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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

Happy Endings

My hair stylist of the last dozen years has retired early, for interesting reasons. When I met her, she was in her early 20s and newly married, but her doctors told her she was unable to have children. Except — oops — she turned up pregnant.

But complications arose. She had several scares when her blood pressure tanked. She almost died during delivery, and the baby was premature. But mother and son eventually recovered.

Two years later, against the advice of her doctors, she got pregnant again. After a difficult time and another scary early delivery, she and her second boy rebounded, albeit slowly.

Two years ago, against the advice of doctors, family, and friends, she became pregnant again. But this time, the pregnancy was textbook normal. No health issues whatsoever. After a full nine-month term, she delivered a healthy girl without incident.

My friend is now a stay-at-home mom, home-schooling the two boys. I see the family around town sometimes. My back-up hair stylist is now the primary.

This story makes me happy.

Pandemonium

A dramatic incident occurred recently in my usually quiet life. It consisted of 10 seconds of utter chaos, an episode that is etched forever in my memory banks. I chuckle out loud each time I mentally replay the scene.

Not long ago on a morning walk, my dog Jake surprised a squirrel — surprised as in met it eyeball to eyeball as we rounded the corner of an old shed. The startled squirrel leapt into the air, bounced off the side of the shed, zipped across Jake’s back, and scrambled up to the shed roof.

But the metal roof was steep and slippery, and the squirrel’s claws found no purchase. Running frantically, but sliding steadily backwards, the squirrel fell to the ground, landing at Jake’s feet.

Barely eluding Jake, the squirrel bounded into a tree, ascended to the uppermost branches, flung itself into the air, and landed with a thunk on the roof of a nearby house.

Fortunately, the roof of the house was not metal, and the squirrel made its escape.

The Rest is Cake

Becca Lawton, a river guide at Grand Canyon during the 1970s and 80s, has written several books about life as a boatwoman. In her most recent, she nicely sums up life in the inner canyon and how being on the river can affect you. As I can attest, the influence of the place is real and powerful. Becca wrote this…

The Canyon may appear vast and overwhelming when seen as a whole, especially when viewed in the mere 17 minutes the National Park Service notes as the average tourist’s visitation time to the rim.

What the mini-visitor doesn’t grasp in that time are the pockets of sanctuary tucked everywhere in the Canyon’s recesses. Deep green waterfalls. Pockets of shade and cool. Pools in red rock. Ferns, monkeyflowers, cottonwoods, willows.

You only have to get them there,” Canyon guide Louise Teal says. “The rest is cake.” Get people to the river, earn their trust, and take them deep into what Louise calls the “zillion-year-old rocks.” She and I were passengers before we took up guiding. Then we never wanted to be apart from the Canyon’s soul-stirring sunsets, embracing rock walls, and endlessly flowing water.

Those we guided, too, found it a beautiful, intense, and, in Louise’s words, “completely fulfilling place.” It is — a place out of time and out of overwhelmed mind.

So take me to the river. Drop me in the water.

Experts say it usually takes about three days for a trip passenger to fully “arrive” on the river and mentally disconnect from their outside lives. Honestly, I don’t think it ever took me three days.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Did I mention that my road trip to the Southwest last month was excellent? I wore shorts and short sleeves every day. Never needed a jacket, rain gear, or umbrella.

Had zero trouble finding decent lodging. Had very few so-so meals. Never got tired from driving. Came home with souvenir t-shirts from Hatch, Gallup, Flagstaff, Sedona, and Grand Canyon.

Furthermore, thanks to the record so helpfully provided by Google Timeline, I can elaborate on how the trip went down…

After dropping off Jake at the kennel, I drove south to Atlanta, then west on I-20 across Alabama and into Mississippi. I spent the first night in Jackson. Supper was an insanely delicious brisket plate at the Pig & Pint. Rating: A+

On Day Two, I continued west on I-20, crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, drove across Louisiana to Shreveport, and into Texas. There, being an intelligent person, I abandoned I-20 and picked up US 84, which goes through neither Dallas nor Houston. I stopped for the night in Waco and dined at La Fiesta Restaurant & Cantina. Rating: B.

On Day Three, I followed US 87 northwest from San Angelo back to I-20, then west through Midland and Odessa. I stopped for the night in Pecos, where I enjoyed a fine meal and beverage at Javelinas Draft House. Rating: A-.

