Dayton ’16

Not long before Memorial Day weekend this year, my professional duties took me to AAA’s web site, and a press release there told me that among American travelers, “the top destinations this Memorial Day weekend, based on and AAA travel agency sales, are: Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Washington, DC, New York, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, Honolulu, Los Angeles and South Padre Island.”

We didn’t go to any of those destinations last weekend, as interesting as they all are. (I’ll bet Myrtle Beach has its charms; it’s the only one on the list I’ve never been to.) Instead, we went to Dayton as the primary destination, with shorter stops in Wapakoneta, also in Ohio, along with Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne — the last two for meals. So it was a western Ohio trip.

Ohio, land of the curious swallowtail flag. The Ohio Burgee, it’s called.
Ohio BurgeeOr maybe we took an aerospace-themed trip, since we spent the better part of Saturday at the sprawling, extraordinary National Museum of the U.S. Air Force just outside of Dayton, on the grounds of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It has a reputation as one of the best aviation museums in the country, often mentioned in the company of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Now that I’ve been there, I can see why.

The Wright brothers were from Dayton, and the Wright sister too. Four boys and a girl survived to adulthood, and all but the eldest brother were ultimately involved in the business of flying machines. These days, the city features the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. Part of the park includes a museum dedicated to the Wrights — and, curiously enough, to Ohioan poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who did have a remarkable life. After lunch on Saturday, we took in the Wright-Dunbar exhibits, despite our tired feet.

On Sunday morning, as my family lolled in our room, I went to the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton. Covering 200 hilly, wooded acres, Woodland is a fitting name and most aesthetic burying ground I’ve seen since Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

We came by way of I-65 to Indianapolis and then I-70 to Dayton. I didn’t want to return the same way, so we headed north on I-75 to Wapakoneta, boyhood home of Neil Armstrong, and current location of a spaceflight museum. From there, US 27/33 took us to Ft. Wayne, a city I’d never visited, despite its relative proximity.

I also wanted to drive US 30 from Ft. Wayne across Indiana. It turned out to be a fairly fast way to traverse the state, something like the Trans-Canada Highway out in Saskatchewan or Manitoba; that is, as a divided highway, but not limited access one.

Maxine’s Chicken & Waffles in Indianapolis offered the best meal of the trip, so good and filling that we barely needed to eat the rest of the day after stopping there at about 4 EDT on Friday (but still 3 CDT according to our stomachs). Chicken and pancakes were on the menu, which I had this time around.

When we came out of Maxine’s, I saw something I’d only ever heard about: a Megabus.

Megabus, Indianapolis 2016The bus on the Chicago-Indianapolis run. I suppose there on N. East St., toward the eastern edge of downtown, is where it picks up its budget-minded passengers. According to the web site, the price for Chicago-Indianapolis is “from $25.” I’m not sure how much that really would be, but at least the bus offers wifi. They know their market.

Wednesday Leftovers

Fine warm day today, the latest in a string of them. Rain ahead. Back again on May 31, after Memorial Day and Decoration Day, one in the same this year. It’s possible I’ll see a few things between now and then.

Some evenings, lights illuminate the baseball field behind our back yard.

Nighttime baseball 2016If the lights suddenly looked like that to our eyes, we’d be alarmed. One of these days, maybe I’ll read the instruction manual for the camera on the subject of nighttime picture-taking. Or maybe not.

This one-panel Bliss from May 2009 was hanging on my office wall until recently. Now it’s in a file. I’ve taken a few things down.

I like a comic that assumes you know “The Rime of Ancient Mariner.” Bliss is still in the Tribune, and still amusing. Not long ago a panel showed a woman opening up blinds to reveal the sun, while a tired-looking man in bed under a blanket says, “Must you press the issue?”

I’m reminded of “When Potato Salad Goes Bad.” Has it been over 20 years since Larson discontinued The Far Side? Apparently it has.

Speaking of a writer that assumes his readers have a certain amount of knowledge, what follows is a passage from Ninety-Two Days (1934) by Evelyn Waugh, which I recently finished. The book’s a highly readable account of his journey through the British Guianan bush and across the border into Brazil, where he comes to the town of Boa Vista.

