Saturday, June 23, 2012

So long, Jack

Repairman JackToday we just took it easy in the morning, then did our workouts. After that, Ken headed out to mow the lawn (it really wasn’t in too bad of shape, even after about a month), and despite a setback with one of the belts, was able to get it done. I did my best to help as he tried to get the new belt on, but I’m afraid I couldn’t help very much.

After a few minor chores inside, I sat out on the deck to enjoy the nice day and continue reading my current book, Nightworld by F. Paul Wilson. It was originally published in 1992, but Mr. Wilson reworked it to reflect the adventures of the main character, Repairman Jack, over the years.

If you don’t know Jack (see what I did there?), I highly recommend the couple of dozen novels in the Jack/Adversary cycle. I’ve written about Jack before, and I still think he is one of the best characters in modern fiction. He’s a “fixer,” but becomes entangled in forces larger than he’d ever imagined. The survival of our little corner of the universe is at stake, and this reworked novel is the culmination of that struggle between a malevolent force and a somewhat indifferent one.

This was a great read, and I burned through the last 200 pages this afternoon. If you’re interested (and I really recommend this series!), here is the full list of Repairman Jack novels and short stories. We’re not done with Jack yet, because Mr. Wilson is planning on writing three “interim” novels, which will take place in time between the three young adult novels and the numerous Jack-as-adult novels.

Great book, great character, great writing. Check it out!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sensory overload

Information overload4Another lesson I learned on our vacation, one that has nothing to do with Route 66 or travel in general, is that I need to cut down on my news and other feeds.

When we were gone, I read almost nothing online. I would usually have CNN on when we were getting ready to head out for the day, and I’d get breaking news updates on my phone. But otherwise, I just marked all my feeds as “read.”

I had to do it. There just wasn’t time enough in the day to do our traveling, enjoy our lunches, dinners, and wandering about, and then write a blog entry at night about it all (which we both wanted to do...not only for your enjoyment, but to chronicle everything as it happened).

I realized that it was quite liberating to detach myself from these feeds; I had no qualms as I clicked “Mark all as read” and no fears that I was missing out on some important nugget of information. I was connected, in case anyone needed to reach me, and I was updating people who we would be seeing along the way, but I wasn’t spending much time weeding through news stories. It was actually a relief!

So I started making some changes this week. I still have plenty of personal blogs that I read, and those friends will continue to see occasional comments from me. On every entry? Probably not, but that was a change I made a while back. I was much more merciless when it came to news and “fun” feeds. One of the first to go was 9GAG, which was a lot of fun for a while, but deteriorated into probably 75+ entries a day of bad drawings and overdone memes; a few other similar sites also bit the dust. I deleted a few political blogs that were heavy on the sarcasm and short on facts. There were a couple of blogs that update rarely, if ever in the past year, and those went, too.

I haven’t lost my interest in these things, and I still plan on keeping up with the news. I mean, come ON...this is Beth we’re talking about here! That isn’t going to change. But as I get back to my usual reading pace, I needed to downsize a bit. At least my downsizing doesn’t screw over the American worker!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It’s the journey

IMG_3203smI think I’ll dedicate this entry to my Dad. Today would have been his 89th birthday. He loved to hit the open road, and one of his favorite sayings was “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” I can’t help but think how happy he would have been for us that we got to do this trip, and how much he would have enjoyed hearing about our adventures. Here’s to you, Dad.

It’s kind of hard to articulate the mystique of Route 66 that exists for so many of us. There are other iconic roads (The National Road, The Lincoln Highway, The Old Spanish Trail, Pacific Coast Highway) that are fascinating in their own right, but Route 66 is special.

But why? I can’t speak for everyone who loves the Road, only for myself. As we were cruising along, I had plenty of time to reflect on what is so special about it, and why people come from all over the world to travel it.

Part of it is definitely the nostalgia factor. Being able to travel so much of the old road gives you an idea of what it must have been like for travelers in years past. The very narrow portions of the Road in Illinois and Oklahoma make me think of people traveling the original dirt trail in wagons; the twists and turns near Oatman, Arizona make me imagine a family traveling it in a Model T; the four-lane portions winding through the Missouri bluffs bring to mind a happy couple in a big ol’ boat of a ‘50s convertible. Although many of the old businesses are in ruins or gone completely, numerous examples of roadside eateries still abound. One of my favorites was Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis. This walk-up reminds me so much of ice cream stands of my youth. Ken and I were there on a hot afternoon (boy, did that Concrete—thicker than a Dairy Queen blizzard—ever taste good...!), but when Shane and I were there, it was a June evening. The neon was on, moths were beating at the lights, and the place was really hopping.

