itself, in front of a full-walled window, Independence Hall behind it (not shown here).

After that, we walked to Campo's for a Philly Cheesesteak, about five or so blocks away. The rain and wind had picked up, and my umbrella--one of the kind that comes free with the purse you wanted--started breaking one spine at a time. It wasn't long before I was protected by only half an umbrella. I left my purse, worn as a backpack, to its fate and protected my camera in front.

We crossed raging rivers at each intersection and made it to Campo's relatively intact but wet-jeaned. The Works for each of us vastly improved our disposition. My mom couldn't finish hers, so she had the second half wrapped to go, and we started back to Independence Hall for our tour. I got my umbrella to look normal, but that only lasted for a brief time, and then a gust of wind blew it irreparably inside out. A man standing in a doorway was watching me fight with the thing. I forced it back open again, but only for a moment, and then I had to laugh. The man laughed too, and so did my mom. It was her umbrella, so I asked for her permission to pitch it in the trash.

She gave it, then right after I threw mine away, hers turned inside-out too. We laughed some more and got hers fixed again.

A black man came down the street to my mom and called her, "Mom." He said he missed his mom and liked to help people like her. He gave my mom his umbrella, a much nicer one than hers. Then he asked if we had a sandwich he could have to share with the other homeless people he hangs with. We gave him my mom's half-sandwich, and we felt as though we'd come out on the better end of that bargain.

We got to Independence Hall in plenty of time for our tour. There was a British couple waiting for the same tour, and I asked them why they would come to a place that honors the rejection of their rule. But they said that everyone eventually rejected their rule. They came because they love history.

Our tour guide was a Park Ranger, and he took us to two rooms in the Pennsylvania State House (it wasn't called "Independence Hall" until early in the nineteenth century, when French Gen. Lafayette visited and used the term). The first room was the courtroom, the first appeals court in America, and where British law had prevailed.

The Ranger gave us some important dates. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee called for Independence. On July 2, the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented and accepted, but there were objections to some of the wording, so over the next two days, 81 changes were made. On July 4, the Declaration of Independence as we know it was adopted. On July 8, the Declaration was read aloud to over 1,000 people assembled in front of the State House. On August 2, the final copy was signed by most of the eventual signers.

After the July 8 reading of the Declaration, many of the people assembled there rushed into the State House courtroom and removed this emblem of the British Crown from the wall behind the judges' bench. It was made of wood, gilded and painted, and weighed 200 lbs., and it represented the sovereignty of the King of England. The people burned it.

The Assembly room, not the courtroom, is where most of the Independence action happened. This is not the full view of the room.

This is where the questions of the day were debated, in the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress. In the Second, their discussions were so secret, they kept all the doors and windows closed even in the heat of summer, to keep others from overhearing. This is where Independence was proposed, declared, and adopted. And later, after the Revolutionary War was won, this is where the Constitutional Convention met, with George Washington presiding, seated in the chair to the back right in the picture.

At only a half hour, our tour was much too short, without enough time to soak it all in. Our Ranger made himself available for questions by the door, but I didn't have any. We walked to our car, too wet and tired to see any of the other sights in town but happy to have come.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Trip - Gettysburg

After our tour around Lancaster County, my mom was feeling tired and not up for the drive to Gettysburg, so I went by myself while she stayed in the motorhome to take a nap with her new Quillow. Scooter also stayed behind to help her nap.

I pulled a muscle in my lower back sometime in the last couple days, and although I woke up this morning with it stiff, the kinks were pretty well worked out by the time I left for Gettysburg. That didn't last. An hour and 45 minutes later, when I got out of my car at the Visitor Center, my back didn't want to let me stand up straight. I couldn't decide if I walked like a very pregnant woman, only without the belly, or like a really old person. Later in the day, I saw a really old man who was walking the same way I was, and I had my answer.

Still, you do what you have to do to see what you want to see...

At the Visitor Center, they had the kinds of displays you'd expect. Weapons used, uniforms worn, summer and winter underwear, and artifacts. More artifacts than seem possible, gathered from the farm where the worst of the fighting had happened. And they have photos.

Just as an example, the caption for the man in the upper right says, "Private John Haverstick, Company 1, 12th New Jersey Infantry--Enlisted at the age of 14. Mustered out June, 1965." The visitor center changes the pictures from time to time.

This display was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

The main text reads:

After the Battle of Gettysburg, an unidentified dead Union soldier was found holding this picture to his chest.