“Already, in the few hours of my sojourn there, the Boa Vista of my imagination had come to grief. Gone; engulfed in an earthquake, uprooted by a tornado and tossed sky-high like chaff in the wind, scorched up with brimstone like Gomorrah, toppled over with trumpets like Jericho, ploughed like Carthage, brought, demolished and transported brick by brick to another continent as though it had taken the fancy of Mr. Hearst; tall Troy was down.”

Bird update: the young robins seem to have left the nest. That was fast. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them flapping its wings yesterday, getting ready to go. Haven’t seen it since.
Both the duck and the drake were on the garage roof yesterday afternoon, when it was quite warm — mid-80s, which must be warm enough for the duck to leave the eggs a while.

Lately Mars has been in the southern sky, and the nights have been warm enough to spend a few moments looking at the red-orange planet. A small delight. I take them where I can get them.

Lawn Biodiversity

Today’s l’esprit de l’escalier. A fellow from Real Green Green Lawns or True True Green Grass or whatever the franchised lawn-care service calls itself came by recently and I opened the door. I should know better than to answer the door. Could be a land shark for all I know.

Actually, the dog was making a fuss, so I didn’t really talk to him. I could hear him start his pitch, but I waved him off. No thanks, no thanks.

“But you have so many weeds!” he said. That I heard. Dandelions in particular had returned after the last mowing, though not quite as thickly as before: their season is just about over. One more no thanks and I closed the door.

Instantly I realized what I should have said: “I call it biodiversity, buster.”

Duck in Residence

Last week I noticed a duck nesting in our back yard, near the wall of the garage in a thicket of tall grass that doesn’t seem to be coming back as robustly this year as usual. I was moving a plastic sandbox toward the garage door, with a mind toward taking it out and leaving it for the garbage collector, or someone like the fellow who recently took our plastic kid pool before the garbageman could get to it. I looked down and there was the duck, fairly well camouflaged.

A few weeks ago, a duck and a drake spent time in the back yard sometimes, especially when the heavy rains left large puddles. Could be this is the same duck.

Nesting duck, SchaumburgI left the frog-shaped sandbox near the nest — the green curve in the picture, though it looks closer to the nest than it actually is — and then put a couple of other sizable objects nearby to make a perimeter around the nest. My thinking was to discourage the dog from approaching the mother duck or her eggs.

That might not have been necessary, though. I’ve been watching the dog as she’s been in the vicinity of the duck, and she seems leery, very unlike her reaction to, say, a squirrel or a mouse. Maybe, in whatever way they have, snarling dog and hissing duck have reached a truce. That would be good. I figure an enraged duck, who can carry out air strikes and other attacks, might be able to do the dog some harm.

Occasionally during the warm afternoons, the duck isn’t on the nest, and I see she’s warming several eggs. I’m not sure why, but it’s been a good year for fecund birds in my back yard.

Lake Powell, 1997

In May 1997, we visited Arizona. First Phoenix, then up north to Flagstaff, Cameron and eventually Page, the town created to house workers who built the Glen Canyon Dam, which in turn created Lake Powell. It’s an impressive bit of work.

Glen Canyon Dam 1997A Story That Stands Like a DamI understand that Glen Canyon, now flooded by the lake, was even more impressive, but it’s something I’m not ever likely to see.

The dam is 710 feet from bedrock and holds back more than 26.2 million acre-feet of water, or 9 trillion gallons, when Lake Powell is full. (Puny, though, when compared to Lake Superior’s 3 quadrillion gallons; but no dam holds it back.) It’s the last of the major North American dams, started in 1956 and completed in ’66. I suspect that had the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation delayed even a few years in starting, it would never have happened, so completely did public opinion change.