On Day Four, I picked up I-10 to El Paso, then I-25 north through Las Cruces, New Mexico. I stopped for a few hours in Hatch, New Mexico, the famous “Chile Capital of the World.” Hatch is a fun place. The smell of roasting chiles is delightful, and the gift shops carry an amazing selection of chiles — fresh, dried, cooked, candied, and pickled — and Talavera pottery.

After Hatch, I continued north on I-25 and stayed the night in Los Lunas, following dinner and a brew at Buffalo Wild Wings. Rating: B.

On Day Five, I drove north to Albuquerque and west on I-40 past the pueblos, stopping for the night in Gallup — after making the rounds of the numerous shops and trading posts. Supper was at Anthony’s A Taste of the Southwest Mexican Restaurant. Rating: B-.

On Day Six, I continued west on I-40 into Arizona. After a stop at Petrified Forest National Park, I continued to Holbrook, then Winslow, where I visited the very cool gift shop at La Posada Hotel and the “Standin’ on the Corner” statue downtown.

That night, I stayed in Flagstaff and, as is my tradition, enjoyed a draft and a brewer’s platter at Beaver Street Brewery. Rating: sadly, a C. Usually a solid A, but that’s life.

On Day Seven, after a morning of strolling around downtown Flagstaff, I drove south on US 89A through fabulous Oak Creek Canyon to the ultra-touristy, but still enjoyable Sedona. Lunch was a massive cheeseburger and a cold one at the Cowboy Club. Rating: B+.

After wandering around Sedona for a bit, I returned to Flagstaff for the night, where I enjoyed a dinner of soup, salad, and a tall draft at Lumberyard Brewing Company. Rating: A, no question.

On Day Eight, I headed north on US 89 to Cameron Trading Post, detoured over to Desert View Watchtower at the east end of Grand Canyon National Park, then went north to Page. At Glen Canyon Dam, I took photos of sad, receding Lake Powell and found lodging in Page for the night. Dinner was pizza at Strombolli’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. Rating: B.

On Day Nine, I left Page and proceeded to Marble Canyon Lodge and Lees Ferry, then back through Flagstaff and west to Williams. Back in good old Flagstaff for the night, I had fish tacos, homemade chicharróns, and a nice draft at Mother Road Brewing Company. Rating: A-.

On Day 10, I drove north to South Rim Village at Grand Canyon National Park, where I had booked a cabin for two nights at Bright Angel Lodge. That day, I wandered along the rim taking photos of the Big Ditch — the same photos I’ve taken again and again over the years — and paid the obligatory visits to the village gift shops.


My cabin at Bright Angel Lodge.

I planned to have dinner at the Arizona Steakhouse, my favorite GCNP eaterie, but alas, it was open for lunch only. The other main option, the dining room at El Tovar Hotel, requires reservations, and I’m not impressed by El Tovar anyway, so I went to the Maswik Lodge Pizza Pub for a beer and a slice. Rating: maybe a C.

An hour later, unsatisfied by the puny slice, I proceeded to the Bright Angel Tavern and ordered some hot wings and another beer. Rating: B+. I ended the evening happy.

But not for long; the weather, alas, finally turned on me. The forecast for the next few days was for rain at South Rim. The prospect of a day of taking photos in the rain had no appeal, so I went to the front desk and canceled my second night in the cabin. Let some other tourist score a last-minute cancellation.

Later, back at the rim, I was rewarded by my first-ever rainbow at Grand Canyon. This is when you trot out the word awesome, people.

Okay, it was time to head back east. On Day 11, I left the rain behind at Flagstaff and returned east on I-40, back through Winslow, Holbrook, and Gallup, and stopped for the night in Grants, New Mexico. Dinner was a sirloin steak smothered in mushrooms and onions at La Ventana Steaks and Spirits. Rating: A.

On Day 12, I rolled through Albuquerque on I-40 and continued east. The truck traffic soon became too much, so I exited I-40 at Clines Corners and drove south to US 60, which I followed through Encino, Vaughn, Fort Sumner (where I stopped at the Billy the Kid Museum), and Clovis.

I then crossed into Texas and proceeded to Lubbock for the night. Supper was tacos and a draft at the Copper Caboose Restaurant and Sports Grill. Rating: B+.

On Day 13, I continued east on US 82 through Wichita Falls, and on to Paris, Texas, for the night. Dinner was a chopped pork plate at Phat Phil’s BBQ. Rating: A.