A few days after the battle, a Gettysburg citizen who had obtained the picture told the story to Dr. J. Francis Bourns of Philadelphia. Bourns acquired the picture and circulated copies to newspapers throughout the North with an appeal to help identify the children's father. The story and picture appeared in many papers and journals. It touched the hearts of many northerners, and the appeal worked. The man was identified by his wife as Orderly Sgt. Amos Humiston, Company C, 154the New York Volunteers.

Dr. Bourns went to Portville, New York, to return the original picture to Mrs. Humiston. The occasion triggered a fund-raising effort for Mrs. Humiston's children and orphans of other deceased Union soldiers. The campaign grew to include the widespread sale of pictures of Humiston's children and of a poem and music written about the incident. With the funds the Orphan's Home of Gettysburg was established in 1866. Mrs. Humiston and her children moved to the home where she became a member of the staff.

I watched the Electric Map, which is over 60 years old and shows, with different colored lights and an audio recording, the troop movements and important landmarks of the three-day battle. After that I crossed the street to the cemetary.

The cemetary has more than just Gettysburg's dead buried here. These gravestones mark primarily World War II veterans. And not far from them is a monument to President Lincoln, about 200 yards away from the site where he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Monuments are everywhere along the Auto Tour of the battlefield. This one marks the place where Major Gen. John F. Reynolds fell in battle on July 1, 1863, the first day of fighting at Gettysburg.

I've read the book, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara (out of pique when a couple guys at work said it was "a man's book"), and then watched the movie, Gettysburg, which is based on the book. It helps to watch the movie after you've read the book, because the emotions from the book come in to flesh out what movie-making can't capture. As I made my way along the Auto Tour route, stopping at markers with familiar names like Hill and Ewell and Longstreet, or crossing roads named Taneytown or Emmettsburg, I felt the desire to read the book again and soak in the lives of the men who made their marks on this stretch of ground. But my book is at home.

Two stories are the most memorable, to me anyway. The first is the defense of the end of the Union line on Little Round Top, by the 20th Maine, on July 2, 1863. They were led by Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, a professor at Bowdoin College before joining the Union Army. Here is where they fought and where Chamberlain ordered a charge with bayonets, after all their ammunition was gone. Their bayonet charge ended the Confederates' flanking assault on the 20th Maine's position.

The second story is that of Pickett's Charge, on July 3, 1863, the attack that decimated Gen. Robert E. Lee's army. Pickett's division was to cross this field, about a mile of marching with fences to scramble over, all while under artillery fire from the Union troops. They were to make their way to the clump of trees on the right and destroy the enemy position there. Instead they were mowed down, and after the battle, when Gen. Lee asked Pickett the status of his division, Pickett made the famous reply, "General, I have no division..."

After seeing these two locations (Pickett's Charge comes before Little Round Top on the Auto Tour), I drove back to Lancaster, wishing we had brought the movie with us on our trip.

The Trip - Pennsylvania Amish Country

Today was one of those days that started out with a light rain and turned into a wonderfully blustery day with the kind of cold bite in the air that says, "Indian Summer is over and won't be back again this year."

At our RV Park in Lancaster County, we were entitled to a free two-hour tour of Amish Country, and we did that this morning, getting caught in a no-passing zone behind a buggy on the way there. But you expect that around here, so it's not a problem.

The rain spotted the mini-bus windows on the outside, and hot air from all the passengers steamed up the windows on the inside, so we couldn't get any pictures while we were driving.

We made three stops. The first was at an Amish shop that sold a variety of Amish-made crafts and goods.

My mom and I each bought a "Quillow" there, a quilt with a pocket, and when you fold it up and tuck it into the pocket, it becomes a pillow.

The next stop was an Amish quilt shop, where the Quillows cost two dollars more than what we paid, so we were happy (well, we already were, so we were happier) with our purchases. They showed us a selection of their quilts, the most expensive (and exquisite) being over $1,000. Pocket change!

Stop number three was at a Mennonite shop, where the scent of their home-made candles made most of us from the bus say how good it smelled when we walked in the door.

We bought some homemade ice cream instead, not having much of a need for candles.

Our driver/guide had been raised as Old Order Amish but joined a less strict Amish church, and later left that church for normal American life. She wasn't shunned by her family, because it's only the Old Order Amish that do that and only to people who had joined their Order.

She told us about the Amish religious services and weddings (it's wedding season, now that the harvest is in) and other facts of Amish life. I learned more than I expected, since my friends and I toured an Amish farmhouse in 2004. In that tour, they distinguished between Amish and Mennonite as the only two choices for Anabaptists. But our guide today told us about more subtle differences even among one group or the other. It's good to know, and I'm glad we went.

