My Own kWh

More wind today. Enough so that the blue recycle bin, which usually rests inert on the deck, took a new position against the back yard fence in the morning.

ComEd sent me another of its non-bill mailings recently, to tell me how I stand vis-à-vis “efficient neighbors” and “average neighbors,” for the period December 22 to January 25. Efficient and average in terms of electricity usage, that is, not (say) snow removal or vacuum cleaning of interior carpets.

We used 560 kWh over that period, and thus 1 percent for more electricity than efficient neighbors. Guess that’s good. A smidgen less coal burned somewhere, a few fewer atoms split. “Efficient neighbors are the 20% who use the least amount of electricity” among 100 houses in a one-mile radius or so, according to the utility.

In the fine print, the letter says, “This program is funded by ComEd customers in compliance with Illinois law.” Hm. Not an unfunded mandate as far as ComEd is concerned, then. The company gets to charge its customers to tell them how efficient they are. That would be OK if I got a discount for efficiency, a few tenths of a cent per kWh, say, but I don’t think that’s in the offing unless I’m an industrial user.

Recent Wind Incidents

During most of the day yesterday, and especially late into the evening, brisk winds blew around here. I fell asleep listening to the strong wind, and while that can be a soothing sound, it’s much better if you’re in rental property.

In the morning, when calm air had returned, there was no visible damage. Some items outside on the deck had been moved around, and a few small branches had fallen. It all made me wonder: if the rotation of the Earth ultimately moves the atmosphere, how is it that the wind isn’t always like that? Or worse, like it is on the gas giants, with their perma-storms? What makes a calm day on any part of the Earth?

When returning from Texas Sunday before last, the wind was up as the plane came in for its landing at Midway, making one of the bumpier approaches I’ve experienced lately. About two minutes before touchdown, when even the flight attendants had buckled down, suddenly one of them got up, wetted a towel, and dashed past me — I was on row six or seven — and helped clean up a few rows back, where a woman had thrown up. Then the flight attendant, navigating her way as the plane bumped around, made it back to her seat for the landing. Expert moves, clearly.

On Sunday, February 19, a few days before we arrived in the city, a handful of tornados hit San Antonio. According to the Express-News on the 21st: “The National Weather Service confirmed late Monday morning an EF-1 strength tornado with 105 mph and a path length of 4.5 miles touched down on Linda Drive near the Quarry shopping center.”
That’s a few blocks from my mother’s house.

Fortunately, an EF-1 is a weak tornado, or I’d be writing a very different post. As it was, she lost power for a while, and it looked like a neighbor’s fence had been damaged, though it’s possible the fence had already partly fallen through neglect. Otherwise my mother’s house wasn’t damaged.

A few days after the hit, we noticed some damage to a small shopping center a few blocks north of her house — bits of missing signage, broken tree limbs and roof problems, mostly. Also, some workmen were taking down a damaged ornamental brick wall at a nearby apartment complex. Better to have no tornadoes, but if you have to have one, a weak one is what you want.

Billy Beer Now Counts as an Antique?

First things first. Remember the Alamo.

Not long ago we visited an antique mall in another northwest suburb that we go to occasionally, though this was the first time in a few years. On the whole it’s a likable place stuffed to the gills with debris from across the decades. I like looking around, just to remind myself how much stuff there is in the manmade world. The establishment frowns on photographing its wares, so I have no images.

The mall’s postcards, unfortunately, tend to be $1 or more each. It has to be a special card for me to pay that much. Got enough of them anyway. Several drawers full of old photographs of random strangers were also available, at a lower cost per item. Many were easily taken 100 years ago. That only goes to prove that for most people, any images older than their grandparents might as well be cave paintings.

The most amusing find: a six pack of Billy Beer, apparently unopened. I don’t ever remember actually seeing any, only hearing about it, as everyone did in 1977. A short history of the risible brand, posted in 2010, is at Mental Floss, whose key line is: “That’s about the best summary of Billy Beer that we can find; it was so noxious that not even Billy Carter would drink it.”

As for later: “Billy Beer perfectly fit the mold for a worthless collectible. It was made in giant quantities. Hordes of people had speculatively saved some. It had no intrinsic value.”