IMG_3300smThe old motels also reminded me of my childhood, taking road trips with my parents. Back then, we stayed in plenty of little old motels like you encounter on Route 66. Again, many of these are no longer operating as tourist motels, or are not kept up well. The few notable exceptions are a delight, with simple, clean rooms. Gift shops still dot the roadway, and at the famous Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Arizona, I did indeed see rubber tomahawks! But it’s not just about the nostalgia, or trying to relive one’s lost youth. Route 66 is a vital place, with many people still catering to tourists and giving rest to weary travelers. It may have changed a bit, and is no longer as busy as it once was, but there is a lot of life left yet in the old highway. Like all of us, it may be getting older, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready to give up the ghost just yet!

I was also struck by the changing terrain. It cuts through two-thirds of the United States, and you see a broad representation of what our country has to offer. From the urban landscape of Chicago, you pass quickly into vast expanses of Midwestern cornfields. The rocky bluffs of Missouri give way to the prairies of Oklahoma, after a brief trip through Kansas. You soon pass into the flat plains and cattle country of Texas, followed by the beautiful landscapes and soaring heights of New Mexico. The mountainous terrain of Arizona has the true feel of the Old West, and the trip through the Mojave Desert is nothing less than imposing (imagine going through it in a Model T!). The urban sprawl of southern California has the feel of the “promised land,” as it was for many people over the years, and passing over the mountains to the coast brings cooler temperatures and a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. It was fascinating to me to see the countryside changing with every mile eaten up by the tires of our Detroit rollin’ iron. It truly was a good-sized chunk of our country, and it was an incredible lesson as to just how beautiful, in many different ways, it is. The vast, open farm fields have as much charm to me as the vast, open desert. The lush, verdant hardwoods of Missouri are as beautiful as the towering pines of Flagstaff. Of course, there are many other climates and terrains to be seen in our country...which is amazing in itself. We passed through eight states (not counting Indiana, on our way up to Chicago to pick up the very beginning of the Route), and only saw part of this amazing land.

IMG_3452smAnother lesson I learned on this trip is something I mentioned when we were having lunch with Andy and Linda after his graduation. Although we planned out where we wanted to get to every night, we only had three motel reservations. I had an idea of things to stop at, and one of the must-stops was Afton Station to visit Laurel. I had no hard-and-fast rules about where to eat, although there were some definite possibilities (I’ve been by the Ariston Café twice now...maybe the third time I’ll actually manage to eat there!). In short, I didn’t micromanage the trip, and we did our best to find new and unusual places to eat. That’s part of the adventure! When I talked to Mom yesterday, she mentioned that when her and Dad were out west, they stopped at a Pizza Hut, because that way they knew what to expect. I said, “Oh, we’re just the opposite. We like finding new places rather than chains.” And it turned out that we found some fun places! I purposefully did not plan the trip down to the last detail, because there is plenty to be said for spontaneity and seeing what you can scare up. At times it could get a little frustrating because there might not be much in a small town. We settled for an Applebee’s at least once. But it was a good lesson in just taking what comes and adjusting if need be. Part of the fun of leaving the Interstate behind is taking the time to see things on the dirty back roads and byways. We agreed that it won’t always be possible to take the back roads, but when we do, we’ll make sure we enjoy them!