On Day 14, I passed through Texarkana and continued east on US 82 across southern Arkansas, crossing the Mississippi River at Greenville. I stopped for the night in Winona, Mississippi, and for supper had a quesadilla at Tequila’s Restaurant. Rating: B+.

On Day 15, I followed US 82 east into Alabama and picked up I-20 in Tuscaloosa. I stayed on I-20 through Birmingham, back into Georgia, on to Atlanta, and north on I-85 to Jefferson. I was home by late afternoon. Supper was a bowl of Nongshim Bowl Noodle Soup, Spicy Shrimp flavor. Always an A.

That final day of the trip was a Saturday, which was nice because weekend traffic in Atlanta usually is less awful than on workdays.

But, no, a wreck on the northern perimeter, I-285, left me trapped in a monumental traffic jam. This was my view of things for, oh, 90 minutes.

Two points in closing:

First, my hat is off to Google for shadowing me 24-7 and documenting my every move so I could reconstruct the trip via the Timeline feature.

Second, Jefferson is a pleasant, peaceful little town. We have just five traffic signals, not counting the four at the loathsome I-85 interchange. Traffic jams around here are rare and brief.

I like Jefferson. Atlanta can go scratch.

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A road trip, one could say, is like a box of chocolates.

I just got home from a two-week road trip to the Southwest, and it was supremely satisfying. All went well. I wandered far, experienced much, and dined lavishly.

Owing to the lavish dining, I returned home five pounds heavier. But I’ve since shed four of the pounds, so…

Looking back on the said box of chocolates, certain memories stand out.

The Coyote

On the morning of Day Eight, I drove north from Flagstaff on US 89 on my way to Page, Arizona. In the community of Bitter Springs on the Navajo Nation, I turned left onto US 89A, which leads north to Marble Canyon, where Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River.

As I made the turn, I noticed a large sheep pen beside the highway on the right. The pen was about the size of a tennis court, maybe larger. Inside were 50 to 75 sheep, grazing peacefully.

The enclosure was extra substantial. It was about six feet high, constructed of chain link, and rimmed with barbed wire. This was a serious sheep pen.

And next to the fence, stoically observing the sheep mere feet away, was a coyote.

I slowed down to get a good look. The sheep grazed peacefully, apparently unperturbed. Maybe they were accustomed to the presence of a coyote at the fence line. Or multiple coyotes.

The coyote watched the sheep quietly and never moved. How long he remained there, and whether this was a regular scenario, I can’t say.

But two hours later, when I passed through Bitter Springs again on my way to Page, the coyote had not moved one inch from his post.

Twilight Chat

Usually, when you see a uniformed ranger at a national park, he or she is surrounded by tourists and either answering questions or delivering a lecture.

But late in the evening of Day 10 of my trip, as I strolled along the rim of Grand Canyon at South Rim Village taking photos of a glorious sundown, I came upon a “lone” ranger seated on the retaining wall, quietly taking in the scenery.

She was young and either Hispanic or Native American. As I paused a few steps away to take photos, she said, “I have SO many photos of this place, and I keep taking more.”

“Me, too,” I said. “But I gave up fighting it long ago.”

“Oh, you’re a repeat visitor,” she said. “Are you familiar with some of the landforms out there — Brahma Temple, Zoroaster?”

And that started a 10-minute conversation in which we shared Grand Canyon stories.

I told her about the enlarged photo on my living room wall, taken on the Clear Creek Trail, looking up at Zoro between those massive arms. And about my hike with my sons Britt and Dustin up the “Banzai Route” to Utah Flats on top of Cheops Pyramid.

And about my raft trips and mule trips and backcountry hikes and trips to Phantom Ranch. I told her I’ve now been to Grand Canyon 29 times.

She had done all that and more. Even worked at Phantom for a time.

It’s so gratifying to meet someone who really knows Grand Canyon. Who gets it.

Zoroaster Temple as seen from the Clear Creek Trail.

Two of my favorite observations about life come from Buzz Holmstrom, a filling station attendant from Oregon who, in 1937, built his own boat and rowed it down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. He is thought to be the first person to run the river solo.

Buzz wrote in his journal that he gained nothing tangible from the trip. His reward was simply in “the doing of the thing.”

Buzz also praised traveling solo. “I know I have got more out of this trip by being alone than if a party was along, as I have more time — especially at nite — to listen & look & think & wonder about the natural wonders, rather than listen to talk of war, politics & football scores.”