I think the price on the cans was $30. Who knows, maybe Billy Beer’s time as a collectible will come someday, as those giant quantities waste away across the decades. But I’m not going to buy any in hopes of finding out.

Vanity Map Update

Time to post the vanity map of states I’ve been to, color-coded, because there are updates. Mainly, South Carolina is now filled in. That makes 49 states and DC, leaving large lonely Alaska.

Color-coded Map 2017

Color codes are the same, and pretty much idiosyncratic.

Green: Either lived in these places or visited so many times I’ve lost count. Very familiar.

Blue: Numerous visits covering a fair amount of the state or province, or one or two visits of strong intensity and some variety. Fairly familiar.

Orange: Spent the night at least once, saw a relatively limited number of places.

Pink: Passed through (on the ground) but didn’t spend the night.

White (no color): Never visited.

Vanity because it isn’t as if I studied hard and passed a battery of tests to gain entry, or crossed dangerous frontiers, or defied longstanding cultural prejudices, to be able to visit 49 states and DC. All it took was some time and some money, and the will do to so. Not everyone has those things, of course, but many millions do. Even so, it hasn’t cost a fortune, especially spread out over the 35-plus years of my adulthood (there’s no state I visited as a child that I didn’t return to later).

Moreover, this is the late 20th and early 21st centuries we’re talking about. Air travel might have its petty irritations and highways and bridges might be in sad need of repair in places, but on the whole the North American travel infrastructure is an easy-to-use marvel in our time. Just think: about five miles from my house is a highway (Interstate 90) on which I could, if I had a hankering to, drive through to Boston. Or if I went the other way, take the road all the way to Seattle in a few days, probably without more than intermittent delays.

Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston

Out of idle curiosity, I recently Googled “Magnolia Cemetery” and by the most cursory of investigations, found properties of that name not only in Charleston, SC, but also in Augusta, Ga., Mobile, Beaumont, Norfolk, Va., Baton Rouge, Houston, Orange Park, Fla., and Meridian, Miss., just to name some of the Southern spots.

There are also Magnolia Cemeteries in Philadelphia — Pa. — Harrison County, Iowa, and Stark County, Ohio. That might seem odd, but then again certain kinds of magnolia grow in the North. Saw some in Rockford, Ill. Or maybe the Northern cemetery namers just liked the shady, peaceful associations of the magnolia.

Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston got its start in 1850, during the rural cemetery movement of the 19th century. Rural then, but fully in the city now. Still, it’s a peaceful place, full of the things a park-like cemetery should have: old stones, funerary art, mature trees, bushes, flowers, water features, winding trails, memorials evoking local history.

In the case of Charleston, the War Between the States looms large in such local history memorialization. Here’s the monument at Soldiers Ground, a section for Confederate dead set aside during the war.
Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston Confederate Memorial 2017The tablet on this side of the plinth says:

This Bronze preserves the memory of the Heroic Dead from every part of Carolina and from her sister states of the South who fell in the defense of this city.

In proud and grateful remembrance of their devotion, constancy and valour, who against overwhelming odds by sea and by land kept Charleston virgin and invincible to the last.

Interesting turn of phrase, even for a memorial. It would be snide to claim that Charleston’s “virginity” was kept because Sherman had other things to do (that is, burn down Columbia), so never mind. The four flags are the three national Confederate flags, plus the battle flag.

I don’t ever remember seeing CSA sailors at rest, but Magnolia has some, identities unknown.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonThere’s also a memorial to South Carolinians who fell at Gettysburg.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonElsewhere are reminders not of war death, but plain old death.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonThere are also specialty stones, such as this memorial of one Abram Mead, a member of the Aetna Fire Engine Company. Or rather Ætna, named for the volcano, I suppose. Nice to find a ligature in stone.

Charleston - Magnolia CemeteryIt’s pretty rare to find cause of death on a headstone, but there it is: Departed this life the 15th of September 1852 of Yellow Fever, Aged 21 Years and 6 Months.

Something a little more imposing, near the cemetery’s pond. This Thomas Pinckney isn’t the Pinckney of the Revolution and post-Revolutionary period, but his grandson.