We took the tour, which goes inside the dam to see various features, such as one of the massive turbines. In the gift shop, I bought A Story That Stands Like a Dam by Russell Martin (1989), and read it during the rest of the trip, and at home. It too is an impressive piece of work. As an Amazon reviewer put it: “This book is absolutely loaded with information on Glen Canyon, Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell, and Page, Arizona — the nearby town of dambuilders. Its author has tried incredibly hard, and succeeded, at writing a book that is unbelievably fair, and that presents the controversial story of the building of Glen Canyon Dam in as truthful and as unbiased a light as possible.”

Maybe Lake Powell should be the Glen Canyon again. Some future decade, perhaps. You can make the case. But for now, Lake Powell is there, and one thing to do is take a boat ride.

LakePowell97The boat we took had a destination: Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which is just across the border in Utah.

Rainbow Bridge NMThe NPS says: “On May 30, 1910, President William Howard Taft created Rainbow Bridge National Monument to preserve this ‘extraordinary natural bridge, having an arch which is in form and appearance much like a rainbow, and which is of great scientific interest as an example of eccentric stream erosion.’

“After the initial publicity, a few more adventurous souls journeyed to Rainbow Bridge. Teddy Roosevelt and Zane Grey were among those early travelers who made the arduous trek from Oljeto or Navajo Mountain to the foot of the Rainbow. Visiting Rainbow Bridge was made easier with the availability of surplus rubber rafts after World War II, although the trip still required several days floating the Colorado River plus a seven-mile hike up-canyon.”

Since the creation of Lake Powell, it’s an easy trip by boat. Good to see while you can. One of these days, like the Old Man in the Mountain in New Hampshire, which we saw about eight years before its collapse, erosion or some fool is going to bring the natural bridge down.

RIP, Mike Johnson

Again I’m sad to report a passing. Mike Johnson, my friend for almost 35 years, has died in Nashville. Michael Owen Johnson, in full. He leaves behind his wife Betra, two stepchildren, father Ensign Johnson, older brother Lee, twin brother Steve, younger sister Susie, and many friends. Here’s Mike in 1987 at a wedding we both attended.
Michael Owen Johnson 1987There’s something special about the camaraderie of young men, and I’m glad Mike and Dan and Steve and Rich and I shared that in the early 1980s, late in our respective college careers. A recalling of most of the things we did together wouldn’t be all that interesting to other people, so it’s enough to mention in passing the meals shared, music heard, movies seen, books and girls discussed, parties attended and thrown, intoxicants enjoyed, and the late-night (and sometimes afternoon or evening) bull sessions rising from the friendship of bright, curious lads, of whom Mike was definitely one.

It was Mike’s engineering skills that enabled us to build, in the spring of 1982, an isolation tank in the house we rented, and keep it running through all of the next school year. He planned it and oversaw construction. It was no small undertaking: the thing was a wooden box with a hatch door on the side, and large enough to hold an adult. You floated inside, door shut, in the dark and quiet, buoyed by water saturated with Epsom salts held by a swimming pool liner affixed to the inside. It had ventilation and a heating system that had to be turned off when someone was in the tank (otherwise, Mike told us, there was the risk of being electrocuted by all the power the TVA could offer).

One time Mike was our cicerone in the only bit of non-commercial caving that I’ve ever done. In the summer of ’82 — that fine summer, and Mike was part of it — Mike and Steve and I went to rural Tennessee to an undeveloped cave whose name I’ve entirely forgotten, and we rambled around inside for most of the day, eating lunch under the earth, getting caked in mud, and making our muscles sore. I’m sure it wasn’t a technically difficult cave, but it was a thrill all the same. Here’s something I’ve never forgotten: always have three sources of light, Mike told us. For each of us in that cave ramble, that meant a helmet with an acetylene lamp; a flashlight; and a candle and matches.

By training and inclination, Mike was an electrical engineer. After finishing school, he worked for NASA for a few years, doing I couldn’t tell you what at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. In early 1984, I visited him, and he showed me around the place, a thing that might not be possible now in our more paranoid times. That morning there was a Shuttle launch, and we went to a meeting room with a lot of other engineers to watch it on closed circuit TV. Off it went, and the engineers filed quietly out to their jobs. “They only would have reacted if something had gone wrong,” Mike said.