IMG_3532smFinally, as we were cruising along one day, a thought popped into my head. I told Ken, “Route 66 is kind of a metaphor for America. It IS America. The diversity of the people, the terrain, and...well, I haven’t gotten much further in my thoughts on that, but I’ll work on it!” Haha! I did think about it more, and I think it’s a good analogy, beyond the reasons I mentioned. In its early incarnation, it was an ambitious project to pave a highway going across most of the country to California. It involved planning and a spirit of entrepreneurship on the part of Cyrus Avery and those he worked with to make it happen. During the Depression and Dust Bowl era, it meant the way to a better way of life for many people. It didn’t always work out that way for those families, but the Road west meant hope and the possibility of a brighter future. During WWII, work was abundant, and Route 66 brought people west to work in munitions plants; many of those people settled in California permanently and pumped money into a booming state economy. With the advent of motion pictures, aspiring actors and actresses traveled to Hollywood hoping for their big break. After WWII, GIs came home and married, had kids, and traveled Route 66 to vacation in California. With all the motorists passing by, endless roadside businesses cropped up to cater to tourists and compete for their dollars. It wasn’t just southern California that profited by being Route 66’s terminus; every little town and big city on the Route reaped the benefits of this highly-trafficked road.

IMG_3655smHard times were ahead for many of these businesses, as the Route changed to cut off some of the detours, or bypassed small towns entirely. Once thriving roadway towns like Glenrio dried up virtually overnight. This was only a harbinger of things to come, as President Eisenhower instituted the construction of a massive Interstate system that circumvented much of the Route and most of the small towns. Businesses floundered and died, some limped on, and when Route 66 was decommissioned as a federal highway in 1985, it seemed that the Road itself was dead.

But just like all those hopeful travelers from the decades before, it refused to give up. Through the efforts of Route 66 business owners like Angel Delgadillo and authors like Michael Wallis, a fascination with the Road began to take hold, both within our country and internationally. Something about the Road speaks to people. For Americans, perhaps it’s a recognition of its historic significance to so many families, probably including their own. For those in Europe and Japan and Australia, maybe it’s thinking that it’s a chance to see a great deal of America on a highway that has a decidedly cool American vibe. For some, it’s a matter of ferreting out the forgotten Road and abandoned portions, and thank goodness for those who are so fascinated by this aspect of it that they write detailed guidebooks—like Jerry McClanahan, whose excellent guidebook we used for much of the trip! (And thank goodness for Ken, who understands my fascination with the Road and made this trip possible. Not to mention putting up with my requests to stop so I could get sign pictures! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Honey!) It is all of these things for me: the landscape, the people, the thriving roadside businesses and the abandoned ones, the small towns, the big cities...and the
hope. The hope of a brighter future for all, the hope that things will get better, the hope that our country can once again achieve its potential that so many once believed was not only possible, but inevitable.

Route 66 is a microcosm of America. It embodies our ambition, our ingenuity, our hopes and dreams, and our stubborn refusal to give up. Many have said, “If that Road could talk, the stories it would tell!” It IS talking...still.

It’s not a bad idea to slow down long enough to hear what it has to say.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Vacation Wrap-up

IMG_4530smWe are back home again in Indiana! This was an epic vacation, but I think we’re both happy to get back to Nutwood and stop living out of suitcases. To paraphrase Sting, why must I be a woman in a suitcase? I think I was as happy to see Sheeba as he was to see us. I missed our kitty! He was well taken care of by Uncle Shane and Uncle Matt and his Grandma A. Thanks to all for taking such good care of our small furry black child!

After eighteen straight days of posting about our travels on Route 66, most entries with a lot of pictures, I was about burned out on blog entries, so please forgive my week-long absence. We were also pretty busy with getting place to place and meeting up with various friends and family. So I’m going to backtrack a bit and get you caught up on the last week of our trip.

As I wrote in the last entry, Monday afternoon was a visit to both the official and unofficial end of Route 66. We took it easy that night (don’t ask me where we ate, because everything ran together after a while!), and then went back to the Pier the following day to check things out a little more. We made sure to pay a visit to the End of the Road kiosk to see Dan Rice (on the advice of several people along the way), but he wasn’t there that day. Instead, we got to talk to his nephew (or was it his cousin?) Matt, who was just a super nice guy. He was kind enough to take our picture by the “End” sign at the kiosk. We bought a couple of doo-dads for the shadow box I’ll be making of our trip, and we both got shirts. (I’m really pleased with the one I got, one that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I’ll post a picture at some point.)

We spent a little time walking around the Pier, and found something called Rusty’s Surf Shack where we had some beverages and chatted up the guy standing next to us as well as an Occupier and his girlfriend. Then it was time to meet our friend Marty of Heard At Starbucks. Marty is the very first blogger we ever met (back in 2009 in Vegas)! It was great to see him again, and we had a wonderful time talking and getting caught up. Thank you for a lovely dinner, Marty!