Pinckney grave, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonA child’s stone the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonNote that in more recent times, someone left a rubber duck and toy bear for the girl, Rosalie Raymond White, who lived for a few months in 1882.

Finally, the three crews of the H.L. Hunley are interred at Magnolia Cemetery, each crew with modern memorial stones, and stones for the individuals as well, each with a Stainless Banner.

Hunley Memorial, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonHunley memorial, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonThe third crew were entombed in their vessel for about 135 years (their stones are in the row pictured above). The Hunley was raised in 2000 and, presumably after the forensic archaeologists had had a long look at the crew’s bones, they were buried at Magnolia in 2004 with considerable ceremony.

Fort Sumter National Monument

To reach Fort Sumter National Monument, you start at Liberty Square, on Charleston’s waterfront, at this building.
Fort Sumter National MonumentAt the other end of the building is a pier were the tourist boats dock, as is visible in the picture above. The view from there, toward Fort Sumter, looks like this on a clear day.
Fort Sumter National Monument - dockAlso included in the monument is Fort Moultrie, but I didn’t make it there. The Fort Sumter part of the national monument is a little hard to pick out, but it is visible on the horizon.

The ride is about 30 minutes. As you proceed, Fort Sumter gets closer.
Fort Sumter And closer.
Fort SumterPretty soon the boat docks at the former fort for about a hour and a quarter visit, which includes a look at the walls, cannons, the former parade ground, the monument’s large flagpole and flag, and Battery Isaac Huger, a sizable black-painted structure built inside the walls at the time of the Spanish-American War that now houses a small museum and gift shop. Some of the cannons were big. Can you imagine that thing going off near your ears in an age before ear protection?

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

A Park Service volunteer demonstrated the loading and firing of a Civil War-era rifle.

Fort Sumter volunteer rifleman

He didn’t load it with a real minié ball, put otherwise the demonstration was authentic. After he showed us all of the steps to load the rifle, and fired it once, he did it again as fast as he could a few times, which was very fast, firing in succession. A true enthusiast.

Behind the battery is a slope up to an open field.

Fort SumterHere are representations the four flags that flew over Sumter during the war: the 33-star U.S. flag like that which flew on April 12, 1861; the first and second Confederate flags; the 35-star U.S. flag after Federal re-occupation of the fort in 1865. Fort SumterThe flag that Major Anderson had lowered when he surrendered the fort, and the one that was raised again symbolically in 1865 — Anderson returned for the occasion — is on display in the national monument’s museum. So is the Palmetto Flag that the South Carolinians flew when the fort was first captured.

The current Stars and Stripes, visible from far away, is atop a large flagpole behind the battery.

Fort Sumter flag

Major Anderson is honored in relief at the base of the large flag pole.

Fort Sumter

From 1861 by Adam Goodheart: “It would be one thing if President Buchanan had simply announced that he was withdrawing the troops from Charleston Harbor and turning the forts over to South Carolina, a decision that Anderson would have certainly obeyed, perhaps even welcomed. But he would be damned if he was to surrender — even worse, perform a shabby pantomime of a surrender — before a rabble of whiskey-soaked militiamen and canting politicians.

“Like so much else about the beginning of the Civil War, Major Anderson’s move from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter is largely forgotten today. At the time, however, the little garrison’s mile-long journey was seen not just as a masterstroke of military cunning but as the opening scene of a great and terrible national drama… ‘Major Robert Anderson, thundered the Charleston Courier, ‘has achieved the unenviable distinction of opening civil war between American citizens by a gross breach of faith.’ Northerners, meanwhile, held enormous public banquets in Anderson’s honor; cannons fired salutes in New York, Chicago, Boston, and dozens of other cities and towns.