Though he clearly had a keen engineering mind, I have to add that Mike wasn’t stereotypically narrow. Most engineers probably aren’t, but whatever the truth of that notion, he had a wide array of interests: science, literature, politics, history, and much more I probably didn’t know about. He had a sometimes dry wit and leftist inclinations. We always had something to discuss.

After his stint at NASA, he returned to Nashville, where he’d grown up, determined to be his own boss. Or as he put it to me, “I don’t like having a boss.” And so he was an independent contractor for the rest of his life, with all the ups and downs that go with that — something I can appreciate these days. He acquired a house in the Sylvan Park neighborhood, a vintage property, and did a lot of the necessary renovation himself. While I still lived in Nashville, we hung out a fair amount. Once I went with him to visit a client of his: a refrigerator factory in Middle Tennessee, to see the parts and the guts that went into that everyday machine — something I’d never have seen otherwise.

Mike introduced me his old friend Wendy Harris around Thanksgiving 1982 (there’s that year again), who’s been a dear friend of mine ever since. In fact, once I heard about Mike’s death from Dan on Tuesday, I knew I had the difficult task of calling Wendy to tell her, since I didn’t think she’d heard. So I did. They went to Hillsboro High School in Nashville together, and in fact before I moved away from Nashville, I was friends with about a half-dozen other people Mike had gone to high school with, many of whom Wendy introduced me to. A guy like Mike has a lot of friends.

Late in life — I suppose about 10 years ago — he married the charming and intelligent Betra, a woman originally from Sumatra. I believe they met in Singapore, where she was working and he had been sent for a while by a client. I never heard the full details of their courtship; I don’t usually ask about that kind of thing, and Mike wasn’t talkative about it, but no matter. I visited them twice, and they were clearly happy together.

Unfortunately, Mike wasn’t much of a correspondent, so my occasional visits to Nashville over the last three decades were our main connection over those years. He offered me a place to stay during my visits a number of times, and sometimes I accepted. I sent him postcards now and then. He did get to meet Yuriko, and younger versions of my children; I’m glad about that. I saw him for the last time a few years ago, and despite his manifest health problems, we had a fine visit, talking of old times and more recent things, spending much of the time in the Johnson back yard, where Betra had cultivated a lovely garden.

He will be missed. RIP, Mike.


At $1.99 for a 12 oz. bottle, Leninade brand soda is overpriced. It also has 150 calories and 38 grams of sugar, which is like eating nine and a half four-gram sugar cubes. And I can’t quite place the taste, beyond it being sweet and mildly fruity (the color is orange, but it’s not an orange soda or lemonade). The vague “natural and artificial flavor” gives it whatever taste it has. I drank it, but not all at once. I did it roughly in thirds over three days, and the girls sampled some too.

Yet I couldn’t resist the bottle when I saw it in a hardware store recently, though that was before I knew all that detail.
Leninade Soda BottleIn case that’s hard to read, under the star on the bottle’s neck it says, Join the Party! Over the hammer and sickle, Get hammered & sickled. And under the name, A taste worth standing in line for!

Not really. But amusing.

The back is a little harder to see when the bottle’s empty. That’s a Lenin-like figure quaffing a bottle of Leninade, presumably.
LeninadeMore verbiage on the busy back, not counting the Cyrillic:


Surprisingly Satisfying Simple Soviet Style Soda

Beware the repressed Communist party animal who is really a proletarian in denial masquerading as a bourgeois Cold War monger!

Our 5-year plan: drink a bottle a day for five years and become a Hero of Socialist Flavor.

Misha, chill down this bottle & chill out!

Drink comrade! Drink! It’s this or the gulag!

I can’t say I didn’t get a few chuckles from the over-the-top copy. You can go all sour on the idea, noting that Lenin founded a totalitarian nightmare, and asking why there’s no cola having sport with a certain other totalitarian nightmare founded by an Austrian corporal, but that doesn’t take away from the amusement value of Leninade. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but historical reputations, like life, are unfair.