Six Drunk Elephants Electrocuted

The AP reported Tuesday on the sudden deaths of six wild, drunken elephants.

GAUHATI, India — Six Asiatic wild elephants were electrocuted as they went berserk after drinking rice beer in India's remote northeast, a wildlife official said today.

Nearly 40 elephants came to a village on Friday looking for food. Some found beer, which farmers ferment and keep in plastic and tin drums in their huts, said Sunil Kumar, a state wildlife official.

They got drunk, uprooted a utility pole carrying power lines and were electrocuted in Chandan Nukat, a village nearly 150 miles west of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state, Kumar said.

"There would have been more casualties had the villagers not chased them away," said Dipu Mark, a local conservationist.

The elephants are known to have a taste for rice beer brewed by tribal communities in India's northeast. Four wild elephants died in similar circumstances in the region three years ago.

I'm glad even the conservationist is concerned about conserving human lives and not just elephants. American environmentalists would be screaming about the cruelty to the elephants, and the villagers be damned.

Still, what are you going to do about elephants with a taste for beer? Tell them to Just Say No?

Reasons Not to Vote for These Clowns

It's not that we don't already have enough reasons not to vote for some (most) of the candidates for President. But the reasons just don't stop coming.

Barak Obama:

On ABC News's Blog, Sunlen Miller reported yesterday on Obama's choice (or not) for his running mate.

Democratic Senator of Illinois Barack Obama put to bed that question from a voter who donned a t-shirt reading, "Obama and Gore: Experience and Youth, Obama and Gore: Wisdom and Truth."

The supporter asked the '08 presidential hopeful if he would consider taking "the wind out of Hillary’s sails" by asking Nobel prize winner former Vice President Al Gore to be his running mate before the primaries.

"I can promise you that as president I will have him involved in our administration in a very senior capacity in his role," Obama responded that, "having won the Nobel peace prize and an Oscar that being Vice President again would be probably a step down for him."

He's right that Gore's being VP again would be a big step down from sainthood. Or is Gore the world's savior now? I'm having trouble keeping the titles of His Environmental Holiness straight.

But if Obama plans on using the unhinged Gore in a "very senior capacity," then it means Obama is operating in diminished capacity and should be disqualified from office.

John McCain:

The Boston Globe reported Tuesday on John McCain's latest attempt at de-wussifying himself.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain told workers of small weapons factory that he not only wants to catch Osama Bin Laden if elected, but said he "will shoot him with your products".

"I will follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell and I will shoot him with your products," McCain said.

Good idea. But why wait? Why isn't he doing it now?

McCain told reporters afterward he was joking when he made the comment at Thompson Center Arms in Rochester.

"I certainly didn't mean I would actually shoot him. I am certainly angry at him, but I was only speaking in a way that was trying to emphasize my point," McCain said. "I would not shoot him myself."

OK. He really is a wuss. Or another winner of the Idiot Thing To Say Award. Both options are reasons not to vote for him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Trip - Catching Up

We've had problems getting to the internet the last couple days, so I've just finished getting caught up. The new posts (below) are dated approximately when they were written.

We're in Pennsylvania now, having left New Jersey today.

Both of us are getting eager to get back home. We've visited the people we wanted to see on this trip, except my dad's older sister in North Carolina, and we're on the way there. The end of the trip is in sight, and traveling has a way of taking its toll on a person, even when she's enjoying herself. So we're ready to finish this loop.

I had made a list of the places I really wanted to see, and I've already started crossing some of them off. Washington, DC, is gone. Charleston, SC, is being delayed until our Southern Loop this winter. That leaves Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and my aunt as the only items left on the list. We'll see other places on the way to my aunt's house and then on the way to Texas, but nothing as a must-see.

As we go, we'll keep you posted, but right now we're looking forward to reconnecting with the people we love at home.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Trip - New York City Pictures

Riding around New York on the top of a double-decker bus, you look up most of the time. And that's where my camera wanted to point. A couple times, I saw other people on the bus try to take a picture then give up, because their cameras couldn't get the picture they wanted. Their troubles made me glad I ended up with a lens that goes down to 18mm, instead of the 28mm that I had planned to get.

Here are some of the views upward:

This is one of my favorite buildings, the Chrysler Building. Notice the replicas of hood ornaments sticking out from the sides of the building. I didn't get any good shots of the building from a distance, though.