“And considered in retrospect, Anderson’s move seems freighted with even more symbolism. He lowered his flag on an old fortress, hallowed by the past, yet half ruined — and then raised it upon a new one, still unfinished, yet stronger, bedded in New England granite…

“Twenty years after the war, when officials at the War Department began preparing the Official History of the War of the Rebellion, a massive compilation of documents that would eventually grow to more than two hundred thousand pages, the first of all the uncountable documents that they included was Anderson’s brisk telegram announcing his arrival at Sumter. Nineteenth-century historians knew that without this event, the war might not have happened…”

More Charleston Scenes

The Nathaniel Russell House on Meeting St. in Charleston, SC, completed in 1808, was originally home of one of the wealthiest men in the city at the time, Nathaniel Russell. In our time, it’s an historic property open for tours.

I didn’t have time to take a tour. I did have time to wander around its picturesque garden, which is open to the public. More remarkably, in mid-February this year, the garden looked like spring already.

Nathaniel Russell House gardenNathaniel Russell House gardenLocal sources told me that the weather lately had been unusually warm, even for Charleston. Flowers and other plants responded to the warmth in the only way they know how.
Nathaniel Russell House gardenSignage sometimes has its charms in Charleston.
Tellis Pharmacy, Charleston SC 2017That’s what more drug stores need, mortar-and-pestle symbology. Alas, it’s only a relic now, since the drug store on this site apparently closed a few years ago. Looks like an antique shop occupies the building, which is on King St. At least the new owners decided to keep the sign; or maybe it’s protected.

Unlike St. Philip’s graveyards, which were locked away behind imposing iron fences (though I could see the stone of Vice President Calhoun in the distance), the Circular Congregational Church’s graveyard is open to all during the day.

 Circular Congregational ChurchThe cemetery included some stones, pre-Revolution in vintage, that reminded me very much of the old stones in Boston’s downtown graveyards.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryPlus plenty of later 18th- and 19th-century stones.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryAnd some nice views of the back of Circular Church.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryOne of the best known tourist attractions in Charleston is City Market, which has been the site of a public market for more than two centuries. I’ve never been one to eschew tourist destinations just because they’re popular among tourists, so I popped it for a look. Not bad, but not nearly as interesting as the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
City Market, Charleston 2017One more structure: Charleston City Hall.
Charleston City HallDiscover South Carolina says: “On the site of a Colonial marketplace, this handsomely proportioned 1801 building first housed the Bank of the United States and then became Charleston’s City Hall in 1818. The design is attributed to Charlestonian Gabriel Manigault, a gentleman architect credited with introducing the Adamesque style to the city after studying in Europe.”

Also worth knowing: the building has some of the few public restrooms in downtown Charleston that are open on the weekend.

Charleston Walkabout

Here’s something I learned about the oldest part of Charleston, SC, when I visited recently: good to walk through, not so much to drive through. I could have guessed that anyway. Small streets, many cars, extremely restricted parking.

But early Saturday morning, when the cars roaming the streets were still few, wasn’t a bad time to come to town by car. I arrived and found a parking garage as soon as I could. On foot from there, on Cumberland St., I encountered traces of historic Charleston almost immediately in the form of the city’s most obscure plaque (maybe), fixed to the ground just north of the sidewalk on the north side of that street, between Meeting St. and Church St.

This Oak Was Planted In Celebration Of

ARBOR DAY 1984

It stands above a portion of the fortification wall that once protected the early Charleston settlement. The wall has been destroyed through time as the city spread beyond it’s [sic] original boundaries. The only visibly [sic] portion of the original fortification is the half moon battery, located in the basement of the Exchange Building.

Dedicated by the City of Charleston
Joseph B. Riley Jr., Mayor

Mr. Mayor, you could have ponied up a bit for a proofreader, considering that the text is in bronze. Anyway, the tree isn’t in the most picturesque part of Charleston.

Soon I moved on to better-looking urban core scenes. The city even has aesthetic water meter covers.
Charleston SC water meterThe palmetto is easy enough to figure out, but the cannons? According to one source (which says it’s “probably true”), the cannons refer to Col. William Moultrie’s victory over the British attack on Sullivan’s Island in 1776. Palmetto logs, which had some ability to absorb cannon fire, were used to reinforce the earthenwork defense.