A wise man, that Buzz.

This post I wrote some years ago tells more about Holmstrom and his grand adventure. And the journal of his trip is well worth reading.

In my next post, more details about my route and adventures.

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Thoughts du Jour

Mummies

Humans have a habit of believing preposterous nonsense — embracing ideas that defy evidence and common sense. I could point to the behavior of today’s conservatives, but instead, consider the ancient Egyptians. They decided that the soul could not live on in the afterlife unless the body of the deceased was preserved. Seriously. Hence, their obsession with mummies.

The Egyptians traditionally buried the dead in the desert sand, which conveniently mummified the bodies. It was fine just to drop common folk in a hole, but it was inappropriate if you were important. So, for the rich and powerful, the Egyptians began building monument-style tombs.

The first such tomb was a mastaba, which in ancient Egyptian means “eternal house.” Mastabas were rectangular structures with inward-sloping sides and flat roofs, constructed of bricks made from mud. They protected the body from animals and grave robbers, but the absence of sand meant no mummification and — drat — no soul living on in the afterlife.

So they developed artificial mummification. For bigshots, of course. In time, the bigshots also concluded that mastabas weren’t elaborate enough, and pyramids became a thing.

In summary, the concept arose that your soul is doomed if your dead body decomposes as nature intended. Egyptian society seized on that idea and focused on it for several thousand years. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Island

For four years in the 1950s, my dad was stationed at Tyndall AFB, Florida, and we Smiths lived in nearby Panama City. In 1956, Dad got a one-year assignment as base commander at Thule AFB, Greenland. No dependents live at Thule, so Mom and us kids remained in Panama City.

Dad called, wrote, and sent photos regularly, which kept us up to date about life at Thule. One fact about the place that got a snicker from my 14-year-old self was the story of a small island within sight of the base named, in the Inuit language, Iganaq.

Due to its appearance in profile, people at Thule called the island the Witch’s Tit. Dad got a snicker, too, from telling us that.

In 1958, Greenland changed the name of the island from Iganaq to Dalrymple Rock. This was to honor Dr. Paul Dalrymple, a geographer and meteorologist who spent a good part of his career in Greenland.

Despite the name change, I’m sure the island remained Iganaq to the Inuit. And to the people stationed at Thule, it’s probably still the Witch’s Tit.

Unexpected Journey

When I stopped for lunch in Commerce recently, I had no way of knowing I was about to drive a mom and two preschoolers to the next county.

As I arrived at the Wendy’s parking lot, a female voice called out, “Sir! Sir! My car broke down, and my boys are with me, and my phone is dead! Can I borrow your phone to call my Nanna?”

The mom was in her late 20s and understandably stressed. I handed her my phone. She called Nanna, who didn’t answer, probably because it was from an unknown caller. So the mom sent a text. Still no reply. Nanna was MIA.

The mom thanked me and told me to proceed with my lunch. She said Nanna probably would respond soon. So I proceeded with lunch.

After lunch, I checked, and still no word from Nanna. I couldn’t just leave them stranded, so I told the mom I would drive them to Nanna’s house, which was about five minutes away. The mom protested feebly while transferring the boys and their car seats to my car.

She spent the drive trying to set me up with Nanna, who was described as healthy, active, attractive, and a widow. I was politely noncommittal.

Nanna was home, working in the garden. The mom wanted me to give Nanna my phone number, but Nanna (indeed a handsome woman) steered the mom away while waving a thank-you over her shoulder. I drove back to Commerce, where I bought some dog treats at Marshall’s.

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The day I graduated from college in June 1964, having gone through the ROTC program, I also was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Eventually, I would be called to active duty for a four-year commitment.

In my case, eventually was 30 days later at Cannon AFB in Clovis, New Mexico.

At the time, I was driving a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. It was my first car, a gift from my parents a year earlier.

The Bel Air looked great, but, unfortunately, wasn’t so good mechanically. Driving from Georgia to Clovis took its toll. So did taking weekend trips around New Mexico. The first time I drove home to Georgia on leave, the Bel Air seriously struggled.

It was time for new wheels — the first car purchased with my own money.

Being a debonaire young lieutenant-about-town, I needed a vehicle suitable for my station. So, in March 1965, after much deliberation, I signed a deal with the Ford/Lincoln/Mercury dealer in Clovis to buy a 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente convertible — brand new, custom-ordered from the factory.