And this one surprised me after the fact with the way the clouds reflected on the sides of the building.

Our first stop, where we left Dominic to continue the tour without us, was at Ground Zero. They have a tent-cover over a four-sided presumably temporary monument. Behind the fence, construction has started on the future memorial and buildings that will go in the place of the Twin Towers.

Next door, in St. Paul's Chapel, is a memorial for the firefighters and other victims of the attacks on 9/11. This is just one tiny corner.

Our second stop, after Ground Zero, was at Battery Park, where we caught the ferry for Liberty Island and Ellis Island. After 9/11, they moved this piece of artwork to Battery Park. It had stood at the World Trade Center, and was damaged by debris during the collapse of the towers. In front of it is an eternal flame.

No trip to New York is complete without a good view of the great Lady Liberty. I noticed, as we rounded the back of the island, that her right foot is behind her, as though she just took a step forward with her left. It seems the Lady is walking forward, leading the way to liberty.

About the time we were at Battery Park waiting for the ferry, the wind kicked up. A couple of the workers were talking about when the rainstorm would hit. One estimated the rain's arrival between 1:00 and 2:00. The other said he heard on the weather report that rain was due around 5:00. Considering we were about to catch the 12:30 ferry, I told them that I liked the 5:00 guy's guess better. They both agreed that the rain was coming much faster than that.

They were both wrong. It didn't come until late evening. But the wind kept blowing all afternoon. This lady's hair and blouse reveal the weather perfectly. Notice her reflection in the window showing the way her pants are being blown against her shins. It was very invigorating in the afternoon.

At Rockefeller Center they've turned on the ice skating for the winter, even though the temperatures have been in the high 70's. Skating in T-shirts... That's the way to live.

Finally, this building has the most ornate exterior. The decorations you see continue all the way up and all the way around. Dominic called it the "Salamander and Crown" motif beneath the windows. But I must nit-pick (I kept my mouth shut on the tour). The fire-breathing salamander was the symbol of France's King François I. He believed a salamander, who lived in water, would never have his flame extinguished (salamanders do not breathe fire, by the way). He had his symbol carved into all the buildings he built or renovated. This Wikipedia article about the Château de Chambord has a picture of François I's salamander (scroll down to "History"). 'Nuff said.

The Trip - New York City Impressions

We're exhausted. Both of us.

This morning I woke up at 3am and couldn't get back to sleep, because I was worrying about my safety in New York and whether I should use my normal purse or switch to the other one I brought for dressier occasions. Sometime after 3:30 I fell asleep and woke to the alarm at 4:15. I switched my essentials to the dressy purse, and we left an hour later, leaving Scooter to spend the day in the motorhome.

We got to the Park & Ride sooner than we expected and were able to catch the earlier bus. It was a two-hour ride, and I snoozed for most of it. I woke up in time to see "New York Times" in giant lit-up letters on the side of a building as the bus pulled into the Port Authority bus depot.

Could I have looked more like a tourist? No.

When we asked for a city tour, we were directed to Gray Line Tours, a double-decker-bus tour company. I explained to the tour-selling lady what we wanted to see: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island--go to them, not just cruise by--and the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, and maybe the UN, but probably not take a tour of it. She told us the cheapest option (the Downtown Tour), which was better-priced than any of the tours we saw in their brochure, so we took it. The tour allows you to get on and off where and when you want to (provided it's one of their stops).

Our first tour guide was Dominic, an Italian from Long Island (pronounced, "Loh-uhng Island"--words like Dawn and sauce are practically two-syllable words), and he sounded a lot like a guy I used to work with who was originally from Brooklyn. There were a lot of people who sounded like New Yorkers or New Jerseyites I've known. I wonder why...

Dominic had been an engineer until his company outsourced and downsized him out of a job many years ago. Then he tried his hand at telemarketing, hated it, and quit. A friend of his told him about the tour guide jobs with Gray Lines, and he's been doing it ever since. We liked him the best of all the tour guides we had.

He told us about the changes in the city since ten or twelve years ago. When Mayor Giuliani came in, Times square was full of homeless people, peep shows, and crime. But Giuliani took charge, got homeless shelters built, contracted with Disney to get rid of the peep shows and replace them with more wholesome fare (Mary Poppins is playing in one theater there), and he cracked down on the city's crime. Now the city is one of the safest in the country, and again downtown is a place where people want to go. Plus (I don't know if it was Giuliani's doing or a successor), they've made it illegal (punishable by a $350 fine) to honk your horn for any reason besides an emergency. The place is much quieter than it was when we got stuck in Manhattan traffic on our way to visit my then-husband's relatives on Long Island in 1982.