St. Philip’s, an Episcopal church, stands fittingly on Church St. between Cumberland St. and Queen St.
St Philip's Episcopal Church, Charleston SCThe church, the third for this congregation and the second on this site, dates from 1838. The early history of the church, and Charles Towne for that matter, was one damn thing after another. From a short history of St. Philip’s on its web site:

1728-40: Fires, hurricane, epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever, slave uprisings, Indian attacks, threats of war from the Spanish occurred.

Ah, but Charleston flourished. Slave-cultivated rice, indigo and then cotton from the Carolinas did the trick (part of the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil). Highly skilled slaves, I understand, were involved in the wrought iron gates around St. Philip’s, which are a marvel by themselves.
St Philip's Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC iron gateNearby is the light pink Huguenot Church, dating from 1844, at the corner of Church and Queen. It was the first independent Huguenot congregation in America (more-or-less Calvinist, starting in the 1680s) and now the last one.
Huguenot Church, Charleston SCRainbow Row, the nickname for a stretch of East Bay St., features colorful row houses, 13 in all, mostly dating from the late 18th century.
Rainbow Row, Charleston SC 2017They’re in a tightly controlled historic preservation district, except for one thing: the owners get to choose the colors. The pastels were originally put on in the 1920s and occasionally change.
Rainbow Row Charleston SC 2017There are plenty of other handsome houses in that part of Charleston as well. Reminded me a bit of the East End of Galveston.

Charleston, SC 2017Charleston, SCCharleston, SC 2017All in all, a good place to see on foot, provided it isn’t summer.

Char-Tex ’17

Recently, before I went to Texas for a week, I had a day to spend in Charleston, SC, a city I’ve wanted to visit for many years. Just a day, so I packed in the sights. It wasn’t an example of slow travel. Sometimes, you’ve got to hit the ground and go.

I saw the oldest part of Charleston — the site of Charles Towne — on foot for a few hours, took the boat out to Fort Sumter, which took a few more hours, visited Magnolia Cemetery, and saw the H.L. Hunley later in the afternoon.

The old part of Charleston is very handsome, replete with structures surviving from the Antebellum period squeezed into tight city blocks along such streets as Calhoun, Cumberland, Meeting, and at the intersection of King St. and Queen St. A fine thing to do on a February morning that’s warmer than it should be, even in the South: wander past the elegant or curious buildings, admire the churches, take in the details of the streetscapes and sidewalks.

The War Between the States and Reconstruction crushed the local economy. Bad for the people who lived then, good for historic preservation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when considerable prosperity has returned to Charleston. Had prosperity continued in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city might sport handsome Victorian architecture, or might have been Eisenhowered into something less pleasing.

Fort Sumter National Monument is about a 30-minute boat ride away from the city. The fort is as historic as can be, but apparently doesn’t look much like it did in 1861. The war flattened it, the post-war U.S. Army rebuilt and redesigned it until the place was turned over to the Park Service after WWII.

The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, whose insufficient design killed more men than the vessel did as a weapon of war, now rests in a tank of water at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, an industrial structure north of the good-looking parts of town, near other industrial facilities. Eventually, the Hunley will be the star of its own museum, but for now conservation efforts are ongoing.

The Magnolia Cemetery is also north of the old part of town. An old cemetery, it’s rich with old stones, funerary art, monuments to the Lost Cause, and trees festooned with Spanish moss. Also, a warning about not violating South Carolina law.

Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonWho sees an alligator and thinks, I want to feed it.

Winterlude ’17

Time for a winter hiatus. Back on about February 26, when it will still be winter, but at least with the prospect of a less winterish March to look forward to. Winter around here fades like it’s being tuned out by a dimmer switch — in the hands of a three-year-old, so the transition isn’t very smooth.

Before we saw the parade in Chinatown earlier this month, we walked by the Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch. It’s fairly new and I didn’t remember seeing it before.
Chicago Public Library Chinatown branchIt’s a nice piece of work. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the building won a Library Building Award from the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association about a year ago. Being Sunday, it was closed, so we didn’t have a chance to go inside and look around.

Here’s something I saw not long ago when I happened to have a camera in my hand.
It was a drink machine. That it takes credit and debt cards isn’t so strange. Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a new one for me on a vending machine. But maybe I don’t see enough vending machines to notice. At least regular cash is still an option. What’s next, Bitcoin?