In Spanish, in case you didn’t know, caliente means hot. Mostly, the word is used in the sense of spirited.

My Caliente was carnival red with a white top, white leatherette interior, bucket seats, dual mufflers, automatic transmission, and a 289 cubic inch V8 engine.

Between the small frame and the big engine, that puppy could leave rubber anywhere, anytime, even without a clutch to pop.

This is a 1965 Comet Caliente, carnival red with white top and interior:

She indeed was caliente.

What, you ask, did I pay for that fine car in 1965? Well, the sticker price was $3,335.60.

To prove it, here’s the sticker.

As for the purchase price, I must have been on my game that day. The dealer and I settled on $2,550.00 cash.

To prove it, here’s the check.

In case you were wondering, $2,550 in 1965 was the equivalent of about $23,000 in today’s dollars.

The Caliente proved to be a terrific vehicle. She and I had some good times together, and I remember her fondly. She was beautiful, fun, and reliable. Not to mention built like a tank.

I mean that in the kindest sense. That car was constructed of premium-grade steel that a sledgehammer probably couldn’t dent. Not that I ever put a scratch on her.

The auto industry stopped using heavy steel to build cars decades ago. Pity.

Today, I drive a Subaru Crosstrek, and I love it. It’s super reliable and has amazing electronic safety and convenience features. The Caliente, like all cars from olden times, pales in comparison to modern vehicles like the Crosstrek.

Except in terms of sheer caliente.

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When I was a kid, during times when my family was not living overseas, we went to Savannah several times a year to see relatives.

I had no problem with that and always looked forward to those visits. Most of my relatives were, and are, good people. And Savannah is a fun place.

One memorable character from those Savannah trips was George, a black man who delivered the mail in the Gordonston neighborhood. George was old from my perspective, but could have been anywhere from his 40s to his 60s.

He was graying and a bit heavy, and the exertion often got to him. But he was a kindly, cheerful man who knew the neighborhood kids by name, including visiting Smiths.

George looked a lot like Uncle Ben, whose benevolent image adorned packages of Uncle Ben’s Rice for decades.

That benign image, by the way, was based on Frank Brown, the maître d’ at a Chicago restaurant frequented in the 1940s by the founder of Uncle Ben’s Rice. The founder believed — correctly, it seems — that Mr. Brown had a certain je ne sais quoi that would help sales.

The personae of both Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima were retired from the advertising business in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd. Uncle Ben’s Rice became Ben’s Original Rice, minus that familiar face. The Aunt Jemima brand was renamed Pearl Milling Co., the company’s original name from 1889, and the visage of a smiling Jemima is history.

George the mailman had a regular routine in Gordonston. Scattered around the neighborhood were streetside mailboxes where trucks dropped off the day’s mail. George transferred the mail to a large leather pouch slung over his shoulder, made the deliveries (either into front porch mailboxes or through mail slots in the door), and repeated the process until the job was done for the day.

Later, George and his peers were given rolling carts in place of the pouches. And at some point, he retired. By the time I was a teen, most door-to-door delivery had been replaced by mailboxes at the street and mail trucks.

I can still hear George’s gravelly voice and Geechee accent when he greeted me. “Hey there, Rocky! Y’all back in town for a visit! How’s Lee and your mama and daddy?”

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Last month, I wrote a post entitled “Going Places” that underscored the atypical nature of my childhood. I’d like to elaborate on that.

One of the main reasons I turned out the way I did — which, in my opinion, is pretty okay — was growing up as a military brat. In my case, an Air Force brat.

A brat in this sense is a child raised by a parent or parents serving in the armed forces. It’s a term of endearment, not a pejorative.

Because military service involves frequent reassignments, brats rarely live in one place for very long. Thus, sociologists describe them as a “modern nomadic subculture.”

Today, according to the Department of Defense, about 15 million Americans — out of a population of 330 million — are current or former military brats. They range in age from infancy to the 90s.

Brat life bears little resemblance to civilian life, and it is rarely seen by the civilian world. Let me give you a peek behind the curtain.

Naturally, the overriding factor in the brat world is the military connection. The military mission is of paramount importance. Military rituals dominate. Military slang permeates the language.

Further, every military installation has areas that are off limits and protected for security reasons, such as flight lines and weapons armories. Armed guards and surveillance are part of life.