Dominic gave us some celebrity news as well. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie just rented a really big apartment in one of the Waldorf-Astoria buildings for only $100K a month (not a typo). Robin Williams got on Dominic's bus a few months ago and took the microphone to give the tour for about five blocks, then he got back off. And they're still filming Sex and the City and Law & Order episodes in town. We passed a spot where Law & Order was filming. He pointed out other landmarks from the movies, like the Daily Bugle building from Spiderman and the building with the Tango scene from Scent of a Woman. I hadn't seen that movie, so I didn't care about it as much as the Daily Bugle.

I felt out of place quite a bit there, especially in the eatery we stopped at for a mid-morning bite to eat (we'd eaten breakfast way earlier than usual and wouldn't last until lunchtime). People coming in grabbed trays, went to a counter here, paid over there, and left us in their dust, still trying to identify some of the food being offered. We selected chicken parmagiana on some sort of bread I've never seen before and asked them to cut it in half for us. Then we didn't know where to wait and when to pay. The guy who answered our questions and heated our sandwich (in a brick oven) was very nice to us, but the whole setup had a way of making newbies like ourselves feel every bit the outsiders that we were.

But I didn't feel out of place in terms of attire the way I thought I would. Sure, there were areas in the upscale and financial districts where everyone on the sidewalks were dressed in classic corporate-wear, but everywhere else, non-tourist people (you could tell) wore jeans or even schlumpy clothes.

Renovations are going on all over town. Just the other day, according to Dominic, someone working on the outside of a building dropped a 500-lb object, and it smashed a taxi. The driver had some cuts from the broken glass but was otherwise unhurt.

Most of the renovations right now are to convert office space into condos, because there's much more money to be made from condos. Small ones cost millions to buy, and rents average $4K a month for a 1 bedroom and $6500 a month for a 3 bedroom. That must be why there are people willing to ride a bus two hours to work and two hours back every day from New Jersey.

I've known people who thrive on the rush and energy of big-city life, but I'm not one of them. Cities wear me out, and New York City wore me out faster than most. My mom and I agreed we really were glad we went. But neither one of us will be going back.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Songs In My Head

I can't get away from it. Someone will say something, or I'll think a thought, that has the same words as part of a song from my past. And there it goes, whether I like it or not.

One morning, after days of gloomy skies, my mom looked out the window and told me, "It looks like the sun came out."

The sun'll come out, Tomorrow,
Betchyer bottom dollar that tomorrow...

Yep. That's a persistent one. It stays with you for a long time.

Some mornings I'll check my watch (it has a button that makes it light up in the dark), and when it says 6:30, the song "Me and Mrs. Jones" starts going. I hate that song, because I hate the message--having an affair--but it comes anyway. Give me 6:00 or 7:00 on my watch, but not 6:30. Lately, when "Mrs Jones" has started, I'll intentionally work on "Tomorrow," because as annoying as it is, it's not as bad as Mrs Jones, yet it's strong enough to push the adulterers right out of my mind.

There was a guy I used to work with (the same guy who kept Gummi Bears on his desk and we'd pull their little ears and make them squeal--"Eeeeh! Eeeeh!"--before biting their little heads off and eating them), and another guy would walk past his desk and sing, "A horse is a horse, of course, of course," just to get the song started in the Gummi Bear guy's head. Cruel.

Other times at work, we'd go out to lunch for a special occasion, and I'd check the time when we got back. If we'd been gone for two hours, I'd think, "A two hour lunch," which has the same rhythm as "A three hour tour...." The version that I'd get is the one with "...the Professor and Mary Ann."

One time, when we were driving through Maine, I noticed that the Len Berry song, "1-2-3," was in my head. It made me happy, because that's my best Karaoke song. I'm not sure what started it. Probably a Route number or an address on a building we passed, but I didn't care. I enjoyed that song while I had the chance.

The most surprising song showed up a couple days ago after we left my brother's house and were driving across Massachusetts. There was a road sign announcing, "Flatbush Rd."