Also worth noting: I don’t believe this cola is furthering the cause of socialism one iota. The manufacturer, Real Soda in Real Bottles Ltd., is clearly a capitalist success story of the most American kind.

Bargain Books

Bargain Books arrived in my mailbox the other day. It’s a paper catalog produced by the Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Co. of Falls Village, Conn. How much longer will there be paper catalogs?

A while yet, probably, but I’ll still show this bit of ephemera to one or the other of my children and say, remember these, they’re on their way out. A few of them, such as the Sears Catalog, were once as big as phone books, even in the 1970s. You know, phone books. One or the other of my children will not be impressed. Youth looks forward.

The catalog is essentially a remainder table. Guess some mailing list algorithm somewhere detected that I’m fond of remainder tables — which is true, I always take a look — and so I took a look into Bargain Books. It promises books in the following categories: Arts & Entertainment, History, Home & Garden, Cookbooks, Military History, Biography, Healthy Living, Fiction, Crafts/Needlecrafts, Science & Nature, and Children’s Books, plus Bargain DVDs.

It seems like a fine selection, but some of those categories are a bit stretched, let’s say. In History, for instance, I found Secret Journey to Planet Serpo: A True Story of Interplanetary Travel. By Len Kasten. “On July 16, 1965, a massive alien spacecraft from the Zeta Reticuli star system, piloted by alien visitors known as Ebens, welcomed 12 astronaut trained military personnel aboard their craft. This volume exposes the truth of the human-alien interaction, revealing that our government continues to have an ongoing relationship with the Ebens to this day.”

Hatchlings on the Hoop

Warm and cold weekends have been alternating, and this weekend was one of the cold ones. A radio report I heard on Friday spoke of frost coming to places like the Dakotas, an unusual May event even for those chilly climes. No frost here but it was still unpleasant much of the time, though by today I could sit on my deck for lunch in temps just high enough to be pleasant.

The nearby hatchings were having lunch, too. This year a pair of robins has taken up bird-making duty in a nest they built on top of the basketball hoop hanging from our garage. It’s an old and weatherbeaten basketball hoop, unused for a few years now. No bird has ever ventured to build a nest there before that I know of.

I noticed the nest a few weeks ago, but today I noticed the baby birds. From my vantage on the deck, I could see the hatchlings pop their heads up as the adult bird approached, worm in beak — it looked exactly like it does in photos and illustrations, with the outline of the tiny beaks visible, pointing upward to get their meal, and the adult bird lowering the worm toward them. With all the rain we’ve gotten lately, there must be good worm hunting nearby.

Funny that Audubon came up yesterday, even indirectly. I’m no Audubon, but I don’t mind watching birds now and then, as long as I don’t have to go out of my way to do so.

Audubon Zoo, 1989

One of the places you can visit riding the St. Charles Streetcar Line in New Orleans, if you’ve a mind to, is Audubon Park. That’s what we did May 1989, even though it was (of course) hot and sticky that day. The park is home to the Audubon Zoo. Just the thing when you’ve had enough, for the moment, of the human-oriented diversions of the French Quarter.

These days there are about 2,000 animals in residence. It probably wasn’t much different then, spread out on 58 acres between St. Charles and the Mississippi, with a good many open-air exhibits. I don’t specifically remember Monkey Hill, but the story about that rise — built by the WPA — is that it was used to show local children what a hill looked like.

That wouldn’t have made much of an impression on me, considering that I came a place with hills. One time my friend Tom and I took a visitor from the East Coast to a substantial hill in Austin, and walked up it, just for the purpose of curing her of the notion that “Texas is flat.”

We took an amble through the zoo, seeing the likes of ostriches.

Audubon Zoo 1989-1And rhinos. Or is that a hippo out of the water? I can’t quite tell just looking at the picture. Not visible here, but I’m pretty sure we saw a number of gators lurking around these waters.

Audubon Zoo 1989-2Then there was this fellow.

Audubon Zoo gorilla 1989As far as I can tell, that’s not Casey the gorilla, who seems to be locally known but who didn’t arrive at the zoo until long after we’d been there.