I’ve already mentioned the constant mobility. When a military parent is transferred to a new assignment — usually every few years, sometimes more often — the family packs up and moves. All around you, on a regular basis, friends and neighbors are departing and being replaced.

Like many brats, I was born in a military hospital. When I was new to the world, my family moved so often that I literally have no hometown.

Another big factor in brat life is housing. Depending on circumstances, a military family will be either assigned to on-base housing or given a stipend to live in a nearby town. Either way, family life is closely tied to the base because of the services provided. Virtually all military installations have their own facilities for shopping, dining, recreation, and, when you live overseas, schools.

The odds are high that you will live outside the US. One study found that over 90 percent of brats have lived in one foreign country, over 60 percent have lived in two, and over 30 percent have lived in three. Me, I spent a total of five years in Japan, France, and Germany.

The overseas experience, psychologists say, leaves the average brat more adaptable, more accepting of other people and other lifestyles, and with a more realistic worldview. I’ll buy that.

Further, brats have been shown to have lower delinquency rates, higher scores on standardized tests, and higher IQs than their civilian counterparts. Whereas 24 percent of civilians have college degrees, 60 percent of brats do.

The brat life does have negative aspects. Brats regularly leave friends behind, knowing they may never see them again. This is the reality, and a brat learns to let go of the past and embrace the present and the future.

Another negative I always found troubling is the military system of strict segregation by rank. According to military theory, this is necessary to maintain unit discipline. But the system seems unnecessarily draconian.

Classism manifests throughout the military world. In the military, you are required to be deferential to anyone of higher rank. The system is so strict that for an officer to “fraternize” with an enlisted person is illegal under military law.

For years, it was common on military installations for the families of officers and enlisted people to have separate seating in base chapels and movie theaters. That practice mercifully was ended. Likewise, the system of separate and unequal officers clubs and enlisted clubs is fading out.

But the inequality in housing remains. Housing for officers is always superior to that of enlisted personnel. And housing for generals and admirals is always the most lavish of all.

Overseas, the US military maintains school systems for American dependents, but the children of officers and enlisted personnel attend the same schools.

From my experience, it was rare for brats to judge their peers by the rank of their parents. To our credit, we usually formed our social groups for positive reasons, not based on the military caste system.

Even so, I can remember a few classmates, mostly the children of higher-ranking officers, who were too full of themselves. Jerks are everywhere, and these were immature, teenage jerks. Like bullies, most were not tolerated well socially.

So, growing up as a military brat was a unique adventure and a life-changing experience.

The brat life made me who I am. And, hey — I like who I am.

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Several decades ago, I met a man in Buford, Georgia, born and raised there, who had never been to Atlanta. Atlanta is a mere 35 miles from Buford via Interstate 85.

In fairness, he avoided Atlanta because he considered it an evil place full of crime and villainy.

But in addition, he had never set foot out of Georgia. He was in his 40s, an auto mechanic, married with kids. He was content and saw nothing unusual about his situation.

I, on the other hand, found it mind-boggling. Having been to, and lived in, so many different places in my life, I simply was astounded.

When I was a kid, my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved often. Very often. Growing up, I lived in Macon, Jacksonville, Savannah, Japan, Virginia, Florida, France, and Germany, in that order.

During our two years in Japan, we traveled the islands regularly. During our three years in Europe, we visited Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

When we returned to the US in 1960, I spent the next four years at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was the longest I’d lived in one place in my life.

On the About Mr. Write page on this blog, I describe myself as a frequent road-tripper. I mean that literally.

Since 1992, when I finally began documenting my travels, I have taken 134 multiple-day trips somewhere around the country. That’s about four trips annually. In other words, for the last 30 years, I’ve hit the road every three months.

I have visited every state in the US except Alaska. Especially after my divorce, I made it a point to seek out new places, just to see, explore, and experience.

As you may know, I have a special affinity for the Southwest, and Grand Canyon is my go-to vacation spot. As I am quick to note, I’ve been to Grand Canyon 28 times in the last 28 years.

I’ve probably driven every paved road in Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern halves of Utah and Colorado.

At some point, I began taking trips to fill in the blanks, going to New England, the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf coast, the Appalachians, Montana, and so on.

Lately, COVID has cramped my style a bit. Age and arthritis have slowed me down, too. I don’t think my traveling days are over quite yet, but when they are, I’ll be content because of the memories.