When I was in high school, I was in the play, "No, No, Nanette." I was in the chorus, where I almost always ended up, before I realized I didn't have the talent to make any money acting. There's a scene where three pretty ladies arrive to meet one of the husbands in the show, but the other husband sees them and starts talking to them. He asks their names. The first one is Winnie, from Washington. The second one I forget, but her first name started with the same letter as the town she was from. The third one is Flora, and the man asks, "From Frisco?" And Flora says, "No, from Flatbush." The wife sees her husband with the pretty girls, thinks they're there to see him, and sings a torchy, blues song called, "Hubby Gone Blues," that I really loved.

But that's not the song that started in my head from the Flatbush Road sign. It was, "Too Many Rings Around Rosie."

...What good are "men" compared to "a man"?
And too many rings around Rosie
Will never get Rosie a ring.

It was a fun song--not the right song for the trigger--but it was the first time I've thought of that song in years and years and years.

And all of this brings me to a point I think I've made before in my blog: Songs stay with you. They're always there, just waiting for the right trigger to set them off. I've tried to drum into my kids to guard their minds from the toxic wasteland that's out there in much of the music industry. If you fill your ears with songs of Ho's and other filth, they will still be there when you're old. Fifties kids (and Sixties "Oldies" listeners) still remember the words to "Who Put The Bomp" and "Monster Mash." What will you or your kids remember?

Fires in California

It's California's turn to burn now, after Montana burned in July.

For those who are concerned, since my house and my kids are in North San Diego County: My kids are not in any danger at this time. Their area is not being evacuated.

My house is not in danger either, though that isn't anywhere near as important as my kids.

The Trip - New Jersey

We left my brother's house in Massachusetts for New Jersey. We had wanted to go to New York to see my ex-sister-in-law in the Albany area, but according to our directory, every RV Park for that area closed October 15th. So we had to skip Albany and drive all the way to New Jersey, where there was a campground still open.

We missed the turn at Port Jervis, because I didn't see a sign that told us we were there already. Instead, the interstate took us from New York into Pennsylvania, which wasn't where we wanted to go, and it was another five or ten miles before they gave us an exit where we could turn around. And then we finally found the road south that would take us to our RV Park.

I pulled into the first gas station we saw when we went south, and I knew we were in New Jersey right away. A gas station attendant came up to the motorhome to pump the gas. New Jersey and Oregon don't allow you to pump your own gas. They require professionals for that. It takes some getting used to.

By contrast, Massachusetts lets you pump your own gas, but they've got laws that require removing the latch on the gas pump handle that keeps the gas pumping without your help. In Massachusetts, they want you actively pumping your gas at all times. Hitting your windshield with the squeegee has to wait.

We finally got to the RV Park after the sun went down and got checked in. At the office they gave us some information on how to get to the Park & Ride for the bus into New York City, and they gave us some city tour info as well. We absolutely, positively do not want to drive or try to park in Manhattan. But when I started looking over all the information, there was too much missing. The bus would "Arrive in New York," but didn't say where, so we had no idea how we'd make the connection from the bus to whatever tour we decided on. And we couldn't pick up the internet from our motorhome. It only works near the office, which had closed by then.

I made the executive decision to stay an extra night. We'd spend today figuring out how and what to see in New York, and time permitting, see some of New Jersey. Then tomorrow, we'll tour New York.

We followed the directions to the Park & Ride. It took us over a half hour to get there. Good thing we checked, or we would have missed the bus tomorrow. But you can't buy tickets at the Park & Ride. I called the bus company and was told where we could buy our tickets: at the Newton News & Tobacco shop in town. So we got some directions from a teenager working at the Shop Rite store (the adults were from other towns and had no idea).

The owner of the News shop asked my mom if she had the Senior ID card or the booklet of tickets. She didn't. According to the bus company's website, getting a senior ID and booklet is a long process of sending in a birth certificate and other ID and waiting for the ID card to come back, at which time you can go to a bank and get the booklet that lets you buy half-price tickets. We hadn't done that, of course.

But the man told us to go to the bank across the street and show them my mom's ID proving she's at least 63 and ask for the booklet. The lady at the bank didn't even ask for ID. She just handed both of us the booklets, but I made her keep the one she gave me. Then we went back to the News shop, bought our tickets, and talked to the owner for a while about New York.

He's originally from India but is now a US citizen. He said the last time he went into the city was when he wanted to visit India, and as a US citizen, he had to get a visa from the Indian Embassy. But he said they put some kind of booklet in his US passport, so he doesn't have to go to the Indian Embassy every time he wants to go to India.

He told us we won't need to take a bus or a taxi to go the 5 blocks from where the bus arrives (at the Port Authority terminal, which seems to be Union Station for buses) down to where our likely tour company is. He showed us on a map that 5 blocks on an Avenue is miles and miles (OK, I'm exaggerating), but 5 blocks on a Street (we'll be going on 8th Street) is next to nothing. So we'll be able to walk.