We weren’t done with Marty, though, because the next morning, we met him at 7th and Montana, the location of the (in)famous Starbucks from his blog. He was hoping we’d get to meet some of the rather loony characters that visit often, or maybe a celebrity, but it was a loon and celebrity-free day. It was still very enjoyable, because we got to meet some of Marty’s friends and neighbors...some of whom even recognized us from Marty’s blog! Marty is just a great guy, and it was a real pleasure to see him again. We look forward to our next visit!

After two days in Santa Monica, we paid a visit to Ken’s cousin Ros. It was wonderful to see her again, as well as her husband Glen and daughter Kristi. They had a cookout that evening, and we got to visit with other cousins. Ros and Glen and Kristi are always very welcoming and hospitable, and open their home to us. We hope we can return the favor and will be happy to do so anytime they make their way out east! The next day, we met Ros at the house where her Mom, Ken’s Aunt Bea, is staying, under 24-hour care. It was a tough visit, because Aunt Bea is a victim of Alzheimer’s. We were both very glad we went, because although it was hard, I think Aunt Bea recognized Ken...or at least remembered that he is her brother Bill’s son. It’s been incredibly hard on Ros, as well as her family, but I think she has handled it in the best way she could, and has done it with incredible grace and strength. I admire her very much.

Then we were off to Pasadena, where we stayed at our “splurge” hotel of this vacation, the Langham Spa and Resort. Wow, was it ever nice! Beautiful grounds, and I loved lounging around in that big cushy robe that was hanging in the closet! The bath towels were the size of beach towels for me, and about a foot taller than I am. Haha! We were there to celebrate our friend Andy’s graduation from Cal Tech with his PhD in Chemical Engineering, and he met us in the bar area that first evening. It was great to see him, and he looks tanned and healthy and happy. We had a good time getting caught up on stuff until he had to get back to his apartment for an early start the next day.

The graduation was the following day at 10 am, and we got there in plenty of time. It was an overcast day (our nieces call it the June Gloom), but that burned off by about noon. Cal Tech’s campus is gorgeous! The commencement speaker was Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla (and the creator of PayPal). It was kind of fascinating, because the guy is obviously brilliant, but came across as rather unprepared. I was inspired by what he said, and so was Andy (He said, “I LOVED it. That was exactly what I needed to hear!”), but others said that he was terrible. [laughing] A polished speaker? Perhaps not, but I liked what he had to say. He talked about how 300 years ago, things that we take for granted today would have been considered ‘magic.’ After riffing on that for a bit, he told the graduates, “You are our 21st century magicians. So go out and make some magic.” I just loved that! As we watched all these young people getting their Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees (LOTS of PhDs in the group!), I couldn’t help but think that these are the best and brightest, and the ones that will be shaping our future. It was impressive and sobering, and I was so proud that we were able to be there for Andy.

After the ceremony, we went to a place on campus called the Athenaeum, a hotel and restaurant. We were joined by Andy’s colleague Linda, originally from Greece, getting her Doctorate from University of Frankfurt, and currently engaged in projects at CERN. She is visiting Cal Tech for a month. She was a very smart and sweet person, and we had a great time getting to know her! It was her first time in the States, and I hope she enjoys it thoroughly. (She’s planning on traveling the Pacific Coast Highway with a friend, so that’s a very good start!) Andy told us that the Athenaeum has a suite where they put up Albert Einstein when he would visit Cal Tech. At one point, he excused himself for a moment, and when he came back, he had the key to the suite! AGGHHH!

We all left the table immediately and headed up to the Einstein Suite. We soaked up a little of the brilliance that still seemed to linger in the room; Andy seemed to be coming up with a world-changing idea out on the balcony, and he and Linda seemed to be thinking awfully hard (although Ken and I agreed that there was a bit of a smirk on her face as she considered whatever Andy was saying!). It wasn’t a crazily extravagant room, but it was comfortable and homey. Did Einstein smoke a pipe? I could just imagine him sitting in one of the chairs by the fire, smoking his pipe and thinking incredible thoughts. It was a great experience, and thank you Andy and thank you Margaret at the front desk for giving Andy the key!