Stored in my head are decades of superlative memories, many of them documented by the thousands of transparencies, prints, and digital images I’ve amassed — and which, I assure you, are carefully preserved and organized.

Like all of us, I am a walking memory vault of my unique experiences.

I am blessed to be a son, brother, nephew, cousin, father, and grandfather. Family memories will mean the most, always. But the memories of my travels and adventures on the road are in a special category.

I thank God I’m not the Buford mechanic.

Recently, on a travel website, I read an article entitled, “The 16 Most Beautiful Places in the US.”

Listed were Acadia, Antelope Canyon, Badlands, Everglades, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Horseshoe Bend, Mammoth Cave, Monument Valley, Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls, White Sands, Yellowstone, and Zion.

A fine selection. But they should have made it 17 and included Yosemite. For the record, I’ve visited all 17.

Okay, that said, I am compelled to include some photos…


The trail to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, follows that ridge.

A black bear and her cub, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
In the village of Supai in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, few dogs are house pets. Most live free-range and are cared for informally by the community.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.

A boy swimming nose to nose with a manatee in the city of Crystal River, Florida. Up to 1,000 manatees winter there because the water in the bay is warmer than the Gulf.

A nice Monet in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
A row of seastacks on the Pacific coast.

Native Americans sell their art daily at the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hermit Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. When the sediment levels from upstream tributaries are low, the water is emerald green.

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Thoughts du Jour

Nope

Recently, just for something different, I bought a copy of Mother Earth News, a how-to magazine about sustainable farming, natural gardening, simple living, etc. Among the articles was a story by a woman who raises Guinea Hogs, a breed of small black pigs.

The author described the animals as intelligent, friendly, and gentle. She said one of her females, Louise, enjoys belly rubs, ear scratches, and going to the park on Saturday to listen to banjo music. Guinea Hogs are “full of personality,” she wrote. “They’re easy to love and easy to handle.”

She then added, “They also provide delicious pork and lard.”

People, I am as carnivorous as the next guy, but killing and eating animals that literally live as pets — that’s just wrong. Don’t lovingly raise animals you plan to murder and consume. Don’t name your pig Louise and take her to the park and then execute her for bacon. Jeez Louise.

The Miracle

In 1954, I was a 12-year-old 7th-grader living in Panama City, Florida. On one memorable spring Saturday, Mom and Dad took us kids to the Bay County Fair, which, incidentally, dates back to 1945 and still operates today.

In those days, children rarely were supervised. If you were old enough to take care of yourself, you were chased from the house and told to “go play” and stay out of trouble until suppertime. Thus, when we got to the fair, I was given a dollar and set loose to have fun, stay out of trouble, and return at a specified time.

Rides at the fair cost about 25 cents, drinks and snacks about 10 cents. I was delighted to have that dollar, but I knew it wouldn’t go far. I would need to spend it wisely.

Then, a miracle happened.

Something on the ground a few steps ahead caught my eye. I approached. To my utter astonishment, it was — gasp — a federal reserve note — the beautiful, unmistakable green of cash money. I picked it up, heart pounding.

Holy mother of God, it was a five-dollar bill!

Five dollars! I was rich! In my sheer ecstasy, I nearly fainted.

How I spent my riches at the fair that day, I don’t recall. But I spent every glorious penny of it.

For the record, I did not tell Mom and Dad about my good fortune. They would have made me save some of it or share it with my brothers.

As if.

Hoarding

We common folk justifiably get steamed at how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And usually, most of the ire is aimed at billionaires — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — because it gives you a face you despise and want to punch.

But there are institutional targets that deserve the vitriol even more. Take, for example, the obscenely wealthy churches of the world. Organized religion is, after all, simply a type of business enterprise — exempt from taxation, mind you — designed to make a profit.

The Mormon Church is worth a whopping $100 billion, which is amazing for its relatively small size. The Catholic Church no doubt has a net worth of many times that, but its wealth is off the scale to such a degree — vast gold deposits, extensive physical assets, webs of investments, priceless works of art — that the Holy See itself likely doesn’t know its own value.

Speaking of value, you may not be aware that the British royal family is worth $88 billion. And that the Kuwaiti royal family is worth $360 billion. And that the Saudi royal family is worth $1.4 trillion.

All that wealth, hoarded to no real purpose, when a small percentage of it would lift all eight billion souls on this planet out of poverty.

As if.

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