But all this News shop visiting and bank going cut into our New Jersey sightseeing time. We didn't have time to go to the Morristown National Historic Site the way I wanted to. That's where George Washington and his men spent the horrible winter of 1779 - 1780. Oh well...

So here are a few pictures. First, Scooter discovers autumn.

A really cool house, in Newton I think. We had to take the picture while we were driving, because there were no shoulders whatsoever.

The fading autumn glory of our campground.

Tomorrow we have to get up before the crack of dawn. Ugh!

Time Magazine on the Supreme Court

I saw the cover of Time Magazine when we were in the grocery store yesterday, and of course a song started running through my head.

Hey, Time... Time Mag, Mag
You've got me on the rag, rag
Take your insults about the queen
And shove them up your royal Chinese machine

I've never quite understood that song, except that I knew Joan Baez was mad at Time. Was she saying she was the queen of music (of folk music, of protest music)? Probably. Typical Sixties ego.

And did she think Time was a stooge of the Chinese? Strange, when all those folk-protest singers were commies at heart. Were the Chinese too communist for Joan Baez? How could that be?

But this time, I noticed the "royal." It makes more sense that she blamed Time for being a stooge for the non-communist Chinese. Still, since the Sixties, Time has moved to the left in their editorial slant--probably not far enough to suit Joan Baez even today, though.

It's that leftward slant that caught my eye and started Baez's romp through my head. Chief Justice John Roberts was on the cover (no way this would be a puff piece), and the headline said, "Does the Supreme Court Still Matter?" The sub-head on the cover said something about the Justices playing silly games and having a buddy system, so I'm taking that as a "No" answer from Time. No, the Supreme Court doesn't matter anymore, because they're just a bunch of silly people playing games, and we don't need to worry about anything important coming from them.

Funny, I don't remember anything like that on the cover of Time before Roberts and Alito showed up and started inching the Supreme Court away from a solid left majority. When the Supreme Court was heavily weighted to the left, the news media (and maybe even Joan Baez) thought it was an Important Institution. They treated decisions like Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas as solid gold examples of greatness, not as improper decisions that invented Constitutional "protections."

So now that there's more chance for conservative, constructionist decisions to come out of the Court, Time is trying to prep the people to ignore, overlook, possibly even fight any of those decisions that don't go to the left. Like a bag-lady's slip, Time's bias is showing, and it ain't pretty.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Trip - Boston

We went into Boston, having saved the trip for a weekend, when the kids wouldn't be in school. My brother's family had been waiting for a reason to take the "Duck Tour," and we provided that reason.

We took the Massachusetts Turnpike ("Mass Pike"), and after forking over some cash, we got caught in a really long line of cars all wanting to be in the same lane we were in. The traffic couldn't be explained by the Red Sox playoff game, unless the tailgate parties for the night game started really early. But while we waited for our turn to get into Boston, my mom spotted these pastel-colored chemical storage tanks. If your company has to have ugly tanks to present to the world, the least you can do is make them look pretty. Hats off to the chemical company. You know who you are (and I don't).

As we were making our way to the parking area for the Duck Tour, we drove along the Charles River, where a special event, the Head of the Charles, was being held. Sculls and sailboats graced the waters.

At the Duck Tour, we were assigned to Tour #66, and this was our "duck," Longfellow Bridgett. The ducks were amphibious vehicles built for the Army during World War II. Now, they see happier duty.

Our captain/driver/tour guide was Sgt. Meatball (seen here explaining to the people right behind his seat that his chair will smash their feet if they get too close), who trained us to quack twice on command. "I say, 'Luau," and you say..." "Quack, quack!" we said. Sgt. Meatball had us quack at the people we passed on the street. He chose people who waved at us, and also people who looked like they could use a quack.

Part of our drive around the city took us past the cemetary where Samuel Adams and other founding fathers are buried. Sgt. Meatball pointed out that the bar across the street is the only place where you can drink a cold Samuel Adams while looking at a cold Samuel Adams.

There were parts of downtown Boston, like this one, which are Quack-Free Zones, out of respect for the folks along the route. I suppose the people who shop in these districts are above goofiness and things like quacking. Their loss...