After we finished our lunch, Andy took us to his lab and told us a little about his thesis. It involved separation of particles smaller than 10 nanometers, something that could be applied to the research they’re doing at CERN, or more practically, to individual monitors or dosimeters. Although it’s been many years since I took a Chemistry class, I’m happy to say that I grasped the concepts and was able to understand what he was saying. Very interesting, and super cool to see one of the research labs at Cal Tech!

After a visit to the bookstore (I got myself a Cal Tech Beavers T-shirt), we parted ways for a bit so that Andy and Linda could meet up with some people she’ll be working with while at Cal Tech. Ken and I enjoyed a bottle of champagne back in our room to celebrate three things: traveling all of Route 66; Andy’s graduation; and no longer having to deal with a very negative person in our lives (there will be more soon). We met Andy and Linda in the lobby later, and after a stroll through the beautiful grounds, we had a nice dinner outside on the terrace at their restaurant called...The Terrace. Clever! As we parted ways later, we both gave Andy big hugs, and when I hugged Linda, she gave me the European double kiss...that was so cool! Chances are that we’ll never see her again, but I wish her nothing but the best, and I really enjoyed talking with her. I hope she enjoyed talking with us, too!
The next day, we headed over to the Huntington Library, where we met our nieces Heather and Jennifer, Heather’s husband Rey, and Heather and Rey’s son Liam (who were kind enough to drive up from San Diego to see us), as well as our good friends Kim and Steve, who came down to spend the weekend with us before they flew out to Hawaii on Tuesday. The Huntington has an amazing collection of paintings, books, and manuscripts. Their most famous paintings are The Blue Boy and Pinkie. The grounds are gorgeous, especially the Japanese garden, and Liam particularly enjoyed the Desert Garden, with its many cacti (a word which he had just learned). In the picture of the Japanese bridge, that’s Ken and Liam behind a willow branch. We briefly split off so that Heather and the others could visit the Children’s Garden (which Liam said was “pretty good”) while Ken and I and Steve and Kim visited the History of Science exhibit. I loved it—manuscripts dating from the 1400s from people like Newton, Pasteur, and Jenner! (Amazing to see handwritten notes in the margin by some of these great scientists!) They had a really neat display about evolution that included copies of The Origin of Species dating from original publication to current editions. Very cool!
We all met for dinner afterwards at a place in Pasadena called Green Street Restaurant, which was really REALLY good! As someone who has to sit indoors much of the year, it is such a pleasure to eat outside and not be plagued by mosquitoes, bees, and other beasties. Great times with family and friends! It was sad to say goodbye to the San Diego crew, but we know that we’ll be seeing them this September when they all come out for the Bruce Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field. It’s going to be a blast! Oh, and please note: without planning it beforehand, we all match. Color coordination for the win!

On Sunday, the last day of our vacation, we headed out to Getty Center with Kim and Steve. I really enjoyed this’s an amazing collection of art, and the setting is breathtaking. It’s up on a hill, and you can look down at the LA basin and see the mountains in the distance. I loved this one painting, and a detail is included…what amazing colors! The architecture of the Getty is as much a work of art as as the collection. We all got a kick out of a sculpture that we happened across outside. From the back, I loved the happiness and exuberance of of this little guy on his horse...then we walked around front and saw that he was even happier than we realized! I’m still cracking up over this, and this is my new happy stance. :D That is sheer JOY!

After the Getty, we headed back to the hotel for a bite to eat, and then joined Kim and Steve in their suite for drinks and discussion. We talked about past associations and future plans, including a possible vacation together in Albuquerque. Turns out that they have never been there, and I think we’d find plenty to enjoy, including museums and desert adventures.

After another farewell and wishes for safe travels all around, Ken and I headed back to our room to get packed up and ready to go. Things went pretty well until we hit O’Hare, where there was a delay due to high winds, but we eventually made it home. It was great to get back and see Sheeba and feel settled again! Now it’s a matter of getting back to what passes for normal here at Nutwood, but we’re on our way.

Coming soon to a blog near you: final thoughts on what Route 66 means to me and to America (and maybe even to the world), as well as an explanation of that countdown clock and Item #3 of why we had a champagne toast. I’m looking forward to writing frankly about something that I’ve mentioned very rarely here. Catharsis!