Then we went into the water. Sgt. Meatball disengaged the transmission, engaged the propeller, and we coasted down the boat ramp and into the Charles River with a rooster tail of a splash. In the middle of the river, with no other vehicles around us, he invited any children who wanted to to come up and drive the duck. Four kids so chose, including my nephew and niece. And then he let adults have a try, and my sister-in-law volunteered. So now my brother is the only one in their immediate family who hasn't driven a duck.

This is part of the view from the river. The Citgo sign is a landmark people use for finding Fenway Park, which is to the left of the sign.

After our Duck Tour, we decided not to look at any of the landmarks up close, partly because of the parking challenges and the other part because we had a long drive back up the Pike to get home. On our way into Boston, my brother and his wife had worked diligently to avoid taking any tunnels that were part of the Big Dig. Just in case. But on the way back to the Pike, the best directions the girl at the information booth could give us took us squarely into Big Dig territory and multiple tunnels. Out of fairness, we didn't see any leakage (though there was one spot where the wall covering had been removed and you could see concrete or something in the gap, but it was gone too fast to get much detail), and the tunnels didn't fall in on us.

We were relieved to get back to the safety of the Pike, and then home.

At home, Scooter was so happy to see us that he jumped out of the motorhome (where he had napped while we were gone), jumped against my mom's leg for joy, ran over to me and jumped against my leg for joy, then ran back to the motorhome and jumped in and stood over his leash, and waited for me to put it on him, then he jumped back outside and watered the tree. Silly boy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Trip - Visiting Vermont

Today we drove up to Vermont. Autumn is finally in full force around here, but the day was hazy, and my pictures didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. Still, we oohed and ahed at the reds and oranges all the way up.

We went up to the Vermont Country Store and tried the samples of cheeses and pepperoni (really good!) and cookies and sauces. In the kitchen gadgets section, I found replacements for my cast-iron griddle handle cover. Their products are a bit pricey, but it was fun to look around.

After the store, we went hunting for a nearby covered bridge, went past it, and found it on the way back.

This is the creek the bridge crosses.

On a pole near the covered bridge are these signs, reminding fishermen of the law. I had no idea young salmon could be confused with trout. Now I know.

Lunch took us to to the Putney Inn. We had already planned to stop there (early, if possible, to beat the tour buses that we knew were coming--my brother's next-door neighbor was going to be there with a bus tour), and when we were at the Vermont Welcome Center and Rest Area, the folks there recommended it too.

We succeeded in beating the crowd, which swelled as we ate our lunch. And then we rushed back to pick up the kids from school on time.

Tomorrow we go to Boston.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Trip - New England Dinner

Tonight's dinner was Steamers and Lobster, made by real Yankees (my sister-in-law and her mom). I didn't watch the whole process, so I don't guarantee the accuracy of what I'm writing. I'm doing my best, but...

Steamers are clams. That much I'm sure of. First, the clams need to be soaked in water with some cornmeal on the bottom of the sink. They stick out their necks (appropriately, I believe) to eat the cornmeal, and that makes them poop out any sand or other impurities they have in their little bodies. After soaking and eating overnight, they should be ready for dinner. This is what the sink looks like shortly before the clams get tossed into boiling water.

When the steamers were ready, each person got a bowl of clams, a cup of the water the clams were boiled in, and some drawn butter. You take the clam out of its shell, pull off the schmutz that clings to the clam around its neck, hold it by the neck and dunk it in the broth to rinse out any remaining sand, then dip it in the butter, and drop it in your mouth. It tastes OK, especially the butter.

If a clam shell won't open, that's a good indication that the clam was already dead at cooking time, and you shouldn't eat it.

After the steamers were gone, it was time for the lobster. Note that the "tablecloth" was lots of newspapers.

My sister-in-law told the story of having moved to the South when she was younger. There was a bar that served $5 lobsters as a special and, being from New England, she was partial to their special. One time when she was there, a couple Southern guys came in and ordered the lobsters. She watched as they broke off the tail, found the meat, and ate it. Then they pushed their plates aside as though they had finished.

She hated to see good lobster go to waste, so she asked them if they were going to eat the rest.

"You mean there's more?" Apparently they had only heard of eating lobster tails.

Indeed there was more, and she felt it her duty as a Yankee to teach them the way to eat a lobster--rather than just taking advantage of their ignorance.

I'm not sure how much detail I need to go into on how to eat a lobster, so I'll just stop there. When we were finished, the table was covered with piles of red pieces of leg and claw and broken exoskeleton. Then we took our turns washing hands and faces and bemoaning the lack of bibs.

The lobster was followed by an ice cream chaser. Perfect.